Whether you’re a local chef, software engineer, or digital marketer, there are likely industry events that you always attend (or dream of attending).
For digital marketers, this might include events like HubSpot’s Inbound Marketing conference and Dreamforce. For chefs, that likely includes various wine and food festivals around the country.
Let’s face it, these events are often just an excuse for busy workers to step out of their day-to-day responsibilities and have some fun on their company’s dime. Yes, “professional development,” “knowledge,” and “networking” are hopefully perks as well, but many are looking to get a break from their daily grind and enjoy some cocktails with co-workers.
Yet, marketers don’t always see things this way. For those in the event marketing space, events hold much more importance than free wine. In fact, each event represents a huge opportunity to grow their company’s list of leads and further build their brand presence.
But event marketing is challenging, for several reasons. If you’re trying to market your presence at an event as huge as Dreamforce, for example, you’re competing with hundreds, if not thousands of other sponsors. With over 171,000 attendees in 2017, and past performances from names as big as John Legend and U2, this event has taken on a life of its own.
And what if you’re trying to promote your own event? This comes with even more challenges, from building hype, planning, execution, and following up with attendees to make the most of your investment.
This all might seem overwhelming, but luckily we’re here to help! I recently spoke with WordStream’s Director of Lead Acquisition, Aaron Doherty, who has several years of event marketing experience through various roles under his belt.
This post will include smart and effective tips related to…
Let’s dive right in, starting with tips for marketing your presence at another business’s event.
Sponsoring a booth at another event is a strategy companies typically use to build brand presence, as well as to drive leads, and it can be quite an effective one. But, it can also be a stressful and challenging one, since the competition that you’re usually able to hide behind a screen from is now standing right next to you with their own shiny booth.
So, what can you do to stand out among a sea of lookalike brands?
Geo-targeting will become your best friend before these events. You want to make it very clear to your audience that you’re going to be at this event because your paying to be there. Don’t miss out the opportunity to promote your brand’s presence before the event using geo-targeted search and social ads.
“It’s hard to reach all the right people just by emailing your own database, so your best bet for these types of events is geo-targeted search and social campaigns,” says Aaron. “Make sure to use the conference name and hashtag, and promote what your brand has to offer at the event.”
Maybe you’re providing free advice or hosting a happy hour. Promote your presence early to bring the most visitors to your booth.
Events will make you realize how useful hashtags really are, and if you’re sponsoring a booth at a large event there is always going to be a conference hashtag to make use of. Attendees also always start chatting far before the event even begins. Whether it be asking others for hotel and/or restaurant recommendations or swapping ideas of which sessions to attend, a community of attendees is already being built online.
This gives you the opportunity to hop in on the conversations early. Use your brand’s account to join in, ask questions, and subtly promote the fact that your company is going to be there.
You’ve all likely been exposed to the snapchat-like feature on Instagram, Instagram Stories, by now. These babies have been around for a year+, and they have been growing in usage every day. As of November 2017, Instagram stories had 300 million users, and research has shown that businesses that use stories are more likely to be discovered on the platform.
Stories are also a wonderful way to promote your future presence at a big event. Show your team preparing, have one of your sales people introduce themselves, and try to think of fun ways to get people to come to your booth once the event begins (hint: free stuff helps! More to come on this). Stories can also be sponsored if you’re looking to reach a larger audience.
Last, but certainly not least, don’t forget to take advantage of word-of-mouth marketing with help from your colleagues. Rally up the sales and customer service teams to spread the word to the many individuals they speak to day in and day out.
Making your presence at an event a part of the conversation is such a natural way of promoting your brand, and moving a sale along. So don’t be afraid to join your next company sales meeting to pitch this to the team. It will likely excite the sales team to have another item for them to make friendly conversation around with their prospects. It could be something as causal as, “Are you going to Dreamforce next week?… Oh awesome! My colleague Sarah will be there. She’d love to meet you. You should stop by our booth.”
Perhaps you’re throwing your own event. Whether it’s a more intimate gathering of prospects or a large conference where you are taking on sponsorships and hosting hundreds of attendees, there are a ton of marketing duties that need to be executed beforehand to draw in interest. So, where to start?
Aaron has had experience throwing marketing events for WordStream, as well as for previous positions he’s held, and his number one tip was to be aggressive with your outreach efforts. This is YOUR event so there’s no reason to not use all the resources you have in your digital marketing toolbox.
“If you’re hosting the event everyone in your database is a prospect, and you want to do everything you can to get them in the door,” says Aaron. “At a previous company we did a series of roadshows and promoted them very heavily using email, display ads, and remarketing to create a focused funnel to get them to join.”
Aaron recommends being persistent and assertive with your marketing efforts in these scenarios. “If they convert, great; if they don’t then add them to your retargeting list,” says Aaron. “In another two days send them a more urgent ad, and a few days later shoot them a second email, and go through this cycle until they convert.”
While this strategy might sound like a bit much, Aaron says it has proven to be a successful one. “We once targeted 500 people to attend our event and 860 people registered! Whether that was because Google was the headliner or not, who knows, but I like to think it was due to our highly relevant and persistent marketing efforts.”
While having a landing page on your own website to promote your event is nice, having an entire website dedicated to your event is even better. This gives attendees (and potential attendees) the opportunity to explore, get all of their questions answered, and for you to create an inspirational place to get people truly excited about your event.
While it might seem daunting to have to create an entirely new website, it can be easily done with help from a platform like Squarespace or Wix, which provide several custom templates that make the design and execution of a website fairly easy.
Check out this cool conference site for a design event hosted in London for instance.
As visitors scroll down the page, they find details around the date and location of the event, discounts for early bird tickets, a list of sponsors, etc., and then there’s the option to navigate to other sections of the site to learn about the history of the conference, news, and of course a place to purchase tickets.
So, what else should a well constructed event website include? Here’s a few things to get you started:
Tout the benefits of attending as much as possible. Why? Because potential attendees want to ensure they’re going to get value from your event. They are busy people who need to convince their boss to invest in your event so if you can’t sell it well, then they will not be able to either. This is where things like testimonials, inspirational videos, and impressive stats from previous events will come into play.
Add a “Why Attend?” page to your event website. HubSpot does a great job at this; just check out the why attend section of the Inbound site. This page does a great job at selling the benefits to potential attendees by providing compelling visuals, testimonials, impressive stats, and even an entire section dedicated to convincing your boss!
HubSpot even provides an email tool to help you craft a compelling customized email to your boss. How cool is that?
People love free stuff. It’s just plain old human nature. So why not give away a small set of tickets for free? Even just one or two free tickets will allow you to run a contest and draw in more interest in the event.
Run some social ads around the giveaway, create a hashtag, and get people interested. This will not only allow you to collect more leads, but it will help your have potential attendees spread the world, and drive more word-of-mouth marketing for your event.
For example, provide some entry rules like that they have to share something on their feed or tag a certain number of friends to drive interest to their audience. Just make sure to read the social media regulations around contests on platforms like Instagram and Twitter when putting together your contest, but this is a fun way to get more attendees registered, and treat some lucky winner to a free ticket (which will in turn make them love your brand).
Okay, so the pre-event promotions are over, now it’s time to plan for the actual show to begin. Whether it’s your own event or an event where you are sponsoring a booth, it is important to plan ahead and deliver value during the show. And Aaron has strong thoughts on how you can do just that…
We have all been to conferences where you leave with a pile of junk that ends up in your dumpster, possibly before you even arrive at the airport. Whether it be branded oversized t-shirts, another bumper sticker, or a water bottle, there is just so much free junk to collect, right?
Nothing could be worse for attendees, according to Aaron.
“You need to give the people what they want. People don’t want little branded squeeze balls or USB drives,” he says. “One of the first events we did was MozCon and we kept hearing from prospects, ‘We have too much stuff and don’t know where to put it.’ And we thought, BOOM, branded bags! Offer value from the beginning rather then giving something that’s going to end up in the trash.”
So spend some time really putting yourself in the shoes of your attendees. Maybe you are going to a conference in Seattle where it is notoriously always raining. Provide branded umbrellas to attendees. At another conference that I attended, we provided branded blankets, and they were a huge hit because the conference center was freezing! So identify the needs of your audience members and appeal to those. People will see other attendees walking around with your desirable branded swag and want to make a beeline for your booth.
Aaron also encourages marketers to get creative when they can. “While it can be as simple as the bag example, it’s also fun to go big with your marketing. At one event I did we hosted a mini X Games, trucked in a ton of snow, built a huge ramp, and invited athletes from around the area,” says Aaron. “People loved it because it was just super fun and different.”
At another conference Aaron’s team had a 10-foot-tall, 4-foot-wide banner, and it is fair to say that banner made quite the impression. “You could see it from across the room!” says Aaron. “It was sort of in people’s way, but we stood on the outside and forced ourselves out of our booth to talk to people. We found that in that setting away from the booth that ‘being sold something’ expectation disappeared, and people were more willing to have a conversation.”
Aaron added, “Sponsors are more there to sell, but we’ve found that making a human connection and working the brand in there is a better approach.”
Aaron also explained how critical it is to ensure you’re always fostering conversations during the event, and one great way to do this is to make your own “mini-events” within the larger event.
What does this mean? I’ll let Aaron explain.
“Mini-events within events allow you to continue the conversation with a lead and push them closer to converting,” he says. “it’s just like your customer funnel – one event should lead to the next. For example, a prospect comes to our booth, and we tell them about our speaker coming up or the happy hour we’re hosting, and encourage them to attend.”
Another great way to create these “mini-events” is by having some live social media posters, which leads me to the last tip…
Appoint a person or two to cover breakout session and other speakers, and continuously be joining in on the conversation. This will help you stay in the forefront of the event, and continue to stay top of mind in a natural way because everyone is participating on social during these events. Use the conference hashtag, comment on other people’s posts, and just join in on the conversation.
“Live social interactions, live tweeting, tagging people, asking questions, fostering conversations – these are all things that we make sure to do at any event we attend,” says Aaron. “Using the WordStream branded account allows us to give a brand touch with every post. It’s a great way to get people aware of your presence.”
Each month of the year is home to multiple awareness causes and observance days, such as Autism Awareness Month, World Patient Safety Month, National Canine Fitness Month, and plenty more. Find a day or month that aligns with what your local business has to offer and incorporate it into your event. Having a theme can make for easier decisions and creative ideas, and these causes are always effective in building a sense of community among your local audience. Here are some monthly-themed ideas (with plenty more to come):
In conclusion, events are a great opportunity to make real human connections. “That’s mostly what a conference is about. Sponsors find themselves in a weird space, but if you make your brand approachable, talk to people, and offer value then you’re going to leave with ROI,” says Aaron.
So get out there and market your event like a true professional.
Margot is a content marketing specialist at WordStream and nutrition graduate student at Framingham State. She loves all things digital, learning about nutrition, running, traveling, and cooking.
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