How to Modernize an Old-School Event Marketing Strategy

Rachel Leist
Rachel Leist


event-marketing-strategyTrades shows and events. A marketer's best friend? Or too old-school?

I guess it depends on your perspective, and how up-to-date (or out-of-date) your event marketing strategy is. As an inbound marketer, I'm all about finding ways to draw people in instead of interrupt them to get my message heard.

Unfortunately, it often feels like events are just totally contrary to the inbound marketing methodology. But I don't think it needs to be that way. So I took some time to come up with what I consider more "old school" event marketing approaches, and thought of some ways to update them with a more inviting, helpful, inbound-oriented approach. Let me know what you think, and how other inbound marketers out there have found ways to make event marketing a little more "inboundy."

By the way, this post will have some advice for event marketers that are hosting events, as well as those that attend or sponsor events as part of their marketing strategy.

6 Old-School Event Marketing Tactics, and How You Can Modernize Them

#1 Using space at an event to promote your product.

In the past, the way to have a presence at an event would be to get a booth, maybe 5x5 or 10x10 in size. You would put up your logo on a sign (the same sign that everyone else had, of course) and you would stand at your booth willing to talk to anyone about your product or service who walked by.

Would that work at today's events? Meh. Maybe once in a while. But you could make it work better for you. To modernize your presence at a trade show, think outside the box -- which sometimes means thinking of outside the booth. For instance, conference attendees like to have a comfortable space to talk, charge their devices, and take a breather from the chaos of the conference. Doesn't that sound nice? Kind of chill, but still productive. Compare that to the experience of uncomfortable conversation where you feel like you're in a pitch, or an awkward networking situation. Or the other end of the spectrum -- where you want to learn more about a company but there's a line forming behind you of other attendees waiting for their "turn at the booth."

This isn't to say you can't have a place for people to come talk about your product or service -- just reconsider the actual space you use, and make it somewhere people want to hang out. You're striving for an experience that's comfortable, relaxed, and helpful. Then maybe you'll have the time to do better qualification, too -- like offering free demos or consultations customized to each attendee, instead of your quick elevator pitch.

#2 Having a giant sign.

With most events comes an opportunity to have one thing -- a giant sign promoting your company. Hey, I'm not going to hate on brand visibility, but in the past, the sign may have just had your company name and possibly the booth where you could be found. We can do better than that, can't we?

Take it a step further and have something that will really explain your company's purpose for being at the event. For instance, often QR codes are really under-utilized at events. Bring those babies out! There are tons of QR code generators out there -- heck, one of our customers, Pitney Bowes, has a really simple QR code generator called pbSmart Codes. This is such a low-hanging fruit opportunity to make your signage at events more interactive, more informative with the limited space you're given, and frankly, more beneficial for your business. Heck, you could even send people to a landing page that generates leads for your business! There's something to be said for brand presence, but if you can turn brand presence into action, that's even better. Right? Right.

(Tip: If you have an excellent design team that's practiced in using visuals to tell a story, leverage it. Great visual content -- yes, signs are visual content -- says a lot in a few words. Think of how you can use that sign real estate to explain more about your company than just a name and a logo.)

#3 Sending direct mail to invite people to your event.

So you're having an event. How do you get people there? In the past, inviting folks to events meant sending direct mail to the homes or offices of potential attendees. Believe it or not, it has sometimes even meant literally going door to door inviting people to the event, or taking to the streets to hand out flyers. Today, those strategies seem not only invasive and inefficient -- they're extremely limiting, too. I mean, do you want just the people in the tri-state area heading to your event? Or people from around the world?

For most people, I think it's the latter. So let's consider some less expensive, more effective event marketing strategies to boost attendance.

First of all, leverage email as a channel. That doesn't mean you spam people with invites, though. It does mean you check out what segments naturally exist in your database, figure out the right lists to target, and create personalized messages to send each of them.

For example, you might want both leads and customers to attend an event. Well the messaging for each is going to be totally different -- even the sender name might change. You might want to have, say, account managers reach out personally to their customer base. Or perhaps your sales reps would appreciate an email they could send to leads they're working that they could customize around pain points the event will address. The point here is the reason one person wants to attend your event is going to be different than the next person -- using email marketing not only makes reaching out less expensive and invasive; it enables you to draw on your knowledge of recipients to personalize a message that's most relevant to them.

(Tip: Don't rely on just email marketing to get the word out about your event. Not everyone that might be interested in attending your event is necessarily in your database already. Make sure the world knows you're throwing the best event this side of the Mississippi by including mentions of it in blog content, on social media, and even on key places on your website!)

#4 Spamming registrants with updates.

Maybe you're already on the email marketing gravy train. But are you chugging too much gravy? Sometimes, event marketers get a little overzealous with the cheap and efficient nature of email, and use it as a tool to effectively spam event registrants. The event's coming. It's almost here. You ready? How 'bout now? Hey, just want to send you one more email with every single little detail of the event. You know, in case you didn't get my previous twenty.

Holy cow, chill with the email updates! You absolutely should remind attendees of important information -- like registering for sessions, hotel room block updates, transportation from the airport, activities in the area, things like that. But there are two things you can do to communicate this information via email, without breaching inbox overload territory:

1) Consider what information is most appropriate to send at what time.

2) Consider what information you know a particular recipient has already consumed.

This is the crux of context marketing. Let's start with the first point. Certain event-related information is more important a couple months before the event, and some information is more important a week before an event. For example, you're going to want to send an email about booking a room in the hotel block two months before the event; and then, for those who didn't book yet, a reminder a month before, or when rooms are starting to run out. That takes us to the second point -- if someone has already booked their room, don't send them another email about it. Or perhaps someone has already clicked through on an email with the schedule of events -- you probably don't need to send them that email again until a couple days before the actual event, when a reminder would be handy.

Again, this is where email as a tool is fantastic! Because you can segment and send messages based on behavior, you can limit the amount of email you send to registrants, and only deliver the most relevant, timely messages.

#5 Not aligning content choices with audience.

Securing speakers and content for an event isn't easy. You want to get speakers who are well known in the industry, but you also want to make sure they have experience presenting. Previously, event coordinators picked out of these two categories: 1) well known in the industry, or 2) produced quality content. In an ideal world, a speaker could do both. However, similar to some of the other ways to modernize your event marketing strategy, it's vital to make sure the content aligns with your target audience.

Before you choose your speakers -- or even the entertainment for your next event -- consider who you are trying to target, and think about your company's buyer personas. The content should be based on something you know your buyer persona wants to learn more about, and the choice of entertainment should be based on the type of music that your attendees would be interested in. For example, at last year's INBOUND 2012 conference, Cyndi Lauper performed during a concert because we knew our conference attendees would be interested in seeing her. Similarly, if your target is skewed more toward people who have just graduated from college, you may not want to have content that's, say, an introduction to social media. Think about what your attendees are really looking for out of your event, and then choose your content accordingly. If your conference is an annual event, you can even survey your attendees to see what they want to learn about.

#6 Keeping event content an exclusive secret.

It used to be that to draw people to your event, you had to promise exclusive content for attendees only.

I get that. In fact, I still agree with it ... to an extent. The thing is, drawing people to an event shouldn't be approached any differently than generating leads. Great content will usually do it, but those that aren't ready to take the leap shouldn't be "punished," either. Here's what I mean.

Promoting the amazing content that will be at the event is a fantastic way to get people pumped up about attending your event. Maybe you even encourage some of your speakers and session leads to write guest blog content as a teaser for their sessions. But ultimately, there will be some people that simply cannot attend your event. Historically, the attitude has been "tough noogies." I think the attitude should be "that's alright, maybe next time." Those that have taken the time and money to attend your event should get exclusive access to a lot of the juicy stuff at your event, but you should still share some of the content with the rest of the world after the event's over.

The truth is, attendees are going to be sharing this knowledge in the future, anyway. Why not be proactive about sharing some helpful content from the event? That's what inbound is about. Being helpful; sharing knowledge, not hoarding it. Heck, maybe you even live stream some sessions at the event. If you're open to sharing some of the information and highlights of the event, I think you'll see an even bigger attendance next year.

What are other ways to modernize an old-school event marketing strategy? Share your tips in the comments!

Image credit: NinaZed

Topics: Event Marketing

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