Social Media Week case study: lessons from virtual events, launching the ‘Netflix for Marketers’ and what’s coming next…

As the first wave of Covid-19 lockdowns swept the globe, Toby Daniels and his team at Social Media Week had to very rapidly transform two large face-to-face conferences to something that would suit a world in which large gatherings were prohibited and home working became a universal norm. And so SMWONE was born – one of the first ever large-scale conferences globally to pivot from an in-person format to all-virtual.

MPG, as Social Media Week’s marketing partners, were given the challenge of coming up with and executing a new marketing strategy – fast.

In April, two weeks before the virtual doors were due to swing open on SMWONE, Toby and MPG’s Helen Coetzee, Kirsty Joynson and Alicia Drew joined forces to deliver a ‘pivot to virtual’ webinar series to share with MPG’s community the SMWONE event product and marketing strategies, and the lessons learned to that point.

7 months on, Toby has kindly agreed to share more insights on how SMWONE performed, the full set of lessons learned, and most excitingly – what Toby and team have been working on since.

Here is our Q&A piece – we hope you find it valuable!


Why did you decide to pivot to virtual so rapidly, instead of waiting to see if in-person events could be postponed?

There were a number of reasons, informed in part by the Governor of New York’s executive order, which forced our hand in having to cancel one of our two US based in-person conferences. We also believed that the second half of the year, regardless of whether we could host something in-person or not, was going to be saturated with competitor events postponed to later in the year.

We were faced with cancelling two huge events and knowing that if we were going to pivot to virtual, we needed to do it fast and early to get out in front of the competition.

We also felt a great obligation towards our attendees and partners to launch a virtual event and bring our New York and Los Angeles Social Media Week communities together for one virtual experience that would create a sense of unity and togetherness, at a time when we were all feeling isolated and apart.

What went well with the hard pivot to virtual?

From the point where we made the decision to pivot, to launching SMWONE was around 4 weeks, and about 7-8 weeks prior to actually kicking off the event. Despite how challenging a period that was for everyone – the adjustment to working remotely and with everything going on around us – I was very proud that Social Media Week team, together with MPG, was able to move so quickly and execute at a pace and level of quality that really stood out to so many people. In addition to speed, I was especially pleased with the quality of the program and how we were able to refactor almost every single session to cater to what was happening in the moment.

In total we hosted over 170 hours of live programming over four weeks, featuring some of the most senior, inspirational, and leading minds in our industry. The virtual format and nature of events like these also afforded us the ability to reach more people, and by the end of the event we had over 10,000 people register and participate in the event.

Scaling virtual events while driving audience engagement is not necessarily new to us, but it represents a different set of challenges from a marketing standpoint, and we would not have been able to achieve these numbers and reach so many people if it wasn’t for MPG’s ability to help put in place the operational and executional pieces that really drove much of our marketing efforts.

What would you do differently if you were to run another large virtual Social Media Week event?

Creating meaningful opportunities for people to connect and engage around live events is always a huge priority for us. We believe that content provides the context that in turn drives conversation and connection. In addition to having a thirst for new knowledge, our audiences are also inherently social people and seek opportunities to meet and develop relationships with their industry peers.

We have found this to be much more challenging in virtual environments. This was certainly the case during SMWONE. While this proved to be hugely difficult for us, we have invested considerably to figure out how to create a better and more engaging experience for our attendees and look forward to rolling out some new initiatives in 2021.

Do you see Social Media Week running virtual events in 2021 and beyond?

Since SMWONE in May we’ve hosted a number of virtual events, from private executive roundtable events to a large-scale event series we’re hosting with Facebook, called The Business of Empathy, as well as a huge client appreciation party we’re hosting later this month. During this period, we have quickly developed a capability in executing virtual events at almost any scale. When we think about the next 12-18 months we are fully committed to continuing to develop this capacity and to serve our industry in as many different ways as possible. We believe that virtual will be the primary means by which we do that, at least through the end of 2021 and perhaps beyond.

If we have learned anything this year it is that virtual events bring with them a ton of new and exciting ways in which to convene and engage audiences, and that they will continue to be an important part of our programs and offerings in the future.

In August, you launched a new subscription service. What is SMW+ and who is it for?

SMW+ is a streaming platform that provides marketers with opportunities to connect to and learn from some of the smartest and most accomplished leaders within our industry, through live and on-demand programming. The content is designed to educate and inspire and help marketers level-up in their careers.

Think of it as the ‘Netflix for Marketers’, or the ‘Peloton for Professionals’, with an incredible library of shows, content series and educational programs which members can consume live or in their own time through the on-demand experience.

Why did you decide to create SMW+?

SMWONE taught us that people consume content and participate in virtual events in a range of different ways. Some tune in live, some have it on in the background and some are binge watchers and prefer to watch/attend in their own time.

I felt that virtual events didn’t really cater to all of these different user behaviours, and that there was a whitespace opportunity to build something that had the look and feel of a premium streaming service but that catered to the needs of marketers who are looking to advance themselves and their careers.

We also felt confident that we had the team in place to do this. MPG’s contribution here again was very important – with the martech and data work they have done an essential part of the mix, along with the contribution they’re making to all other aspects of marketing SMW+.

What’s gone well with SMW+ that made you really feel the investment was worth it?

Too soon to tell, but we’re excited to now be rolling out a new version of the platform, together with a range of subscription options for users who are looking to invest in their professional education and learn from the smartest minds in our industry.

One thing we’ve learned – which we’re incredibly excited about – is that our presenters are loving the opportunity to create episodic content series rather than giving one-off talks or participating in one-off panel discussion. Our audiences in turn love this approach also as they can tune in each week, really get to know a particular host or presenter and also go deep into a particular show’s topic through the on-demand experience.

What are the biggest challenges you face with SMW+?

Building audiences and capturing people’s attention, especially today, is a huge challenge.

Professionals are completely overwhelmed at this point, experiencing Zoom fatigue and are probably waning in their enthusiasm for virtual events. This is our biggest challenge. How do you cut through the noise and reach, engage and truly enrich people with these challenges in mind? Our general approach has been to make the content feel unique, to invest in the production quality and overall experience and to provide people with something truly unique and valuable.

We obsess over how to best serve our stakeholders and I believe SMW+ stands out as something that all marketers should experience and enjoy.

What can we expect from Social Media Week next?

We’re about to launch our 2021 program of events, all of which will be virtual, together with some new updates and announcements on SMW+.

We are also about to announce the global theme for 2021, which I am feeling very passionate about as the topic feels urgent, important and incredibly timely. More on this and our 2021 program very soon!


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Event Tech Live: Helen Coetzee reveals MPG’s Engage, Monetise, Scale framework

Speaking on the main stage at Event Tech Live 2020 on 5th November 2020, MPG Founder & CEO Helen Coetzee shared MPG’s Engage, Monetise, Scale Growth Marketing Framework.

This framework covers a 3-step approach focused on a strategic and sustainable path to growth for B2B community-focused brands.

Developed from MPG’s experience of working on B2B community marketing strategies for brands in multiple sectors globally, this approach comes of age in 2020 – plotting a path for 2021 and beyond for brands to engage, then monetise, then scale their communities.

Download Helen’s presentation slides to learn more.

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Standing out from the virtual conference crowd: MPG’s top 10 tips

In every industry, the second half of 2020 is going to be packed with virtual conferences. With all the postponed events from H1 now crammed into H2, along with most of the events that usually happen in H2 still planning to go ahead, we’re entering a unique six months of an over-abundance of virtual events – at a time when the world is coming out of lockdown and people won’t be spending as much time staring at screens as they have been over the past few months.

So, how will you ensure your conference stands out from the crowd of digital events and keeps your audience glued to their screens? The most engaging events will be those with the most relevance – in content, speakers and attendees. Having decent tech that works should be a given. Tech is not your point of differentiation.

The winning virtual events will be those with:

  1. The most relevant product
  2. The most relevant marketing

Product and marketing usually go hand in hand, and as we enter the virtual events world, the two will become more blended. Where virtual events are free (or very cheap) to attend, your digital event is essentially a substantial content marketing initiative. As has always been the case with content marketing, attention and engagement relies on relevance. The more relevant your content and marketing is to your target attendees, the more likely you are to get, and keep, their attention. And if you have the audience’s attention, you have the sponsorship dollars (and hopefully also some delegate revenue!).

To stand out from the crowd, here is what you need to do:

#1 Know what is keeping your audience awake at night right now

Put together event sessions and marketing messaging that specifically address the issues that are most important and relevant to your audience at the moment. Not only will your registrants turn up to your digital event if it’s highly relevant, they’ll also share your content and marketing with their colleagues and network.


#2 Get a speaker line-up your audience really wants to hear from at this moment in time

The people who have the most relevant and important things to say about the current situation faced by your audience will be your ‘must-have’ speakers. Pay them if you have to – at least you won’t need to also cover flights & hotel costs! For virtual events, having fewer, highly relevant speakers is better than having lots of mediocre speakers. In fact, don’t have any mediocre speakers – only invite the very best and most relevant onto your digital stage.


#3 Create a good customer journey

Your customers need to move seamlessly from landing on your event website, registering for the event, receiving registration confirmation, being updated/reminded of the event, attending the event and then receiving the post-event comms. So, once you have chosen your event product tech, make sure it integrates well with your marketing tech. At every touchpoint, make sure your brand identity is strong, consistent and feels relevant to your audience.


#4 Invest in developing a robust, content-led marketing strategy

A marketing strategy is not only about how many emails you send out or whether or not you use PPC. It’s about so much more than that. It should focus first and foremost on the following two things:

  1. A detailed market map and market segmentation plan: ensure you reach the most relevant audience in large enough numbers, with the most relevant messages
  2. Strong messaging strategy: focused on relevant USPs and benefits addressing your target persona’s needs and motivations at this time

It is essential to nail down these two strategic priorities to make your marketing relevant.


#5 Deploy an integrated, multichannel campaign – focusing on the most relevant channels

A businessperson – regardless of industry – probably spends most of their time hanging out in three places: their email inbox, on LinkedIn and on websites (found via Google). So, when you’re trying to get the attention and build ongoing engagement with your audience, focus on these relevant channels – ensuring all the words & images you put out there (your marcomms) are relevant, consistent and reinforce one another.


#6 Have a great project manager on your event team to make sure things get done

When running a virtual event, you will have many plates spinning and a very long list of tasks that need to be completed in a highly co-ordinated way – at speed. It’s great if your team is using good project management software, but it is even more important to have a person responsible for ensuring the right things get done at the right time. The most relevant content and marketing will fall flat if your execution is not synced. Project management software is not accountable to anyone. Put an actual person in place who is.


#7 Measure all your marketing and make data-led decisions

As you move through your event cycle, measure the impact of all your marketing across all channels. Do this in a granular way and make sure you pull out the most important, relevant insights on at least a weekly basis to inform your marketing going forward. The beauty of digital is all the wonderful data it gives us on audience behaviour and engagement. If you’re ignoring this data, you’re ignoring your customers.


#8 Make sure your marketing database is well structured and includes enough relevant contacts

You cannot reach out directly to the right people with your relevant content and messages if they’re not on your database. And you won’t be able to find them in your database or pull them into a targeted email list if they’re not correctly categorised. The competition you will face in the coming months from other virtual events will be very intense. Having a strong, well-structured database so that you can run effective, targeted email campaigns will give you the edge.


#9 Automate as much of your marketing as possible

Virtual event marketing campaigns work best with a shorter lead time than what we typically would plan for face-to-face events. This means you need to push out your marketing messages in a shorter space of time at a faster pace, and this needs to be highly responsive – so automation is essential. If your marketing is all manual, it will feel clunky and less relevant to your audience and will put a huge amount of strain on your team.


#10 Follow through with strong conversion-focused marketing

Don’t stop your marcomms to an individual once they have registered for your virtual event. Make sure that once they’ve registered they continue on an engagement journey with you – remind them regularly of the value and relevance of your event content and speakers, update them on any valuable new features, such as new networking opportunities, and encourage them to log on at the right moment to participate in your virtual sessions. It is in the last few days and hours before an event when automated marketing really comes into its own.


Nobody said creating a great virtual conference and marketing this effectively would be easy. If it was easy, you’d have started running virtual conferences years ago!

We know that conference organisers, sponsors and attendees are pining for ‘the good old days’ of simple, face-to-face events. But these are not coming back. For the rest of 2020, the world will have an abundance of virtual events to choose to attend and sponsor. Beyond 2020, the standard format will be hybrid events – taking ‘the best of virtual’ and combing this with the ‘best of face-to-face’ to create some very valuable experiences for our customers.

So, at this moment in time, you now have a choice: either embrace the challenge and aim to make your virtual event’s content, speakers and marketing more relevant and valuable than your competitors, or don’t – and get lost in all the noise – in 2020 and beyond.

For further insight on virtual events and advice on how to maneuver the ‘pivot’ from live to digital, read about our webinar case study looking at world-leading B2B events brand, #SMWONE.

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How do you get registrants to turn up to your virtual event?

For all the opportunities virtual events offer, one of the biggest challenges vs an in-person event is ensuring registrants follow through to becoming engaged attendees.

This is where conversion marketing, the practice of converting registered delegates (especially those who registered for free) into attendees via targeted comms, plays such an important role.

Achieving a strong conversion rate is essential. Just like in the real world, events live or die on their attendance rate. Too low and sponsors and exhibitors become frustrated at lack of lead opportunities; speakers will in future seek larger audiences elsewhere; and delegates will tune out as they’ll think their peers don’t value the event enough to attend, and will also recognize that without their peers, attending the event loses its value around opportunities for discussion/Q&A and networking.

An inherent benefit of in-person events is that their very nature encourages participation. Attendees often need to make prior travel and accommodation commitments that further tie them to attending, they clear their calendars and shift deadlines to commit to attendance and often also schedule face-to-face meetings with current and potential clients and partners.

The virtual world requires far less commitment. Attendees can be very focused on something else up to 5 minutes before the ‘doors’ open; with notifications, emails, to-do lists and their immediate surroundings fighting for their attention.

We’ve been working hard at MPG on our clients’ conversion campaigns – i.e. the very important marketing you need to do leading up to the event and during a multi-session event – to get attendees to turn up, get fully engaged and stay engaged. And we’re very pleased to be able to share some of these learnings with you now.


Six essential ingredients for a high performance conversion campaign

#1 Evaluate your audience’s needs and consider your event format

Every event and event audience is different.

If your event takes places over several days or even weeks, you will need to construct a plan that keeps delegates engaged throughout. Do not think that just because they attended the first few sessions that they will stick around.

If your audience demographic means they’re less keen on or comfortable with the digital event format, you will need to carefully construct comms that educate them on the benefits and process of attending to make them feel more confident they’ll have a good experience engaging with your virtual event.

If you’re offering free tickets, your conversion campaign is even more vital. These delegates may think they will lose nothing by not attending, so you need to convince them the event will deliver value in return for time and attention.


#2 Start early

Your conversion efforts should start as soon as your first registration comes in. While it can be tempting to focus email, social and other comms on getting people to book, neglecting the people who have already registered will probably mean you lose them.

Consider also how you can leverage conversion marketing to generate additional registrations – encouraging registrants to share information about your event with their network not only increases your reach, but people are more likely to attend if they can see the event is being supported by someone in their peer network.


#3 Get to grips with and leverage the capabilities of your virtual event system (+ the rest of your tech stack)

Many virtual event platforms have features baked in that can support your conversion efforts.

For example, Bizzabo features both push notifications and session summary emails, which can be sent to registrants a set time before a session to remind them to attend.

When marketing teams are likely already strained with running an effective acquisition campaign, these automations can save precious resources. Often they come pre-set with useful integrations like ‘Add to calendar’ links too!

Other elements of your tech stack are also important. For example, email providers like Mailchimp offer easy segmentation of data and PPC platforms like Google Ads let you build intelligent multi-touch campaigns based on past behaviour.


#4 Build a dedicated conversion marketing communications plan

Once you understand your audience, the implications of your event format and the capabilities of your digital platforms, it’s time to formulate a detailed and robust plan to execute the required marketing.

Map out what your registered delegates will be receiving and when; including emails, targeted PPC campaigns and automated messages and notifications. Consider all touch points, e.g. do they need an automated message that reminds them to save sessions to their agenda? And what social media announcements are needed just before the event to create a sufficient buzz and fear of missing out?

Email is your most important channel here, mostly focused on targeted, automated campaigns. Social media is also important and can be used to create discussion between delegates about what they’re looking forward to. PPC also has a part to play in creating highly targeted ‘micro touchpoints’. Think about how you can use chat platforms (like Slack) to provide a space for delegates to interact both in group and private channels.


#5 Ensure you have the right skills and resources in place

A vital piece of the puzzle is ensuring you’ve got enough knowledgeable people to plan and execute your conversion comms well. Ensuring your plan is achievable from a workload perspective – when you also need to put a huge marketing effort into generating registrants in the first place – could mean the difference between success and failure. If the volume is not feasible:

  1. Identify what can be automated or pre-scheduled to avoid crunch periods.
  2. Remove less critical elements to lighten the load.
  3. Consider engaging additional support to add some much needed marketing muscle.

#6 Track results and adapt

Measuring ROI on conversion campaigns is a bit trickier than measuring the performance of acquiring registrants. While data on the channels that influenced a sale should be quite easy to access and analyse, understanding how effective your conversion marketing is in getting someone to sign in on the day is less straightforward.

Generally, there is a direct correlation between how a person engages with conversion marketing and how likely they are to turn up – so make sure you measure this and analyse after your virtual event what behaviors lead to the best outcomes, so that you can predict for future events what is most likely to be effective and what results are likely to come through in terms of event attendance.

Getting in people’s diaries/calendars is a simple and highly effective way of encouraging attendance. Not only will it prevent them making other commitments, but most calendar apps will do a lot of the work for you – providing automated reminders of the upcoming event.

The usual suspects of reporting (interaction rates, open rates) are still useful indicators of performance, and tracking clicks on important CTAs like ‘Add to Calendar’ can help you understand how effective your comms are in achieving your objectives.

When you know your most effective channels and techniques, focus your efforts (and money) on them. Don’t be afraid to cut a channel if its performance isn’t up to scratch.

The data you gather from your first conversion campaign will also contain vital lessons for your next one, so spend time examining the data to understand what was effective.


The key to success in conversion marketing is to apply the main principles of successful B2B community marketing in the current age:

  • Be community-focused and ensure your creative approaches to messaging and visual branding hit the mark.
  • Automate as much as you can to enhance the customer experience and achieve scale and essential efficiencies.
  • Measure all you do and makes sure your decisions are data-led.

Get converting!

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Key insights from MPG’s ‘Pivot to Virtual’ webinar series

With large in-person events unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future due to Covid-19, Toby Daniels and the team at Social Media Week decided in March to launch a new, completely virtual event – #SMWONE – in place of two large scale, flagship conferences that were due to run in New York (May) and Los Angeles (June).

Toby generously offered to share the #SMWONE journey and learnings with MPG’s community (thank you Toby!). So, last week, over 100 of MPG’s ‘friends and family’ joined us for a 2-part webinar series breaking down ground in our industry (thank you friends and family!).

In part 1 of our webinar series, I had a ‘fireside chat’ with Social Media Week founder Toby Daniels to explore the strategy and practicalities of ‘going virtual’.

This was followed in part 2 by a marketing-focused session, where MPG’s Kirsty Joynson and Alicia Drew shared unique insights on how they developed the marketing strategy and then executed an innovative, fast paced marketing campaign to launch #SMWONE – with only a 4 week lead time.

Due to popular demand, we’ve put together a ‘content package’ to share with you:

 

Our top 7 takeaways:

1. Social Media Week have always had a strong digital presence and 365 content-led offering for their community. They’re just taking digital up a notch with a fully virtual, large-scale event – at a time of crisis, when their community really needs the knowledge and networking #SMWONE can deliver.

The most forward-thinking and ‘future-proof’ event organizers think first and foremost about their purpose around serving the needs of their community. Then they think about how best to serve that community – be it delivering and creating value via a 2-day in-person event, or a 4-week virtual event. The format/platform is there to serve the community’s needs in a way that is practical and engaging at a point in time. In 2020 – that’s digital.


2. It’s very important to focus on how you can create something new that is truly valuable for your community, instead of obsessing over when you can ‘go back to how things were’.

Brands that view adversity as an opportunity to innovate for long term success will be the winners. Event organizers that focus purely on cutting costs and damage limitation over the next 6-12 months will fall (far) behind. Our ‘new normal’ will inevitably look different and we should be embracing the unavoidable change, not shying away from it.


3. Virtual and hybrid events are here to stay. The tech you choose must support the needs of your community.

Virtual meetings are not a new idea, they have been around for a long time. We all have a vast (and often confusing!) choice in digital event platforms. Social Media Week chose a new platform from Bizzabo to run #SMWONE because it promises the best combination of features to best serve Social Media Week’s community. Work out your community’s needs first, then choose the tech.


4. A virtual event creates new opportunities (and challenges) for marketing

With the physical constraints of an in-person event removed, marketers can now reach out and engage a truly global audience.

However, virtual events demand marketing that is more digitally sophisticated and precision-targeted, at a higher volume and a much faster pace than live events. This can create significant operational challenges if the right skills and level of resource is not in place.

Plus, event marketers are facing a very new, essential requirement: planning, setting up and running automated and effective conversion campaigns to ensure a high percentage of registered attendees turn up to the event and engage with the content and networking opportunities.


5. There are 5 pillars to marketing a virtual event…

…and they aren’t dissimilar from marketing a live event. These are:

(1)  An effective marketing funnel – with the right message, sent at the right time to the right audience to generate and then convert leads
(2)  An optimized pricing strategy – to achieve the right balance between revenue, delegate volume and attendee quality
(3)  Effective positioning – around your event’s USP and key benefits
(4)  Excellent execution – with a strong focus on digital enablement and automation to achieve the relevance and volume of marketing activity needed
(5)  Ongoing measurement and analysis of results – to ensure ongoing data-led decision making can enable a responsive and high-performance marketing campaign

These will all be familiar to event marketers, but their application must be adjusted to fit the virtual environment.


6. Test and learn is the name of the game

With a shortage of ‘case studies’ on how large, paid-for conferences have successfully transitioned to virtual formats, we need to be brave and truly agile. It’s essential that senior event professionals and their marketers quickly embrace tech and get stuck into working out how to deliver value to their communities digitally. The only way to really know if something will work is to do it. We don’t have time to wait for someone else to do it first to reduce our risk. Move fast and break things. Test and learn. Then quickly switch your focus to building stable infrastructure.


7. Have a back-up plan

Technology will always be prone to hiccups, as the MPG team discovered when our chosen webinar platform encountered technical issues 45 minutes before we were due to go live for ‘part 2’. The world’s fastest platform switch (citation needed) commenced and the stream started on schedule on a different platform. Digital event organizers should be prepared with some ‘Plan B’ options and the ability to make a quick switch if needed. The show must go on!


Part 1: Strategy – Replay

Part 2: Marketing – Replay

During part 1 of the series, our audience members’ combined challenges were prevalent as we saw an influx of questions surrounding both the short- and long-term considerations when taking a previously large-scale conference fully virtual. With input from Toby Daniels @ Social Media Week and MPG’s Alicia Drew and Kirsty Joynson, we have reviewed all the questions and provided full answers here for you to download.

We hope you found the webinar content package useful and that you have been able to gain some valuable new insights on how to approach your virtual event strategy and marketing approach going forward.

MPG contact us

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B2B event marketers: for now, digital content is your product

Q2 is here and things are looking… interesting. We’re taking a step back to think about the #1 priority event marketers should have for the next couple of months.

Events have been postponed or cancelled. Virtual and hyrbid events and digital ‘add-ons’ are being created and launched at lightning speed. But budgets are frozen.

Many B2B event marketers are feeling uncertain about what they should focus on in the coming weeks to deliver value to their business and prove their worth. They are so used to be being pushed every day to deliver results in the form of revenue or ‘hot leads’ for the sales team. The job they may feel they have been hired to do cannot be done. So, they’re sitting at home, probably feeling quite anxious, in a makeshift – yet now permanent-feeling  – home office, wondering what do to.

For marketers looking for something to get their teeth into, that will deliver great value for their businesses in the next few weeks and over the longer term, content marketing via digital channels is the one true path.


Digital content’s new role

The value of content marketing to drive growth in B2B events and subscriptions has long been known, but until a few weeks ago seldom properly thought about or invested in.

For years speaker interviews, industry reports and podcasts have been a powerful way to grow engagement, reach new people and capture data of individuals who find most value in our products.

B2B community marketers now need to get very comfortable with the process around creating and distributing strong, engaging digital content to their communities. This will not only solve the short-term problems around maintaining engagement of valuable communities – but more importantly, will prove to be a great asset that can continue to be leveraged as we push ourselves into recovery mode in a few months’ time.

Digital content, and the marketing of this content, is an asset that needs investment – now more than ever. And this investment should pay off in the short, medium and long term. Who wouldn’t see that as an attractive place to put their money right now?

What makes content so valuable

At its core, content solves problems. People watch webinars not because of a flashy social post or catchy name, but because the subject addresses a challenge they face in their working lives. It’s fair to say nearly every worker in every field is facing a myriad of challenges in our working lives right now!

When community members ‘purchase’ our content, they pay with us three valuable things:

1. Their time
2. Their attention
3. Their data

These three things are the currencies we’re trading in right now when dollars, pounds and euros are being kept firmly in companies and investors’ zipped-up pockets.

What does good content look like?

Now is the time for producers and event content specialists to use their knowledge of the most pressing pain points and burning needs of their community.

At a time when people cannot gather together at events, or their companies may be limiting how much they can spend on the most valuable information sources, your content is a life raft.

Faced with huge uncertainty over their flagship events series Money20/20, industry titan Ascential put their community’s needs first. The Moneypot addresses the issues the fintech community faces right now in short, engaging pieces. Frequently updated content incentivises community members to subscribe while also referencing their event series to keep their conferences top of mind in a smart, customer-friendly way.

Social Media Week has always been a leader in content marketing. Their latest #5Things podcast covering some incredible work being done by some of the giants in the world of marketing in response to the Covid-19 challenges the world is facing.

How should marketers promote & amplify content?

For optimal results – marketers need to treat their digital content as their product.

That means deploying all the usual marketing strategies and tactics in promoting it:

Use your audience personas and map out your community to understand who the content best serves and how it solves challenges they are currently facing.

Create a messaging strategy that communicates the USP and benefits of your content consistently across channels.

Deploy a multi-channel comms plan to achieve strong reach within your community. Host the content in a dedicated spot on your website, announce new pieces via email and social media and re-target past users to pull them back to your site.

Collect data and segment accordingly to create the most relevant and welcome communications. The data you collect now can also be used later to push subscriptions and events sales – so make sure it is collected, stored and structured in the right way.


Thinking of digital content as a product may feel strange to many event marketers, especially those used to be focused on revenue. But this new mindset is absolutely essential in maintaining your brand & position, and in ensuring you are doing all you need to for your community right now. If you look after your community now, they will look after you when things get back to the new normal – however that may look. You can read more about our advice on winning in the new world here.

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13 key learnings from MPG’s webinar on postponed events

Following the forced postponement of most events in the first half of 2020, we ran a webinar for conference and B2B tradeshow organisers on key marketing considerations needed in this unique period of time. Over 100 CEOs, MDs, department heads and marketers from across B2B media and events attended our two instalments of the virtual event.

Here are the 13 things we learned about marketing postponed events that we’d like to share with our community:

Ensuring success for your next event…

1. Collaboration is key

The events industry is moving into a new era. Close collaboration between all stakeholders will be vital in forming a winning strategy for the months and years ahead.


2. This is a great opportunity to build new digital formats

Digitally-enhanced and fully-virtual events started running successfully some years ago, but it is clear that the current crisis is a catalyst for a very rapid digital transformation of events businesses. Winning event brands will leverage tech to engage their communities year-round, not just at the events or in the immediate run up to an event.


3. Longer lead time is an opportunity

For all the doom and gloom of the situation, longer lead times and the opportunity to generate more digital engagement with their audiences presents a wonderful opportunity for marketers. New digital formats and creative approaches to comms will push some of our marketeers out of their comfort zones initially; but they will build up their knowledge and confidence in the right areas quickly – they will need to!


4. Engagement and lead generation must be the focus

In times of great uncertainty, events revenue is hugely challenged. Maintaining the interest of prospective delegates online and over a longer time period is essential in securing revenue over the long term. With this in mind…


5. Content marketing is now the magic ingredient

Knowledge banks, resource centres, speaker Q&As, podcasts, interviews, webinars, whitepapers – all of these will serve your community well in the coming weeks, keeping event stakeholders and audiences engaged and trusting in your brand
Read more >


6. Now is a good time to grow your audience and database

Having more time to engage with your audience presents a great opportunity to add more relevant names to your database. Whether you decide to invite them to your event or invite them to take out a subscription – having more of the right prospects’ details on your database can only help you! More downloadable content on your website will allow you to capture contact details of key contacts. Your marketers can also start engaging with more media partners to extend your reach further. And adding more contacts to your database via targeted research will really pay off.


7. You should aim to make your events even more valuable

Prospective delegates, speakers and sponsors will applaud if you use the extra time you have to enhance your product. Enhancements could include virtual event formats, digital add-ons, new speakers and the aforementioned content production.


8. Newsletters are likely to make a comeback

How do you communicate the evolving nature of your product (without pushing the ‘hard sell’) and get people to buy tickets when they’re not yet sure if they’ll be able to attend? A simple newsletter could be the best way to keep your audience informed, engaged and well served with useful product updates and content. And if the newsletter is valued by your community this could be the start of a new subscription product and a new way to generate revenue.


9. Monitoring results is more important than ever – ‘test & learn’ will be critical!

Where there is uncertainty, hard numbers and data are your guiding light. Keeping track of everything from website traffic to the channels driving revenue will enable informed decisions on how to approach your marketing – one week at a time. If your marketing team is going to be trying new things – you’ll need to know if they work.


 

Looking long term…

10. 2021 events may have a shorter cycle due to later 2020 events

Events organisers will need to think carefully about how they approach this challenge. Don’t underestimate the impact a short lead time will have on your content production timeline, as well as how your marketing and sales team will need to adjust their approach to generate required levels of revenue. Start working on your 2021 event before your postponed 2020 event to get ahead!


11. Will digital enable expansion?

Virtual events can be attended from anywhere in the world, meaning the reach of your event is now truly global. The size of your event is also no longer restricted by the size of the venue, and the increasing logistics and catering costs that come with scale are not an issue in the virtual world.


12. Will this spark more creativity in the sector?

Hardship breeds resourcefulness, ingenuity and innovation. The event organisers that respond well to this challenge by adapting fast, developing new models and ways of engaging with and serving their community will define the way we approach events for the coming decade.


13. What are the skills needed in 2021 and beyond?

As digital comes to the fore and businesses try to understand their new place in the world, agile and tech-savvy teams will be needed. The shift to year-round community engagement will require marketers who can think long-term, instead of focusing on short-term results. It will also mean that people who can learn quickly and move forward fast and confidently are likely to be the stars.

Find out more about how to win in the new world here.


To see more on what was discussed in our webinar series, you can watch the full webinar below.

The webinar slide deck is also available, including answers to questions on numerous challenges and issues highlighted in the webinar Q&A.

ACCESS WEBINAR SLIDES

We will be running more webinars soon on the challenges event organisers are facing, as well as how B2B media and events brands can get stuck into building and engaging their communities better with digitally delivered content and virtual networking opportunities. If you would like to suggest a topic or issue for us to cover, or if you would like to contribute a case study, please get in touch.

Topics:

Running a conference or exhibition in 2020? Your event marketers must do these 5 things

In our previous blog post, we covered what B2B event marketers should do in the wake of an event postponement due to Covid-19. In this post we explain the actions needed for an event scheduled to run this year. Whether you’ve postponed a spring event, or you’re preparing for your annual Q4 conference/exhibiton; revisiting your approach to marketing is essential.

In this tumultuous period, a spotlight has been shone on the events industry. Sponsors, exhibitors, suppliers and – of course – delegates look to their favoured conferences and exhibitions for a response to the Coronavirus outbreak that now dominates headlines.

If you have an event scheduled to run in 2020 there are several key considerations for your event marketers who play such a key role in event success.

We’ve put together a list of the top actions event marketers need to take now:


1- Release a statement to your entire community

Your event community wants to see that you are responding to the situation.

  • As your top priority – directly communicate an update of your position via email to your key event stakeholders. These are individuals who have in some way invested in or made a commitment to your event, including delegates, sponsors, partners, speakers and suppliers.
  • Add a clear statement to your event website homepage. Also add a dedicated web page about your decision to run the event this year and include information and links that support your position e.g. official government advice. Consider adding a pop-up to appear to anyone visiting any page of your website to maximise visibility. If you have a FAQ section on your website, add Covid-19 related questions to the top of the list.
  • Share this news on all channels, ensuring you reach as many people in your community as possible.
  • Consider producing a video alongside your statement to condense it into something easily digestible and engaging, and to add a trustworthy face to the decision. Here is a great example from Money20/20.

2 – Share your contingency plan

With a global situation that’s changing almost hourly, showing you have a robust back-up plan will give attendees, speakers and sponsors alike the confidence to plan to be part of your event.

  • Explain how and when (provide a specific date) stakeholders will be informed of a possible postponement.
  • Include when the postponed event is likely to take place if a postponement becomes necessary. At a minimum, state the likely month or date range, even if the specific date is not yet known.
  • Be as specific as you can about where the postponed event will take place, especially if you’re considering a different venue.
  • Take inspiration from this example, and other events’ contingency plans to ensure you’re covering all bases. This coronavirus response guide for event organisers from professional networking platform GUILD also includes some great examples of ‘going ahead’ statements.

3 – Make it clear how you are ensuring visitor safety

With health concerns top of mind in the public consciousness, sharing how you plan to reduce the risk to attendees is vital.

  • Share what measures your venue is taking, e.g. more frequent cleaning and the installation of hand sanitizers
  • Explain how, as the event organisers, you are further mitigating the risks. This could be by:
    • Advising against handshakes
    • Adjusting session formats
    • Providing on-site medical facilities

4 – Adjust your marketing communications strategy and campaign plan

It may be tempting to stick to the original, familiar plan. But considering a slightly different approach to your marcomms to take in to account the new coronavirus shaded world could be beneficial to campaign performance.

  • Review your channel approaches, considering how the situation may require them to change:
    • Is it worth investing more in re-engaging past visitors over trying to generate new ones if your returning visitor rate could drop?
    • Consider investing more in retaining booked delegates and revenue, instead of purely focusing on acquisition.
    • Exclude your digital advertising (PPC) from appearing on news sites. You don’t want your banners alongside an announcement advising people to avoid gatherings.
    • Does your wider messaging strategy need re-orienting? If your industry is feeling unease, should you focus on how your event addresses challenges instead of opportunities?
  • Don’t feel the need to completely tear up your existing strategy. Doing so will only cause unnecessary disruption when simple tweaks and diligence can keep you on the path to success.
  • Place more emphasis on lead generation and digital content creation until you are confident your event will go ahead as planned. Doing so will also allow prospective visitors to receive updates while they decide whether to commit to attending.
  • Think about how you can communicate any existing or newly built in digital elements (livestreaming, video content, networking app) to show that your event has a strong presence in the digital space, as well as the physical event itself.
  • Avoid messaging that states how many people you are expecting to attract, as you can’t be certain how many will turn up. Be wary of ‘over-promising and under-delivering’
  • Avoid using imagery that shows numerous people interacting closely or shaking hands.
  • Consider adding coronavirus related content to your event agenda – e.g. a breakfast briefing – as well as event content to your site (speaker interviews, news updates) to ‘own the conversation’ in your industry.
    • Make sure you build this new content into your comms, sharing via email and social as an agenda update, showing how you are responding to the crisis by making it a key discussion point.

5 – Provide frequent updates

As the situation evolves, your community will expect you to respond in a responsible and transparent manner.

  • Update your statement as soon as your plan or the situation changes and more clarity is needed. Include a date for when information was last updated.
  • If a significant update is made, push this out on all channels as you did when the statement was initially released.
  • Consider providing an update when a relevant news story breaks (e.g. a ban on gatherings of a certain scale) to quell any fresh concerns.

Above all, don’t be silent about Covid-19. Taking responsibility and providing clear communications is vital in times of uncertainty.

We recently published a blog with our advice and predictions on how to win in this new world and what the ‘new normal’ could look like – this is a must-read to ensure your business is taking the right community-led approach – read the full article here.

If you have any thoughts on how our industry should react and how the marketing approach should adjust, we would love to hear from you!

To find out more about short-term marketing considerations & tactics for postponed events, view the webinar outputs from our recent webinar which answered those all important questions.

Topics:

Postponed your event? Here’s 10 things your marketing team needs to do NOW

In the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, many event organisers are choosing to postpone their events. We gathered the MPG and AGNC teams to discuss the immediate steps marketing teams should take in the wake of a delayed event.

You’ve made the decision. A new date is set, the venue is secured. Assuming you’ve already done the following, you may feel you have all bases covered:

  1. Key internal and external stakeholders informed
  2. Event suppliers updated
  3. Event budgets adjusted and confirmed
  4. Existing software contracts extended (e.g. event apps)
  5. Reservations moved (speaker and sponsor dinners, VIP parties)

But don’t underestimate the responsibilities your marketing function has to ensure the success of your revised event plans. The strategic and tactical steps needed extend far beyond updating the dates on the website and sending out more emails.

The below checklist covers the essentials your marketing team need to action to secure the success of not only your next event, but your brand as a whole. Forward it to your marketing manager to ensure they’re considering everything, at what must be a stressful time.

 

Your marketing team’s postponement response checklist

1 – Review price points and targets

With an extended campaign timeline and the prospect of booked delegates dropping out, revisiting the core objectives of the marketing function should be priority number 1 on any marketing manager’s list.

  • Conduct an assessment on the impact of the postponement on revenue and attendee targets and set new objectives with a clear strategy of how your team will achieve them.
  • Investigate whether your pricing strategy is still fit for purpose. Be wary of running another early-bird to spark bookings – you could irritate delegates who just paid full price! Similarly, increasing the final rate to add an early-bird could be perceived as taking advantage of the situation.
  • Ensure you’ve secured the marketing investment needed to achieve new commercial targets.

2 – Conduct internal briefings to get everyone on the same page

With revised targets, an updated strategy and a very unfamiliar set of circumstances – ensuring everyone is kept up to date is essential.

  • To avoid confusion internally – and mixed messages being delivered externally – ensure your teams are fully briefed on the revised date (and the reasons for it), as well as the policies surrounding delegate ticket/sponsorship cancellations. They will need to know the answers to questions such as:
    • I can’t make the new date, can I use my ticket to attend next year instead?
    • Can I transfer my ticket to someone else?
    • We no longer wish to sponsor – can we get a refund?
    • I have already made financial commitments (such as a hotel booking) to attend – will I be reimbursed?

3 – Publish your statement

Once everything is sorted internally, it’s time to inform your community of your decision in a clear and confident manner.

  • Add a prominent statement to the homepage (and ideally also on a separate dedicated page) of your event website that clearly explains your decision and the reasons for it. Here’s a great example from a Summit in Singapore.
  • Make sure the statement is updated frequently to address any fresh challenges and include the date prominently to assure viewers they are reading an up to date announcement.

4 – Get the message out

Sharing the announcement on your website is not enough. To avoid frustration and confusion, all event stakeholders (including prospective attendees) must be informed.

  • As a priority – simultaneous to the statement being published – notify all delegates, sponsors, media partners, speakers and other event stakeholders via email and telephone of the new date.
  • Utilise email and social media to inform the wider market of the revised date. As on your website, make it clear why the decision has been made. Your event community wants to see that you are in control of the situation and acting in their best interests.

5 – Update your existing collateral

As soon as the announcement is out, focus on changing key information on your marketing collateral with new event dates and venue arrangements.

  • Review your existing collateral (brochures, agendas, interviews etc.) and update to reflect the revised date and venue (if applicable).
  • Consider how the change may affect the contents and structure of your collateral:
    • Was the venue a key selling point before, but now you’ve moved to a smaller site?
    • Does the collateral refer to the previous pricing strategy (early-birds) which may confuse people?

6 – Don’t forget your automated activity!

While dealing with ‘front-line’ activity, it’s all too easy to forget the systems you have running in the background. Take the time to re-group with your team on the automations in place and act swiftly to pause any activity that may conflict with your statement.

  • Check all your automated activity for outdated information or actions that may no longer be relevant. Here are some examples of what could trip you up:
    • Countdown ads in PPC campaigns that are due to start 1 week before the original event date
    • Autoresponder emails that are triggered by form completions on your event site
    • Pre-scheduled social media that still refers to the old event date
    • An event countdown widget on your website

7 – Re-focus your messaging

When getting back up to speed on your normal campaign activity, make sure you’re not just copy/pasting what came before.

  • In the short term – avoid copy and imagery that could invoke unease for prospective attendees. This could be:
    • Messaging around the size of the event (e.g. 500+ attendees) (also as your actual attendance numbers will be difficult to predict) and the ‘global’ nature of the event.
    • Images of large crowds in proximity, or of people shaking hands or interacting closely
  • Consider how the updated timelines and the Covid-19 impact may affect your event USPs and content.
    • Will you be adding any new digital elements to your event? e.g. livestreaming of certain sessions?
    • Will you be enhancing the app in any way or releasing it early so that delegates can get the most out of the networking opportunities your event presents?
    • Do you need to include a session dedicated to the impact of Covid-19? Substribe Summit has done this very well by adding a ‘breakfast session’ to the start of the day.
    • Is there a key piece of industry legislation that will now come into play before the event that will require you to adjust your program?
    • How else might the industry (and wider macro environment) change between now and the new date?
    • Can you try and secure new ‘big name’ speakers who maybe couldn’t attend the previous event? If you can have them join by video conference that may make it more likely they can speak at your event.

8 – Focus on lead gen

With hesitant prospective attendees, sponsors and exhibitors; collecting contact info to nurture and re-engage is more important than ever.

  • Make sure your ‘Register Your Interest/Subscribe for Updates’ forms are prominent on your website and in all comms.
  • Dial down the ‘Book Now’ messaging temporarily and focus on content-led comms and updates about how you’re enhancing the event (e.g. with digital add-ons) to build and maintain confidence in the event.

9 – Provide regular updates

With a rapidly evolving situation, your community will expect you to be vigilant and responsible.

  • Share what you (and the event venue) will do to ensure visitor safety. This could include increased frequency of cleaning and hand sanitizers.
  • Act on government and official advice and ensure your event attendees and stakeholders know you are heeding this guidance.

10 – Generate good content

To keep your audience engaged and further build confidence with all stakeholders that the event is still valuable and relevant, an increased focus on content production would be prudent.

  • Create and distribute high-value content (news updates, speaker interviews and collateral) that will keep both existing and prospective delegates invested until the new date
  • Consider creating content that directly addresses the effects of coronavirus on your industry. ‘Owning the conversation’ about the issue that is top of mind for everyone can be a powerful method of engaging your community and driving revenue, as well as ensuring your community is served with all the information they need.

Following these steps will help mitigate the short-term challenges an event postponement causes, for your marketing team and for your event’s health.

But the long-term symptoms of this outbreak will extend far beyond the pain caused by a single event’s postponement. The B2B events industry is about to undergo a period of intense self-reflection, and the outcomes of this could change the way we approach the medium for the next decade and beyond.

We’ll be diving deeper into the strategic implications of coronavirus on the world of B2B events in the coming weeks, so stay tuned. If you have any thoughts on how our industry should react, we would love to hear from you.

From all of us at MPG and AGNC, we wish you and your business all the best.

MPG recently hosted a webinar focused on marketing considerations & tactics for postponed events. See the webinar outputs here.

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Why data makes the difference in B2B events success

Why data makes the difference

A good database is the foundation of successful B2B events and subscriptions marketing. Simply put, 20% better data will mean 20% more delegates. As long as it’s the right data!

With email and telemarketing still the core of most event marketing campaigns, being able to reach your target audience by email – the main channel relying on of a strong database – is crucial to success.

A prime example of this comes from a publisher we have been working with over the past three years on eight of their events in Europe, the US and Asia. We have added 70,000 records to their database – focused on their target audience. This resulted in an additional £1m+ delegate revenue and an ROI of over 500%. Many event organisers don’t invest enough in the development and management of their database. Here are the most common mistakes we see in events businesses, and how you can avoid them!

1. Not enough data or the wrong data

As a benchmark, for every attendee you want to attract to an free to attend event, you need you need to reach 50 of the right people. For paid for events, it’s 100 for every one delegate. So, for an event targeting 100 paying delegates, you need to reach 10,000 of the right people – repeatedly. The best way to ensure you achieve this reach, is to have these people on your database!

The composition of the database also needs to match your preferred target audience – if you want 20% CFOs in the room, then 20% of your database need to be CFOs – in the right type of organisation and the right geography.

Check how closely your database matches your target audience and then be prepared to fill in the gaps (see below for how).

2. Data not in one place

All your data must be in one system. This doesn’t have to be an expensive system like Salesforce. If you do not do direct mail or telesales this could be an email system like Mailchimp, or if you do a multichannel campaign it could be something like the free CRM from Hubspot. Any CRM that you use should be integrated with your marketing automation/email marketing system to ensure your communications are all joined up across all your channels. It’s no good having data in various excel sheets or disconnected systems. If this is the case, you can’t develop a strong database, track permissions (for compliance) or run targeted marketing campaigns.

3. Neglecting organic data build

Those who engage with content on your website are likely to be the most engaged prospects. But many organisers don’t build the required elements in to their event websites to capture the details of these. It is important to have a well optimised event website with plenty of interesting content, all year round. This website should include a number of forms for potential customers to enquire about the event, register their interest or download a PDF of relevant information. The data captured from these form completions should feed in to your database in real time.
A year-round programme to optimise your website for form completions should generate organic data adding 5-10% of your total database , with these contacts being the most responsive and likely to convert to delegates.

4. Buying data in bulk

‘Buying lists’ from list brokers the old fashioned way is a definite no-no these days! This data is likely to perform very poorly as it is over-sold and over-used by a large number of buyers. Data may not be clean or up to date, the permissions may be patchy (if at all considered), and you will not get the response rates you want. If you need a large amount of data in a hurry, it’s better to purchase a subscription to a modern database or lead generation provider like Cognism. But always do targeted research for your core, most important target audience.

5. Not researching data properly

If you have gaps in segments of your data, you may need to use third parties to research this for you. This can be highly productive, but it is essential to brief the agency thoroughly, ask for a data sample, and then monitor the research process extremely closely. Take a long-term view – you can often get your data investment back in the first year, but the real value is in the second and third year, when you should get up to 400% ROI.

6. Lack of categorisation

If your database is not properly aligned with your audience segmentation, then you will have to send out messaging that may not be very relevant to a large number of people – resulting in a high number of unsubscribes. On your CRM, you will need to be able to tag records to align with different segments. This will allow you to send more targeted and relevant campaigns.

7. Not planning data in advance

Data can’t be a last-minute fix. It can take months to identify gaps in data and then research to fill in the gaps, clean data and plan your campaign. If you plan to use media partnerships to reach specific sectors, these are likely to also take months to set up.

8. Lack of skilled people

Managing data is a skilled discipline – it requires experience in managing data research firms, working with database providers and knowing how the data needs to be structured in within your marketing tech stack. Plus you need very strong attention to detail. Good data marketers can think strategically and are highly analytical. Many marketing teams lack these skills.

9. Not tracking engagement

Watch your email analytics to check the quality of the data you have. You should have over 97% deliverability. Open rates should be 15%+, click through rates should be 1.5%+ and click to open rates should be 8%+. If they are lower the data might be poor quality.

Limit emails to any individual to no more than twice a week, even if for different events. If you run multiple events, you need to have a single database and co-ordinate activity across campaigns.

10. Misdirected compliance efforts

Many publishers focused their GDPR efforts on the datasets they are using for email marketing, in particular attempting to collect consent from all of the people they wanted to email. The reality is that GDPR itself did not change the rules about who can be emailed with or without opt-in (there are separate pieces of regulation in each EU member state that define that). In B2B markets, depending on the country, prior opt-in is not always required for email, so attempting to collect it for all contacts before contacting them is likely to be overly cautious and is likely to kill your marketing effectiveness, especially for events that require large datasets in niche markets.

But do keep an eye on current regulations and any possible future changes to ensure you don’t fall foul of the law for countries where consent or opt-in is required and where it is required, do ensure that you are collecting and recording it in the correct way. These considerations should be built in to how your database is configured and managed, and a specialist with the required compliance knowledge is essential in getting this set up correctly.

If you are an events business leader, these are the questions you should be asking your head of marketing:

  • How many relevant records do we have on our database for marketing our event(s)? Do we have enough based on our event targets?
  • How clean and up to date are our database records, especially those most important to us? Can we do targeted messaging based on how the data can be segmented in our database? What segments can we identify?
  • Is our website set up to capture good new names to add to the database, with the right permissions?
  • Do we use a research firm to collect data in most important audience groups?
  • Do we have access to a database provider to find large volumes of data fast?
  • Do we have the required skills and resources inhouse to manage our database well?
  • What is our plan to invest in improving our database?

Data quality is far more important than choice of CRM. You can use a basic, free CRM and still get good results if you have a large enough, clean, well segmented database.

We have worked with many event organisers on their marketing databases – and have always found that time invested on cleaning up, expanding and structuring the database well has always delivered a strong ROI!

About the author

Magda has been working within the databases of the world’s leading B2B conferences and exhibitions for over 5 years. A trained expert on data privacy and compliance, including GDPR, her deep expertise is highly valued by MPG, AGNC and our clients.

Topics:

What will make your event marketing pay in 2020?

Rapid revenue growth from conferences and exhibitions is a high priority for many B2B media businesses. ‘Flagship’ events often generate much of this growth. The momentum and profit generated when a flagship event grows fast creates business value in the short and long term – especially if a chunk of the profit is then invested in strategic development of a B2B community and subscriber base served by the flagship event.

But, in many cases, a flagship event won’t grow as fast as it should – or grow at all – due to under-performing event marketing. A very common complaint I hear from CEOs is that they’re investing more in event marketing every year – but they’re not seeing the return they hoped for.

 

Why is this problem so prolific? Usually because of one or both of the following:

  1. The event product isn’t strong enough
  2. The event marketing function is not set up as it should be to deliver growth.

If your event product is strong – it’s your event marketing function that needs attention.

But how do you fix this? Which areas should you invest in? And how do you ensure your investment in marketing your events delivers a good return?

We can answer these questions by looking at the essential ingredients of high-performance event marketing.


1. Create a solid strategy to market your event

  • Marketing decisions should be based on analysis. One of the best things digital marketing has given us is the ability to measure marketing performance – in every channel and at every level. Analyse all the data points you have available and if needed, invest in a customer insight project to ensure you’re on track with your strategy.
  • Making sure event marketers are always focused on clear objectives is critical. What are we trying to achieve in terms of event attendee and sponsorship/exhibition revenue and number of attendees? What profile of audience do we want to attract to the event to make it super-valuable to all attendees and sponsors/exhibitors? How do we want to grow the event in the long term? How do we want our brand to be perceived?
  • A clear, well-defined and well-understood event audience makes or breaks an event campaign. Does your event solve pressing pain points? Can you group your audience into segments based on job roles, company function or experience levels to deliver highly targeted and relevant messaging, at the right time? If you can’t answer these questions with a resounding ‘yes’, it is time to invest more in truly understanding your target audience.
  • A strong messaging strategy ensures you’re positioning your event and brand as you want them to be perceived. The first step to developing a robust messaging strategy is making sure you have a firm grasp on your USP (unique selling point). From there, you can craft a strategy that communicates the unique value your event offers – with authenticity and confidence.
  • Develop a pricing strategy that ensures you achieve your revenue targets. Finding the right pricing is a delicate balance, but by analysing competitors and crunching your historical data around how your customers’ buying patterns respond to pricing changes, you can determine the best pricing to maximise revenue.
  • Developing a strong multi-tactic & multi-channel strategy to effectively reach, engage and persuade your audience via multiple touchpoints. There is no single winning channel or tactic for event marketing – you need to reach your audience via multiple channels and means, with the emphasis on what works best for your customer. By consistently monitoring, measuring and analysing the performance of channels and tactics, you will determine the winning formula for your event.

2. Measure your event marketing and evaluate performance regularly

What does effective event marketing measurement look like?

It starts with the ability to collect and compare the metrics that matter – starting with sales and revenue versus targets, then looking at engagement level across channels, and then drilling down into the detail of what is driving results (e.g. email click through rates, website bounce rates etc).

The insights gained from this kind of regular and robust analysis will be gold dust and make all the difference in the return you achieve from your marketing investment.


3. ‘Safe hands’ in your marketing team covering the range of marketing skills you need – ideally in the following defined roles:

  1. Event marketing manager
    To provide direction and objectives for all marketing efforts, communicate on behalf of the marketing team with all event stakeholders and deliver strong campaign project management to ensure objectives are achieved.
  2. Marketing communications assistant
    Providing the ‘muscle & speed’ to execute the marketing – making event website updates, setting up and email sending emails, keeping your social media channels buzzing – building up the momentum of your marcomms as you sign up more speakers, sessions and sponsors.
  3. Marketing database specialist
    To keep your valuable target list of contacts on your database well organised, ‘clean’, compliant and growing.
  4. Martech specialist
    To select, join up and effectively manage all the tech you need to ensure you’re engaging your audience effectively via all channels.
  5. Design specialist
    To ensure your visual communications are of high quality & effective in communicating the value of your event.
  6. Website specialist
    To keep your most important channel functioning well and fully optimised to attract and convert web visitors to leads and customers.
  7. PPC (pay-per-click/digital advertising) specialist
    To help you reach new audiences and more strongly engage those who are already aware of your event and just need a bit more convincing to come back to your website to become a customer – or at least fill in a form to gain more information.
  8. Marketing analytics specialist
    To provide vital insights on campaign performance, so you know where you need to put your investment in marketing to generate the greatest ROI.

That’s eight different skill sets – some of which can be grouped together in to one role. But you certainly won’t get all the required skills in one person!

Many event organisers put in place event marketing managers and marcomms assistants and expect them to deliver to a high standard across the full range of skills needed. Some also invest in developing inhouse specialist roles & skills, and when managed well, this can be very effective.


But most event organisers, for various reasons, can’t ‘hire in’ all the skills needed. This is usually due to organisation or department size, budgets, business structure, or downward pressure on head count. Often it’s because they just can’t find the right people to hire; and once hired, retaining them can be very tricky.

The best way to build a high performance event marketing function is to strategically engage with strong external partners – to compliment what you can manage and deliver well inhouse.

These partners, like all good employees, need attention and investment to ensure they are engaged and fully integrated into your team. It’s a mistake to treat valuable and strategically important partners as mere ‘suppliers’. The right kind of partner will respond very well to being treated as a valuable ‘member of the marketing team’ – delivering the unique value to help you succeed.

The most successful events businesses are built on putting in place, investing in and effectively managing highly skilled and highly valuable internal resources and 3rd party partners. Events business leaders are acutely aware of the importance of excellent content people, sales people, venues, AV partners etc.

But when it comes to the marketing function, focus and an event leader’s attention and investment can be less forthcoming – maybe due to a lack of confidence in event marketing as a driver of growth. We need to break this negative cycle. It will be up to event business leaders and their senior marketing stakeholders to ensure the key ingredients of high-performance event marketing are put in place with the right level of attention and investment. Then, once this investment has been made, the marketing function should be held accountable for the value and return-on-investment to be delivered.

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How Event Marketing Can Build – Or Break – a Trusted B2B Media Brand

What nearly all of the most successful community-focused and subs-led brands have in common is a strong and growing events portfolio – where their subscribers (or members) can come together to learn and network with their community across a range of event formats. It is at these events where subscribers also come face-to-face with the information brand they rely on, reinforcing trust and building loyalty.

And it is also at these events where much of the lost advertising revenue has now re-surfaced as income from sponsors and exhibitors – now often called ‘spex revenue’. A combination of strong delegate and spex revenues from events can drive highly profitable, high annual growth for a B2B media brand.

But events present a much greater strategic opportunity – or risk – for B2B media brands, depending on how the marketing of these events is conducted.  

Event marketing can be a frantic, siloed, highly tactical exercise (often done on the cheap) focused only on attracting the largest possible number of attendees in a short space of time to satisfy internally driven or spex-driven quotas – an approach that severely compromises the quality of communication and the audience. This is very dangerous for a brand that relies on the trust of its subscribers.

Or event marketing can be strategic – with brand trust as the starting point for developing an effective strategic marketing communications plan that, when executed well, leverages and reinforces brand trust. As with building effective and sustainable subscriptions marketing campaigns, strategically approached event marketing requires longer term thinking, planning and investment.

The best kind of event marketing not only fills venues with high quality delegates representative of the brand community, it also attracts new, high-quality subscribers, thus growing the engaged brand community.

 

The 5 areas brand leaders should invest in to ensure their event marketing builds brand trust and overall brand growth:

1. A good database and CRM

A well implemented and organised database in a good CRM will enable segmentation by demographics, behaviours and transactions – meaning communications can be personalised and made relevant. In addition to ensuring event communications are relevant to an individual’s role and challenges, it is very important subscribers are treated differently to non-subscribers.

When managing data through an event marketing cycle, the best set-up of systems and processes will also enable the identification of potential new subscribers, and push them in to the subscriptions marketing funnel.

2. A strong inbound marketing engine for events

Inbound marketing should run all year-round, driving event awareness via social channels, and shared email and event leads via a well-optimised website – while building overall brand awareness and strengthening brand positioning.

Subscriber engagement and brand-trust will often be positively influenced by what they see in social channels, especially if reinforced by a third party via likes and shares, while potential subscribers will often be drawn in by a compelling event-specific message.

The impact that the presence and engagement of high profile and well-respected speakers, sponsors and other third-party event stakeholders can have on a brand’s social channels should not be under-estimated.

3. An event website that reinforces a brand’s positioning, while integrating the event with the subscription value proposition

A strong event website helps customers extract more value from their subscriptions by engaging with event content before, during and after the event.

Highlighting and serving up unique ‘subscriber-only’ event-specific content and networking opportunities via your website is a good way to drive subscriber retention and acquisition. The FOMO factor is powerful, especially if what sits behind a paywall is highly current and relevant, as with event content.

4. A well-managed event marketing and sales funnel

An optimised funnel also ensures marketing qualified leads are followed up by sales people in a timely manner with relevant communications. Team members skilled in delegate sales, as well as solution and value-focused spex sales people, can make a significant contribution to brand building.

And if you can incentivise sales people to prioritise subscriber renewals and acquisitions over chasing down delegate and sponsor revenue, you’ll have a winning formula.

5. Ongoing measurement of engagement and conversions

It is important to understand how deeply subscribers and potential subscribers are engaging with an event, and then how customers are engaging with a brand beyond the event.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”, as the famous Peter Drucker said. The tools are now available to every business to put meaningful metrics at the forefront of making decisions and driving results.
 

Events are powerful. The way in which events are marketed, all year-round, is equally powerful. The impact of events can be extremely positive for a B2B subs-led brand, or can destroy a brand by quickly eroding customer trust.

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