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As an event marketer, raise your hand if this pattern sounds familiar:
Much of this process is counter-intuitive. By limiting your marketing activities to a brief pre-event period, not only do you greatly limit your reach, but also have to build up traffic from scratch each time.
There is, however, a way to fix this problem. And in this post, I’m going to show you exactly how you can turn irregular event traffic into a yearlong stream of visitors.
Events and live experiences have exploded in popularity among marketers and guests alike. The US Bureau of Labor, for instance, estimates that the event industry will grow by 44% between 2010 and 2020.
Event marketing, however, still focuses on tired old techniques that focus on building ‘buzz’ and ‘hype’ before the event. While this might help get people through the door, any traction you might have built gets lost once the event is over.
Thanks to this approach, event marketers face three massive problems:
Open Google Analytics and check the traffic stats for your event website over the last year. There’s a good chance you’ll see something like this:
While traffic crests and troughs are a part and parcel of marketing, event websites tend to suffer greatly from extended traffic droughts.
For instance, take a look at this traffic chart for Coachella.com courtesy of Quantacast:
It’s easy to see why this happens: conventional event marketing is largely focused on the periods immediately before and after the event. This means that every year, you have to pick things up from scratch and build out your traffic machinery.
Not good for your budget, your audience, or even your sanity.
There’s a simple maxim in marketing: what isn’t seen or heard is soon forgotten.
When you take the conventional approach to event marketing, your attendees remember you only when you push out your marketing messages. Since this only happens right before the event, your attendees have no real reason to remember your brand.
You are just one of many events competing for their attention; you’re not a part of their inbox or their weekly reading list.
In other words, you don’t have a relationship with your attendees. And without a relationship, you have no real brand loyalty. You can see this reflected in nearly any event’s social page.
For instance, the ad:tech Facebook page has 21,634 likes. Yet, its recent update had a paltry 3 likes - 0.013% of its total reach.
Even ticketing websites, such as Ticketek Australia (a page with 640k likes) struggles to get any engagement on its event announcements.
Such apathy spells trouble for any event brand.
Pop quiz: if you had to start an event marketing campaign from scratch, which of these options would you choose:
100% of you would go with option B.
Unfortunately, when you market an event half a month before it actually takes place, you are limited to the first option. Sure, you might have a list of attendees from the last event, but if you want to attract new people, you will have to essentially start from scratch.
Instead of being able to reach out to readers, followers, and subscribers, you have to invest in a fresh marketing campaign. This results in a very high cost per acquisition, bringing down your profitability.
The obvious question now is: how can you solve these three problems without blowing up your budget? Let’s take a look at three strategic approaches you can take to improve your event marketing.
Instead of the seasonal push model, here are 3 strategies you can adopt to solve your event marketing problems:
Your event is more than just an event; it’s a place where people who share the same beliefs and goals meet and grow together.
Which is to say: your event is part of a lifestyle decision.
Think of something like Burning Man. If you are an attendee, you don’t just go there to listen to music; you go there because you identify with a particular lifestyle.
Conventional marketing largely ignores this aspect of your event. One-off promos and PR pieces can hardly capture the choices and issues your audience truly cares about.
For instance, take a look at INC Magazine’s GrowCo conference updates on Facebook. Nearly every update tries to sell the features of the event - the speaker line-up, the chance to meet and greet new people, learn tactics to grow your business, etc.
None of the updates hit at the true reason why young entrepreneurs want to run businesses in the first place - to chase their passions and reach financial freedom.
In contrast, a lot of messaging on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit page is about “changing the world”.
Exaggerated? Perhaps. But also a message that is likely to resonate with its younger audience and the lifestyle it aspires to. By developing content around topics and issues your attendees are passionate about, you can associate your event with your attendees’ lifestyle decisions.
The result? Higher brand loyalty and lasting relationships.
Forget keywords and content ideas; every competent content marketing campaign starts with a simple question: what do your customers really care about?
The answer to this question shouldn’t just be superficial; it should go deeper and identify the heart of your audience’s interests and desires.
For instance, if you’re promoting a conference for entrepreneurs, your guests might be passionate about financial freedom or chasing a passion. Entrepreneurship just happens to be the tool to achieve their dreams.
Marketing that focuses on these core interests would likely resonate more than a stream of updates about your event’s schedule and speaker line-up.
The latter is important, but only when it serves the former. That is, don’t tell people that Tony Robbins will speak at your event; tell them how Tony Robbins will help them achieve their goals. Charting out your audience’s interests can help you create much more powerful content.
One way to do this is with a ‘lifestyle map’.
This is simply a list of ideas, interests, and things your audience cares about. Start off by identifying broad topics (such as “beauty or fitness”) and break things down further until you get concrete content ideas.
Something like this:
This will be the foundation of your content marketing campaign. By consistently creating content around these topics, you’ll speak to your audience about topics that truly matter to them.
For instance, FrankBody, an Australian eCommerce startup that sells skincare products, focuses most of its content marketing on its customers’ desires and lifestyle choices.
This is a perfect example of a hybrid content strategy that builds your brand while also attracting traffic. Also, notice how FrankBody uses its branded hashtag even inside its blog posts:
Best of all, when you do this regularly, you’ll have traffic coming in all through the year, not just a month before the event.
One of the biggest challenges event marketers face is creating enough content for a year-long social media campaign. There is one way to work around this by collecting and curating user-generated content (UGC).
UGC works particularly well for events since events, by their very nature, are social (60% of smartphone users use them at events). By sharing UGC as “event memories”, you will not only have a consistent stream of social media content, but you’ll also ensure that your followers (especially people mentioned in the UGC) will engage with your event brand.
Here’s how you can better integrate this strategy into your event campaign:
Your social media marketing will revolve around hashtags. Brainstorm hashtags you’ll use in your updates in advance. Also, make sure to include them in all your marketing collateral.
You should ideally have a unique, event-specific hashtag, like #Coachella.
If it’s a recurring event, add the year to the hashtag to help people identify it, like #Coachella2016.
Finally, identify general-purpose hashtags you can use in your marketing (such as #marketing or #EDMMusic, etc.).
The Montgomery Summit, for instance, uses both branded hashtags (#montysummit) and general purpose hashtags in its updates:
Your hashtags should be everywhere before, at and after your event.
For example, the Cannes Film Festival made sure the #Cannes hashtag was visible all across its venue:
Ask users to share content with you throughout the event (and after it) with your hashtag. This does two things:
You can even use live social media “walls” within the event to solicit more updates. Once you have enough UGC, you can reshare them as “memories” spread throughout the year.
A common mistake event marketers make is creating marketing collateral only for the narrow period immediately before and after the event. Such marketing is reactive, not proactive. It makes your event marketing isolated and cuts it off from your long-term plans.
A much better approach is to anticipate future events and create marketing collateral - landing pages, downloadables, social media graphics - far ahead in advance.
For instance, if you visited Coachella.com in early April this year, you’d see this landing page:
However, if you came back when the festival was running - April 22-24 - you’d be directed to a livestream of the event:
If you visit the site now, you’ll see a landing page selling early tickets.
The website experience changes with the event timeline.
Here are three ways you can develop a future-proof, year-long event marketing plan:
One way to future-proof your event marketing plan is to have marketing collateral for anything you might have planned in the future. This includes:
It’s also a good idea to leave your marketing collateral up even after the event is over instead of archiving it.
You can also turn them into lead capture pages for prospective future attendees. Remember: events are social, memorable occasions for your guests. Many of them would want to revisit their memories. Plus, the passive traffic from people searching for similar future events can be substantial as well.
Most importantly, your event marketing must be an integrated part of your other marketing activities.
For instance, 77% of B2B marketers use in-person events as part of their content marketing experience; any marketing material you put out must be aligned with your event marketing.
That is, if you’re running a Facebook ad campaign to get more blog readers, you should have a way to plug your event into it somewhere. If you’re offering free eBooks for blog readers, ensure that you mention your event in it as well.
So far, we’ve seen how three different strategies can help you beat poor brand loyalty and attract year-round traffic. But how exactly do you put these strategies into practice?
Let’s look at some answers below.
Before you announce a new event, use social media to drum up excitement. You can try using a countdown or you can tease followers with a “big announcement” update, like this:
As part of your integrated, year-long marketing strategy, you’ll need a way to constantly capture leads from prospective guests. One way to do that is through social contests.
For example, the Gin Festival in London offers followers £100 worth of free gin for subscribing to their newsletter:
These subscribers can later be tapped to turn into guests.
One way to get your guests to care deeply about your event is to turn them into stakeholders.
For example, SXSW invites its social media followers to vote on its panels. Anyone who participates in this vote has shown a strong intent to participate in the actual event.
These voters can later be persuaded to attend the event.
While it might not sound like a big deal, reviews form a prominent part of one of your most effective marketing channels: Facebook.
Here’s why: if you’re a local event, people can rate and review you on Facebook. This rating, along with select reviews, will show up on your Facebook page as per the new design:
By soliciting reviews and testimonials from attendees, you can boost this score and add social proof to your marketing.
There are a lot of ways to be innovative with your content on social media. Instead of text or picture-only posts, try sharing:
For example, SXSW uses the Facebook carousel content format to make its updates more visually striking:
As mentioned before, your older landing pages don’t have to sit idle; you can easily turn people dropping by these pages into leads.
For example, Uniqlo informs visitors when an event is closed, then urges them to register for the newsletter to get first access to new events.
For your content marketing to be effective, it is crucial that you follow a set daily, weekly and monthly content calendar. This should cover the entire gamut of your content offerings, from daily social media updates to weekly newsletters and quarterly downloadables.
You can try breaking down your content production like this:
In other words, your focus should be on capturing as many emails as possible.
The period immediately after the event is the best time to build brand loyalty. Your marketing plan should have a robust process for reaching out to attendees, soliciting feedback, and helping them connect with other guests.
Once you’ve announced the event and fixed the dates, send out a “save the date” message to all your followers across email and social.
Make sure that all your social profiles send this message as well.
For example, the Wine & Food Affair uses this image as its Facebook cover photo:
The Montgomery Summit does this even better: its cover page features a prominent celebrity.
If you have a large library of existing content, make sure to re-circulate it on your social channels. Older content is particularly useful for filling in the gaps when you don’t have enough new original content to share.
TED does this a lot. Stop by its Facebook page and you’ll find tons of older videos and curated collections like this:
If you run a lot of events, you should have a separate page on your site to collect them together. This will make it easier for your customers to find events near them.
For example, Uniqlo hosts multiple events every month, usually to launch a new line of clothing. Visitors can head to the “Events” page to find upcoming events.
Notice how Uniqlo offers customers a way to add the event quickly to their calendars. Also, note the dedicated hashtag for keeping track of upcoming events.
Event marketing has a perpetual problem of keeping audiences interested during off season. Conventional marketing strategies focus too much on the pre-event phase, leading to low traffic and poor brand loyalty.
By consistently creating content that speaks to your audience’s tastes and wants, you can drastically increase your traffic and guest loyalty. Throw in UGC-focused social media marketing approach and an integrated, year-long marketing plan and you’ll never struggle to get people through the door again.
And to recap here are the 12 event marketing ideas to try:
Do you have other event marketing tips we should include in the post? Comment below.