When it comes to meetings and events, creating the live-event experience is becoming an ever-shrinking piece of the complete solution. What vies with meetings for time, attention and budget dollars is actually pre- and post-event participant engagement. These communication strategies are getting more important for several reasons:
- Meetings are just one channel of integrated annual marketing communications, and must align with other messages and work effectively across the same media channels.
- Most meetings are intended to change behaviors in attendees. This happens best when change takes place over time, with mutual agreement and buy-in.
- The rise of social, virtual and smartphone technologies create a tremendous opportunity to establish community around a cause, as long as participants value the cause.
Marketing under pressure
Content is typically among the last items finalized, with a small window for communicating with participants in advance. The challenge grows when event lead times are pushed to the breaking point. Marketing, as a result, is understandably and very wrongly limited in frequency, delivery channels and content.
Every event, whether mandatory or discretionary, big or small, has a purpose. Stakeholders must deliver the right content and experience to fulfill this purpose, and attendees must show up primed and ready to embrace their role.
This means that pre-event marketing often must be developed in advance of fully fleshed-out content, and that’s not as impossible as it might seem.
Do it the right way
Follow these steps, and success should follow.
- Use multiple channels, including email, website links, postcard and traditional media, online advertising and phone calls. The channel depends on the audience and where it most frequently goes for information. Pre-event marketing is a way to engender enthusiasm when it’s mostly likely to take hold – before the event.
- Use at least three touches — a save-the-date, key messaging and don’t-miss-out (registration closing). The longer the lead time and the higher the event profile, the greater the volume and frequency should be, with communications reaching attendees every one to two weeks.
- Focus on “what’s in it for me” from an audience perspective, highlighting payoffs, such as better sales, more efficiency and ideas. This only works if you appeal to what the audience cares about — not what you believe they care about.
- Make marketing topical and varied, and provide a singular call-to-action in every touch. The most common mistake event marketers make is trying to cover too many ideas in one piece. In so doing, they dilute all the ideas, so none stand out effectively.
Create a marketing calendar with general topics, media channels you will use and send dates built around other event deadlines (like room cutoffs). In many cases, this will help drive content.
On-site messaging that breaks through
Every touch-point, from registration site to PowerPoint, from name tags to video, is marketing. That means that every image, word and placement creates the total impression. It also means that the more interactive and immersive the on-site experience is for attendees, the greater the likelihood they’ll remember and own the important ideas.
A low-cost way to do this is to leverage on-site materials you already use. Take PowerPoint. Add a walk-in loop to the General Session with “did you know” facts and imagery tied to your theme and/or key content. This can entertain and inform during a typically dead time. Add a music track and a countdown clock, and even a pre-recorded, high-energy voice-over, and you have an attention-grabbing experience for very little investment.
Other possible tactics:
- Use floor decals as directional signage and for sponsorship messaging. Use cutouts to support your theme. Use featured speaker photos and celebrate award winners.
- Use in-house TV at hotels and convention centers, if you can provide a PPT file or video spot that can run as more than an event agenda.
- Use name tags large enough to hold imagery, quotes or color-coding. These can help attendees find their best networking peers, start conversations or find their right track.
The end is just the beginning
Events are not isolated moments in time. Their impact really becomes clear when attendees go back to their jobs. To support new behaviors in attendees, even if it’s only their commitment to attend the next event and refer others, requires an ongoing marketing campaign.
Post-event marketing ranges from feel-good, immediate and relatively easy-to-execute options (exit surveys, photo websites), to long-term, time-intensive options (online support/accountability communities through LinkedIn, Yahoo, Facebook or intranet sites).
Generally, the longer-term and more intensive the post-event marketing is, the stronger the bond and loyalty participants will have for your event. If you’re like most organizations, you lack the resources to consistently invest real value and content in post-event marketing. So try these ideas:
- Weave the theme into post-event communications – as long as it has real meaning and a call to action, not just a label slapped on for effect.
- Share presentations and provide ongoing webinars on similar content between events.
- Make sure you solicit testimonials of success from both participants AND sponsors — even if the event is mandatory. These generate tremendous goodwill.
- Tell attendees how you’re implementing any suggestions from their exit surveys. This makes them buy in to the process.
- Recruit content and speakers from your attendee base, especially if best practices are considered.
- Leverage friendly competition for awards or sales goals between events. Showcase the last winners on an ongoing event website.
Marketing before, during and after an event is about building an event brand — and generating loyalty to that event brand among everyone you want to engage. Successful event marketing creates and demonstrates the value of engagement, and the most successful event marketing does that for the entire life cycle of the event.
This post explains one of the 33 skills all meeting and event planners need to master. Discover the others here.