Marketing a company or marketing an event — the principles remain the same: Start with the objectives in mind, and only then develop your tactical plan. This may sound like absurdly obvious advice, but many organizations focus only on tactics for their event marketing, with only the tiniest attention to the strategy behind them. The results are mixed, because no tactic in and of itself is “bad,” so they work marvelously in some situations and bomb horribly in others.
The reality is that many event marketers are in their role by default, because someone must do it, not because they have a background steeped in marketing strategy. So here is a high-level marketing strategy primer that tells the “what” of marketing strategy, if not the “how” in any great detail.
In Marketing 101, there are the 5 P’s: Product, Placement, Position, Price, People. As a successful event marketer, you must address these squarely from the start.
The event is obviously the “product” and, as such, it must fill a need or desire and live up to its billing, regardless of whether it is mandatory or not.
Placement can be both the location of the event and the location of the marketing (direct mail, email, specific social media channels, etc.) making the information accessible to attendees where they spend their time.
Position is your pre-event and on-site marketing messages, the importance of which cannot be overstated. More times than not the message is purely the pushing of information, without consideration for the audience’s perspective, desires and needs. If the message does not address the audience from where they are, its effectiveness will be diminished dramatically, if it works at all.
Price is more than a registration fee and travel costs. Price is the perceived value for the time attendees are spending at an event, that otherwise could be spent doing something else.
Last but not least, people are both the attendees you want to be present, engaged and acting a certain way when they leave as well as the event’s brand ambassadors (presenters, staff, outside talent) who deliver the event experience in a manner that either leaves a positive, energized impression or a disappointing one. Presenters are one of the most important brand ambassadors of any event, yet most organizations rely heavily on internal presenters with little or no presentation training, which is why internal presentations remain the top complaint of corporate meeting attendees.
In order to get the 5 P’s right, there is one foundational, and, yes, strategic, action that must be taken. It is to question your assumptions. If you think you know about your audience because attendees have given you anecdotal feedback like “best event ever!” without specifics, or your organization has “always” done it this way — STOP. Ask yourself whether the audience is doing what you intend them to do after the event at the level you want. Also ask yourself why those not attending might be staying away. The answer rests in doing some real research, usually with a survey that asks a handful of very direct questions about the audience, their pain, their habits, and their needs.
The alternative is the “Ready, Fire, Aim!” approach to marketing. Sometimes you will actually hit something by sheer dumb luck. Strategy means taking aim first, identifying the who, what, when, where and, most importantly, why, to ensure tactical success.