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Email Marketing for Virtual Events 101

Updated

Learn how to leverage email marketing to maximize your online event success.

Although other methods are picking up steam, email continues to be the number one source of online event registrations. 76 percent of online event hosts consider email their most important marketing channel, according to research from Markletic. 

They also serve to remind registrants that your event’s still on, which is especially important since, on average, since more people no-show virtual events than they do IRL ones. 

Most virtual event attendees enter sessions directly through email links sent the day of the event, and follow up with leads via post-event emails, making email your main point of promotions and conversions as well.

You shouldn’t rely solely on email, but it is an indispensable piece of your event promotion strategy. Use it alongside social media marketing, especially on LinkedIn, to benefit your next online event and beyond.  

Here’s how to optimize your email marketing strategy in support of your online events. 

Grow Your List 

Since the majority of your online event’s attendees will register via email, the size of your potential audience depends heavily on the size of your subscriber base. That in mind, you should be actively growing your email list at all times, even if your “big” event is months away. That’s because, as more consumers have become more selective about sharing their data with companies, it takes time to net a meaningful increase in subscribers without spamming people. 

So start early with these strategies:  

Cross-Promote Your Event

The quickest way to build your email list? Use someone else’s. Just by partnering with a co-host, and sending invitations to  their subscriber base, you can double or triple the potential reach of your online event with almost no additional effort.

Cross-promotion is by far the cost-effective way to promote your online event—if you approach it thoughtfully and strategically. Learn more about planning hosting joint venture webinars here, or apply that logic to a full virtual event. 

Note: You can take advantage of partnerships without committing to a full cross-promoted event. Consider posting on a partner’s blog with a call-to-action to subscribe to your email list, or sponsor your partner’s online event to connect with untapped audiences. 

Leverage Gated Content

Create a white paper, eBook, guide or other high-quality actionable content, then require readers to submit their email address before downloading. This way, you’re getting subscribers that have already expressed interest in a specific area, so you can place them in a segment and target them with specific content and offers. 

Note: Companies without a proven track record of value and general trustworthiness have a harder time gaining trust off the bat. In this case, create a generalized blog post with just enough information to entice people, then create “bonus” content for people willing to provide their email.

Create a blog with an option to subscribe

The average inbox is as stuffed as your Thanksgiving turkey. People now receive more than 120 emails per day, meaning they’ll focus only on the ones that provide immediate value and actionable resources. If you’re regularly updating a top-notch blog, create an option to subscribe, then send one to two emails per month with links to your posts. This expands your list with engaged subscribers in a way that also provides value for your audience. 

Note: Besides attracting more emails, your blog posts and blog-related emails can inform your future content choices. Say you’re hosting a blog on online events. A blog post about webinar creation nets you 300 visitors and 25 new emails, but another one on webinar marketing gets 500 visitors and 45 new contacts. Take that a sign that your audience needs guidance on leveraging webinars for marketing purposes, then create more content to fill that need.

Create an Email Strategy  

As you promote your online event, you’ll need to maintain regular communication with multiple different segments of your audience: your invitees, your confirmed registrants, presenters and more. 

Besides ensuring your early bird registrants remember to show up, you should, at minimum, your event emails should address any major changes in programming and your audience’s most common questions: how to log onto the event software, how to participate in any exclusive networking or sponsorship activations, and how to check your software’s system requirements. 

You’ve got a lot to say and your audience has little patience for unnecessary emails. So it’s hard to strike the balance between informing and spamming your audience. Below are the emails included in BigMarker’s automated email suite, which we recommend for all online event hosts:  

  1. Invitations: Well, OK, obviously. But timing matters: We recommend sending your first invitation a month before the event, followed by two more emails sent one week and one day, respectively, before event day.

  2. Registration Confirmation/Reminder: Upon registration, participants will receive a confirmation email.  We recommend following the registration confirmation email with two registration reminders, sent 24 hours and 30 minutes before the event begins. 

    If you’re worried about spamming your attendees, it’s tempting to skip these messages. After all, they already did the work of signing up. But the confirmations and reminders are actually the most important messages of all, because after all, you want those registrants to attend as well.

    Those confirmation and reminder emails are the #1 mechanism that converts registrants to attendees. They keep your event top of mind, especially for your early bird registrants. Attach calendar reminders to each of these emails so that your guests receive push notifications about your event before the big day.

    These reminders should contain any necessary login information and link to the software’s system requirements. 
  3. Presenter Confirmation/Reminder: Like your registrants, each presenter receives an email with their unique presenter link upon being added to the event, with reminders sent 24 hours and 1 hour before their session begins.

    Before entering their sessions, presenters need to know not only when they’re going live, but also how to enter their session seamlessly and smoothly. Both of these emails should contain any necessary login information and link to the webinar software’s system requirements. On BigMarker, this is included within the automatic email template.

  4. Post-Event Feedback and Follow-Up: The day after your event, send your attendees an email thanking them for their attendance and providing a link to the on-demand recordings of your sessions. 

The follow-up is important because it lets people know that you appreciated their participation in the event, provides them resources for further involvement (links to on-demand session recordings) and encourages them to reach out to you and your sales team. In the follow-up, you should also distribute a feedback survey to evaluate your event’s performance. 

Lots of emails, to be sure. But you can minimize the manual work by sending automated emails through your online virtual event platform.

Automate

The best online event softwares will have a full-featured email platform integrated into its platform. This way, you can easily add your guests to your event email list, send all of your event-related emails through that platform, and populate your email with the date, time and description of your event. 

For example, BigMarker has a full-featured automated email platform that includes: 

  1. Email Template: This includes templates for invitation, registration confirmation and reminder, presenter confirmation and reminder, and post-event follow-up emails. 
  2. Automated Scheduling: All of these emails are pre-scheduled to send at times that align with general best practices for event email marketing, but can be changed based on your specific audience and use case. This removes the guesswork and stress off of when to send each individual message. 
  3. Email customization: You can add your own colors, logo, graphics and copy to each of these templates, letting you integrate your branding into your event communications. 
  4. Reminders: Default reminders are sent to attendees 24 hours before and 1 hour before the event’s scheduled start time. This reminder schedule is based on our analysis of over 3 million events hosted per year. 

Automation eliminates a lot of overthinking while reducing the risk of mistakes: You don’t have to remember to send your email on X date and time, or to send it only to one audience segment, etc. Design and customize your email template, load your contacts, then move onto bigger and better things. 

Integrate 

From there, you can manually add email contacts or you can automate this process by integrating your email provider with your virtual event software. For instance, BigMarker integrates with Drip, Mailchimp, Marketo, Eloqua and Constant Contact among other platforms. 

Once the apps are connected, your pre-existing email segments will be automatically added as contacts to your event emails. This way, you can invite all of your email contacts to your online event in seconds. 

The reverse is also true: attendees from your BigMarker-hosted events are automatically added as contacts to your email service, so your sales team can follow up with them after the event ends. 

Best of all, these integrations can be set up in a matter of minutes, no coding necessary. This streamlines your email promotion even further and frees your team up for the “deep work” of event planning—brainstorming, recruiting and strategizing.

Create Killer Content

Bad emails: You know them because you’ve seen too many of them. Over-exaggerated, over-punctuated and annoying subject lines. Messy design. Too many hard sells, not enough substance. No call-to-action link. 

It’s easy to spot a bad email, but much harder to write an effective one for your event. Here are some starting points: 

Nail Your Subject Line

You know subject lines matter, we know they matter, we won't belabor the point.

But your subject line's main job isn’t to maximize your email’s open rate—it's to maximize registrations. Those goals seem mutually inclusive, but if your cute subject line attracts people with no intention of registering but fails to convey information about your actual event, those opens won’t translate to registrations or business success. Maximize your subject lines with the following tips:

Make it Mobile-Friendly: Research shows that subject lines with 6-10 words have the best open rates, largely because they’re short enough to display in full on mobile devices. 60 percent of people check their work email on their smartphones, so a mobile-friendly subject line will meet your audience where they’re at and maximize your sign ups.

Use actionable language. You’re encouraging guests to take action—register—instead of skimming and moving on. So set the tone right away with an action-oriented subject line to inspire your audience not just to open, but to sign up. According to Eventbrite, subject lines that convey a sense of urgency or exclusivity can boost open rates by 22 percent.

Demonstrate your value: Besides telling people what to do, your subject line should convince people to do it—the tangible benefits your event can offer them. So instead of “Register Now the Innovation Festival 2020!” consider alternatives like, “Reshape Your Career at Innovation Festival!”

Put your preview text to work

Even genius copywriters can’t convey a ton of value in 6-10 words. So support your subject line’s promise of value with your preview text. Here, you can provide more information on your speakers’  credentials and the takeaways attendees can anticipate from your event. 

Take this email promoting a new Rich Roll Podcast episode. The subject line, “The Power of Olympic Aspiration” gives us a vague idea of the tone of the podcast (elevated and empowering) and the theme of the episode. Intriguing, but not specific enough to convince noncommittal listeners to spend 60 minutes on it.

That’s where the preview text comes into play. Now we learn that the guest is a 2x Olympian and 3x Emmy winner, therefore an expert in multiple fields, and that he’ll be discussing his takeaways from participating in the Olympics. 

Suddenly that session sounds a lot more interesting. Even better, it now promises very specific insights for a very specific audience (athletes and high performers). So if the segmentation and targeting is on point, the audience will see more tangible value in that session than they would have if all they saw in their inbox was “The Power of Olympic Aspiration.”  

Personalize It!

Who wants to read another email from “The Team at Company X?” Personalization is a time investment that pays major dividends for your event promotion, according to the latest email marketing research from Campaign Monitor:

Emails with personalized subject lines are 26 percent more likely to be opened

Personalization delivers 6 times higher transaction rates (for our purposes, registrations.) 

Segmented and targeted emails generate 58 percent of all revenue.

You can individualize your event emails at several different touchpoints. Use a real name in your sender line (i.e., Kathleen at BigMarker vs. The Team at BigMarker) to further emphasize the people behind your company. In your email copy, you can address invitees by name by using custom data fields. Better yet, segment your invitee list by interest and engagement level for even more precise targeting and thus, higher open rates.

Clear and concise copy

Much like your design, your copy functions solely to move guests closer to that registration button. And as soon as it veers off-message, your potential guests will click out. 

So start by stating the purpose of your event, i.e., the pain point you're hoping to help them solve.) Then tell them how your event will support that purpose: include a few of your biggest speakers and their presentation topics. Add some personality that fits your brand, add line breaks between sentences, tell them to register and call it a day. 

Engaging, clean design

Your ultimate goal is to entice readers to click the registration button. The design of your email should smooth readers’ path toward that button—and nowhere else. That consists of: 

  1. Event graphic: Create a graphic including the event name and date, as well as your company branding. Placed front and center in the email, this graphic should answer “who, what and when?” for readers skimming along.

    The specifics of the design will depend on the scope and prestige of your event. For free, easy and effective designs, look to a free resource like Canva. Canva contains thousands of event invitation templates, which can be customized with your event information, logo, colors and links, as seen below. 

    From there, you can upload the image to your event email, giving your event and its emails a visual presence in a matter of minutes. 
  1. Registration button: If your readers only see one thing, it should be the call-to-action button. Make it bright red—or another color that’s easy to spot in one skim. 

Evaluate Your Email Marketing Strategy

As you start creating invites (and counting RSVPs), you can periodically judge your success by key email marketing metrics. What's "good" or "bad" varies widely by industry and list size, so compare your email success to your past campaigns or your peers, if possible. Over- or underperformance on each metric provides different feedback about your promotional strategy, so paying attention to each one can help you diagnose problems and respond accordingly.

Deliverability and Delivery rate tells you about the quality of your list. If either of these numbers skew low, your list may be outdated or your email may have been marked as spam.

Open rate assesses both the quality of your list and the quality subject line. What’s considered a “good” open rate varies widely based on industry and list size. But if your open rates fall short of expectations, consider the following: 

  1. Send date and time: If you send an email at 6pm on a Friday and nobody’s around to see it, does it make a sound? Ensure your emails are seen by sending it on a day that your readers are on email, but at a downtime when they’re not engaged in deep work.

    According to Coschedule, Emails sent on Tuesday see the best open rates, followed closely by Thursday, then Wednesday. Regardless of the day, late morning sends are most successful, with 10 am being the best send time overall. Tuesday at 10am is an incredibly common meeting time, though, consider some of the alternatives listed in CoSchedule’s infographic below as well. 


That said, broad statistics don’t apply to individual cases. Especially if your audience is spread across several time zones, or runs outside the 9-to-5 schedule (i.e., healthcare), the above send dates and times may not be as successful for you. In that case, consult your past email performance to determine what’s most likely to drive email campaign success.

  1. Subject line + preview text: If your open rates are underperforming, reconsider your subject line and preview text. Tweak both of these pieces for your next email, and see if it results in more opens.

  2. List size and segmentation: If your open rates are in the 1-5 percent range and your list size is 10,000+, chances are that you haven’t created segments within your email subscriber base, or they’re broad enough to include thousands of unengaged people. And as a result, you’re sending invites to tons of people that wouldn’t have attended the event anyway.

    If that’s the case, create a new email segment consisting only of people who have opened event-related emails in the 6-12 months. In the future, send your event emails solely to that more engaged audience.

    Yes, this will shrink your subscriber base. But since you’re eliminating so many unengaged people, you’re focusing on the audience most likely to convert to event attendees.

Click-through rate gauges the quality of your email content, as well as your audience’s interest in your topic, description and presenters. If you’re not satisfied with your click-through rates, then consider changing up your copy, stressing a different selection of speakers and amenities… and make sure your call-to-action link isn’t broken!

Through a targeted, thoughtful email marketing strategy, you can not only promote your event as effectively as possible, but set your team up for success long after the big day. 

Want to learn more about how the world's most innovative companies are using online events to advance their marketing and business goals? BigMarker's Account Executives are here to help! Contact us at sales@bigmarker.com to get started.

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