July 5, 2022
Compared to other marketing channels, events are among the most successful and cost-effective, making it a win-win for any marketer sick of stressing over paid ads. Events are one of the most effective marketing channels out there, as 31% of marketers and 52% of business leaders named event marketing as their biggest driver of ROI.
And as webinars, virtual and hybrid events continue to evolve, event marketers will have even more opportunities to reach attendees all over the world.
Consistently hosting successful events can improve not just your brand awareness, but your long-term sales pipeline and revenue base. But you can only experience those benefits when you get people in the door — and wow them enough to earn them as customers.
And in an age of digital pollution and loaded schedules, that's a tough ask. That's why we created How to Promote Your Virtual Event, a three-post series on all things virtual event marketing. With help from our marketing team, we'll give you the strategic insight and practical advice you need to promote your event.
In this post, we'll start with the basics of event marketing: forming a strategy, creating content that attracts audiences, and optimizing your event microsite to increase registrations.
In Part 2, we'll give you a channel-by-channel game plan for executing your marketing strategy. And in Part 3, learn how to activate your new audience during and after your event.
Want to learn more? Let's get started...
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of event marketing, let's review the basics. Why is event marketing worth the effort? Below are some of the biggest business benefits of hosting events:
1. They build your brand: Events work because they pair company pitches with content that’s entertaining and useful for its own sake. Compared to other marketing channels, events have a broader appeal and a more personable feel, so guests can get to know your brand in a more comfortable, authentic setting.
And even though events are less pitch-heavy than other marketing channels, they still tend to improve brand affinity for the company, brand, product or service being promoted after the event, making them an excellent top-of-funnel tactic.
2. They educate your audience and facilitate sales: But if you’ve ever needed to justify your marketing budget to your board, you know that “brand building” is a lot less compelling than concrete ROI.
Besides creating top-of-funnel leads, events also help prospects make purchasing decisions. 3D product demos, 1:1 sales meetings and informational sessions can all give “mostly decided” customers the reassurance they need to sign the dotted line: 80% of attendees say that live demos and free samples given at events help them make final purchasing decisions.
3. They help you identify and prioritize promising leads: Customers have more channels at their disposal and more companies cluttering their feeds than ever before. It’s… a lot, even for people who grew up with the Internet. In this overcrowded space, only the companies that can target, segment and personalize their messages are going to stand out.
Events are the perfect venue for this. Since attending an event requires way more time and energy than, say, watching an Instagram story, events attract more niche audiences than other marketing channels.
During an event, hosts can give this targeted group of attendees a more specific, focused message that’s way more likely to resonate than “Hey, you’re stressed, but here’s our marketing automation tool.” You’re not just regurgitating generic marketing speak, you’re hitting people where they live.
From there, marketers can channel the group’s enthusiasm to create a community of brand advocates, which can carry momentum across platforms and beyond.
4. They generate sales-effective content: Best of all, events themselves generate a wealth of content, meaning they naturally create content that drives sales. A Marketing Charts study also showed that B2B marketers find success in generating leads through webinars (61%), lead nurturing campaigns (57%), and case studies (50%), all of which you can generate by repurposing content from your event. (We’ll go deep into repurposing later in this series - stay tuned.)
First things first, figure out how your event fits into your company’s short- and long-term strategy.
Sure, every company wants to build their brand, increase revenue and grow their pipeline… preferably all at once and much faster than is reasonable. The key is identifying the most pressing of those needs, then supporting it with your event.
For instance, if your rocket ship startup’s pursuing an IPO next quarter, you need to hold an exclusive event for potential investors, with all the bells and whistles, instead of conducting the same old programming for this quarter’s new leads.
That strategy will drive your messaging and marketing strategy. In our IPO example, you’d share your company’s vision for changing the world through your product—the kind of talk that gets investors pledging $200 a share. Buzzwords and big stats galore.
But if your biggest business need is keeping your current customers happy, that grandiose investor-friendly messaging won’t fly. They already know what you promised them.
What they need now is continuing education, so they can master your product and achieve the milestones you promised.
So before anything else, sit down with your company’s leadership or marketing team to see what's the highest priority, then plan your event around those needs.
Event planning is a team sport (That’s why it’s considered the 6th most stressful job in the world.). So more than likely, you’ll be collaborating with other departments and/or outside agencies to execute your event. To give your event the buzz it deserves, you need your social media, content, brand partnership, sales, customer support and marketing operations teams all moving in the same direction.
Otherwise, you’ll risk giving your sales team leads that don’t tend to convert, your brand partnership team might not be able to get you the best sponsors, etc.
Sure, everyone will need to compromise some, but the net result should be an event that mostly works for mostly everyone you work with.
Bonus: Another benefit to cross-department collaboration? Your team members can generate registrations of their own. For instance, 39% of marketers say that their sales teams generate a significant amount of event registrations.
Other potential promoters include your company’s execs, your business development team and other members of your marketing team. So put in the teamwork and make your dream work. Did you just roll your eyes at us? Great, we’ve still got your attention! :)
Sure, brands are important. But nobody, besides your mom and your coworkers, are shelling out $50 a ticket to hear your CMO talk about your new automation tool.
What will get excited about? Learning how they can relieve stress, minimize admin work and reach their goals, solve the problems keeping them up at night… in several ways that happen to include your marketing automation tools. Lead with a giant sales demo and people will drop off. Expeditiously.
It’s a subtle but super important distinction. More than hearing about one product or brand, people want to be educated, inspired, and leave with something they didn’t know before.
They want to learn how they can meaningfully improve the way they live and work. And if your product happens to be part of the solution, they’re open to hearing about it.
So even though it’s not technically a marketing tactic, your content — and its value — is your biggest promotional tool. Because the more you can speak to your audience’s needs, and the more expertise you provide in the process, the more easily you can answer the question of “Why us?”
That conviction and clarity strengthens your whole event offering, including your promotion. Once you know what you can promise your audience, you can start to identify the speakers that’ll provide them.
Whether they’re big-name or niche, relevant speakers will grease the wheels for your marketing efforts. So invest time in this part of the process — and shoot for the stars. Here's where to start.
But if speaker selection were easy, every college would have a late night host delivering their commencement address. With some research and foresight, though, you can score some big speakers. Here are our best tips:
1. Poll your audience: The best way to give your audience the speakers they want? Ask your audience what speakers they want.
As you begin planning, email your followers a survey asking them what they want to hear about — and who they’d like to hear it from. Include a mix of “reach” and gettable speakers among your options, so that you’re not just teasing your followers with unrealistic guests. From there, you can recruit those presenters, using your audience’s poll answers as proof their session will have a high turnout.
2. Start early: The bigger your speaker, the busier their schedule and the more bloated their inbox. Begin reaching out to speakers at least 4 months before your event, so you can get on their calendar and send one or two few follow up requests if necessary. Then once you get them booked, you can start to include them in your marketing collateral.
3. Send them a targeted, specific pitch: Take it from a freelancer: To book a speaker, you need to write a pitch that’s concise enough to be skimmable, but detailed enough that your target knows you did your research.
It’s a delicate balance. But if you’re pursuing best-fit speakers, you’ll be able to make the ask in a way that’s natural and buzzword-free. Here’s what to include in your pitch:
a. Include a sentence explaining who you are, what solutions you offer, and how you found your speakers. (Note: Here, it’s a good practice to link to one of their posts or speaking engagements, ideally one that doesn’t appear on the first page of Google.)
b. Then explain that you’re hosting an event and how your speaker’s expertise will provide value for your guests. Anticipate questions and provide links for anything they may want to research before committing to a yes or no, including your event website, company website, etc. The less work you require of them, the more likely they’ll be to answer.
c. Wrap up by adding the logistical details here. Include any marketing opportunities you can promise your speaker and an invite to schedule a call. Review your pitch for tone and grammar (we highly recommend Gmail’s Grammarly plugin), delete any filler words, then send. It’s that easy. Sure, you won’t book Bill Gates solely with a good pitch, but you will be able to punch above your weight class, so to speak.
(Note: If your first reaction to this is “Wow, it’d be so hard to repeat this process for 20-25 target speakers,” that’s the point. Spray and pray doesn’t work for job applications, and it won’t work for speaker pitches, either.)
4. Reach out to related podcast hosts and industry thought leaders: For better or for worse, professionals now spend hours — or even days — of their weeks building their personal brands. They talk on LinkedIn, they talk on podcasts, so why not have them talk at your event?
Read LinkedIn posts by the biggest influencers in your industry: Not only will you get to know the big names, but you’ll see hundreds of comments by others players in your field. Many of those people will also make great speakers, and probably have more accommodating schedules than the most famous names.
5. Present them with marketing opportunities: When pitching presenters, remember that you’re not just giving them “free” publicity. You’re asking them to spend time preparing a presentation, onboarding to your virtual event platform, etc. You’re asking them for a favor. Which is fine, as long as you make clear that you’re aware of it.
In your pitch, suggest ways that you can return the favor. Maybe you come onto their podcast, contribute a guest blog post, backlink to their website or include their product in your event’s expo hall, etc.
In the vein of JFK, this demonstrates that you’re committed to helping your presenter grow their profile as well. That good-faith gesture can help you not only book your presenter but kickstart a long-term working relationship with them.
6. Don't be afraid to dream big: Available to anyone with working WiFi, virtual events can attract presenters from around the world. Since they can log in from their offices, your highest-profile speakers only need to commit 1-2 hours to your event, not a full day of travel and extraneous networking/conversation. (This doesn’t account for prep time, but your speaker would’ve used that time regardless of whether they presented virtually or IRL.)
So it’s easier than ever to get the very best speakers for your audience, no matter where they are. Take advantage — and take some educated risks.
(Example: BigMarker recently hosted an event featuring Al Gore, Bill Murray, Dr. Fauci and the Dalai Lama. What’re the odds you ever get those four in the same physical room?)
Next on the agenda: Get your house in order. Literally.
Hosting your agenda and speaker profiles, the event microsite is your event’s home. It’s where guests will decide whether or not to attend. It could host your registration platform, event emails and/or your event program itself.
So just like you’d prepare a physical venue for a gathering, you need to get your event microsite dressed up and ready for your potential registrants.
What should you look for in an event microsite? Here’s where to start:
1. Full-service: We recommend using an all-in-one event website, in which the event microsite, registration portal, email suite and payment processor are all located on the same platform and URL. This eases both the attendee experience and your marketing efforts.
Attendees will only need to use one URL and login to access all parts of your event. And if you’ve ever needed to reset your username and password 2 minutes before logging into a virtual meeting, you know how that smoothes the user experience.
This one-stop-shop format also streamlines hosting for organizers. The more team members, outside agencies, event partners, etc., you get involved in event planning, the more you need to centralize basic event functions in one easily accessible website.
2. Customizable and branded: By definition, events are special. Hosted on a larger scale in front of more people, an event can do more for your brand — in less time — than any other marketing channel. (Remember that 84% of event goers feel more positively about a brand and its products after attending an event.)
Take advantage by incorporating your brand into your event website as much as possible (while remaining tasteful, of course). For instance, BigMarker allows hosts to choose between 15 different landing page layouts, then incorporate their colors, logo, custom-branded welcome videos and copy into every element of the site.
White labeled domains also allow organizers to host the event under their own URL, not their virtual event or website provider (example: eventname.company.com v. eventname.bigmarker.com). Besides relating more directly to your brand, white labeled domains also establish trust with audiences, making them more likely to register.
Your company has spent months planning, promoting and executing an event. So you deserve to show off. Pick a website customizable enough to reflect the best of your brand — and experience the benefits well beyond event day.
3. Browser-based software: We’ve all been there: You “arrive” at your virtual meeting/event right on time, until you realize that it’s being hosted on some clunky desktop program you've never heard of.
So you scramble to find this new app in the Apple Store, download it, create an account, log in to the event, and enter 10 minutes late feeling like you’ve sprinted a 5K. Not the strong first impression you want to leave with guests.
A browser-based event website will eliminate most of that stress. Your attendees can enter the event right on the browser they’ve got open, switching seamlessly from their morning NYT article to your event in seconds.
(And although you’d want your attendees paying 100% of their attention to your event program 100% of the time, the browser-based format enables attendees to answer that errant email more easily, then immediately switch focus back to you.)
Prefer to keep your event experience separate from your browser? Consider using a mobile companion app (like ours!). This way, attendees can tune in on their own time, on their own terms. So if they need to handle a quick errand during your event, they can listen on the go, or jump back in when they're done. This increases both registrations and full-day engagement, both of which are important from a marketing perspective.
That's it for Part 1! Continue here to learn how to execute an integrated marketing strategy and how to activate your audience during and after your event.
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