Growing Your Event Program by Integrating Event Planning and Event Automation
Event planning for a software company catering to senior level marketers teaches you how to plan an event with steely determination and unshakable optimism. Fortunately, as Certain’s Marketing and Event Coordinator, I have both. Why? The current event landscape has an incredible set of software applications that a data-driven marketer can take advantage of. Not only with the planning and execution of customer events (monitored by a team of smart programmers), but also with actionable intelligence and real-time data captured at events. Event Automation software merges event management and marketing automation — it is stress relief. It is budget relief. And it is precisely what marketing teams need to deliver credible event ROI.
Marketers need the right set of tools that will enable scalability with direct marketing efforts. As a company grows, there is not a more effective marketing strategy to build relationships or expand awareness and uncover opportunities than face-to-face events. That’s why a recent Forrester Research Study highlighted events as the #1 budgetary category for B2B Marketers in 2015.
Scaling enterprise events in the face of constant competition may seem daunting and for good reason, but there’s no reason why you can’t bring your audience and your event to the next level. Event Automation can help you capture rich attendee data, personalize your event, and streamline your event marketing workflow. So, as you consider scaling your event program, there are several things that you (and your organization) should bear in mind, especially when you have your brand’s future at stake.
Here are some tips to help you and your marketing team grow and set yourselves apart in the competitive event landscape.
1. Know Your Audience
In order to scale events effectively, it is not enough to just know who you wish to cater to. You also need to understand your buying personas, and what their experience (i.e. touch points) will be from start to finish, because that will pay off big-time. In The Event Marketing Handbook, Allison Saget highlights three questions to ask yourself when creating your event plan, regardless of the size of your budget:
- Who is my audience?
- What are the goals and objectives?
- How will success be measured?
If you integrate touch points that are on brand and message, and that leads directly back to all three of these questions, then your event is going to be successful.
Knowing your audience means utilizing key players in that environment to endorse your organization and its goals. So who recognizes that value and can speak to it? Your accountability skyrockets when customers and business partners advocate on your behalf. Again, this goes deeper than knowing the basic needs of your audience. This kind of relationship takes cultivation, constant communication, and an ear open for greater opportunities within your prospect’s organization. This doesn’t happen overnight, so give yourself some time, but always be diligent.
2. Identify the Opportunity Cost
Opportunity cost affects every decision we make as marketers. Though not every individual may think about it as such, this a large factor in determining attendance at enterprise events.
What are you offering to attendees that will allow them to choose your event over everything else they have going on in any particular day? Are there other events going on around the same time? What makes your event the one to choose over another one? Do your attendees have to travel? How far will they travel to attend your event? What is the literal cost of attendance?
The final question becomes this: how can you, as an individual or an organization, lower the opportunity cost in order to make attendance a near certainty? This is especially important as you choose to scale your events.
Here’s one other way to think about this: what is your value proposition, and does it outweigh or at least balance out the value that can be gleaned by your audience on any other given day?
3. Ask the right people the right questions
If you want to scale your events, having a high level of buy-in from all key players is essential. So, ask the right questions. Who would they like to see in attendance? What kind of topics are of interest to them? What sessions have they attended in the past that they found most valuable? Where are they having great success? Where are they having their greatest difficulties?
It’s not simply about asking the questions, however. It’s about listening to your prospect’s needs, and having detailed conversations about why something might have to wait a few years to implement. As with any business directive, some requests are simply too much too soon. This doesn’t mean that you should overlook these prospects. If you can move in their general direction or make a note to look into other similar possibilities, your audience will know that you asked, and be happy that they are being heard. It’s more than just asking the right questions. It’s about hearing the answers as well.
Ask the right people the right questions – then listen.
4. Provide quality content that inspires
After you’ve asked the right people the right questions, take a look at how that feedback can influence the content you provide in the future. Crafting a great story can be much more impactful to your brand, especially as you grow your events.
What makes a great story and how can you craft excellent content for data-driven marketers? The theories and rhetoric around this question are as numerous as the words that describe them, but for enterprise events in particular, they can be boiled down to the following questions:
- Does the content inspire thoughtful and actionable solutions?
- Is it clarifying common misconceptions around relevant topics?
- Finally, does it begin a conversation that can lead to actionable solutions further down the road?
If you’ve answered yes to any of the above questions, you are on the right track. Nothing is worse than content that offers nothing new. Mediocre content can dissuade an audience from ever attending your event in the future, making it even more important to vet your speakers for not only quality content, but for engaging deliveries as well.
5. Target your audience by capturing as much data as you can at events
The data you collect through event automation at your events can have a big impact on the planning of future events. If you’re implementing data tracking during your event, you can make session recommendations based on attendee behavior and interests. This provides event professionals with a better idea of how many people are showing up for a morning networking coffee hour versus an evening cocktail party, and it’ll help you decide how to schedule your event’s activities.
You can also track what type of event is getting the largest audience, which sessions are drawing the most audience participation, and what workshops need more promotion or a different focus. Though you can gather some of this information through surveys and questionnaires, you can also gather it during the event itself, so your attendees can focus on what made them choose to attend your event in the first place.
6. Take all the feedback you can get
This point differs from the previous few points by calling particular attention to previous year’s attendees. When you are in a position to scale your events, it becomes that much more important to get the good, the bad, and the ugly from those who have been to your events.
If you don’t already have feedback forms in place at all of your events, create some. If you do, use them. If you have trouble getting people to take the time, after all, every second of their time is precious, here are a few ways you can reap the feedback you’ll need to be successful:
- Give them a call – nothing is more personal than calling to thank members for being in attendance and asking for their feedback for the future scalability of your events. This is the business of relationships.
- Make it easy – if your forms are filled with repetitive questions, you can rest assured that they will be easily ignored. The most responded to surveys are short.
- Encourage ownership and feedback throughout your event – if you ask, you shall receive, especially if you ask in the moment, but it’s not simply asking. Genuinely remind attendees that this is their event, and you want to hear what they have to say.
- Incorporate live polling at your event – this boosts engagement at your event and lets you review attendee data in real-time.
7. Engage on social media
As with the content you provide, ensure that your social media presence provides added value, rather than clutter, to the constant stream of noise in technology. If you want to differentiate and grow you events and brand, you’ve got to do better than cute pictures of kittens, though they can help every once in awhile.
Perhaps more valuable than creating awareness of your event, however, is social media’s ability to continue the conversation during and after the event. We are in an information and sharing age, and while this comes with a whole host of other problems and questions, providing the outlet to expand the physical reality of conversation to the virtual reality of sharing and expressing points of view and experiences can create further foundations for continued (and greater) successes.
At this point it’s a given that you should be creating a hashtag for your event, and live-tweeting highlights from the experience. Posting photos of contest winners on Instagram and tagging them, responding to prospects’ tweets or sharing their LinkedIn posts are all savvy ways to build relationships and monitor buying signals. Now we are looking increasingly towards video and live-streaming opportunities via platforms like Facebook Live and Periscope. Which brings me to the next tip…
8. Keep a pulse on new technologies and current events
If you can keep a finger on the pulse of evolving technologies and current events, including politics, trends, and other world affairs, you have the recipe for success in your hands.
Another way to put this is to make sure you have some flexibility. Take advantage of your space to discuss the relevant pieces of what’s going on in the world as they happen. Did a new and exciting piece of technology come to light that will have potentially unforeseen impacts on your industry? Take Snapchat for example. In a remarkably short period of time, “Snapchat has more users than Twitter or Pinterest or Linkedin” marketing influencer Jay Baer cited recently. As event marketers, it’s vital that we stay ahead of these kinds of trends. We should open up discussions around new technologies with our teams and adjust if necessary.
There is more at stake than mere scalability here. This is more than business. This is keeping in tune with the world where it is and understanding that your business can have a profound impact on the conversations that come out of it. If you need to put a business spin on it, know that your organization will be inextricably tied to the content of your event.
Scaling enterprise events in the face of constant competition may seem daunting, but it doesn’t need to be. As the previous tips suggest, scaling is less about resources and more about continued quality of content and experience. Yes, you need to ensure the aesthetics you want associated with your brand. Yes, you must attend to the proper timing and execution on a much grander scale, staffing as necessary and updating onsite technologies.
In fact, updating technologies is particularly important if you are hosting a technology oriented enterprise event, less so if your focus is on other matters. Still, even those things can be excused if attendees walk away feeling a sense of ownership, actionable solutions, thoughts percolating around relevant discussion topics. What cannot be excused is a lack of quality speakers or content, an unbalanced ratio of topics to attendees, a sense that your most important people, your audience, have wasted their time.
So, is now the right time for you to grow? Here’s another way to think about it.
- Do you have the potential to reach a much greater audience?
- Have you developed the relationships with your current audience to ensure a committed group of attendees?
- Is your value proposition clear and convincing, not just to your audience, but to you?
- Are you confident and committed to achieving the highest level content and experience possible? (Learn more about the cardinal rules of event content strategy here)
If you’ve answered yes to all of these questions, it may be time to put in the work to create a comprehensive event scaling strategy that considers the tips listed above. To use a ship metaphor, you’ll need to audit the craft (plan) and look for holes or weaknesses in its structure. Once identified, you can negotiate with your event network, and partner with other companies that will help you seal the leaks. Partnerships often translate to larger email lists and new customers that can instantly widen your reach. Recognize that your plans and audience may be bigger, but your team may still be the same size. This is where Event Automation comes in.
Where do you turn when your boat is bigger, but you have a lean crew? Event Automation technology provides functionality to help marketers automate critical and time-consuming event management tasks and become a lean, mean, marketing machine. This functionality is also designed to align with the best practices of your event campaigns and tailored to your company’s policies and workflow specifications. Another huge benefit is that it will help you to prove and improve your event ROI.
If an Event Coordinator is faced with higher than average stress factors, the best way to ease their pain is by concentrating on perfecting the process considering the points above, and acquiring the right technology.That way we’re ready to take on obstacles, and aid in our company’s long-term growth.
These are some genuine ways that we can make our events more engaging to attendees and with Event Automation, easier and more efficient. Most importantly, we will be able to demonstrate significant returns on our company’s event spend, and where there’s more ROI, there’s a lot less stress.