April 17, 2017

Event Marketing Strategies to Try at Your Next Conference

Event marketing uses in-person and online gatherings for various marketing purposes. The main marketing returns for an event are:

  • Networking: People still say referrals are #1 for business growth, despite the growth of other channels, and Hubspot reported that 84 percent of decision-makers start their research from a referral.
  • Brand awareness: Getting your product and logo in front of new eyes in any vertical can pay dividends.
  • Product Training: Hands-on and in-person demos can go a long way to showing new customers ease of use, especially if your product lives in an obscure market or consists of a totally new idea.
  • Generate Leads: The point of generating interest in your product is to eventually sell the product; turning contacts into leads is of utmost importance.

To do these all successfully, your team needs to build a effective strategy starting with outreach before the conference and ending with funneling new leads into your pipeline. This process requires a lot of planning and careful avoidance of pitfalls.

In this article, we’ll provide some before, during, and after advice for event marketing at conferences.

I. Before

Build a plan. Setting up a conference booth and giving away swag for email addresses can work, but how many of those email addresses given in exchange for your awesome t-shirt will actually turn into leads? You’re looking for high-quality connections, so you need to build a high-quality plan.

  1. Set goals and (realistic) expectations. Focus on business objectives and measurable outcomes.  
  2. Choose how you will measure success: website visits, social media shares, MQLs, or deals closed.
  3. Build back-up plans for everything: what are your backup hashtags if your originals get spammed? Where will you go if the venue catches fire (unlikely, but still). 
  4. Prepare all of your handouts, swag, signage, and messaging beforehand. Make sure every team member attending has an elevator pitch.
  5. Check the channels for buzz. This includes all of your social media channels, the conference website, and trade and industry blogs.
  6. Plan who you want to target with your networking efforts. What other companies and speakers will be present? 

II. During

Of course, you want to make the actual event as good as it can be. Don’t overlook basic needs and fun ideas for your event presence. Your team should show up with print collateral to hand out. While they may seem old-school, a one-sheet brochure, business cards, and handouts help your customers remember who they met and what you talked about.

Giveaways/Fun/Swag

Lots of companies use this as a way to get folks over to the booth in the first place. Maybe set up a portable ping pong table or a soda pong set for folks to take a break. Couches and chairs give people a place to rest their feet during an expo. And don’t send them home empty-handed: bags, socks, and t-shirts are popular parting gifts, as are pens and portable phone chargers.

Salesforce certification swag

Podcast or Webcast Booth

Whether your team uses a podcast or webcast as a full-time part of your content marketing strategy or just to add to your conference strategy, a podcast booth is a great way to position yourself as a thought leader. Conduct interviews with influencers from other companies, or line up whole panels to discuss industry issues. Podcasting is a quick way to make content for your site and build connections with other industry leaders with minimal editing.

Private Events

While dinners with customers come as standard fare for a lot of companies’ conference plans, your team can also carve out creative time to spend with new contacts. Think about setting up coffee chats, lunch off site, or an outing before or after conference hours that give you time to connect one-on-one. We did this in 2016 with a SiriusDecisions after-party at our new Nashville location. 

Document Your Connections

Find a way to save your conversations so you can enter them in your CRM database after the event. This can be as simple as keeping a personal notebook with connections and business cards, or as tech-savvy as using an iPad email capture app to take notes on interactions. Either way, you’ll want to remember who you talked to and what you said. 

III. After

How do you keep the conversation going after a conference? To ensure that your hard-won personal connections pay out, follow up.

Content

You got all those email addresses and maybe some social media handles, so run some conference-specific content directed toward your new prospects. You might even create a dedicated drip track for conference leads. Publish podcasts you recorded, and remind your thought leaders to share the conversation on social and link to your blog. A great follow-up strategy shares some of the insights you gleaned at the event.

Personalized Follow-up

Send a “thanks for hanging with us” email to those who gave you an email address and offer value in that email. Maybe you offer a more product-focused demo or webinar, or a free piece of content. Incorporate these folks into your nurture campaigns to keep the momentum going.

* * *

If you want to start seeing some ROI from your events, you need to build a plan that includes content and tactics for before, during, and after the event. You should prepare all of these long before you arrive at the venue, which means you might get ready for a March event the previous November. Align your event messaging across your blog, social media, landing pages, paper handouts, and elevator pitches. A fully fleshed-out content and event strategy that covers all the bases from promotion to follow-up is the key to event marketing success.

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