The Ultimate Guide to Event Marketing in 2021

Cassy Aite
April 6, 2021
The Ultimate Guide to Event Marketing in 2021 | Hoppier

A great deal of the success of your event depends on its marketing strategy. The abundance of marketing channels, platforms, and technology available can add to the dilemma and make it harder for you to pinpoint an effective strategy.

This extensive guide gets into the nitty-gritty of event marketing. Whether you are organizing a small lunch and learn for your clients or a large-scale trade show, these tips will help you promote it.

What Is Event Marketing?

Today, event marketers have it tougher than ever before — the sheer volume of virtual events coupled with changes in consumer behavior mean that consumer attention comes at a premium. Every single day, there are more companies with more virtual events and expos, which means there’s more demand for consumer attention than ever.

Navigating the event marketing landscape requires organizers to rethink how they approach their audiences. When done right, event marketing can help organizations drive brand awareness, build meaningful communities, and generate revenue through events.

The 5 Most Common Event Categories

Over the past year, the line between field marketing events and virtual events has blurred. With most companies and event organizers choosing a virtual delivery model for events, here's how you can develop a strategy that caters to the most commonly hosted event formats.

1. Conferences

Conferences are events centered around a specific industry or theme with many guests in attendance. An industry conference is typically hosted by an industry body or events company. Industry conferences promote dialog, offer insights into new trends and opportunities, and facilitate exchanges of new ideas among industry professionals. Examples include Impact, HR Technology Conference & Expo, and MarTech among others.  

Customer conferences on the other hand are hosted by companies for their customers and prospects. This is a critical touchpoint for companies looking to educate their customers, share important product updates, and launch new product lines or services. Dreamforce by Salesforce is an example of a large-scale customer conference that brings together Salesforce customers, partners, prospects, and employees to share new insights on products, partners, and best practices.    

2. Trade Shows

Trade shows (also known as expos or exhibitions) are large-scale industry-focused events where participants or exhibitors showcase their offerings to clients and customers. Tradeshows and expos are ideal for driving brand awareness and generating new leads. One of the key attributes of a successful tradeshow is the quality of networking opportunities on offer.

3. Workshops

Workshops (or seminars) are educational events dedicated to discussing a specific topic or theme. Workshops are generally much smaller than conferences and tradeshows offering targeted learning opportunities for industry professionals, employees, or customers. It is becoming common for larger conferences and tradeshows to feature multiple workshops that take a hands-on training approach to imparting new skills and brainstorming.

4. Webinars

Webinars are a portmanteau of the terms web and seminar.  Webinars are content dense events adapted for online participation. Over the past few years, webinars have become the virtual event of choice for companies looking to introduce their brand to prospects and customers.  

5. Trainings

Customer training events are purpose developed by companies to train customers on their products. They’re also called workshops, bootcamps, and seminars and are typically positioned as the bottom of the marketing funnel for content type. Some of the common delivery formats include lunch and learn sessions, webinars, and product bootcamps.

Trainings are valuable because it offers the opportunity for brands to understand and interact with their target market. They are also incredibly effective for boosting retention and maximizing lifetime value.  

5 Benefits of Event Marketing

A hand with streamers and confetti to celebrate the benefits of event marketing

Event marketing enables brands and marketers to drive brand awareness, engage with their target audience, and generate revenue. But that’s not all. Here are five additional benefits of event marketing.

1. Build Brand Credibility

Customers buy from brands they trust. From the credibility perspective, events allow you to demonstrate your domain expertise via your content sessions and workshops. Industry influencers attending or speaking at your event can also serve as a discreet vote of trust.

2. Increase Brand Familiarity

Often, online marketing efforts fall short on delivering the desired results, despite designing campaigns that should have worked. In such cases, the audience is hesitant or not interested in what you have to say purely because they don’t know your brand well.

Event marketing gives you the opportunity to make yourself visible to your prospects through sponsorships, exhibitions, and speeches. Interacting in person builds that familiarity and helps you establish an online rapport later.

3. Generate Leads

Events allow you to reach the most relevant cluster of your target audience: the decision-maker or the person who influences the decision-maker. Having a one-on-one with them enables you to generate qualified leads.

4. Improve Marketing ROI

Determining marketing ROI isn’t always easy. Along with generating leads, events allow you to connect with prospects and convert them into customers. Simultaneously, you can upsell or cross-sell your complementing or add-on products to existing customers.

5. Collect Customer Feedback

You can speak with your customers and understand how they use your product, the features they expect, and the challenges they face with the product. Coupled with traditional surveys, collecting this unstructured feedback gives you a better glimpse into your customers’ minds and helps you improve your offerings.

5 Common Event Marketing Pitfalls To Avoid

As you begin planning your event marketing strategy, be sure to avoid these five common event marketing mistakes.

1. Not Adopting the Latest Trends

The event industry underwent a transformation in 2020. Virtual events quickly became mainstream, and hybrid events are the future. With this shift, the success of an event relies largely on the attendee experience. What worked in the past can now cost you, so consider experimenting with your event marketing strategy.

2. Not Understanding the Target Audience

Events can attract different segments of your target audience, but your event marketing strategy should cater to a specific audience. While a vaguely defined target audience might bring more attendees, it certainly won’t help you meet your revenue goals.

3. Adopting a One-Size-Fits-All Approach

Your content creation should be influenced by your audience’s preferences. For instance, a B2C event promotion might not require a podcast for promotion, so including podcasts in the content strategy could be a waste of time and resources. Consider the value your content will bring to the audience before creating it.

4. Leaving Out Post-Event Communication

The marketing cycle for your next event begins right after your current event ends. It is essential to prioritize post-event communication as much as pre-event buzz. Apart from sending thank you emails, retain your attendees’ interest via post-event surveys. You can also repurpose event content and create events and activities for the next edition.

5. Emphasizing Vanity Metrics

While analyzing event performance, prioritize tracking important metrics such as registrations, revenue goals, leads, etc. Refer to actionable metrics that tie to specific and repeatable tasks to understand how you can improve and optimize processes instead of getting caught up in vanity metrics such as social media likes. Vanity metrics do not reveal significant information about your bottom-line results.

Kickstarting Your Event Marketing

Before we get to the strategic aspect of event marketing, let’s take a quick look at understanding audiences and how they behave.

These three steps can help you lay the groundwork for your event marketing.

1. Ask Yourself: What’s in It for Them?

Benefits, not features — that’s the mantra product marketers live by. When designing your event strategy, focus on the “why” instead of the “what.” Here is how you can do that for attendees and sponsors.

  • Attendees: Your attendees will have different reasons for attending your event. Some might be there to update their domain knowledge while others want to network with their industry peers. Appeal to their motivations by stating the why (learn growth hacking secrets from the CMO of a leading SaaS company) instead of the what (20+ immersive sessions over 2 days).
  • Sponsors: Sponsors often have a clear rationale for attending conferences. It’s to build brand awareness and generate leads. Communicate the sponsorship packages along with the benefits sponsors can hope to realize. For example, a brand looking to establish their thought leadership in their niche can benefit from a package that entails a premium speaking slot, an exclusive interview, and a seat on a panel discussion.

2. Uncover the Buyer’s Journey

Understanding customer behavior is essential to chalking out your event marketing strategy. Create a strategy based on how a prospect discovers your event and decides to attend it. Knowing the motivations that drive their decisions and demographic, geographic, and psychographic traits will help you gain a better understanding of your attendees.

Learn about the technology they use and the content they find relevant to guide them down your marketing funnel. Creating buyer personas to segment the buyer’s journey for different customers will help you operationalize all this information.

  • Attendees: If you are targeting two types of attendees, know what motivates them. For example, a mid-senior level individual may be interested in career growth, and therefore, will value learning, whereas an executive-level attendee will look forward to the networking opportunities.
  • Sponsors: Connect with the decision-makers who make the call on sponsoring and exhibiting at events. You can create multiple buyer personas based on different motivations and pitch sponsorship packages accordingly.

3. Build an Omnichannel Framework

Potential sponsors and attendees have different intents when looking to participate in an event. It helps to know the various touch points each will have with your organization and build an omnichannel framework to guide them through the marketing funnel.

For example, although social media is a common touchpoint for both sponsors and attendees, it's easier to sell a virtual attendance ticket via a social media ad campaign than it is to sell a sponsorship package.

For sponsorship, you can use social media as a top-of-the-funnel touchpoint and use content like webinars, interviews, etc., to appeal to decision-makers.

The 9 Pillars of Event Marketing

Colorful envelopes represent email for event marketing

Once you have laid the groundwork, here are nine pillars that you can incorporate into your event marketing strategy.

1. Website or Landing Page

The website is the face of your event. Your event website serves as a one-stop-shop for event information like updates, registrations, and inquiries.

Depending on the nature of the event, you can opt for a standalone event website (trade shows or conferences) or dedicate a landing page (webinars or lunch and learn sessions).

3 tips for building event websites:

  • Focus on concise messaging. Display the event USP prominently with crisp and short content on the homepage. Use separate pages to let visitors seek the information they need. Scarcity tactics are an event marketing staple, however, with the sheer volume of virtual events today, scarcity tactics might not always be a great idea. We recommend incorporating positive social proof, moment marketing, and partner promotions in your ads and messaging campaigns instead.
  • Take into account the accessibility aspect of the user experience (UX). If you can’t provide customization features, pick fonts, colors, visuals, and navigation that are universally accessible (disabled friendly). This goes for other content forms as well. For instance, it's useful to provide subtitles or closed captions along with the video interviews or promo videos.
  • Make registration easier for prospects. Mention support details on the registration page so that visitors can get in touch with you instead of dropping out.

2. Content Marketing

Content serves as the foundation for your event marketing strategy. It’s the fuel that keeps the marketing engine running. Create a cohesive content strategy considering each touchpoint and diversify the content formats to cater to each persona.

3 tips for rock-solid content marketing:

  • Generate pre-event buzz through speaker interviews, gated content in collaboration with sponsors, podcasts, and outreach through media partners.
  • With an overwhelming amount of content being produced every day, make it easier for your audience to consume it via a centralized content repository. For example, Marketo has a dedicated resources section where visitors can read and watch content based on their preferences.
  • Create content that aims to engage, entertain, educate, or inform the audience. This well-balanced content mix avoids monotony.

3. Email Marketing

Email marketing remains one of the most effective organic distribution channels. It helps companies keep their audiences updated throughout the event lifecycle. Whether it's a new speaker announcement, seasonal discounts and offers, feedback request, or the latest content share, email marketing allows you to do everything.

3 tips for an email marketing strategy that works:

  • Let visitors choose the type of communication they’d like to receive from you. Giving them this autonomy can improve the click-through rates and reduce unsubscribes.
  • Create a personalized email drip sequence for each buyer persona to qualify them for the next stage of the funnel. For example, after a user signs-up for your newsletter, place a gated content piece that would put them in the next stage when they download it.
  • No metrics in email marketing are vanity metrics, so keep a close tab on email analytics and optimize wherever possible.

4. Social Media Marketing

Most social platforms allow you to upload videos, run polls, and reach a diverse audience-base. But choose your social media channels wisely. For instance, a B2B trade show can benefit immensely from Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter, whereas fashion conferences can use Pinterest along with the above platforms to attract the right audience.

Top 3 Social Media Marketing Tips:

  • Create an event-specific hashtag to centralize all event discussions and aid discovery. Keep the hashtag short, memorable, unique, and easy-to-spell.
  • Use ephemeral content like Instagram stories to promote content, announce discounts, and drive traffic to the website.
  • Host giveaway contests to get people talking about your event. You can also rope in your sponsors to provide free tickets, subscriptions, or unique giveaways.

5. Influencer Marketing

Influencers boost your credibility among their followers. When it comes to leveraging influencer marketing for events, micro-influencers are always a better choice. You benefit from their expertise and have the opportunity to tap into their following, driving better reach and engagement for your posts. For conferences and trade shows, speakers can be your key influencers.

3 tips to leverage influencers for events:

  • Before shortlisting influencers, evaluate their current engagement, reach, and past campaign results. Frequent keynote speakers like Gary Vaynerchuk upload their keynote talks on their YouTube channel — they regularly net over 100k views.
  • In addition to promoting the event, influencers are pivotal in content creation as well. Work with your speakers to create content through interviews, podcasts, video series, and blog posts.
  • Provide your influencers with basic brand guidelines and content snippets to help them create and share content more easily.

6. Digital Advertising

Sophisticated targeting capabilities make digital advertising an essential part of event promotion. The in-depth analytical capabilities give you insights into your campaign performance. You can also identify content that is driving conversions.

3 tips for digital advertising success in event promotions:

  • Use remarketing and retargeting to improve your conversion rates. Rather than targeting users with sales-y ads, use these ads as reminders to re-engage your audience.
  • Use features like lookalike audiences to connect with a wider audience that shares similar characteristics with your current users.
  • Pair influencer marketing and advertising to build social proof while reaching new audiences.

7. Community Building

An engaged community amplifies your marketing efforts. It could be through user-generated content like testimonials, event photos, and social media posts, or valuable inputs through surveys and feedback. Email lists, social media groups, and messenger app channels are also effective for building and retaining a community.

3 tips to build an event-specific community:

  • Create private groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Slack to engage one-on-one with community members. Create an elaborate onboarding process to let them know that they’re part of an exclusive group. Nurture your relationship with them by asking for suggestions, replying to their queries, and being helpful in general. For example, Reboot 2020 created a Slack group with dedicated channels for sessions and sponsors to encourage conversation.
  • Create a members-only section on the website where they can access exclusive content and get community discounts on event registrations or other offerings.
  • Engage with your community continually by hosting exclusive webinars, ask me anything (AMA) sessions with experts, and small-scale events.

8. Experiential Marketing

Experiential marketing is an onsite event experience that engages attendees through physical branding materials to help them get acquainted with your brand and its offerings. It's also known as participation marketing and is essential to providing a memorable event experience.

3 tips to nail experiential marketing:

  • Experiential marketing cannot be passive. Use immersive technologies like augmented reality (AR) to combine simulated and real-world scenarios. Coca-Cola created an AR experience in Zurich at the start of the FIFA World Cup in 2018 that allowed users to test their soccer skills on screen.
  • Make the experiential component shareworthy. It should compel users to share photos or videos along with the event hashtag on social media.
  • The experience should spell out the brand value or product utility explicitly as attendees try the experience.

9. Analytics and Tracking

Insights gathered from your analytics solution complete the omnichannel marketing loop. Make sure to track important data points across the attendee journey and the event. Data can get overwhelming. So, choose relevant metrics that help you measure the outcome of your event marketing strategy.

3 tips for tracking the success of event marketing:

  • Track marketing channels that drive most conversions. Optimize the rest of your activities around those channels. The same goes for content formats.
  • Measure the performance of exhibitor floor traffic, networking data, and average booth visits to improve the event experience for sponsors.
  • Use website traffic data and event data to identify the right audience profile. This information enables you to market to the right people in the future.

Closing Thoughts

Marketing an in-person, virtual, or hybrid event is a challenge. You must understand your audience, the channels they use, and their preferences before starting the event marketing process. You can use the prep guidelines, common mistakes, and event marketing pillars provided in this guide to help you create a successful omnichannel event marketing strategy.

At Hoppier, we help brands redefine how attendees and employees engage with events. Use Hoppier to create personalized event experiences for your attendees — provide branded swag bags, offer exclusive lunch and networking sessions, or close out your event with a memorable cocktail dinner. Start planning your next event with Hoppier.

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