Summary: Learn how to market events of all kinds, from market research, branding and pricing to event websites, content marketing, social media and post-event followup.
What is event marketing?
Event marketing is the activity of promoting an event and involves the coordination of market analysis/research, product development, tactical planning, tactical execution and measurement. Event marketing strategies are part of the overall event management and planning process and usually include the following:
- Product selection and development (in this case, the creation and planning of an event).
- Identifying the proper target market (i.e., potential attendees), distribution channels and pricing for the event.
- Creating a marketing plan to establish goals and strategies for reaching your target market, including event brand development.
- Implementing marketing tactics (email, social media, PR, etc.) based on your marketing plan.
- Applying project management techniques for tracking implementation progress and establishing criteria to measure the success of these tactics.
Important Note: There seems to be some confusion in the event industry (and even in Google’s search results) as to what event marketing actually is, and this is because some people use the term “event marketing” to refer to events that are planned for the purpose of promoting and marketing a specific brand, product or service.
This second definition of event marketing (which may also be called live marketing or experiential marketing) pertains to either online or offline live events where the entire event experience – which can include exhibits, booths, demos or demonstrations, presentations and immersive experiences – is built around a promoting a specific brand. Examples of this type of event or experiential marketing can include anything from handing out samples on the street to a booth at trade show to a built-in display or exhibit at a shopping center to a stand-alone event that immerses customers in a product or service.
This article will focus on event marketing as the act of promoting an event (as we first described), but even someone who is planning an experiential marketing event will find the concepts helpful in promoting their event to their customers.
Why is event marketing important?
Event marketing is a critical component in the overall management and planning of an event, and here are the main benefits of event marketing.
Inform and attract potential attendees
When you get down to it, event marketing educates your potential attendees about the scope and theme of your event; provides the particulars about the event (reasons to attend, location, date/time, speakers/entertainment, etc.); piques their interest; and generates buzz surrounding your event.
Get attendees to register or RSVP to your event
Once a potential attendee is interested in your event, marketing incentivizes them and streamlines the path for them to sign up, register or RSVP. Or, to be more blunt, marketing helps ensure that you maximize revenues and put more butts in seats.
Ensure registered attendees show up to your event
This is often the overlooked aspect of event marketing in that you must follow through with incentives and reminders to make sure your registered/RSVP’d attendees actually show up. Followup marketing is especially important for free events or events where you are counting on people to spend additional money once they walk through your doors.
Increase your target audience’s recognition and recall of your event
You may reach out to prospective attendees who don’t plan on attending your upcoming event (for example, they may already be committed to other things on your particular event date). However, they may want to attend future events that you offer, and marketing keeps you top-of-mind for these people.
Expose the idea, theme or cause of your event to a wider audience
Sometimes the objective of an event extends beyond actual attendance. For example, if you are promoting a fundraiser event for a non-profit, you may be seeking donations as well as ticket sales. Or if you promote a specific cause, you may want people to be more aware of it and join your online community as well as attend your next educational seminar.
Who is the target of event marketing?
Now things start to get interesting, because at this stage you must choose and define who is the target audience for your event.
At first glance, the answer is obvious … “duh, it’s the people who we want to attend our event.” But you need to dig a bit deeper in order to ensure you are talking to the right people, saying the right things and offering what they want.
One mistake that some event planners and event marketers make at this point is to put the cart before the horse and start creating/planning your event before you identify and properly define your target audience. I myself have done this … I assumed I knew my intended audience very well, only to find out after I have planned the event that I have been off the mark in what my audience wants (or even have misidentified the proper audience for the event).
To save you from such mistakes, you should walk through the following questions before you begin mapping out your event marketing strategies.
IMPORTANT TIP: I would highly recommend that you not only rely on your personal experience to answer these questions but that you also put together a pre-event survey to reach out to your potential audience to get their direct feedback. Their responses will not only give you a clearer picture of who they are and what they care about, but they can also give you insights into the event theme and content that would resonate with them the most.
Questions for Defining Your Event’s Target Audience
1. What is important to my audience as it relates to my initial event idea?
Don’t make this too complicated. Just write down why they would care about attending the event you are proposing. FYI … This is essentially your first draft of the “reason to attend” that eventually should be reflected in all marketing communications and materials you produce.
2. What are the defining demographic and psychographic characteristics of my audience?
Let’s translate this into lay terms.
First, sketch out the typical age, gender, income level, education level, occupation, marital/family status and location(s) of your target audience (all demographic information). Some of these characteristics may be more important than others, so make sure to prioritize what qualities you must identify (e.g., location would be an important characteristic to identify if travel is required to attend your event).
Second, sketch out the personal characteristics (that is, psychographics) of your audience, including their personality types, values/beliefs, interests, attitudes and lifestyles.
IMPORTANT TIP: A great exercise in sketching out demographic and psychographic characteristics is by creating personas of your audience members. You may have one or even multiple target audiences who would be interested in your proposed event, and it’s helpful when you are writing and designing your marketing materials that you know who you are talking to and what resonates with them. So you should create a persona who stands as the typical member of each of those audiences.
For example, say your event would appeal to stay-at-home moms and men who run businesses out of their homes. You would want to create a profile of the typical member of each of these audiences. Give them a name, age, physical description, defining personality traits, list of interests/attitudes and whatever else you think might be valuable in defining how you reach out to each audience. This may require some educated guesswork, but it will make your life easier when you start reaching out to these folks.
3. What are your audiences’ key pain points that your event will address?
No need to have more than two or three of these, but just make sure the pain is sharp enough that your audience will respond to your event offering.
4. What are the best ways to reach your audience?
Think of this question in terms of what are all the places – both online and offline – that your target audience frequents where you can reach them with a message. These places are called touchpoints, and the more touchpoints you can identify accurately for your audience, the better your chances of reaching them and the less likely you will waste your time and money on tactics and approaches where they aren’t looking.
For example, if your audience members are in a particular Facebook group, follow a handful of specific people on Twitter, read their emails between 6-10pm at night and visit 2-3 specific blogs, then you have a great start on how to reach them with very focused marketing tactics.
5. What is their budget for attending and who will pay?
If your event is a paid event, you need to make sure that they can afford what you are thinking of charging (more on setting event pricing later) or, if they are not paying out of their own pocket, then if they can convince their employer, spouse, parent, etc., to pay their admission.
6. What does their schedule look like and how flexible is it?
Nothing is worse than booking a venue and setting a date and time only to find out later that that your target audience is often busy on that day or time. So before you make those decisions, first do some digging into when your target audience has free time or when it is most convenient for them to show up to an event (again, this will be even more critical if your event requires attendees to travel).
Once you have thoroughly defined your target market and know their motivations, it’s time to move on to your list of pre-marketing tasks.
Event Pre-Marketing Tasks
Before you start employing marketing tactics, there are a few more things you have to do before you are ready to start reaching out to and engaging with potential attendees.
1. Define the objectives of your marketing efforts
Goal setting is the process of determining the destination of where you want to end up with your event marketing campaign. Without setting goals, you can’t draw up a road map of how you plan to get there (your marketing plan, which we will discuss in a moment).
Common goals or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for event marketing campaigns can include:
- Number of total registrations/RSVPs (or breakdowns by ticket/attendee type)
- Number of sponsors, exhibitors or donors
- Gross or net revenues from tickets, donations, sponsors, exhibitors, etc.
- On-site, day-of-event check ins (especially vital for free events)
- Attendance of sub-events/sessions
- Event website traffic
- Social media mentions/shares/engagement
- Press and media mentions (print, online, radio, TV)
- Event hashtag usage
- Email open/click-through rates
- Landing page visits/conversions/abandons
- During-event polls (and possibly event app usage, if your event employs a stand-alone app)
- Post-event attendee satisfaction surveys
- Leads generated/customers acquired/sales completed
- Marketing cost per attendee (can even divide this by net revenue per attendee to get a ratio of marketing cost-to-profit)
- Repeat registrations/RSVPs for future events (requires ongoing attendance tracking)
Not all of these goals are applicable to every event, so you need to decide which are critical to you and your organization moving forward. Also, if you are launching your event for the first time, you may be spitballing these marketing goals, and that’s okay; however, do your best to research similar events and see if you can get at least ballpark data so your KPIs aren’t completely speculative.
Also, you should seriously consider using tools and metrics to optimize your marketing outreach. For example, many email programs offer A/B testing and multivariate testing for subject lines, headlines, images, etc. And you can even utilize Google Optimize (which is free and integrates directly into Google Analytics) to set up A/B testing for your event website home page and landing pages to see which messaging and imagery leads to more conversions/signups.
2. Set your marketing budget
Few event professionals (or marketing professionals, for that matter) are blessed with a bottomless marketing budget, so you will need to do some basic math to establish a realistic budget that doesn’t push your event into the red before the first attendee enters the venue.
I have seen event marketing budgets as low as 0.5% of event revenue and as high as 25%, and some event marketing reports peg conference marketing budgets around 6-12% of revenue . But to be honest, your marketing budget is going to depend on a variety of factors specific to your audience, their reachability, your revenue sources and the event itself. So do your best to forecast your actual revenues and other associated event costs and then estimate what you can spend on marketing based on your forecasted profit.
3. Define the most effective marketing tactics based on your audience’s preferences
Your prior research and preparation regarding your target audience makes this task much easier. Based on that information, you should decide which tactics are going to be the most effective in reaching your target audience. With that said, you should plan on using multiple tactics and reaching the same audience members multiple times across various mediums. More on tactical event marketing tips in a moment…
4. Draw up your marketing calendar and determine your outreach frequency
One of the biggest issues many marketers have is that they spend too much time planning and not enough time executing (and I know this from personal experience). Well, drawing up a calendar that puts deadlines on your marketing activities (email blasts, social media posts, direct mail drops, website updates, blog articles posted, etc.) will keep you focused and productive.
So the next question is … how often do I need to reach out to a potential attendee to get them to register or RSVP? A great question, but one that does not have a definitive answer. Some marketers say that you need to get in front of a potential customer at least 7 times before they act (often called the Rule of Seven). Others say as high as 20.
What’s the right answer? A prospect won’t pull the trigger until their pain becomes acute, and it’s the job of your marketing messaging to bring that pain to the fore so they feel it and act. But it’s highly likely they will need to be reminded and to see that message multiple times in multiple places before they act, so I would say the Rule of Seven is a good place to start.
Also, there’s the question of how often should you reach out to your audience depending on the medium. I will provide suggestions below for each marketing tactic I cover, but here’s a great article from Coschedule and an informative article from Louise Meyers on how often you should post to social media platforms and another article on the best days/times to post on social media platforms.
5. Define your event’s brand identity and attributes
Yes, every event has a brand, which is essentially the perception of your event among your attendees. You can go a long ways in defining this perception by defining ahead of time the key elements that you wish to communicate to them. These elements include:
Reason to attend
What primary reward, benefit or feeling will attendees will take away from the event.
Call to action
How do you want people to act when they hear your message (for events, usually this is “sign up now” but it may differ based on what you are trying to accomplish).
What sets your event apart from others.
Values, mission, content focus, featured speakers/entertainment, etc.
If your event were a person, what would their personality be like? This parameter defines the tone of your marketing messaging and the look of your marketing designs (friendly, serious, modern, classic, etc.).
By establishing these upfront, you and your team members will never be uncertain as to how to position your event when developing all your event marketing deliverables.
6. Establish your pricing strategy
Traditionally, setting pricing has been considered a component of marketing because it is a major factor in how customers categorize your brand (luxury vs. value vs. discount) and a major factor in how you approach your target audience.
We recommended surveying your target audience earlier as part of defining them, and one of the questions you can ask them is what they would be willing to pay for such an event (if you are charging for it).
However, general rule of thumb on pricing is that your audience should feel a slight but temporary pang of resistance when they see your price, but not so much that it makes them forget their more intense pain that your event will address. That temporary pang of resistance means that your pricing is high enough to ensure maximum revenues but not so high that it scares your audience away.
Event pricing strategy includes considering the following:
- Entry-point attendee pricing (lowest priced ticket/registration fee)
- Tiered attendee pricing (general admission + upgrade + VIP + group)
- Sponsorship and exhibitor options
- Timed discounting (early bird pricing vs. regular pricing vs. last-minute pricing)
- Affiliate discounting (selling through partners, sponsors, speakers, etc.)
- Promotions (packages, add-ons, etc.)
Each of these options has its own marketing angle and gives you leverage in attracting more attendees to sign up, and you should explore any and all that make sense for your overall goals as well as your target audience.
7. Build your marketing list (and never stop growing and updating it)
If you act on nothing else in this article, building your marketing list and regularly reaching out via email to those people on it are by far the two most important things mentioned here and deserve your utmost attention.
Why is building an event marketing list so critical? For a few reasons…
- It is an asset you own and control and has value in and of itself.
- It allows you to build a community and keep them engaged before, during and after an event.
- It gives you the ability to immediately reach out to your audience if you need to share news/updates or collect input/feedback.
Most viable marketing lists have, at minimum, first/last name, email address and phone number. However, many event marketers also seek to include postal address, demographic information (company, profession, gender, birthday, etc.), social media information and any other characteristics that are important for segmenting their list (like past attendee, sponsor, exhibitor, industry influencer, etc.).
The best place to start building your event marketing list is with a list of attendees from past events. From here, other great marketing list growth strategies include:
- Providing incentives to sign up for your list on your website (offering free resources, white papers, e-newsletters, etc.).
- Collecting contact details at other live events like trade shows and expos.
- Creating contests and offering giveaways to attract signups.
- Using social media to drive people to sign up.
- Working with partners to incentivize people on their marketing lists to also sign up for yours.
When collecting names, always remember to have people opt-in to your list and to comply with the U.S. CAN-SPAM Act and Canada’s CASL regulations when collecting list information and sending out your emails.
Marketing lists can become stale if you don’t use them regularly (and by stale I mean that people who sign up close their email accounts – leading to bounces – or forget they opted in and either unsubscribe or, worse, mark your emails as spam). So a good practice is to email to your list at least once a month to keep it fresh and to keep your list members in the loop regarding your mission and events.
8. Factor marketing into other key decisions when planning your event
Marketing touches on almost every aspect of your event planning, so you should consider how the following items will affect your outreach to your target audience.
Event theme and topic selection
A great event theme and title will go a long ways in itself in generating appeal with your target audience, so you should spend a considerable amount of time tweaking it and making sure it speaks to both the brand of your event and the desires of your audience.
IMPORTANT TIP: Try this great tool for writing captivating headlines (but which can also be used to brainstorm effective event titles) … I use it for writing everything from blog post titles to email subject lines.
Speaker and entertainment selections
Almost nothing else drives registrations and puts butts in seats better than booking a popular speaker, personality or entertainer. Nuf said.
Food and beverage offerings
More and more, food-and-beverage selections and catering have become a big draw for many events (even those that don’t have an obvious foodie angle). Don’t overlook this as a key ingredient in your marketing mix (pun fully intended).
Experiential event design
If you are building your event around a branded experience or an overarching theme that has a “cool factor” built in, make that a focal point of your marketing.
Some locations have a marketing bump built in (think Vegas, New York City, Miami) while others may appeal more to your target audience based on where they are located, their innate characteristics or nearby attractions.
Event Marketing Tactics – Online
There are dozens of different digital event marketing tactics available to event marketers and it seems that more keep coming on the market every year. However, we are going to mention the most popular (and often most effective) digital tactics here and go into a little detail on each regarding their benefits to get you started down the right path.
This should be the #1 go-to marketing tool in your toolbox for reasons we explained previously. There are a number of ways you can use event email marketing to achieve your signup and attendance goals, which include the following.
Awareness and direct response
The primary reason most event organizers use marketing emails is to make prospective attendees aware of their event and entice them to sign up right now. And you should definitely use it for this purpose too. Recommended frequency to email in this fashion is at least 1x per month.
It’s always a good practice to email an attendee just after they sign up so they can add the event to their calendar. This also gives you occasion to provide supplementary materials they may need prior to or at the event.
You would be amazed at the number of people who sign up for an event and then forget or decline to attend (even people who paid to attend). We recommend you reach out to registered attendees once a month prior to the event month, and then 2 weeks prior and again 3 days before the event.
If you continue to add featured content, speakers, entertainment or attractions in the months or weeks leading up to your event, you want to make sure to notify your entire marketing list plus registered attendees about these new additions.
Drip marketing campaigns
Many email marketing software apps allow you to set up drip campaigns that automatically send out pre-built email messages based on a day/time or another triggered event (like if you use Zapier to integrate with other applications).
When composing your event marketing emails, you should spend time on each of these critical components:
The most important detail of your emails, because if nobody opens your email message, then the rest doesn’t matter. Keep your messages to 45 characters or less (including spaces), but the shorter the better (4 words or less). Add an element of mystery or a direct appeal to get people to open to learn more.
Whether you have lots of content or a little, spoonfeed it in small doses. Use lots of subheads and bullets, and keep your paragraphs to a sentence or two. Oh, and make sure to include the date, time and location of your event in every email.
Call-to-action that’s above-the-fold
You don’t want people scrolling down to look for your “Register today” link, so put it towards the top of your email so people see it the instant they open the email.
Limited use of text in photos
Some email programs (including Gmail, the most popular email program on the planet) automatically have images turned off, so many of your recipients won’t see your images even if they open up the email. Make sure your primary message is in text outside of images and don’t rely so heavily on imagery to communicate your ideas.
Personalization and segmentation
The more personalized you can make your emails and the more specific your message for each audience segment the better. Take advantage of merge tags to add dynamic information (like first/last names of recipients) and compose separate emails for each audience segment.
Social sharing links
Definitely add social sharing buttons to your emails (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) as well as links to your social media pages (inserting these at the bottom of your emails is a good practice).
Once your emails are sent, the work isn’t done yet. You should monitor the delivery, open, click-through, conversion and unsubscribe rates on each email to make sure you aren’t missing the mark.
One of the most useful tools at your disposal for promoting your event is an event website. And the awesome thing is that there are so many resources and tools for building an appealing one (like Wix, WordPress or Planning Pod) that you don’t need to hire a developer to build a site for you.
With that said, you should follow these event marketing best practices in creating a web site that appeals to your audience.
Intuitive site navigation
Make sure to include your event name, date/time and location in the navigation bar and that your site navigation links are clear and intuitive. Better yet, also include your phone number and contact details there, too (in case attendees have questions before they register).
Call-to-action button on every page
Add a clear, well-labeled call-to-action message and button on every page so it’s blatantly clear to visitors where they go to sign up.
Reason-to-attend and value propositions clearly displayed
This is your most compelling message, and as such you should include it in a prominent place on your most trafficked pages.
Use photos to tell your story and promote key event attributes
People love photos, especially ones that mirror themselves and tell them a story in a snapshot. So make sure to include photos of previous events and members of your target audience. Also include galleries of your speakers, entertainers and influencers-in-attendance as additional reasons to attend.
Offer social proof and testimonials
Usually the words of your customers and previous attendees speak louder than your own, so pepper favorable quotes and testimonials about your event throughout your website.
Optimize your registration form
When people click to register, the last thing they want is a long, exhaustive series of fields to fill out. So optimize your registration process to collect the minimum amount of information possible to get them registered.
Consider using live chat, lead capture forms and landing pages
All of these items require additional time and resources, but they can also substantially increase your registrations. Live chat tools give site visitors the opportunity to ask questions in real-time when they are on your site, making the experience much more personal and giving you the chance to sell directly. Lead capture forms let visitors provide you with information (often in exchange for content or offers) so you can follow up with them later. And landing pages let you craft stand-alone pages for specific audiences and offers, and you can use these pages in your email and social media marketing when necessary.
Content Marketing and Blogging
Possibly the most underrated event marketing channel. Your event website blog can serve as the catch-all for promoting topics, content, speakers, entertainment and any other feature or idea you have for your event. What’s great about blogs is that they are less formal than your event website and yet are a great way to speak to specific segments of your audience (oh and they also help with SEO, which we will cover in a bit).
What can you offer in your blog? Here are a few examples of post ideas:
Provide a step-by-step walkthrough on something of interest to your audience.
Lets your speakers write about a topic that your audience finds compelling.
Much like this very post you are reading … an exhaustive view of a topic that’s 2,000 words or more.
Embedding videos in blogs is becoming a huge draw for attendees … more on this next.
Usually a step-by-step visual of a process or coverage of interesting stats or data on your event topic.
In addition, you can also create memes, animated .gifs, sharable imagery and emojiis to post on your blog as well as social media profiles.
And when you put up content on your blog, ALWAYS post about it on your social media pages and include a link back to the blog post.
Videos are a logical extension of event content marketing, but this type of marketing is becoming so popular and effective that it really deserves additional attention.
One reason video marketing deserves a closer look is because online video is fast becoming the most consumed content on the Web. In fact, by 2021, video will account for 82% of all internet traffic, and in 2017 55% of all people watch videos online every day.
Here are a few event marketing tips for getting started using videos to market your events.
Always focus on telling a story
Videos that have a narrative structure garner more clicks and more completions (watched beginning to end). So instead of shooting from the hip, spend some time scripting out your videos so they have a logical flow and lots of examples.
Offer different types of event marketing videos
Your audience members may have different needs and preferences regarding your video content, so you should vary up the focus of your videos. Different types of videos can include:
- Explainer videos – Brief video that walks viewers through the main points of your event, including reason to attend, differentiators and other key attributes (here’s an example of Planning Pod’s explainer video just to give you a sense of what this looks like).
- How-to videos – Take a topic or idea from your event content and blow it out into a full video that gives your audience advice on solving a problem.
- Speaker videos – Give your speakers an opportunity to speak to your audience ahead of time, whetting their appetite for more (by signing up for your event, of course).
- Past event highlights – Give your prospects a glimpse of the experience of attending your events by offering a highlight reel of your previous events.
- Testimonial videos – Assemble together video snippets of previous attendees offering glowing on-camera testimonials.
Make the most of YouTube
Google’s video platform is by far the biggest channel for posting, managing and promoting your videos, and it’s easy to set up an account and customize your channel page (highly recommended). How you can use YouTube and make the most of all its features is a blog post in and of itself, but here’s a great guide on optimizing your videos for YouTube.
Optimize your video lengths for each platform
The best performing videos on Facebook are 60-90 seconds, while on Twitter and Instagram optimal video length is 30 seconds, and yet on YouTube the most popular videos are 10-15 minutes long. With that said, you may want to create specific videos for each platform or create different versions of a video for all platforms.
Use subtitles for people who watch with the sound off
It sounds crazy, but 85% of Facebook videos are watched without sound, and this is also a common way to watch videos across many platforms. To make sure you are capturing this audience, you should consider adding subtitles to your videos.
Post your videos anywhere you can
Add them to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts. Upload them to YouTube and Vimeo (another excellent video hosting solution). Embed them in your blog posts. Add links to videos in your emails. Promote them in forums like Quora. Display your videos anywhere that is appropriate.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
This tactic works hand-in-hand with your event website and blog in that you want to make sure your web pages are being found and ranked based on the keywords people search related to your event topic.
A solid event SEO marketing strategy is based on these key principles.
Identifying related keywords
The first big step involves honing in on those specific keyword phrases people use in search engines (i.e., Google) to find your event or the topic of your event. For example, if your event is a conference in Denver about real estate investment, a few logical keyword phrases someone might use in a Google search are “denver real estate conference” or “real estate investment conference”.
However, this is just the starting point. You should first brainstorm keyword search terms, enter them into Google and pay attention to the suggestions Google offers in the search box as well as in the “Searches related to…” area at the bottom of the results page.
Armed with these initial keyword phrase ideas, use a keyword research tool like Google’s own Keyword Planner (part of their AdWords advertising platform) or the Keyword Explorer tool at Moz.com. Come up with at a dozen or so primarly keyword phrases (sort by average monthly searches) and then group the related keyword phrases together.
Adding keywords to your web pages
Each page on your event website and blog should be based on a particular topic, and you should choose a primary keyword phrase for each page that reflects that page’s theme. Once you have done that, include that in the page’s title tag and meta description, and pepper that keyword phrase and related terms throughout the text on the page.
IMPORTANT TIP: Don’t overuse the keyword phrases. For each page’s primary keyword phrase, a good rule of thumb is to use it once every 100-150 words. For supporting keyword phrases, 1-2 mentions on the page is plenty. But really you should focus on good writing and covering the topic thoroughly.
Attracting links to your pages
Google and other search engines rank your web pages based on both the content of those pages (and your keywords) and other websites that link to those pages. Building these inward bound links can be time consuming, but it is a critical step in optimizing your pages so they rank well. Great event marketing tips for doing this include:
- Having your speakers, sponsors, exhibitors and other key partners link to your site.
- Reaching out to industry influencers to link to you.
- Adding your event to free directories and sites like Eventbrite, Yelp! and Sched.
- Using tools like Help A Reporter to contribute quotes and ideas for online writers (who usually link back to your site).
Social Media Marketing
Social media sites are possibly the most powerful tools available to event marketers because it gives your followers the opportunity to share your event posts with their friends and followers.
IMPORTANT TIP: If you plan on posting regularly, you should seriously consider a social media posting platform like Hootsuite, Agora Pulse or Buffer to manage all your postings and schedule them out ahead of time. Take it from me … these tools will save you countless hours when implementing your event social media marketing campaigns.
Before promoting your event in any specific platform, you should create a hashtag specific to your event that you can use across all platforms. In addition, you should use a tool like Hashtagify to identify existing hashtags that are used frequently regarding your event’s topic and then include those more popular hashtags in your posts (as well as your event-specific hashtag).
With their addition of Facebook Events, you have a perfect tool for promoting your event via the platform. You should make sure to optimize your Events page with graphics and branding messages. Once this is set up, you should use the “hosts” feature so your partners can promote your event via their Facebook pages.
In addition, you should create a separate business/company page that lasts long after your event is over (and that people can follow) and add posts to that page to promote future events as well as to provide updates and information on your organization and events.
You can also create a Facebook Group around your issue or join an existing group and participate in the conversation there. Note: we will discuss the Facebook Live video tool in our livestreaming section.
Here are several other ideas about promoting events on Facebook:
- Post at minimum 4-5 times per week and maximum of 2 times a day.
- Include lots of images and videos in your posts (this content tends to be read and reposted much more frequently).
- Add the Facebook sharing buttons/links to your event website, blog, registration forms and any other place where online visitors can add your event to their Facebook feed.
- Run a contest on Facebook to generate excitement.
- Cross-promote your event with sponsors and speakers by having them share your posts and updates.
- Take advantage of Facebook Ads to reach out to your target audience with ads and Sponsored Posts to drive them to your Facebook Event page or your event website.
The second largest social network behind Facebook, Twitter is an essential marketing tool for quickly broadcasting to a wide audience. Here’s a quick rundown of all the ways you can use it for your events.
IMPORTANT TIP: Nowhere else is hashtagging and posting your handle (@YOUR_NAME_HERE) more important than Twitter, so always append your posts with your event hashtag and other relevant hashtags and Twitter handles
Build out your Twitter profile first
Where possible, you should use the same Twitter profile for all your events, so it’s often best to use the profile of your organization or company or, if you have a recurring event or series of events, create a Twitter profile for that. Make sure to add relevant profile imagery and descriptions as well as a link back to your event website.
Post relevant content, announcements and updates
Did you just write a blog post on your event’s site? Tweet about it. Or sign on a great new speaker? Tweet about it. Or is early-bird pricing about to end? Tweet about it. (You get the idea.)
Reach out to influencers on Twitter
Enticing industry influencers who have lots of followers to share your posts is an amazing viral way to get the word out about your event. You can find them by searching Twitter for keywords related to your event; by looking at Twitter lists that highlight industry notables; or by using free/paid tools like Follwerwonk or Buzzsumo. You should follow these influencers, create your own list of them and reach out to them directly via the Twitter messages tool.
Include a generous offering of images, .gifs and short videos
The Twitterverse loves movement and color, so you would be well advised to add imagery and videos to your posts (and if you add videos, keep them 30 seconds or less).
Launch Twitter-only contests to attract attention
Get others to spread the word for you by participating in a Twitter contest that you sponsor. For example, you could give away a free ticket to your event as part of a contest where the price of entry is tweeting about your event and using your hashtag and handle.
Use Twitter as a place to engage in conversations
Do your utmost to respond to questions via Twitter and anticipate questions by tweeting answers in advance. By making Twitter a central focus of your communications efforts, you make all that content sharable and searchable as well as encourage others to participate.
The most important thing to remember about using Instagram in your event social media marketing campaigns is that it is a very visual medium, so make sure to include images, .gifs and short videos (less than 30 seconds) in your posts.
And don’t be afraid of hashtags and emojis – use them generously in each post and tag whatever is relevant in the post … your event, sponsors, speakers, attendees, influencers, products, etc. People use hashtags in Instagram to search for things, so the more findable you make your posts, the better.
Similar to Twitter, you can reach out to influencers by searching for popular hashtags, following them, reaching out to them and seeing if they will share your event via the platform.
And then there’s Instagram Stories, which let you create a series of images and videos that appear on top of your Instagram feed for 24 hours before they disappear. You can use this to promote timely offers or even just prior to or during your event to showcase the experience.
You can also create contests that are launched and promoted via Instagram as well as use the Instagram Ads platform to pay to promote your event on the platform.
If your event is focused to a professional audience or has a business-related theme, LinkedIn may be a great social network to tap into for promoting your event. Here are some key ways you can do this:
- Either promote your event via your Company Page’s cover or create a Showcase Page specifically for your event with details and information on the event.
- Post status updates to your Company Page with announcements and interesting content.
- Writer longer form content and articles to post to your LinkedIn profile (with the focus of being included in one of LinkedIn’s popular Channels).
- Find LinkedIn Groups that are related to your industry/event, join them and share relevant content with the group members. Or create and manage your own LinkedIn Group to grow a community around your event.
- Ask your sponsors, speakers and other partners share your LinkedIn posts and content, and have them even write their own content related to your event or the topic they will be presenting at the event.
- Promote your event using LinkedIn Ads.
Did you know that ~5% of all Internet referral traffic comes from Pinterest? That’s only second to Facebook, and its broad influence is why you should still pay attention to this often-overlooked platform as a place to promote an event.
Pinterest is all about sharing visual content – pictures, graphic designs, infographics, videos, slides, slideshows, memes, etc. – and people who participate in Pinterest and regularly “pin” images are primarily female and have a propensity to buy things they see on Pinterest (to the tune of 87% of all Pinners). Here’s some event marketing tips for getting started with Pinterest:
- Create “find and follow” boards on content topics related to your event. By creating boards, you can organize your pins into groups, and by putting them into boards that are themed around your event topics, people are more likely to find and follow your boards.
- Create “group” boards for you and your speakers, sponsors and partners to post images together, collaborate and share with potential attendees.
- Post pictures of past events, presentation decks, speaker headshots, venue/location imagery, cuisine options … anything related to your event.
- Allow attendees to collaborate by pinning pictures taken at the event to a shared group board on Pinterest.
Other Social Platforms
You can also try a number of other of platforms to see if they are effective in reaching your audience, including:
- Snapchat – Great mobile-only photo sharing app for engaging with millennials.
- Slack – Build communities using Slack’s channels.
- Tumblr – Create a blog where you can post text and images to share with the Tumblr community.
- Digg – Create a profile to share your new blog content (or any content, really) with the Digg community.
- Reddit – Post links to new content or interesting articles (like from your speakers) via this social platform.
- Eventbrite – Add your event to their frequently searched list of events.
Pay-Per-Click and Online Display Advertising
While the objective of search engine optimization is to ensure that your site is listed in search engines (and hopefully ranked highly in the organic listings by them for your related keyword phrases), pay-per-click (PPC) advertising circumnavigates this and puts links to your website at the top of the list … for a fee, of course.
Googe AdWords and Bing Ads are by far the two largest PPC networks where you bid on keyword phrases and how high you want your ad positioned based on the words/phrase that someone is searching for. If you want to try this, it’s best to dip a toe in first and start with a budget of less than $20/day just to see what kind of traffic you draw and how much you will be paying for it (though Google and Bing provide you with tools that estimate how much you will spend based on the keyword phrase and a suggested bid).
Beyond AdWords and Bing Ads are tens of thousands of smaller niche sites, paid directories and ad networks that might better fit your needs based on your target audience.
Live Marketing via Live Streaming
Ever since Facebook Live exploded on the scene, live streaming (or livecasting) has become more and more heavily used with live events, and not just on event day.
In a nutshell, live streaming platforms enable you to easily stream live video and audio to an audience in real time over the Internet to any device (with mobile phones becoming the most popular viewing devices). At one time the expense of this technology was prohibitive to all but the best-funded event professionals, but now with free platforms like Facebook Live, YouTube Live and Periscope pretty much anyone can easily get set up up and stream.
There are a number of platforms which you can use to livestream, and though we won’t get into the details of them (here is a great review), a few of the more popular platforms include:
- Facebook Live (free)
- YouTube Live (free)
- Periscope (Twitter; free)
- Twitch (free/paid)
- Younow (free)
- Instagram Live (free)
- Livestreaming (paid)
Event marketers have discovered ingenious ways to incorporate live streaming into their event marketing strategy, like…
- Interviewing upcoming event speakers on their topic of expertise.
- On-site broadcasts from other related events (great way to partner with other events).
- Broadcasting a live giveaway or drawing.
- Streaming live “reveals” of new speakers/acts or other notable developments.
What do you do with all the old slideshows (PowerPoint, Google Slides, Keynote, etc.) from your previous events? For starters, you can post them on a slide sharing platform like SlideShare or SlideBoom so you can easily allow people to access them.
In addition, you can also post samples of your speaker’s slidedecks or “teaser” slideshows for your event and direct your prospective attendees to view them. This is just another way to share interesting content with your target audience and get them interested in your event, speakers and topics.
Event Marketing Tactics – Offline
Sometimes in our rush to embrace new digital marketing tactics (which might be unproven or have an unknown ROI), we forget about tried-and-true strategies that may still be very effective. Ignore these event marketing best practices at your peril…
PR in the 21st Century has grown far beyond reaching out to old-school media outlets (think newspapers and TV) and reporters, but the rationale and approach are still the same: you are looking to connect with anyone who has a megaphone that can reach your target market to spread the word about your event.
The initial step in any PR effort is to identify those people and outlets that 1) are in front of your audience on a regular basis and 2) have a history of covering events like yours or the topics/ideas that are the focal point of your event.
Media professionals hate nothing more than being hounded by someone who is seeking coverage for a topic they don’t care about or don’t cover. So what you should do is first come up with a list of people and outlets with a vested interest in your event or event idea, which can include:
- Related blogs and bloggers
- Industry notables or influencers
- Freelance writers who have covered events like yours
- Industry or niche publications (print or online)
- Local media (newspaper, radio, TV)
- National media (if they have specific sections/writers devoted to your event’s topic)
Once you have formulated your list, you need to do some homework by looking into each person or outlet and determine how you should pitch them – like what topics do they like to cover, who covers them, how do they like to be approached (most prefer email, but many have their own prescribed preferences about being contacted for stories), etc.
Next, you should craft a message for each person briefly describing your event, its primary benefit, a few key features and then with your story pitch. This could be anything from being mentioned in their “upcoming events” page to a feature story about the event or some aspect of it that sets it apart. Writers like most anything that can be a new take or angle on an existing idea, and that’s always a great place to start.
Persistence is often the key in getting coverage, so you may need to follow up multiple times with each outlet and even pitch them multiple stories or ideas before they take notice. Also, I mentioned the Help A Reporter service earlier, and by signing up you can view inquiries from writers who are looking for quotes and information for stories they are currently writing.
20 years ago, the typical U.S. resident received so much junk mail that much of it was ignored and immediately thrown away. But now that most of us receive our junk mail via email, direct mail has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance when it comes to open and response rates.
In addition, when you consider that online advertising (including pay-per-click) has become much more expensive over the last decade, direct mail has become practically affordable in comparison because printing and postage costs have remained relatively stable.
A couple things to keep in mind before diving into direct mail…
Your mailing list is the most important component
It doesn’t matter how great your design or offer are if your list sucks. So make sure from the get-go that your mailing list is clean (i.e., has up-to-date, accurate names and addresses) and contains people who would be interested in attending your event.
Keep the cost-per-mailed-piece down
You don’t have to send out an elaborate dimensional mailer (which are crazy expensive) if a colorful oversized postcard will do the job.
Treat the outside of your mailed piece like a billboard
You have 2-3 seconds of someone interacting with your mailer before they either open/read it or discard it, so make sure you main outer message and design compels them to read further.
Printed Materials / Marketing Collateral
This catch-all category includes brochures, flyers, posters, handbills, business cards, stationery and any other printed material that could possibly be used to promote your event.
Posters and flyers are the printed materials that are most often associated with events, but I have seen events that have been hugely successful without printing a single flyer or hanging a single poster. The key here is to know your target audience and if putting printed materials in their path will guide them towards attending.
Sometimes the only way to know this is by trial-and-error, and because there is an upfront cost to printing, this experiment isn’t usually a cheap one. However, digital printing allows you to print items in smaller runs so you can spend less upfront to see if printing marketing collateral will work for your event and your audience.
This tactic is especially effective if your event has a local or community focus, and it includes reaching out to local entities or partners to help you promote your event, like:
- Libraries and museums
- Chambers of commerce
- Professional associations (more on this in a bit)
- Civic organizations and clubs
You can speak with these potential partners to see if they would promote your event on their websites, their emailed or printed publications or at their events (via announcements from the podium, collateral handouts, signage, etc.). If the entity has what seems to be a natural alignment with your event or theme, you may even want to investigate creating a partnership with them and offering special discounts or programming to their members/patrons.
Key Event Marketing Strategies and Alignments
Due to the solitary nature of the act of event marketing (i.e., lots of alone-time spent planning, strategizing, writing, designing, etc.), most marketers get the feeling like we are all alone (or isolated with our small band of co-workers) in trying to move an audience to feel and act in a certain way.
However, there are always other people who, with the right mix of knowledge, motivation and incentives, are willing to help us spread the word. Below are a few event marketing strategies you should consider to recruit help in marketing your next event.
Whether you call this partnership marketing, co-op marketing or joint marketing, you can be certain that it can make the going easier for your outreach.
The best marketing partnerships occur when you and your partner have complimentary (and not competing) interests, such as when:
- You and your partner can piggyback onto each other’s events (same location, consecutive dates, etc.).
- You and a similar organization have the same audience and similar mission.
- You and a brand (product/service/cause/etc.) align so well that they go well beyond being a sponsor and become integral to all aspects of your event (marketing, content, etc.).
With co-op event marketing, you and your partner would typically split many of the marketing and promotional costs and possibly even some of the production costs, too, depending on how you structure your relationship.
And hence the one big caveat regarding event partnership marketing. Because it is such a tight business and economic relationship, it is extremely difficult to extract yourself from it if something were to go wrong, so make sure you and your partner have a very clear understanding of each other’s expectations, goals and commitments before you enter into your relationship.
This form of marketing relationship is a much more straightforward financial arrangement. Essentially, your affiliate earns a commission for sales that they generate for your event.
Often event managers set up evemt affiliate marketing relationships with their speakers as well as other entities like professional associations, industry websites and blogs that have members or audience members who would interested in your event. They spend their own resources spreading the message (usually emailing to their own lists), and in return when they send you prospects that convert to paid attendees, you pay them a commission. The way this process is usually tracked is by providing affiliates with a tracking code that they offer to their audience members, who input the code when they register for the event on your event website.
Commission rates vary across industries and so can average from 5%-30%. If you are going to offer affiliate commissions, make sure to bake this into your pricing so the commissions don’t substantially eat into your net margins.
Who says that sponsorships are all about you promoting the sponsor? One benefit you can pitch to sponsors is that you will help them market to their customers and marketing list to play up their relationship with your event.
Event sponsorships give companies a valuable opportunity to reach out to their prospects and customers with a message that isn’t overtly sales related. And you can help your sponsors in two key ways to build stronger relationships with people on their own sales and marketing lists:
- First, provide your sponsors with assets and assistance (like sending out emails on their behalf) to reach out to their lists, saving them time, effort and costs.
- Second, provide your sponsors with a discount to offer to their prospects/customers (in the form of a discount code that people can apply upon registration, which you can also track); this creates a good vibe for your sponsor’s brand and improves their standing with their audience.
Very similar to event sponsor marketing in that you are essentially helping your speakers enhance their standing with their own audience. The strategies are similar to sponsor marketing in that you want to help them promote their relationship with your event to their own lists/audiences, but you may want to offer speakers either an affiliate commission or a discount for their audience (or a hybrid of both).
Venue Partner Marketing
Your venue can also drive attendees to your event, especially if the event is local or regional or if the venue holds events similar to yours.
In fact, when you are negotiating your contract with the venue, you can speak with them about including marketing responsibilities such as:
- Displaying signage for your event in designated places in/around the venue.
- Mentioning of your event in promotional emails they send out.
- Including your event on any physical or electronic calendars they distribute.
- Adding a mention of your event to their website.
- Announcing your event from the stage at other events at the venue.
Some venues charge an additional fee for such services, so make sure to discuss this prior to signing your contract with the venue.
Contest and Giveaway Marketing
Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have made running promotional contests and giveaways much easier because they significantly extend your pool of participants.
Often the best incentive to get someone to participate in your contest is by either giving away a full registration/ticket (“enter to win…”) or a discount to register for the event (where everyone gets one). However, you can also give away a prize or gift card, but just make sure that what you are giving away is related to your event or the event theme.
By using social media, you can also incentivize others to participate in social sharing by giving them more chances to win or a bigger discount for posting or tweeting about your event.
Once your contest is over, the real work begins in marketing to the list you developed during your contest, which is often best accomplished with an email drip campaign.
During-Event and Post-Event Marketing Strategies
Most of the event marketing tips we have discussed previously involve marketing an event prior to the event date, but the event marketing enterprise should really continue through the event itself and into the days and weeks afterwards.
A little secret … event marketing is all about building momentum for your event that carries through the event day and into your promotion of future events, making your job a lot easier for filling seats down the road.
During-event marketing is both for showing people at the event what is going on elsewhere on the premises as well as showing people not at the event what they are missing. Effective tactics can include:
- On-premise social media posting – You should designate one person to be your designated tweeter and social media correspondent, keeping your event’s social feeds full of what’s happening.
- Attendee social sharing – Appraise your attendees of the event’s hashtag and encourage them from the stage to share images and thoughts via the social media platforms you are targeting.
- Live streaming video – We discussed live streaming earlier as a pre-event marketing activity, but you certainly should take advantage of live streaming platforms (like Facebook Live and YouTube Live) to live stream your sessions as well as interviews with speakers, sponsors and participants/attendees.
Post-event marketing strategies offer a great recap of the event for your attendees; plant the FOMO (fear-of-missing-out) seed for your next event in the people who didn’t attend; and position you well in setting up marketing for your next event. Use these proven tactics to stay in touch with attendees between events:
- Post presentations and videos online – Make PowerPoint presentation files from your speakers available online and post videos recorded at the event on your event website, YouTube channel, Facebook, etc.
- Send post-event surveys – Not only is this a great idea to get useful feedback for future events, but it also reminds attendees of their experience at your recent event … you could even offer a discount for your next event if they complete the survey.
- Collect testimonials and photos – Reach out via email to get testimonials and photos from your attendees so you can use these materials to promote future events (just make sure you get their permission to use their words and images).
Event Marketing Tools and Resources
There are thousands of event marketing resources and tools you can put to use to help you execute and streamline your event marketing programs, so here are some of the most popular types of tools that event professionals use and a few suggestions for each category.