Outside of forcing event professionals to completely alter their day-to-day operations and adapt to the "new normal," the coronavirus outbreak has brought nearly everything online—including events. With the global industry looking for digital alternatives to live experiences, the importance of marketing your event—whether virtual, live, or a hybrid of both—has never been more relevant.
But COVID-19 has certainly changed the marketing game: The virtual sphere has become over-saturated with content (more than usual), making it difficult for event pros to cut through the noise with a victorious marketing campaign. So, BizBash tapped a handful of marketing and public relations experts, as well as top planners, to share insight on the most effective ways to make the most out of your event's next marketing plan. Here's what they had to say.
1. Consider the benefits of a virtual event—but know your target audience. Jennifer Walker, owner of Walker Drawas, recognizes the "limited capacity" issue is eliminated when an event is broadcasted. "For virtual events, why not spread the word as wide as you can within your budget and reach while maintaining a specific targeted audience?" she says.
Founder of Miami-based 14B Marketing Beth Acardi echoes that point, noting that a previously in-person, local event can quickly become international and triple in size when done virtually. She adds that event professionals must rethink the timing of social media marketing posts and the positioning of events in order to widen audiences and reach new demographics.
However, the target audience remains crucial. Yvonne McNair, founder and CEO of Captivate Marketing Group in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, notices in many instances that event planning can focus primarily on decor or entertainment when it should be predominately focused on attendees. "The most important aspect of marketing your event is understanding what the event objective would be and who is your select targeted audience," she says. "If you don’t have the select audience in the room, you have completely failed in marketing your event effectively."
2. Offer a tangible takeaway.Marketing is as much about pre-event coverage as it is post-event. "Create opportunities for brag-able moments that can be shared socially to help expand reach," notes Acardi. "For a virtual event I am planning now, we are designing creative GIFs and Instagram Story templates for attendees to download and share on their platforms. Tangible wow-factors have been wildly successful."
Jillian Smith, owner and managing director of Atlanta-based OneTouch Events, also emphasizes the importance of tangibles when marketing events. When her recent "Together at Home" retreat was moved from in-person to virtual, each attendee still received a personalized box with curated items that would have been available to them onsite.
3. Keep it short, sweet, and transparent. "The most important piece right now is leveraging your marketing assets as a communication tool," says Acardi. "There is still fear around committing to an in-person event, so it’s integral to create comfort and transparency by detailing safety procedures as part of the event promotion."
When it comes to virtual events, Acardi goes on to say that 14B Marketing has had its greatest success when the event's schedule was clearly outlined, allowing attendees to know upfront the expected time commitment as well as what they will get out of the event—which hopefully decreases drop-off rates.
But, "don't base virtual event agendas off of a standard eight-hour, in-person event day," says Kristen Villarreal, account director of Infinity Marketing in Los Angeles. It's important to note virtual guests' lowered attention span. Since people are tuning into the event via a computer screen, content must be shorter and more engaging to keep attendees from exiting too soon.
4. Pay attention to the data. Data-driven analytics can track what elements are succeeding in a virtual event or marketing strategy. Villarreal suggests paying attention to these numbers and, more importantly, making adjustments if the attention or response isn't as planned. She adds, "Don't be afraid to make sweeping changes for the next event to ensure guests are getting the best experience possible."
5. Don't forget the influence of influencers. For some event pros right now, a paid marketing campaign may not be in the budget—but that doesn't mean you can't still properly market your event to increase visibility and number of attendees. "If you have hosts, speakers, performers, influencers, or celebrities involved in your event, make sure you are utilizing their network to promote," Walker suggests. "They are the draw."
Similarly, Acardi notes the importance of "big names" in attracting audiences: Use their name and image on marketing materials (with proper permission, of course!).
6. Get even more creative with campaigns."I didn't anticipate the 'new normal' within a crowded virtual space," says McNair. "I just believe you have to increase the frequency and creativeness of the marketing because there are so many virtual events to choose from. Consumers are starting to have virtual fatigue due to everything being in a technological format. You have to build a marketing campaign that will capture and maintain interest for the duration of your event."
However, quality is just as important as quantity. Acardi highlights the importance of high-value promotional content, saying, "Everything from the music, graphics, and sponsor integration allows you to set the tone and stand out."
7. Be flexible.As attendees gather online and in limited numbers for in-person events, Smith notes that event marketing requires an increased focus on customer service, technological support, and experience strategy to create a "togetherness feel."
Ultimately, "Event professionals are notoriously adaptable (it is in our blood), so it is important for agencies and brands to showcase their flexibility so consumers feel confident in the fact that their favorite brands can transform into the future," says Villarreal. "By incorporating emerging technologies that allow us to focus on content and brand narratives, we are at the forefront of creating the 'new normal' when it comes to live events. Embrace it."