Event Marketing

Applying Emotional Intelligence to Event Marketing

by Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes

There’s an ongoing debate among psychologists regarding how much of a person’s success in life is a factor of cognitive intelligence (IQ) versus emotional intelligence (EQ). I’ve been reading a lot about the topic lately, and although I haven’t formed a definitive opinion, I have discovered interesting insights about EQ that can help marketing professionals be more successful.

Cognitive science acknowledges the powerful role that emotions play in shaping our understanding, our ways of thinking, the decisions we make and the habits we adopt. In fact, if logic and emotion are at odds, most people act on their feelings. Despite this fact, event marketers have spent years inundating their audience with logic. We have a natural tendency to deluge our prospects with facts and figures – the number of square feet an exhibition covers, the number of sessions being offered at the conference, the number of countries from which attendees hail, etc.

Savvy business-to-business marketers, however, are starting to pivot, understanding that they aren’t marketing to businesses at all, they are marketing to people. These marketers are performing more qualitative research, including persona development, to understand the underlying motivations that drive behavior. By identifying key emotional triggers – from a fear of missing out, to a genuine passion for a profession, to a desire to be a part of a community – event marketers can make a more compelling case for participation.

Emotional intelligence is an assortment of mental abilities and skills that enable you to control your own emotions and to effectively respond to the emotional states of other people.

And this process all starts with empathy. Essentially, empathy is characterized by recognizing other peoples’ feelings and demonstrating that you understand what they are going through and why. Furthermore, it involves offering an appropriate next step in reaction to the emotion. As an example, think about an industry that is in the midst of significant transformation because of consolidation, changing consumer trends, increased regulatory pressures, rapid technological innovation or any other disrupting factor. Empathize with the professionals within that industry and what they could be feeling – fear, uncertainty, a strong desire to adapt and stay relevant – and how an event could address those concerns by facilitating connections, showcasing relevant solutions and providing timely information. Finally, consider how a messaging strategy could be built around what you learn from this process of empathizing – and ditch (or at least de-emphasize) the laundry list of metrics by which show organizers measure their own success.

Event professionals can apply basic principles of EQ not only to build a promotional messaging strategy, but also in their interactions with myriad stakeholders over myriad media channels every day. For example, let’s say you have an exhibitor unhappy with the number of leads they acquired at your event. Instead of fixating on their unreasonable expectations, you compassionately listen and learn that they are a mom-and-pop operation that spent their personal savings to finance their presence at your event. With this perspective, it’s likely that you can better exercise diplomacy and conflict-resolution skills. The same holds true for how you react on social media. Are you quick to delete negative comments or offer a contradictory retort? If so, try adapting your approach to be a better listener and communicate in a way that will build trust, goodwill and positive sentiments with existing and future attendees. Good social media requires EQ to execute.

Just as EQ can be applied to marketing communications, it can – and should – be applied to the management of a marketing team. Much like the hypothetical industry I asked you to imagine above, today’s marketing landscape is constantly evolving and disrupting itself. As such, we must create an environment in which our team members feel comfortable being uncomfortable. They have to feel safe so that they ask for help or mentorship when they need it, take risks, fail on occasion and admit when they don’t know how to do something. If they see a leadership team with an aversion to risk or driven by a fear of failure, it’s likely that they will stop trying to innovate and experiment with new ways of doing things. On the other hand, emotionally intelligent leaders will build a space in which employees feel trusted and motivated to venture into unknown territory to build their skillset. In short, EQ requires us to be mindful of the effect we have on others.

The concept of EQ can be applied to many facets of our lives – in our personal relationships, with our children, in our businesses and even in our approach to event marketing. The more mindful we are about what’s happening in our industries, with our team members and in the hearts and minds of our target audiences, the better marketers we will be.