Marketing Strategy

Forgetting Everything I Once Knew About Event Marketing

by Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes

Those of us who have been marketing events over the past decade or two have witnessed transformational shifts in the media landscape. We’ve experienced countless technology disruptions, the rise of a more empowered customer, a collective oversaturation of and immunity to marketing messages, and a never-ending crop of indirect competitors wooing our audiences with newer, sexier ways of doing business. We’ve learned that change is constant and that agility is key to survival. And for me, personally, these changes have necessitated the unlearning of a few basic truths that once informed my approach to event marketing.

1. The three most important elements in any marketing campaign are … the list, the list, and the list.

THEN: This made perfect sense in the day when direct marketing (snail mail, email) made up the bulk of attendee acquisition campaigns. If we weren’t sending our messages to enough of the right people, it didn’t matter how good our campaigns were. As such, I spent a lot of time and/or budget acquiring (buying, renting, bartering for) lists.

NOW: While “the list” is still important in direct marketing, I’ve expanded my definition of a database to include information that never makes its way into an Excel spreadsheet or CRM solution. Those of us who have been the recipients of eerily relevant display retargeting know that organizations don’t need to have us on their lists to know what we’re likely to purchase, how we lean politically, or what our interests are. I’ve since re-channeled my obsession with growing lists into developing a holistic data strategy, which means being smarter about how to acquire, append, and maintain databases and understanding that online behavioral data acquired through IP addresses can provide insights that are just as valuable and actionable (if not more so) than physical lists.

2. Branding consistency must be strictly enforced.

THEN: When print was the primary driver of event marketing campaigns, the creative concept developed for a standard print ad or comprehensive brochure cover was carried throughout all deliverables without variation.

NOW: While branding consistency is still important, not everything needs to look exactly the same. Knowing that attendee acquisition campaigns will include digital ads (in all shapes and sizes), video, animation, and more (in addition to print), I take a more flexible approach. At mdg, we’ll identify color palettes, image libraries, and design elements, and write a story arc that adapts as the campaign develops across various mediums.

3. Every communication must include a call to register (NOW!).

THEN: In short, the philosophy was that including a strong, bold, underlined, starbursted call to action in every marketing touch would create a sense of urgency and ensure the recipient knew the desired action he or she was expected to take.

NOW: With a better understanding of the customer journey concept, that philosophy has evolved. Based on where a prospective attendee might be along the awareness–interest–engagement–action–affinity spectrum, more time is spent on building a relationship, offering valuable content, and providing opportunities for meaningful interaction before asking for a registration.

4. Marketing copy needs to focus squarely on benefits.

THEN: The bulk of marketing copy answered the “what’s in it for me?” question for event prospects, but in a way that went straight to solutions, without ever really understanding the problems or the industries served.

NOW: Audiences have become immune to marketing jargon. Benefit copy promising prospects that they will grow their businesses, enhance their bottom lines, and be inspired falls on deaf ears and skeptical minds. Today, facts, figures, and industry jargon (not marketing jargon) are woven throughout messaging to more authentically connect with our readers.

5. Beware of slang, colloquialisms, and bad grammar.

THEN: Marketers used the same rules of grammar being used by editorial writers, never deviating.

NOW: We still know the rules of grammar, but also how and when to play with them. We’ll violate guidelines to enhance understanding and clarity, to achieve an appropriate tone of voice, to create a rhythm in the mind of a reader. As long as the message is communicated clearly, I’m more willing to forgive the excessive use of exclamation marks, a misplaced ellipsis, an unnecessary line break, incorrect capitalization, and more. Thankfully, other marketers agree with me on this because “Do you have any milk?” and “I am loving it.” don’t exactly get the job done. Ya with me?

A version of this content originally appeared in PCMA Convene May 2018.