Inner Circle

Event Marketing  

Thinking Small for Big Returns

by Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes


There’s a growing appetite for more customized and curated attendee experiences that create a sense of community and connection. Most event organizers, however, aren’t doing enough to cater to individuals or smaller interest groups that make up larger events. Consider the following ideas to (cost-effectively) create contextual experiences that will drive deeper engagement and loyalty.


Plan with purpose. After defining your audience and key objectives — are you trying to attract a certain target market, increase engagement, improve exhibitor satisfaction? — map out the attendee journey and identify key touch points where activations can be implemented. Next, brainstorm ideas with a cross-disciplinary team, evaluating feasibility as you go. It might be that some ideas require resources from a partner or sponsor to execute.


Target your marketing. Making events feel smaller and more personal should start with preshow communications. The more targeted and closely aligned with prospects’ interests campaigns are, the better. One way to do this is by leveraging dynamic content on your website to provide distinct visitor experiences. You can let users self-identify as attendees, exhibitors, media, etc. or have the site automatically infer a category based on how they got to the site or the pages they show interest in. From then on, those users will see different navigation menus, text, imagery and calls to action, optimized to support the ways that each audience engages with your event.


Execute the best ideas. This is where the magic happens. Need some inspiration to get started? Consider offering …


  • Docent-led tours of the exhibit hall. These could be focused on certain audience niches, visitors from a certain country/region, bringing concepts from education sessions to life or how trends are manifesting themselves in product offerings. Cap sessions at a small number to keep them intimate and ensure the group can easily navigate the show floor.
  • Pre-event meetup opportunities. Extend the event on the front or back end to cater to smaller, niche groups of folks who might attend the large event as well.
  • Executive programming. Consider working with someone well-respected in your industry or profession, e.g., a consultant, a mergers and acquisitions advisor or a known influencer, to be the “face” of this offering. Cap and qualify attendance.
  • Welcoming show features. Ensure that the first touch points your attendees have with your brand (shuttle buses, registration areas, show entrances, etc.) are welcoming and inspired. You could have staff or committee members acting as greeters, giving out champagne or overseeing puppy-petting lounges.


If none of these are right for your event, go back to the planning phase and figure out what better aligns with your brand, target market and goals.


Monitor results, evaluate feedback and refine. Keep an eye on data so you know when something isn’t working and should be scrapped versus refined or given more time to pick up steam. Also, consider using logic-based branching in post-show surveys to customize questions based on an individual’s responses. For instance, if a user says their job is “cloud infrastructure,” tailor subsequent questions to ask about the quality and quantity of exhibitors, solutions, sessions, etc., specifically for cloud infrastructure professionals. This will give you a clearer picture of how you’re meeting (or not) the needs of audience subsets.


Repeat. Organizers who personalize their events will reinforce loyalty and grow revenue by making prospects more likely to attend, recommend and come back. This will create a cycle where loyalty and personalization drive each other. A more customized experience will make attendees more likely to participate, which then produces more data that helps event organizers refine their offerings to create even more meaningful relationships with audiences.


A version of this article originally appeared in PCMA Convene