Why ‘must’ I ‘attend’ your event?

Your brochure is finished.  The design is great (though you haven’t left a lot of white space because you’ve got to keep on giving those punters reasons to attend) and you think the copy covers all the bases.

Bet I can guess what phrase you have used to describe your conference/awards/expo?

… is the Must Attend Event for … professionals/lovers of jazz music etc. etc.

Oh how I wish I had a penny for every time that phrase is used.  Why not a pound? I hear you ask.  That’s because I am so confident of the number of times it has been used that I think I will still benefit financially.  And indeed I am proved correct: a Google search on the phrase ‘must attend event’ yields no fewer than 6,580,000 results! Even if I narrow the search criteria down to the last twelve months it yields 403,000 results.

It’s a facetious point well made.  Why do marketers describe their events in such hackneyed terms?

And is it marketing’s problem, or is it something more fundamental to do with the way we create events, particularly large scale exhibitions, multi-streamed conferences and awards ceremonies?

Probably a bit of both if the truth be told.

It’s easy(ish) to market a rock concert.  You know which band is playing, you tell their fans where and when and hopefully they will buy tickets.  Simple, single stage sell.   But how do you get 5,000 people to a medical device exhibition or 100 delegates to attend a conference on social networking? You could tell them what’s on offer, but you’ll need to present the message differently to each of your audience sectors, and that causes problems because you might not be able to offer them all the same super attractive package.  And then of course you might be the only marketer trying to cover off a number of events and your creative juices are spread too thinly.

So the easy option is to describe your product as the must attend event for ‘anyone involved in the medical device industry’ or ‘anyone who wants to use social networking to leverage their business’. Phew – got all the potential audience covered – can sign off on the copy.

Stop and look again though.  Instead of trying to find phrases that fit all, remember what motivates people to come to events.  There will be a core of people who attend because they come every year; the health services that buy medical devices perhaps, and they make up 40% of your audience.  You can clearly identify another 40%. So why not create copy that talks to these people?  Because I will miss the other 20% you reply.  But what makes that other 20% come along every year… they seek you out.  And it wasn’t because you kept harping on about the fact that you are the must attend event for…  it’s because they were looking for something and they found it in your copy/online content etc. and subsequently your event.

Be brave.  Stop trying to talk to everyone at once.  Create a series of miniture marketing pieces within your main message.  Create multiple calls to action (and if you are asking someone to spend £750 on a conference place please don’t use Book Now) that drive individuals to yet more compelling and targetted content.  Tell a small business in Irving why embracing Facebook could transform their sales performance; explain to a manufacturer what installing a clean-room could do to their business; encourage an advertising agency in Coventry to enter an industry award.

Then, and only then, will your event be truly must attend.

hellen @purerocketscience

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Do event companies need a new strategy?

feel the love hearts graphicAccording to Christophe Asselin, Head of UK at DMG :: events, what event companies (and by association their marketing teams) really need to do to attract visitors is to “feel the love”.

Christophe espoused this philosophy extensively at the Conference for Conference Professionals back in April.  What he was explaining, sprinkled heavily with his own particular brand of Gallic charm, was that if event organisers want to attract visitors, and keep them coming back then they have to be prepared to get up close and personal.

This approach won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has read Inbound Marketing by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah of Hubspot fame.  There are many organisations that, having set about making sure people could find them on Google, social media and blogs, also ensured that any incoming enquiries, orders or complaints could be handled swiftly and effectively by anyone in the business.  Other books such as Groundswell  and Socialnomics are littered with examples of companies getting it right, and in many cases wrong.

So why are so many event companies finding it hard to adopt this strategy themselves?

Economics has a lot to do with it and in particular the huge gamble that has to be taken at the start of the event planning process in terms of specifying and committing to a venue.  To minimise the risk the temptation is to run the team very lean in the beginning, keeping staff numbers and overhead as low as possible.  While this keeps the financial exposure down it invariably means that it also reduces the capacity to bring the event to the market.

It’s hard to be heard if you are a single lone voice and it takes time to gather enough others around you to start creating a really audible noise.

And, if we go back to Christophe’s original point, if the team is small and hard pressed, they don’t have the time, energy or inclination to listen and react to what potential visitors have to say, even though it could be the vital piece of information that could change an event from job done to runaway success.

Which could possibly explain why so many event companies want to embrace social media to deliver their louder voice but they can’t quite work out how, or if they have already dipped their toes into the water they are decidedly underwhelmed by the results.  It isn’t that social media isn’t or can’t work for events, but this is one medium where effort most definitely equals reward.  Rather than taking the usual“let’s add it to the bottom of the marketing department’s list of things to do” attitude, working out a cohesive social media strategy, of whatever size or complexity, in the launch proposal and budgetting adequately to deliver it on a long-term basis, will deliver much more satisfactory results.

For after all, it is only when you truly know your audience that you can really learn to love them.

Better service and cost reduction are not mutually exclusive…

Sometimes, if you say something often enough you can convince yourself it is the truth.  Like accepting there is only one way of doing things, and it costs X.

Ingrained in a workforce or population’s psyche, these points of view become corrosive, strangling innovation and stifling original though. It takes a brave person to become the tall poppy and disrupt the status quo.

It shouldn’t be this difficult.  Cultures change, needs evolve and skills develop.  Humanity’s greatest asset is its ability to adapt to challenges and circumstances, to create something new and build an exciting future.

But knocking your house down with the goal of constructing a brand new habitat is hugely unsettling, not least because for a time you are displaced from your home environment, surrounded by strange things and feeling anchorless.  Your plans get buffetted from all sides: critiqued by other individuals; slowed by delivery days; and affected by the great unknown – the weather. 

Some people don’t stay the course, moving back to something more familiar, throw in the towel in a fit of pique or simply become exhausted by the effort of dragging so many others with them on their epic adventure. However, if no one had ever taken the plunge, we would probably all still be living in tree-houses. 

And so it is with our current working practises. We already have the technology to deliver collaborative, two-way communication between large and small workforces.  We can deliver cost-effective, instantaneous training to government organisations that will reduce travel and accommodation budgets to practically nothing.  This budget cut will do nothing to affect service delivery, in fact the efficient dissemination of information and intelligence and the network of collaboration could make it better than ever.

It’s time we got connected.

A Consensus of Subjectivity…

…which is another way of saying Birds of a feather flock together and goes some way to explaining why social networking is such a success, although only for some.

Jeremy Bullmore used the term in 1998 in the context of shared perception of brand personality; the premise being that each and every one of many millions of people gathers a set of feelings that are to some extent autonomous but which further research shows to be closely related, i.e. we like to think we are taking unique decisions for ourselves, but in actual fact we often make them in the context of wanting to be part of a group.  It isn’t much fun being out there on your own.

Back in the dark ages of videotape, why did VHS succeed when BetaMax did not when the latter was universally acknowledged to be the better platform?  When faced with a decision, the consumer went with the crowd.  Similarly, why has LinkedIn grown exponentially while other similar business networks haven’t been able to tap into the same groundswell?  And Facebook wasn’t the first social networking site, so how come it is now almost the biggest community on the planet?

There is, perhaps, a single defining factor.  The consensus on the examples above is that the winners took time to listen to their users and potential users. They created entry points which were attractive, laid out their wares, watched to see how their consumers behaved and tweaked their offering accordingly, and keep on tweaking it (although in VHS’s case a seismic shift in technology eventually put paid to their dominance) to make it less and less attractive to go elsewhere.

Businesses of all shapes and sizes should take note.  There isn’t a marketing text book, essay or lecture today that isn’t trying to hammer home the message of listening:

Listening+action=success

How you and your organisation do this is up to you.  But do it you must.  And the first step has to be that you engage your clients, customers, partners and potential audience in a conversation where you can hear what they are saying about you, your products, your competitors, your competitors products etc. etc.  You need to find where they are having these conversations and join in, you need to be part of the People-Driven Economy which exists in social networks because if you aren’t someone else who does what you do is.

The choice is no longer whether or not you and your organisation embrace social media, the choice is how successfully you do it.

How much time must I spend on social media…?

As part of the social media for events course I run on behalf of The Media House, we spend a whole session quantifying the amount of time it will take to build and manage a social media campaign.

Generally there are two responses to this part of the course: horror and relief.

I use a diagram originally created by Beth Kantor, adapted by others, which lists social media activities and how long it takes to monitor, contribute, create and promote a single brand within a range of social media environments. The reveal of each sector is often greeted by a sharp intake of breath and a visible lightbulb moment.

For some delegates, it is the realisation that, at long last, they have a piece of tangible evidence that they can present to members of their senior management team about the scale of the task they are being asked to undertake.  For a marketing manager looking after ten or more event brands, who is under pressure to develop a Twitter feed, a  LinkedIn group and/or a Blog for each of them, having a clear idea of the time commitment this would take is fundamental to writing a strategy.  While initially horrified that even the basic monitoring phase could take them anywhere between seven and ten hours a week, they are relieved that at least now they can create a case for more resource and/or being more strategic across a whole bundle of brands to deliver a social media strategy that has real Klout

What is most interesting though is that this time-commitment comes as a surprise at all to marketing managers who have long experience of working with traditional media.  Given the amount of time and iterations it takes to write good advertising and marketing copy, why would it take any less to write a good blog post or e-newsletter? And, since the latter have to be done with greater frequency to deliver a regular audience or following, why is it so difficult to scale this up until the realisation occurs that it could well be a full(ish) time job for someone.

But you already have a full-time job…

hellen @missioncontrol

 

More cake for the communications tea party?

In a question posed by Greg Hackett on a LinkedIn group that we follow he asked “Can we have our cake and eat it” in the context of whether ambience or content should be the key driver in creating a successful event or if indeed it was important to have both.

There are some examples of venues that are so magnificent or exclusive it isn’t hard to pursuade delegates to attend, even at strange times of the day: for example a breakfast briefing at the House of Lords,  London will draw in even the most hardened of industry hacks; and a conference on a hot-topic specialist scientific topic with an industry leading speaker could be held in a dusty lecture theatre with curly sandwiches and still attract a huge number of delegates.  So this doesn’t really answer the question either.

However, one thing the group has been able to agree upon is that it is important not to flog the delegates with so much content that it becomes impossible to absorb all, or indeed any, of the information being imparted from the lecturn.   This is one area where professional conference organisers and marketers can struggle.  In an effort to create an event that is so compelling, so packed full of benefits and so worth having one or more days out of the office to attend it is possible to end up with such a multi-streamed, PowerPoint-packed programme that it becomes a nightmare to navigate and almost impossible to promote.

Erin Handel from Bankerstuff reinforces the point.  She cites an example where promoting a five-session live-streaming event in a single mailing failed to deliver any results, but by breaking this down into five single streams, each of which could be marketed with their own specific messaging resulted in a significant number of bookings. 

What this illustrates most clearly is a need to get back to straight-forward marketing techniques.  In our eagerness (desperation?) to get individuals through the door we have got into the habit of bombarding potential delegates with as many benefits and features as possible.  This only serves to hide the real message and make our job harder rather than easier. And to be honest sometimes we just sound desperate.

Greg asked the original question in the context of virtual events, where the debate continues about the complexity (or not) of the technology used to deliver the digital content.  The very fact that the responses strayed so quickly back to comparisons with live conferences and the difficulties in marketing them only serves to illustrate that the disciplines driving both are very closely linked.  Could it be that digital platforms enable organisers to add all of that extra-value content, for longer giving them (and the delegates) the breathing space to engage more thoroughly in the content and face-to-face networking opportunities provided by a live event?

Most important of all is to ensure that in embracing a new virtual medium we learn from, rather than replicate our existing experience. After all, who wants to go to an event where they are always serving the same cake?

Success needs nothing more than great content and good data

Simplistic – maybe?

Whether you are an event company or a publisher, it is these two elements that define you.  You need content specifically aimed at an audience which has been clearly outlined both in terms of demographic profile and in their ability to attract a pool of organisations willing to pay to talk to them in the environment you are providing.

Well-kept and nurtured data is absolutely essential, even in these days of disintermediation when everyone believes they can talk to their clients direct through social networking and marketing channels.  But it seems that we have lost sight of the importance of keeping data clean, updated and useful.  So often now we see clients who consider their database to be something that can be pounded with email messages or inappropriate advertising, taking barely a moment’s notice of the attrition of individuals.

Harping on about the current economic situation no longer seems to be generating a reaction from many in the B2B sectors, it seems they are too busy holding onto whatever business they may have left to take any notice.  But the fact is that events companies who are able to produce great content and understand the power of their data will be able to use the new virtual business solutions to add a series of events to their portfolio; and similarly event companies will be able to use them to create year-round content based on the great efforts they make for a few days a year.

Together these two groups could forge secure new businesses for themselves – embracing content delivery without being reliant on another to supply it for them.  Pity the guys they leave out in the cold.