Author: Phil Richardson
Exhibitions, seminars and other events are a fantastic way of raising awareness, positioning, generating leads, improving relationships with current prospects and cross selling to existing customers.
The biggest problem with most events is getting people to leave their offices and attend them in the first place. People are getting busier so have less time to spend out of the office – unless they can see a real business need.
Events can often be very time consuming and an expensive part of your marketing plan so you need to ensure that you are maximising your Return On Investment. The only way of doing this is to maximise the number of good quality, relevant visitors.
There are many different types of events available to companies today and you will increase your ROI from all of them through well executed communication strategies.
Exhibitions – The role of many B2B exhibitions is changing, prospects are using the Internet to get basic information and download brochures, this always used to be the role of exhibitions. Prospects are now using exhibitions as a more integral part of the decision making process expecting the more detailed information they can’t get online, it is essential that you communicate to visitors prior to the event so that they know what you are presenting at the show and how they will benefit from visiting your stand.
Own Seminars – Aimed at either customers or prospects these are very good for launching new products and educating the market on your products and services. Unlike an exhibition it is solely up to your own marketing effort to get people to attend so you need a well thought out and implemented marketing campaign to drive delegates.
Industry Seminars – Often there are branding opportunities, speaking slots and exhibiting space at industry seminars. Predominantly people are there to be educated so be aware of not being too salesy.
Dinners and Social Events – These are very good for branding and raising awareness by association though they are not usually platforms for direct sales or exhibiting.
Online Events – More and more companies are turning to online events and seminars as they negate the need for attendees to leave their office. They are also usually more cost effective than traditional events. The main negatives are that there are lots of distractions in their offices which mean they may leave part way through and it is more difficult to create a stimulating and involving event over the Internet.
Generating the audience
To maximise your ROI you must ensure you get high numbers of good quality attendees. Filling your event with people who aren’t in your target market or not at the right stage of the buying cycle can waste all of your effort and money and may put companies off from doing future events.
If going to a trade show it is vital that the attendee list and target audience match your criteria. Some trade shows offer access to the pre-registration list prior to the event for companies to promote themselves. If they are your own events you need a good quality database to target, for many companies even if they have an in-house database they rent additional data just for the events.
When you have a database, you must ensure it is cleansed and you are able to segment the data. Be aware of distances people are likely to travel, it would be very rare for people to travel more than 70-100 miles to attend one of your own seminars but people will travel much further for their industries leading events. Ensure you segment the data by geographic region prior to inviting people.
There may well be different reasons for people attending events based on their roles within an organisation promote different benefits in attending events depending on peoples job title e.g. for Financial delegates you may want to promote the ROI they would get from your products and services whereas the IT delegates may only come to learn about the technical benefits etc.
Once you have your database you are then ready to start to build a relationship with these contacts to try and ensure attendance.
Your contacts must feel there is a very good reason to attend, so they are willing to give up some of their valuable time to attend and they must feel they cannot gain the same level of information over the internet or from a company brochure. Therefore your communications must express very good reasons that are beneficial to them to attend.
You must be very clear on what it is you are promoting and what you want their actions to be i.e. register to attend an exhibition. You must make it as easy as possible for delegates to sign up for the event by using fax-back forms in mailings, pre-populated booking forms for email and taking bookings by telephone.
An integrated approach will maximise the chance of your contacts receiving the communication and spur them to register. Using the phone, email and online services will remind and motivate the contacts to sign up.
Getting through to high level decision makers is challenging. Getting a positive response from them is even more challenging. Carefully timed multi touched campaigns are much more effective than single isolated campaigns to generate audiences for events. There are many illusive contacts that may not respond by mail or telephone but require email or contact through the web site, other prospects will only respond to personal telephone calls from knowledgeable and skilled sales people. Why limit the response you can get from your marketing effort and budget, it makes sense to use a multi-faceted approach.
To maximise results you should send out multiple communications at different times. If you only send out one invitation very close to the event you will find that many people have already booked their diaries. Likewise if you only send out invitations too far in advance people won’t book as it seems so far ahead and will forget to book nearer the time. Sending gentle nudges will ensure the event is always in people minds and it will put more pressure on people to attend. Response rates will dramatically increase with regular well timed communications.
Social media is becoming a vital tool in generating attendees to events, and in terms of utilising social media it is no different to any other marketing channel. It is vital that you understand your target market and the websites that they use; then use these sites to promote your events.
Getting people to register to attend an event is only part of the battle. You now need to ensure they turn up. The best way of doing this is to start the relationship with these people early to ensure they feel obliged to attend. This should be done through regular communication.
For those who have registered, you must very quickly send them a confirmation email; this will project a very professional event and you as a company who is quick to react.
You then need to undertake regular communication, though don’t bombard the delegates as this will turn them off. Send maps and more details on the event including the agenda. Ring those who have registered a couple of days before the show to ensure they have all of the details and are still going to attend.
On the day before the event send an email to try and raise some excitement, enforce the benefits they will get from attending and what they will get out of the event, this will just give that little nudge and hopefully get people out of the office.
To ensure that delegates make the most of their time at an exhibition it is worth offering to pre-booked appointments on your stand. This can often ensure that delegates turn up as they feel it is a more formal arrangement than just turning up for an event. You need to make it simple to book the appointments
Post event follow up
The actual event is only half of your marketing activity and if you want to maximise your ROI from any event that you attend or organise post event follow up is absolutely vital.
It always amazes me when I attend events that nobody contacts me afterwards to ensure I got all the information I required or to build a relationship with me; if I attended your event recently I am a lot more likely to respond to any other marketing from you.
One big mistake that does happen with post event marketing is that it doesn’t reflect what happened during the event; if I spent ½ an hour talking to a salesman in detail I don’t expect a call from somebody asking me if there is anything that I am looking for, make it relevant.
Whilst at the event log all details of visitors to the show, even if they are not potential customers. This isn’t just their name and address but all details of the conversations that anybody had with them and the next actions that were agreed with them during the event.
Have pre-prepared letters, emails and telephone scripts back in the office, so they are ready to be dispatched immediately after the show. Thank those who visited but are not ready to be customers at present, and send them background information for future reference. For those who have expressed interest, strike when the iron’s hot. Send them information via email or letter about your services/ products and inform them someone will be ringing them shortly to discuss their needs and objectives or to arrange an appointment.
It may be an idea to email everyone who attended the event a thank you note and a link to an online survey which gauges how helpful they found the event and if they would be attending one in the future. You can also ask questions on how useful they found the information you provided and their experience on your stand. These results will help you ascertain whether you provided enough material of use to them or if you will have to try harder in the future. It will also give valuable feedback on the event and whether to attend in future years.
Seminars, exhibitions and other events can be a very valuable component of your companies marketing mix. As with all marketing they need to be targeted at your chosen markets and deliver a high number of good quality attendees.
The marketing that you do for exhibition or trade event attendance will differ to that of your own seminar attendance.
Usually the company who is organising the exhibition or trade event will have a huge marketing budget and market to a massive database and invite them. They will also get editorial coverage from trade press. But it is still worthwhile to invite your contacts to the exhibition to ensure that you see a good proportion of the visitors that walk through the door.
Marketing is different for your own seminars. You have to do it all yourself; therefore it requires a lot more promotion to ensure enough people attend it. It is essential that you use regular and multiple communication methods and once people register you have to ensure regular contact prior to the event to ensure they attend.
One of the biggest mistakes that companies make is that they don’t follow up after an event, you should always contact all attendees to thank them for visiting and how you are next going to communicate with them.