3 Trends Transforming Event Marketing

Event Marketing is going from marketing-driven to market-driven.

Jeff Bezos, with a little help from Amazon, just bought the Washington Post.

event marketing is changing

Extra, extra… forget all about it.

So much for the folks that brought you “Deep Throat.”

Forget about “all the news that’s fit to print.

Now folks in DC are going to get what they’ve always dreamed of: “just the news you want to deal with.

The Shift To Market-Driven Events

Every day our audiences are making more choices about what they will – and won’t – pay attention to in every aspect of their lives.

One result is that sponsors and agencies alike are increasingly caught between achieving event objectives and giving the audience a reason to come back.

That in a nutshell is the old world of ‘marketing-driven’ where in theory the sponsor is in charge, and the new audience fueled world of  ‘market-driven’ events.

Say what you will, but there is no doubt that the room is getting tougher to work.

Let’s examine 3 of the trends driving this transformation.

Trend 1: Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing is changing the way that events are promoted, designed and extended online. I apologize for being obvious, but there are some larger points to be made.

Here are 3 examples among many.

Sharing, posting and tweeting enables audience acquisition teams to effectively target smaller niches.

  • It is possible to build a buzz for your event – if the content resonates with the audience.
  • Consider the food truck phenomenon. This has huge implications for experiential programs where real success depends on delivering an authentic experience to a narrowly defined audience.
  • Another example is the spread of TedX events. There are clear parallels to user group “no fluff” events; homegrown affairs which sprung from the desire for high quality content.

The sponsor’s ability to manage the guest experience is being changed by on-site tweeting and blogging.

  • The technology has enabled a dialog that the event owners can not control.

The disgruntled have a louder voice. There is a growing body of research that suggests that the unhappiest attendees are the ones most likely to tweet, post and otherwise pin the sponsor to the wall. 

  • Consider the recent Samsung 4 launch at Radio City Music Hall launch; and the tremendous amount of negative commentary it prompted even before the event was over.
  • Here is one headline from among many: “Samsung weird: how a phone launch went from Broadway glitz to sexist mess.

Events may be proprietary, but they are no longer private. What happens on-site, no longer stays on-site.

Trend 2: Networking Is Replacing Learning

This might also be titled: Virtual Content Is Killin’ Ya…

Not glamorous, (whoever loved sessions?), but for decades the primary reason to attend an event has been to acquire skills, knowledge and otherwise useful information one can apply to their work.

  • Historically, networking was a little discussed added bonus.
  • Especially in talent driven categories, everybody was happy to poach, but no one wanted to be poached.

Content drove attendance, valuable content increased attendance year over year.

  • Recent survey data suggests that this is changing for non-technical events.
  • For many people, “getting content” onsite is no longer a reason to attend.
  • Why travel and spend big bucks to get what is available (free) online?
  • Oh, and why go all that way to get hyped, when you can sit at home and hit Delete?

That’s why I think that a growing percentage of people are attending events specifically to network with their peers.

  • I believe that this is a direct extension of customers taking control of the product research process.
  • If sharing information on a blog or in a forum is good, then it is likely that meeting with your peers face-to-face is even better, especially for complex technical products, which often require a great deal of support from the manufacturer.
  • So how has the support from XYZ on the new jibber wacker been?”

One consequence may be that the attendee who is focused on networking will spend less time doing other things – going to sessions, meeting with their reps, talking with partners on the show floor.

  • Does space allocation need to change to provide more space for people to talk?
  • Do the sessions need to deliver “more stuff, less fluff?
  • What can you deliver on-site that they can’t get (or you won’t give them) online?

Do you actually know why people are attending your events, and what they are doing while they are there?

If not, how will you adjust the event to better meet their interests and ensure their continued attendance?

Trend 3: Performance Measurement Metrics

Given my interests, this might be the most fascinating trend of all.

I feel as though I am standing in a tunnel watching the headlight coming towards me.

There is no way to get off the track

It’s not ‘if’, but ‘when.’

So what exactly is going on, and why?

In a massive global survey, IBM found that CMO’s were under increasing pressure to demonstrate the return on marketing programs.

  • How events have dodged this litmus test that is all too familiar to advertising, direct marketing and social media, is somewhat of a mystery.
  • The answer differs by the company and their goals.
  • Based on a lot of studies, it is clear that almost all marketing departments struggle with capturing, integrating and analyzing event data.
  • Add sales data to calculate ROI, and we’re talking MI, Mission Impossible…

Still, the event budget is almost always the biggest single line item in the marketing budget.

That is what will drive the CFO to insist that the CMO:

  • define outcomes,
  • measure them and
  • provide data that can be integrated with other business metrics.

This goes well beyond justifying the spend and comparing the effectiveness of event marketing to other tactics.

The goal is to manage the expenditure to provide the greatest possible return on each event component.

As my client Mike Trovalli, the Vice President, Global Events for SAP, reminded me recently, this kind of insight has been the “Holy Grail” for a long time.

With the advent of the big data and predictive analytics, the Grail is one step closer.

The more sophisticated the client or company is, the sooner they will begin to try and figure it out.

The good news is that knowing more about our audiences will enable us to create an event that delivers a more valuable experience. Think of it as growing attendance numbers and job security.

If there is a downside, it is that our recommendations as event professionals will be set aside in favor of the numbers. And another era will come to an end.

I’d like to ask you for your feedback:

  • In what ways has social media changed your events?
  • Has virtual content impacted attendance?
  • Are you seeing evidence of the networking trend at your events?
  • And where are your clients and your company on implementing performance measurement metrics?

I’ll see you next week.

PS If you haven’t yet, please take a minute to subscribe. Your subscription includes ck Curates – an e-zine that complements the blog.