Wednesday, September 9, 2009

DM Should Not = Desperation Marketing

I am floored. Flabbergasted. And, honestly, a bit saddened: saddened to see that, even today, some events organizations' direct marketing efforts are not only not getting it right, but are getting it very wrong.

The background: I recently registered on a (reputable) portal which, along with producing blogs, newsletters, etc., supports an online community, which struck me as a smart Social Media-based initiative. The company also organizes well-known industry events, including a fairly sizable event in a couple of weeks.

As part of their event marketing strategy – which may work perfectly well for this organization – the Early Bird deadline was set for two weeks prior to the event [this strikes me as a late Early Bird – more on that later]. Unfortunately, the deadline fell on September 4 – which, in the U.S., was the beginning of the Labor Day holiday.

Given that, I received an email on August 31st (last Monday) letting me know the Early Bird deadline was expiring on Friday. A perfectly reasonable communication to push the deadline and associated savings.

Then I also received another reminder on Tuesday.

And Thursday. And Friday. All with fairly similar messaging around the Early Bird Deadline discount which I Could Not Miss.

Of course, I missed it. So, on Monday (on Labor Day itself), I received an email that the deadline had been extended until Tuesday. And two emails on Tuesday letting me know The Deadline Was Near!

In short, in the course if six business days, I, Joe Prospect, received seven emails with fairly identical messaging that the Early Bird savings to this event was ending soon. Interspersed with a pair of emails (one last Wednesday – the one day I didn’t get an Early Bird email – and one today) letting me know I could get a free Exhibit Hall pass.

I forwarded one of these emails to a colleague, Roger Jarman, who very succinctly replied “They think that DM is short for Desperation Marketing.” I initially laughed … but then it bothered me. It’s these strategies and tactics which continue to present the Event Marketing in a negative light – historically, as perpetrators of “spray and pray” direct mail, and more recently as spammers. And of course, it does smack of desperation.

As Event Marketers, we need to move beyond such tactics. In this case, with proper planning, an alternate Early Bird deadline should have been utilized. (Also – see this previous posting regarding Early Bird strategies.) A longer lead time (more than two weeks) would have also allowed contingencies to be implemented if attendee numbers were below internal targets.

I certainly know and empathize that the industry continues to struggle both in generating attendees and sponsor revenue in our down economy. But in short, in the face of these challenges, resorting to a series of fairly identical daily emails is not the answer. Far from it, I would be surprised if this campaign doesn’t drive up opt-out rates and drive down open rates.

We, as Event Marketers, need to ensure our efforts and campaigns are using industry Best Practices, that we continue to go to market strategically and innovatively, and that we really need to think before we hit the “transmit” button.

Good luck!



  1. UPDATE - BtoB Magazine just posted an interesting article on email conversion:

    Good ideas around life-cycle messaging....

  2. Thanks John, great post.

    I was saddened (but not too much) to recieve an DM piece from a competitor recently that simlpy said "Hi, click here to register today, save $400 -offer expires xxxx" - No copy, no benefits, only a slight incentive, that as you rightly say, reeks of desperation.

    If anything, the tight market conditions should make us focus more than ever on the quality of our marketing efforts, as we need to show a greater value to what we do if we want to attract spend from our customers.

  3. As an event marketer of many years I have had the privlage of working for some great and not so great employers. The one thing that has been standard is that the marketing function doesn't have much control over what or how promotions go out. As conference dates move up and attendance isn't matching budgeted targets Panic sets in at the top and they lose focus of what is important and suddenly an email goes out announcing that we need to "spray and pray" the market to get their attention.

    As much as I have argued against it, I and my colleagues, are usually overruled by less cooler heads who think the messaging and content is less important than quantity of hits to prove to those above them that all efforts were made to make budget.

  4. Rafael - I've certainly been in the same position - I've actually done earlier posts arguing for Marketing to have a presence at the table.
    You are, of course, 100% correct - although I would suggest that as part of the up-front planning contingencies are put in place and monitored - i.e. what do you do if you are lagging at, say, 3 months, 2 months, 6 weeks, 4 weeks etc. - getting up-front sign-off on the contingency plan and referring to such when panic hits may help.