Sunday, October 4, 2009

Getting Existential: What is an Event?

As event leaders and marketers plan into 2010 (and beyond), and given the challenges the economy continues to place on the industry, it is valuable to re-visit what we are talking about when we discuss “an event.” It is certainly a question that can get lost in the day-to-day activity of planning, marketing and executing successful events. The challenges we’ve experienced over the past year, however, should be a stark reminder for Event Marketing professionals and leaders that we need to focus on ensuring that events being planned map to and integrate with the organization’s ultimate goals and strategies.

The issue is that there is not a one-size-fit all answer to the question; I’ve seen and experienced different organizations utilize events to different ends. However, some outcomes, given today’s business environment, are stronger ends than others. While the five categories below may not be comprehensive (and I of course welcome thoughts and comments), IMHO an Event can be:
  • A revenue stream. These are events and event organizations that exist fairly exclusively as stand-alone products, events that are held as one-off, targeted, topical events. These events are high-churn, with content focused on the hot topic du jour. The downside to events in this category is they are strategically short-sighted and pay little attention to the concept of Customer Lifetime Value. From a marketing perspective there is a constant need for new attendees/customers, and little to offer surrounding retention – thus ultimately incurring more cost in new customer acquisition.
  • A Lead Generation & Engagement Tool. Virtual events and traditional Webinars are the buzzwords in today’s Events. They are certainly a customer and prospect engagement tool. And from a marketing perspective, these events certainly add value in enabling the organizer to gain data on marketing touch points, information admittedly not as easy to glean in a live event environment. As noted previously, surveys continue to show preference to live engagement, but these events inarguably add value to an organization’s overall lead and demand generation initiatives.
  • A live, client/prospect facing experience. The traditional face-to-face event format, utilized by media companies, trade groups, vendor user groups, etc. continues to hold the most utility for the organization – it is a direct client-facing opportunity for sales teams, a content-delivery platform for the organization, and, of course, a networking experience for attendees. Companies (wisely) using the live event, however, need to realize and leverage each of these facets in the event delivery to maximize efficiency. And Event Marketing Teams need to message around said elements in their attendee acquisition efforts.
  • An experiential platform. These would include small, hands-on, senior/C-level boot camps – events which typically take place over the course of a few days (or up to a week), and are small, high-ticket items. These are high-touch, learning and/or network-based events, typically for organizations with a valued, high-level audience. Properly managed (and attended), these events can yield good margins, yet because attendance is small, these events are ultimately best as part of an overall portfolio as an incremental revenue stream. From a branding perspective, these events can also provide strong advocates for other products/services your organization has to offer.
  • Training. The mirror image of the high-ticket boot-camp, training events are more a wholesale product, replicated multiple times throughout the year with the same content. Educational credits can be affiliated with these types of events, and marketing these events, much like the events themselves, are done on a wholesale basis. The price point to attend these events are low, the name of the game is volume.
Given this mix of formats, again the question should be asked: is your organization utilizing the mix of events optimal for the company overall? Put another way, what, specifically, does the event hold for the organization? Is it a way to generate prospect demand and leads which are channeled to a sales organization? Is it part of a client/membership experience? Or is it the sole revenue stream of the organization? Are there strategic holes to be filled by adding - or eliminating – events in the portfolio?

In short, as plans for 2010 and beyond are finalized, event and event marketing leaders need to evaluate and ensure the event mix matches the ultimate corporate goals.

Good luck!


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