Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Waning Marketing Funnel

Event Marketing – and marketing strategy in general – has traditionally started at the top of the marketing funnel. Demand generation starts at evaluating and defining the universe of prospects for a marketing campaign or initiative, and building out marcom strategies from there. With the advent of Social Media there are, of course, new models being built around inverted funnels – a ‘one-to-many’ approach – that may disrupt the method, but currently the funnel – with some revisions – is still in place.

The issue is that the traditional troughs feeding names to the funnel are evaporating. According to statistics published by, magazine titles closing outpaced new launches by over 55% in 2009. While this is another obvious testament to the economy and the changing face of communications, it also presents a challenge to the Event Marketing industry – a shrinking of available subscriber names from which to source your target audience.

[I can hear the calls from the Inbound Marketing pulpit that the focus should not be on outbound marketing and list acquisition but instead on inbound channels. The argument here is that the effort should be an integrated campaign – not an either/or proposition. I’ll detail further in a future post.]

In short, the notion of “available audience” has taken a beating over the past 18 months. Specifically, with unemployment numbers rising and, in the interest of budgetary prudence, investment in internal data cleaning being a bare minimum, ask yourself: what % of your database is still current? Add to that the universe of external lists contracting and event marketers seeking new, qualified sources of names are faced with a burden.

“The key is to think outside the box,” says industry veteran Bob Portner, Account Director for Specialists Marketing Services. “You need to look at other avenues … other ways … to target the people you want.”

Portner (in an admitted fit of self-interest) suggests hooking up with a list management and brokerage firm – one, he emphasizes, is “attuned to looking at other ways to target your audience for you.” Some suggestions he has offered his clients include:
  • Compiled Lists: while considered less than optimal as opposed to controlled circulation or buyers’ lists, these can be beneficial as they typically have a greater range of demographics to select from, enabling a very targeted audience to be produced.
  • Online Lists: with the advent of online registration forms, there are lists available of individuals (with opt-in permission, of course); an added benefit are that these names contain, by nature, individuals who have utilized the Internet to at least register/purchase products or services.
  • “Other” sources: Portner cited a list of subscribers for a title which has long since ceased publication. The subscribers are a finite demographic, however, and the publisher “keeps the file current as best they can,” and had gotten continued positive feedback regarding response.
To clarify, this post is not a clarion call to switch to a campaign of external lists sources – instead, it’s recognizing that events marketers have sourced these lists historically, that there are challenges in attaining these lists today, and thoughts on how to address. My overall suggestion has always been to use these names to augment your internal database and your online and demand generation activities.

And, of course, to test and measure results on an ongoing basis. The benefits of internal databases vs. external lists vs. social media, etc. in developing event marketing strategies is an argument for another day; in reality results vary from industry to industry and organization to organization. But supplementing your outreach efforts by strategically adding external names to the mix is certainly a tactic worth considering or revisiting as 2010 unfolds. And thinking through the most effective way to source these names in a declining market is key.

And please do share thoughts, success/horror stories – would be great to hear them!

Good luck!


P.S. I'm also pleased to let everybody know I am very excited to be presenting at the VirtualEdge 2010 Summit next month - check out the details here!

Friday, January 15, 2010

“Who is Attending?”: Getting It Right

The Attendee Profile – answering the question “Who is Attending?” has always been an X factor for Event Marketers. It is a key metric exhibitors evaluate pre- post-event, and drives satisfaction with an event and influences re-sign decisions. I’m sure at one point you’ve heard feedback of “Exhibitors are not happy because there were too many vendors attending as delegates.” Or event attendees were “too junior,” “the wrong function,” or lacking in some other demographic.

To a point such feedback can be expected: you can’t please everybody. However, with exhibitors’ budgets coming under increased scrutiny, effective Event Marketing needs to focus on – and react to – not only quantity but quality of registrations in 2010. Gone are the days of getting X number of attendees in a room or a hall, patting ourselves on the back and saying “Well done!” Decision-makers in sponsorship circles are under increased pressure to prove and justify that their investment delivered the interaction, leads and conversions they planned for when signing onto the event. And that pressure, ultimately, falls on the shoulders of Event Marketers in the form of getting the right bodies there.

To help exhibitors justify spend, according to B2B Magazine, The Trade Show Exhibitors Association has formed an advocacy committee to push for the use of audits. [Yes, this is as ominous as it sounds. An audit, briefly, conducted by an outside organization such as BPA Worldwide, independently verifies the attendance figures claimed.] According to the article audits, which have been a mainstay in publishing for many years, are now being requested by a growing number of exhibitors.

Here are four thoughts, strategies and tactics you can – and should – be utilizing to leading up to an event help you ultimately, deliver a positive attendee and exhibitor experience:
  • Event Marketers need to be engaged in the earliest phases of the planning cycle. You need to be on board in understanding and contributing to content formulation to ensure it aligns to the target market you are responsible for recruiting. Content is King: if you are seeking to attract VP-level attendees but content and sessions are addressing tactical topics … the VP you are targeting will see this and will send his subordinates. Game over.
  • Best practice: Monitor. Make it a point to regularly review reports to ensure registrations are fitting the mold both in volume and demographics. Understand your registration patterns and continually analyze where registrations are coming from. If there is a list, internal segment, social media source or channel that is drawing too many or too few of the right/wrong attendee, be nimble enough to react.
  • Work with your sponsors. As I wrote in an earlier post, this takes time and effort, but working with exhibitors – in coordination with your sales team – to engage them in reaching out to their contacts is important. There is certainly pushback and challenges around executing these efforts, including “why would I want my client on the show floor where my competitors are?” The message should be around your seamlessly working to invite their prospects - the message being “Wouldn’t you like that prospect that’s been in your pipeline for six months at the event?”
  • Leverage Team Send. Develop an incentive: once you have a “good” contact registered, engage them in inviting others. Pending bandwidth, this is a great opportunity to roll out the “white glove” approach to people who have committed to your event. A phone call or personalized note is both a great CRM effort and works toward building ancillary attendance.
As a side note, nothing regarding event attendance communications should happen in a vacuum. All team members who interface with event participants need to be on the same page regarding what is communicated, whether the interaction is with exhibitors/prospects, press, or even other attendees. This includes working, and communicating, cross-functionally throughout the course of the campaign, discussing variations in demographic trending - what and how to speak to unavoidable changes in this trending. These can be difficult discussions, but ones that ultimately serve the betterment of the event in the end.

Good luck!


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New Year, Same Old Email ...

With the new year (and, possibly, a new decade – but that’s an argument for another day) upon us, the vestiges of the old are behind us … or are they?

I recently came across an email promotion for the upcoming Event Marketing Summit, and was, honestly, disappointed by the structure and tone of it, especially coming from an organization that provides such useful content as Event Marketer magazine, the Event Marketing Institute and both the online network and LinkedIn group.

In case you missed it, the email reads:

My overall take is that this is just a legacy push email – the type of communication that has given email marketing a bad rep. Given the excitement and opportunities surrounding email today, I’m surprised there wasn’t more forward-thinking communications being utilized to promote an event on Event Marketing.

Looking more closely, there are also some particular facets of the email that bothered me, starting with the Subject Line of "EM Summit ridiculous discount pricing expires in two days; Sign up now to save $400"
  • Maybe it’s me, but when I saw “EM Summit,” my first thought was “Email Summit.” It's not clear which event this is for – simply put, Event Marketing should have been spelled out. Although the “From” line does specify Event Marketing Summit, its incorrectly assuming the recipient would make the connection.
  • “ridiculous”: A $400 discount is not 'ridiculous.' It’s nice – but we’ve all seen many events with this Early Bird discount. Also – 'ridiculous' can have different connotations – certainly the intent is to be positive in this case, but can also be interpreted as silly, absurd, etc.
  • Timing is everything: I get it – savings before the New Year (which, for some reason, is not spelled out in the Subject Line) – but sending an offer with a 2-day actionable turnaround during a holiday when many individuals are not in the office – especially with the deadline-based incentive – is not a recipe for success.
As much as an issue was the body of the email – upon opening it the message is: 
  • Headline/opening sentence: A reaffirmation of the ‘ridiculous’ advanced discount.
  • Second paragraph: A call to action … and another push of the $400 savings.
  • Third paragraph: A third push of that $400 discount. And a reminder that it is only available through December 31.
By the third paragraph, the email is redundant. In other words, there was no message behind the message; it had very little to say. Given the sensitivities around the volume of email in people’s inboxes today, what is again disappointing is that this email was for an event on Event Marketing – with sessions and speakers who will, I would hope, advise attendees not to utilize this types of communication.

Finally, possibly most problematic is that the 'big' (I’ll refrain from calling it ridiculous) discount expires before the event content is available. As noted on the landing page the email drives to, “The program will be announced in January. But by then the lowest rates will be gone!” In short, the push is for registrations before content is detailed.

As much as I am an advocate of good, creative Event Marketing as a key contributor to the success of an event, I know that content is key to driving attendees. Unless targeting an event alumni familiar with the event’s historical quality and content (which this email was not, the recipient was not a prior attendee), going to market with messaging around registering for an event, providing an average discount, and not offering content to justify the registration decision strikes me as … well … ridiculous.

Hoping this email is the symbolic death knell of a challenging year, and let's keep the focus on best practices - and exceptional results - in our 2010 initiatives.

Good luck and Happy New Year!