Event Marketing: Strategy, Content, or Channel?

Considering the complex world of corporate marketing, I read with interest Samuel Scott’s recent blog “How Google Analytics ruined marketing”, and from there his previous blog “Everything the tech world says about marketing is wrong.” Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly in today’s marketing world dominated by Digital Marketing buzz, there was no mention of Event Marketing in either of those posts. I found this very ironic given that most tech companies spend upwards of 20% of their marketing budgets on event marketing!

Coming back to the topic of this blog, I was nevertheless intrigued by Scott’s argument that most marketers today do not understand the basics of marketing and confuse strategy vs. content vs. marketing channels. That led me to ponder where event marketing fits in. Is event marketing a strategy, content, or channel? Or something else?

On the face of it, one could simply state that event marketing is just another channel to deliver a message to a target audience. Similar in concept to how email is a channel to deliver a targeted message to a set of recipients. However, the more I thought about it, the more interesting it got… and here are my thoughts. I would love to hear yours.

In general, Event Marketing is a unique, and one of the most complex, marketing tactics. It is the only marketing tactic that brings customers and prospects in direct face-to-face contact with brands and brand ambassadors (employees, sellers, marketers, retailers, etc.) in the pre-sales process. In the process, events:

  • Provide a channel for content delivery: Deliver content to the audiences as a marketing channel and create awareness (e.g. through exhibits / booths, presentation sessions, publicity through sponsorships, etc.)
  • Provide a source for content generation: Generate content through discussions, audience engagement and feedback (e.g. focus groups, special interest group discussions, expert sessions, etc.)
  • Create a high-touch environment for audience engagement: By bringing together brand ambassadors, experts, visionaries, executives, engineers and others in a focused setting, events uniquely create opportunities for strong audience engagement that could lead to new ideas and opportunities yet to be discovered

Consequently, events can contribute the following major benefits to marketing, and to the business:

  1. Leads – strong interest in a product or service offering with inclination to consume in the short-term. These are direct indicators of sales potential for the brand requiring immediate follow up from sales and marketing
  2. Publicity / Buzz – as measured by sentiment expressed, or feedback given by the audience. This may or may not indicate an interest in making a purchase, but it can generate valuable awareness and publicity
  3. New ideas – for a product, service, message, or engagement. These cannot be directly translated into revenue-related metrics in the short-term, but, could provide guidance for the company’s direction, its products and services, and best channels for engagement

So, when considered holistically, event marketing is more than a simple channel for marketing. It can be much more. To make it much more, event marketers (and marketing strategists) should plan well for the different benefits events can bring by working with different stakeholders. Here are some examples (some obvious and some not-so-obvious):

  • Sales and Marketing: Impact on generating new leads, influence existing pipeline, and cross-sell / up-sell to existing customers
  • Content: Creating / generating content is not easy, and can also be very expensive. Rather than create content only by hiring expert writers, find ways to capture content that gets generated at events. Plan ahead to capture videos of presentation sessions and ad-hoc interviews. You will be amazed how much content you can generate with very little additional cost
  • Idea Generation / Validation: Doing focus groups and market-based testing of new concepts and products can be very expensive. You can save a lot of money and time by simply engaging with your event audiences and having them test drive your products, services, messages, etc. while at the event
  • References: Happy customers attending your events can be a great source for developing valuable references. Hosting customer-appreciation forums and recognizing successful customer deployments can all build goodwill and generate valuable references

You can elevate your event marketing efforts by thoughtful planning, proper execution by collaborating with your different stakeholders, establishing measurable outcomes, and meticulous tracking and reporting of outcomes.