Research shows that 75 percent of B2B marketers believe that in-person events are the most effective lead generation strategy, above even blogging and social media.
That doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Real-life experiences are simply more engaging and memorable than anything else. So, if event marketing isn’t already in your marketing toolbox to drive business growth, it should be. But before you dive in, understand that the trick to successful event marketing is having realistic expectations. First, you need to define your goal.
Yes, a bucket load of signed contracts would be great, but maybe that shouldn’t be the sole sign of success. Events should be perceived as a way to build the pipeline to further connections. If you walk away with targeted emails, phone numbers and business cards, you’ve succeeded. A truly successful event marketer ends the event with a daunting (but satisfying!) to-do list.
When building your marketing blueprint, I encourage you to think about events in three categories: rented events, earned events and owned events.
Rented events are those in which you rent a booth or are a sponsor. You know that most people aren’t in a buying mood when they walk by your booth. In this case, focus instead on creating an experience to draw them in so you can create a relationship.
You can do this with a high-value offer, such as a free sample of your work, like an on-sight assessment of some sort, a quiz, or a book. Then, commit to following up on the phone with a free analysis. Have them leave their business card, fill out an info card, or enter their information on an iPad, keeping it simple for everyone. Give away some value for free and extend your interaction with the audience.
In addition to having a good lead magnet at your booth, there is one additional “must” we encourage you to have in place at rented events: you must leverage your sponsorship into an “on-stage spotlight.” It may not be the main stage, but try to speak in some capacity at breakfast, lunch or as a breakout speaker.
By contrast, earned events are those where you were invited to speak (or successfully wormed your way on stage, as suggested above). Your goals for an earned event are somewhat similar to those of rented events, but on a larger scale. The most obvious requirement of this experience is to deliver. Prove your expertise as an entrepreneur or thought leader, and show your audience that what you offer (whether it be your services or your insight) is unique within your industry. Stress your difference. What makes you special? The only way for them to remember you is for you to make them remember you. Music, props, some revelatory theory, whatever it takes, make them remember you.
Once again, you need to create an opportunity to extend your interaction with your audience. Offer an online assessment or downloadable e-book from the stage—something that motivates the audience to visit your website. This is where having a published book can pay off. Depending on the size of your audience, you can give it away or sell it at a discount. Either way, have a receiving line where you personally hand over the book, creating an opportunity for one-on-one face-time with your audience. Make sure you walk away with everyone’s contact information.
Lastly, there are owned events, which include things like seminars, webinars and conferences. Owned events are characterized by the fact that you’re the one hosting. By hosting an event, you’re self-identifying as an authority. That’s a courageous declaration that will slowly spread throughout the entrepreneurial community.
Sure, these events can be big and costly, but, then again, they don’t need to be. Are you in local retail? Create an opportunity with other retailers to sell in a local park. Perhaps you’re an accountant? Invite your community for a day of free advice and basic help. Whatever you do, capture contacts and follow up immediately.
For example, one thing we do at ForbesBooks is host virtual events, such as webinars and virtual conferences. The goal of these events is to bring new people into our auditorium. We invite existing members, and we encourage them to bring guests.
You don’t have to be a statistician to know that the most powerful lead generator is word of mouth. And for the foreseeable future, at least, human-to-human contact will be your most effective lead generator. Whether you rent, earn or own your presence at an event, it can be your most potent tool as an entrepreneur.