In an age of digital communication and remote work, in-person communication still holds immense value. In one study, 95 percent of participants rated face-to-face meetings as essential for long-term business relationships. Another found that face-to-face requests are 34 times more effective than those made via email. Data like this validates why companies of all sizes are willing to invest heavily in event marketing.
If that’s not convincing enough, consider the findings of another survey in which 91 percent of over-performing businesses place a greater emphasis on live events, compared to their underperforming counterparts that don’t.
Regardless of your startup’s industry and budget, event marketing is a possibility. Here, we’ll cover the basics of how to start hosting your company’s own event in order to reap all the benefits that event marketing has to offer.
Why host your own event?
Don’t underestimate the impact of holding your own events as opposed to attending industry conferences and meetups. Today, 95 percent of marketers agree that live events provide attendees with the opportunity to form in-person connections in an increasingly digital world.
While a robust event marketing program will include a mix of events to both host and attend, gathering your niche audience at an event of your own is a great way to build community and position your company as a thought leader in its space. In fact, 74 percent of event attendees say they have a more positive impression of a company, brand or product after attending a live event.
There are several types of events your company might want to host, depending on what type of business you own. Consider a panel discussion, networking meetup or user group meeting. Get creative and make the event memorable by running a contest or teasing a company announcement in the weeks leading up to it in order to draw more attendees.
Hosting an event doesn’t have to be an expensive venture, either. Use your own office space or rent a small-format public space. Create inexpensive signage, and use your current email list as a means of inviting guests. As for marketing your event, take advantage of social media to promote your event for free.
Finally, look at finding another business to sponsor your event. Sponsors can help cover the costs of expenses including venue rental and catering in exchange for access to client contact information or on-site branding during the event.
Research events in your industry
The first step in any event marketing strategy involves research. It might sound obvious, but you can’t make an informed decision about what kind of event to host if you don’t know what’s already out there. Besides searching online, you can utilize several other channels to determine what kinds of events are right for your business.
Use online directories that allow you to filter by industry to discover upcoming events and draw inspiration for your own. Don’t underestimate the breadth of knowledge your personal network has to offer, either. Talk to peers about what events they’ve attended and gotten real value from recently, as this is a good way to get an honest review.
Leverage your customers and prospects, as well. More often than not, you want to be where these folks are, so asking them for recommendations is a great way to gather intel. Take note of what kinds of events your direct competitors are attending, too.
Keep your startup’s goals in mind when researching possible events to host. Some common objectives of event marketing include lead generation, a company announcement, employee recruitment, building investor relationships, sales acceleration or strengthening customer relationships. Your company’s unique goals will guide you toward the right events to host.
Outline your event marketing budget
Once you’ve decided on an event to host, it then comes time to mull over the financials. Events are notably one of the more expensive line items in any marketing budget, and also one of the hardest to track the ROI of.
Nevertheless, many companies are still spending an average of 24 percent of their marketing dollars on events, a benchmark to keep in mind when you devise your own budget.
Once you’ve specified the dollar amount you plan to spend annually on events, you can divide that amount appropriately amongst the various events you plan to hold throughout the year. It can be tempting to spend the entirety of your budget on one big-ticket sponsorship, or to spend as little as possible on several small events throughout the year. However, try to avoid both of these tactics. You don’t want to put all of your eggs in one basket in either of these scenarios–spend big at one event that turns out to be a bust, or conversely don’t spend enough at one to make a real impact. You’d be better off divvying up your budget more proportionately.
Once you’ve decided on the format of events you’ll host throughout the quarter or year and have established a budget, it’s time to start promoting them!
While the specific steps you’ll take to market your event will be unique to your company, the list below serves as a general guide to some of the event promotion opportunities you have at your disposal:
- Create an events page on your website: List your startup’s upcoming events and provide relevant information on what guests can expect from each. It might make sense to create a dedicated landing page for each event you host, especially if you’re trying to capture contact information or book on-site meetings in advance through a contact form.
- Email your desired attendee list: Utilize the list of contacts already in your network who would fit the event’s audience demographic and reach out to invite them to the event. Make sure the email is well-branded, and send this out to your company’s newsletter subscribers, as well.
- Distribute a press release: Generate media interest prior to the big event if you’re planning to make a major announcement there, such as a new product or a major partnership.
- Schedule on-site meetings beforehand (if applicable): Events are a rare opportunity to meet many individuals of interest in a single location. Maximize your time by booking (and confirming) meetings before the day of the event instead of trying to track people down once it’s already started.
- Leverage social media: Post about your event in the weeks leading up to your event. In doing so, tag the organizers, key individuals and/or companies you might be partnering with. Encourage those organizers to post on their social networks, as well, by providing them with messaging to post.
- Use the power of influencers: For those just starting up, it often makes more sense to enlist a “micro influencer” with a smaller following, but a well-defined niche. Work with this person to offer them something valuable in exchange for their reach.
No matter what avenues you take to promote your event, remember the importance of consistent branding. Bombarding your audience with mismatched imagery and messaging does nothing to streamline your messaging. Aim to offer constant reminders of your event in a streamlined way.
Post event follow-up
Perhaps just as important as hosting events is the follow-up. It’s critical to keep your conversations going in a timely manner to capitalize on the buzz created around your company during the event.
You’ll likely walk away with loads of new contacts after hosting your event. Take the time to send a brief, personal note to those you met with, and consider requesting a coffee meeting of those you met who are of particular interest.
Pass on qualified leads to your sales team and think about how to standardize the process going forward. Should you automate a “thank you” email after each upcoming event? Or, as the founder, would you prefer to send a personalized note? Mark contacts or accounts you met in a way that lets you easily attribute them to an interaction had at a particular event for your future reference.
Event marketing is complex, but is by no means off the table for startups. Know that you might have to host a few events that prove fruitless for your business goals before you get into a productive rhythm. Given the power of interpersonal communication, event marketing is a vehicle that companies of any size can benefit from.