Zen and the art of conference marketing – step 3: Packaging and messaging

28 02 2010

You’ve defined your story and your audience, now you need to match these two elements with the parts of the event that will resonate the most, driving people to want to register for your event.

Most conferences have a mixed group of attendees, not just delegates, exhibitors, sponsors, and speakers, all possibly from very different industries. Put simply messaging and packaging need be tailored for each group letting them frame your story, and pointing out which elements of the event may best meet their needs, again hoping they will either attend or share the event with colleagues.

The messaging can be even more difficult as you will also have sub groups of your audience at different stages of the product life cycle (developed by Raymon Vernon TX wikipedia) which basically maps sales against time and four basic stages: Introduction, Growth, Maturity,  and Decline.  Understanding where your product/industry/topic is on this curve can be very helpful in framing your messaging.

Another great concept to keep in mind during the messaging and packaging stage is the technology adoption lifecycle, which is broken into 5 main groups: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. All of which is covered exceedingly well in Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore, which focuses more on the challenge of early adopters. A bit like trying to launch a new conference! Moore talks about numerous strategies to try and move people along the curve, including, but not limited to the whole product concept and positioning. That is what I am trying to get at when I say packaging and messaging. Start thinking about your communication strategy and what content might help you build interest…how can you add more value than you can capture?

Think about the whole product concept;

  • Will you offer streamed opportunities to address their specific needs
  • Are there alternative formats – Workshops, un-conferences etc
  • Do you need more informal networking and sharing opportunities
  • Is it more of a consultative situation with one to one meetings etc…

Positioning; There are a lot of conferences out their, how you position your event could be the only differentiator!

  • Will you be functional – Provide certain solutions to a problem
  • Will you enhance their professional image – Provide leadership in a key are of the company or industry
  • Will you help them belong – Meeting their social networking needs
  • Will you provide multiple methods for them to learn – Case studies, “how to” guides etc…

You have your story and you have defined your audience, the next step is to build a communication strategy, tailor your message and product to meet the various needs of your audience! If you frame it right, it will resonate and create the need for your event.

Framing your social media efforts

22 02 2010

I really like this blog post by Chris Brogan, I find myself going back to it regularly. He also often talks about growing bigger ears… I have big ears so thats not a problem, but the challenge of framing our social media efforts is another matter.

Chris outlines 3 basic principles, which I have tried to apply to event marketing:

1) Listening – Listen to your audience, find the top bloggers, leading tweeters, best publications and listen to them and their followers/readers. This can help frame your story, give you deeper insight to your customers and help you spot industry trends or topics.  It helps build a better product and improves the marketing. Always listen before you talk.

2) Connecting – Once you have found the main forums where your audience or community is gathering online, you need to start connecting.  Conferences are all about connections, so connect with speakers, sponsors, delegates, and anyone active in your community, most of all help them connect.

3) Publishing – Start publishing content, blogging tweeting or adding content to the forums you have been monitoring and on yor own site. From an event point of view, you can use your site to start publishing content from speakers and sponsors.  Remember the internet has a long memmory, so don’t rush in starting to sell your product. Don’t make your first tweet a discount announcement!  As Tim O’Reilly says “Add more value than you can capture”.  It’s vitally important to remember it’s a fine line between, “thanks nice to know” and “Gee you’re annoying”.

I think the next most important thing is to set a realistic time frame and SMART goals. So you can guage your performance over time.

Whilst we are on the topic of social media, I have seen a lot of discussion lately about who should own it within an organization. Given you can’t control the message, and that utlimately the idea is the customers are in control, I think its a mute point. Every department needs to find a way to leverage social media if organizations are truly going to benefit from this new medium. 

Just my thoughts! What about you?

The balance…Are Events An Effective B2B Marketing Channel?

10 02 2010

I have been reading some great blog posts recently suggesting that conferences are becoming a dying breed.  It’s provided some great food for thought, here’s some snypets:

  • You can’t charge people to sit in the audience and charge people to sit on the stage at the same time and make them all happy. From Chris Keiff at 1goodreason
  • TED and the notion of abstract conceptual thought from Seth Godin. Who often riffs about how conferences could be better – Thanks for the tips!
  • Why Hub Spot wont’ exhibit at trade shows anymore from Hub Spot Blog. Which generated some amazing comments.
  • It also reminded me of this study from British Airways and HBR. Manaing Across Distance in Todays Economic Climate: The value of face-to-face meetings. http://businessgrants.ba.com/harvard-business-review.pdf
  • All wrapped up by an interesting piece in this month communicate magazine (A Middle East Advertising Age with a poor website, so no link) on event marketing, that said “as a general guide the actual cost of your sponsorship should be one third of the total budget because you need to have sufficient funds to leverage it.”

We live in fascinating times… The digital marketing revolution is killing off so many traditional and ultimately ineffective marketing channels that you start to wonder are events next?

The difference is a “good” event, leveraged properly will always give you a fantastic ROI.

However, As event organizers (full disclosure –  I work for IQPC one of the worlds biggest (& best in my opinion) conference organizers) we must come up with a format that matches today’s fast paced world, the days of powerpoint presentations in dark rooms are most likely numbered. The mix of new innovative formats leveraging technology, solid topic research and challenging speakers will always create a powerful experience that allows people to both learn and network (face to face).

Balacing that with the reality of the costs, means sponsors are also central to the whole experience. Their involvement, handled correctly does not mean the delegates have to sit and listen to pitches. I attended a Hub Spot event in San Francisco last year, it was full of vendors, and to everyone’s credit, barely a pitch to be heard, I meet some great people, the format was energising and I had pages and pages of notes, all of which galvenized my thinking and has been driving change in our ogranization every since.

I experienced, first hand the power of a good event, and it included sponsors, lot’s of them! I think with all the focus on digitial marketing, social media etc, having a strong link to the physical world (a face2face tie in) is more important than ever.

Zen and the art of conference marketing – Step 2: Audience

8 02 2010

Clearly define your audience and the larger community. Find out where they hang out online, what magazines they read, what associations they are part of, what other events they attend, what they need to hear about etc.

This is probably the first text book step in the conference marketing process. But going above and beyond will help your event succeed. When discussing the audience for conferences at IQPC I always focus on two key factors:

1) Qualify:

Most B2B conference marketers have the basic demographic for the primary market including Job Title (department/function/seniority), Industry, Geography. Some will even go one more step and research what associations and magazines the audience reads. Both of these items are the minimum requirements, in my opinion.

If you really want to qualify your audience and get the maximum return you also need to:

  • Review your past attendees to similar events, does it match the target. If not why not?
  • Define the outliers/lurkers; Engaging these people will be critical to exceeding your targets
  • Create customer profiles on key segments – Learn a lot more about the top 20% of your audience. Education, Experience, Memberships, What they read, what groups they are part of in linked in, anything you can pick up will help give you a frame of reference for your communications.
  • Review the audience using the product life cycle analysis
  • Look at how other similar events define their audience, what tone do they speak in, how do they communicate etc.
  • It’s also a good idea to look to the industry leading solution providers, ask them how they define their audience.

2) Quantify:

This is perhaps the most important step, and often overlooked in marketing conferences. If you can definitively quantify your audience size, you can choose the appropriate mix of marketing channels and the distribution/frequency you need. There are to key elements to quantify your audience:

  • Breadth – How many industries are involved, including the primary, tertiary and suppliers. How many companies in each group.
  • Depth – How many job titles, depts., or functions from each company are involved?

This information can often be found online, in trade publications or just doing a search on linked in. It doesn’t have to be 100% accurate, but get a feel. What’s the point of send 100,000 emails if your target audience is only 500 people?

One other key point on target audience – Visualize! As I pointed out in this post (7 habits of highly effective marketing managers) starting with the end in mind is key. So visualize you conference room on the day, how many people are in there, what do they look like, what companies do they represent.

To borrow an analogy, if you want to fish where the fishes are, you need to know what the fish looks like, where it lives and how it behaves. Another useful concept is the use of buyer personas as outlined in David Meerman Scotts book the new rules of marketing and PR, create a persona for each group of attendees it will also help later in tailoring your communication strategy.

Any other useful hints?

Zen and the art of conference marketing – Step 1: The Story

2 02 2010

SO…. as promised step 1 in my highly anticipated 7 steps to conference marketing glory.

Step 1 – The story…Why this event? what’s the message? what’s the value proposition? what makes your brand stand out? What do you tell people? What do you want people to tell others?

Seth Godin wrote a great book called, “All Marketers are Liars”, really it’s about telling stories, even better if they can remarkable (You can read my review here). Your story must resonate with your niche audience, don’t be afraid to make in controversial, you want it to stick.

Your niche story must be highly relevant for your niche audience, it must also be authentic, make a promise, create a strong image in the readers mind, allow for them to interpret it and make their own frame of reference.

The bottom line is conferences should make people feel special. The delegates, speakers and sponsor (& the organizers) all have the opportunity to do something special, share ideas, drive change, improve performance and make contacts with key players in their industry (maybe even get a promotion, solve that bug problem, meet the key decision makers, find that new job, make a career changing deal etc…).

In All Marketers are liars Seth also gave us a great story telling plan:

  • Which worldview are you addressing?
  • Which frame are you using?
  • How will you live your story?
  • What hard decision are you willing to make in order to keep your story real, pure and authentic? Compromise is the enemy of authenticity.
  • What are the short cuts your fans can use to tell the story to their friends? How can you help them frame the story?
  • How can you radically change your product or service so that the story is natural and obvious and easy to tell?
  • Whats the value of your permission asset?

A word on your event format – The format of the event has to match the story. A dark room full of power point presentations won’t get it done. If you tell a great story, the event has to deliver, work with the team to drive innovation and energy into your format.

Here’s the challenge, for conference story tellers: figure out how to avoid being boring. We must change the interactions delegates have onsite, we must create an event where delegates are ready to learn and change and challenge, as opposed to, “wow we’re in Vegas for 2 days let’s party and then sleep through a few sessions”.

Seth Godin also riff’s on conferences at his blog, and here’s a great quote, “here’s what a conference organizer owes the attendees: surprise, juxtaposition, drama, engagement, souvenirs and just possibly, excitement.”

Tell your story!