MPG is a fast-growing specialist marketing agency and consultancy focused on marketing services to support the growth of B2B events. These events include conferences, exhibitions, tradeshows and awards events run by B2B events and media organisations, as well as branded events for organisation investing in events as a B2B marketing channel.
What nearly all of the most successful community-focused and subs-led brands have in common is a strong and growing events portfolio – where their subscribers (or members) can come together to learn and network with their community across a range of event formats. It is at these events where subscribers also come face-to-face with the information brand they rely on, reinforcing trust and building loyalty.
And it is also at these events where much of the lost advertising revenue has now re-surfaced as income from sponsors and exhibitors – now often called ‘spex revenue’. A combination of strong delegate and spex revenues from events can drive highly profitable, high annual growth for a B2B media brand.
But events present a much greater strategic opportunity – or risk – for B2B media brands, depending on how the marketing of these events is conducted.
Event marketing can be a frantic, siloed, highly tactical exercise (often done on the cheap) focused only on attracting the largest possible number of attendees in a short space of time to satisfy internally driven or spex-driven quotas – an approach that severely compromises the quality of communication and the audience. This is very dangerous for a brand that relies on the trust of its subscribers.
Or event marketing can be strategic – with brand trust as the starting point for developing an effective strategic marketing communications plan that, when executed well, leverages and reinforces brand trust. As with building effective and sustainable subscriptions marketing campaigns, strategically approached event marketing requires longer term thinking, planning and investment.
The best kind of event marketing not only fills venues with high quality delegates representative of the brand community, it also attracts new, high-quality subscribers, thus growing the engaged brand community.
The 5 areas brand leaders should invest in to ensure their event marketing builds brand trust and overall brand growth:
1. A good database and CRM
A well implemented and organised database in a good CRM will enable segmentation by demographics, behaviours and transactions – meaning communications can be personalised and made relevant. In addition to ensuring event communications are relevant to an individual’s role and challenges, it is very important subscribers are treated differently to non-subscribers.
When managing data through an event marketing cycle, the best set-up of systems and processes will also enable the identification of potential new subscribers, and push them in to the subscriptions marketing funnel.
2. A strong inbound marketing engine for events
Inbound marketing should run all year-round, driving event awareness via social channels, and shared email and event leads via a well-optimised website – while building overall brand awareness and strengthening brand positioning.
Subscriber engagement and brand-trust will often be positively influenced by what they see in social channels, especially if reinforced by a third party via likes and shares, while potential subscribers will often be drawn in by a compelling event-specific message.
The impact that the presence and engagement of high profile and well-respected speakers, sponsors and other third-party event stakeholders can have on a brand’s social channels should not be under-estimated.
3. An event website that reinforces a brand’s positioning, while integrating the event with the subscription value proposition
A strong event website helps customers extract more value from their subscriptions by engaging with event content before, during and after the event.
Highlighting and serving up unique ‘subscriber-only’ event-specific content and networking opportunities via your website is a good way to drive subscriber retention and acquisition. The FOMO factor is powerful, especially if what sits behind a paywall is highly current and relevant, as with event content.
4. A well-managed event marketing and sales funnel
An optimised funnel also ensures marketing qualified leads are followed up by sales people in a timely manner with relevant communications. Team members skilled in delegate sales, as well as solution and value-focused spex sales people, can make a significant contribution to brand building.
And if you can incentivise sales people to prioritise subscriber renewals and acquisitions over chasing down delegate and sponsor revenue, you’ll have a winning formula.
5. Ongoing measurement of engagement and conversions
It is important to understand how deeply subscribers and potential subscribers are engaging with an event, and then how customers are engaging with a brand beyond the event.
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”, as the famous Peter Drucker said. The tools are now available to every business to put meaningful metrics at the forefront of making decisions and driving results.
Events are powerful. The way in which events are marketed, all year-round, is equally powerful. The impact of events can be extremely positive for a B2B subs-led brand, or can destroy a brand by quickly eroding customer trust.
Settling back into work as we kick off 2019 (which we all know is going to be a bit of a rollercoaster ride!), the MPG team has taken some time to reflect on the key challenges and opportunities our customers and wider community are likely to face:
1. Events will be more important than ever before
In times of extreme uncertainty, imminent change and heightened risk – meeting face-to-face with other professionals facing the same challenges is one of the best ways to proactively acquire valuable intelligence and essential contacts. Responsible companies will want their ‘fingers on the pulse’ of their customers and their industry. Many will find that sharing and collaborating with their industry peers is the best way to find solutions and opportunities.
In 2019, event marketers will need to be highly attuned to the burning questions and priorities of their customers – attendees, sponsors, exhibitors, speakers and other event stakeholders. Our deep empathy and a keen understanding of what matters most will be essential in creating and effectively communicating event value propositions and marketing messages.
2. Event customers will be more discerning and protective of their time
At MPG we have always believed that event customers will always prioritise ‘return on time’ over ‘return on money’. If an event product very effectively meets a market need – the cost of participating in an event becomes less of an issue. Event customers will demand an excellent return on the time they invest in an event and will pass harsh judgement if any of their time is wasted.
In 2019 it will be even more important for event content, speakers and programme formats to be highly relevant and very well executed to deliver exceptional ‘value for time’ and a good experience.
Event marketers will need to get products to market early. We will also need to ensure our messaging is highly relevant and compelling to stake a claim to some precious days in diaries.
3. Strong brands with excellent events will win
For B2B media brands, events will become even more important for brand engagement and value delivery – especially within ‘core customer’ groups. Brand equity will be a key part in attracting customers to events – with the confidence and trust they have in a brand playing an important part in decisions to devote some of their precious time (and budget) to participating in an event.
Events businesses will also start prioritising brand building as they recognise the importance of being more customer-focused rather than product-focused.
More B2B media and events businesses will understand that their brands belong to their customers and that being responsible brand custodians means investing in the unique and genuine value a brand delivers to the community it serves.
In 2019, event marketers should relish and take full advantage of the opportunity to strategically build brands that will help attract high quality event customers – embracing the exciting opportunities for strengthening content-led, inbound and brand-led marketing.
4. Referral and influencer marketing will come to the fore
In times of uncertainty, event customers will do all they can to reduce the risk of wasting their own time or their company’s money. They will also be more mindful of protecting and building their personal brands – carefully considering how their managers, peers and potential future employers perceive their involvement in the events they choose to participate in.
Event customer acquisition and retention will rely more on validation and referrals from trusted colleagues and influencers – to reduce risk and protect reputations.
In 2019, event marketers need to truly embrace the ‘human-to-human’ movement. Our marketing programmes need to consider how key individuals – who are influential with our event customers – will become brand advocates and publicly support our events. And we’ll need to be acutely aware of ‘WIFM’ (‘what’s in it for me’?) when putting together plans to get the right messages to the right people at the right time.
5. Customer insight and data will be in high demand for good decision-making
To be more confident in their decisions and strategies, senior managers will push their teams harder to produce valuable insight on customers and their behaviour (particularly their propensity to purchase) throughout an event cycle. Events business leaders know this data is critical to drive growth and reduce risk, and they are also aware that the required data points are readily available with the right digital marketing tools and approach.
Event marketers are the natural owners of customer insight and in 2019 will need to take more responsibility for collecting and analysing data that helps the business understand how customers are engaging with their events (and potentially the wider business). Business leaders will also have to make strategic investments in the skills and resources needed to make this possible. If this investment is made well, the return should be excellent – especially in the long run.
6. Deeper personalisation will be key to event customer engagement
Although artificial intelligence is showing strong potential for delivering a more personalised customer experience, in 2019 most organisations will still be relying on a more manual approach to ensuring the content and messages served up by marketing to targeted audience groups is highly relevant.
Getting the right message to the right person at the right time will be more important than ever. And having a well organised customer database is the first step to making any personalisation possible – whether driven by AI or more manual means.
In 2019 event marketers will need to focus on getting the most out of their CRMs/marketing database systems – ensuring their #1 priority is organising the database of customer and prospect records so that targeted marketing is possible, even if more manual than we would like it to be.
7. The full range of skills needed for event marketing will be recognised
Effective event marketing requires a team of marketers – each with specific skill sets. 2019 will be the year business leaders recognise that they cannot expect one individual to have all the required skills around strategy, data and analytics, campaign planning & project management, content marketing, copywriting, design, email marketing and marketing automation, social media and pay-per-click advertising (and more).
Marketing is a deep and broad discipline, and events require a very specific type of product marketing that is very different from other types of product marketing.
In 2019, event marketers will be recognised as a unique, valuable and scarce resource. Businesses will start thinking differently about how they acquire and retain the skills needed to create and drive effective event marketing strategies and campaigns. Upskilling, outsourcing and partnering will be explored as ways to fill the critical resource and skills gap in event marketing.
Even though these predictions take in to account the unique challenges we’re likely to face in 2019, we believe all the above would be on the horizon regardless of Brexit or Trump-fuelled uncertainty.
As consumers become more powerful, a more collaborative and sharing-based economy emerges and our world becomes fully digitally-enabled, event customers will demand more from the event brands they choose to nail their colours to.
Event marketing needs the right kind of investment to make the essential strategic contribution required to drive growth – which is possible even in difficult times. B2B media brands and events-focused organisations that can think differently about how they invest in marketing for the best return will be the winners in 2019 and beyond.
MPG accelerates the growth for conferences and exhibitions. We deliver:
Organisations are becoming more customer-focused, and attention is shifting from outbound to inbound strategies amid changing customer expectations and rapidly downsized databases due to GDPR. In this new era, where marketers have more data, technology and influence at their fingertips than ever before, the strategic impact and responsibilities they hold within organisations is growing exponentially.
It is up to marketers to ensure all stakeholders understand just how important best-practice marketing is to the future success of a business, and to build the most efficient and skilled marketing functions to deliver on this potential.
MPG’s round-table, held on 9th November 2018, brought together some of the UK’s most influential B2B event marketing leaders to discuss the key challenges involved in building a high performance event marketing team.
Round-Table Discussion Participants:
Key Insights from the Round-Table Discussion
MPG have put together an overview of the key points from the discussion, providing valuable insight into the following areas:
The shift to more customer-focused organisations
How to increase event marketing’s contribution across an organisation
Why it is so important for the marketing function to have an investment mindset
The value of marketing performance measurement
Ongoing changes in tactical and strategic marketing practices
MPG runs a series of events dedicated to marketing leaders. These gatherings enable discussion and the sharing of ideas around the most important challenges and opportunities in event marketing today, as well as important trends impacting the future of event marketing.
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Our guest blogger – experienced event and content advisor Tim Mann provides insightful tips on how events business leaders can be confident in the return on their investment in marketing.
“By improving the reporting process for the marketing team, you are also helping the marketing team communicate with other functions, enhancing their value to the organisation. Marketing reports, made accessible and actionable, should be shared with all functions in the business – especially sales.”
As is the case in all types of organisations, senior executives focused on the success of B2B events have to quickly process information from a variety of sources to make good decisions – on an operational and strategic level.
A cause of frustration I often encounter when working with senior executives is how difficult it can be to efficiently receive and understand data provided by event marketers.
Frequently, meetings with event marketers or the reports they provide tend to overflow with analytics – where important context and actionable insights can be difficult to pinpoint. It can be unclear how marketing spend is being allocated, which channels or elements of an event marketing campaign are working best, or what is being done to optimise marketing performance in the months and weeks leading up to an event.
This can strain relationships between marketers, executives and other stakeholders.
So, what are the reasons for this and how can you address this challenge?
The language of leadership and the language of marketing
Marketing is a frequently misunderstood function. The analytics and language of its reports can be impenetrable to ‘outsiders’, especially when compared to other functions such as sales – despite the fact both functions should be closely aligned.
CEOs, Managing Directors or Divisional Directors (P&L holders) in B2B Media and events businesses still tend to come from a background of content or sales – giving them a stronger, innate understanding of how non-marketing functions operate. Even if marketing has been a career path to senior management, the function has changed so much in the past five years that marketing experience gained years ago is probably of limited use.
Compounding the problem, changes in recent years in the technology and tools being employed by marketers has resulted in marketing spend and the reliance on marketing investment increasing, as well as the volume of data and analytics rising.
This growing cost and complexity of marketing has widened the disconnect between marketers and their senior executive team who see vast resources being sucked up, but hard-to-find or difficult to understand evidence of a return-on-investment.
Ask the right questions…
As a CEO or MD, you have to make sure your marketer(s) know what analytics and insights you need to see on a regular basis.
Establish the data points, metrics, context and resulting insights and recommendations that are most valuable to your decision-making process and provide clarity for marketers on when and how you wish to see this information presented – usually in a combination of routine reports and meetings.
…get the right answers
Ensuring reports and meetings provide the information you want may involve rebuilding the whole process from scratch, which you need to be prepared to do in order to effectively manage your marketing function. Also be prepared to improve and refine this reporting and meetings process as you go along – building on what you learn about the value and accessibility of information your marketers can provide.
A useful comparison and possible starting point may be your sales report. As marketing should be, sales is focused on financial results and customer engagement, and is effectively a marketing channel.
Sales reports tend to speak the language P&L holders understand – communicating activity, engagement, forecast revenue and commercial outcomes. Good sales reports will also include a focus on quantity and quality of leads generated and conversion rates.
Ideally marketers should provide the analytics and insights ‘further up the funnel’, and while showing joined up results with sales where relevant, ensure their reports also answer the following questions:
“What, where and how are we spending?”
“What are we aiming to achieve and what is the expected ROI? What does success look like?”
“What results have been generated by marketing investment to date? How have these results been generated?”
“Are there signs we should adjust or change our approach for better results?”
“What is marketing doing to analyse results on an ongoing basis and flex to respond to results to maximise ROI over time?”
Asking these important questions and insisting on context, benchmarks and insights will result in an intelligence-based approach to marketing decision-making, strategising and investment.
Bring all functions into the conversation
By improving the reporting process for the marketing team, you are also helping the marketing team communicate with other functions, enhancing their value to the organisation. Marketing reports, made accessible and actionable, should be shared with all functions in the business – especially sales.
‘Sales and marketing’ are effectively one process and need to be joined up for optimal results – yet they often operate in silos. I’ve regularly seen campaign meetings and plans launched by sales with no input from marketing and vice versa.
Are sales people aware of the content and messaging marketing is communicating? Do marketing know who sales are talking to?
Get marketing and sales people in the same room to understand each other’s strategies, activities and results so they are better able to align and integrate.
Better information + better communication + better teamwork = better results
As a business leader, you have the responsibility to ensure all functions are pulling their weight and well-supported and enabled to do so. The contribution marketing makes and how to lead marketers effectively can often be one of your most difficult tasks – often made more difficult if you’re not ‘speaking the same language’. But, if you work on this relationship and ‘help them to help you’ make good decisions, your investment in marketing should pay for itself many times over.
Tim Mann currently works with a number of privately owned events and media businesses on overcoming the challenges of scaling and achieving faster growth. His work encompasses developing leadership capabilities, building and executing event and portfolio growth strategies and all actions that lead to sales growth. Previously to this Tim worked as Managing Director for several businesses involving conferences, executive forums, exhibitions, publishing and research. Connect with Tim on LinkedIn.
These pieces have resonated because they provide experience-based frameworks and guidelines for growing events and creating value.
Unsurprisingly, many conversations I have had with senior executives recently have been on how best to invest in events and event marketing, and how to structure organisations and event teams for success.
Here are the six areas I always recommend organisations focus on to achieve strong growth for their events:
1. Customer Research
Don’t try and take shortcuts when determining what your customers need and want. Relying on ‘existing knowledge’ and/or instinct (no matter how well informed!) is not enough.
Remove all guesswork by conducting a thorough programme of primary and secondary research – which is essential in identifying your customers’ most critical pain points, opportunities and burning needs. This research will give you the accurate insight you need to attract and engage your target audience with:
an event programme focused on the right themes
content arranged in the most suitable formats
the most compelling and relevant speakers
Research is not a ‘nice to have’ or a ‘one-off’ when launching events. It is a completely essential and ongoing requirement. As you move into new event cycles for a repeated annual event or related events, your content and formats need to continually evolve to remain relevant and valuable.
2. Advisory Boards
Putting in place a strong advisory board is one of the best ways to secure the success of your event or series of events. This should ideally be done in the early stages of your research and should become a key enabler in engaging with the right people.
Concentrate on recruiting progressive thinkers who have ‘clout’ and a strong reputation within your event’s industry and community. They’ll help you build industry support and can also aid in researching and refining your event’s value proposition and content.
You would usually invite advisory board members to speak at your event, or at least attend (free of charge if you’d usually charge a delegate fee!), but it is not essential for them to participate ‘on the day’. Their involvement alone will add weight and credibility to your research, speaker acquisition and event marketing – bringing together the best possible event for the best possible group of attendees.
3. Key Partnerships
Both paying sponsors and other types of non-paying strategically important partners usually play an important role in the success of an event or a portfolio of related events.
Associations and specialised media outlets can be very valuable partners, especially for launch events and events that sit at the heart of an industry already served by credible membership organisations and media brands. They are particularly helpful in gaining exposure and traction in their ‘ready-made’ audience of members and subscribers.
Speakers should also be thought of as strategic partners and handled as such. High profile speakers can be the best partners you have when it comes to adding weight to your event proposition and engaging your audience.
‘Quality over quantity’ should be your mantra for engaging event partners of all types, and it is essential partners are fully aligned with your event’s purpose.
4. Commercial Focus
Many organisations looking to launch or grow events often have existing and established revenue streams not related to events. These legacy income streams are usually key to the survival and overall success of an organisation and are often also areas strategically targeted for growth.
While it is very important for events to be aligned and integrated with your brand and related products from a customer’s perspective, events have a different DNA to other types of products. They operate on a faster cycle, are highly changeable and dynamic and are tied to a very hard deadline. They also require a thorough approach when executing a large volume of activities – accurately, rigorously and ‘at speed’.
If your core team, which is focused on your organisation’s more established revenue streams, has to start working on events – it is very likely the distraction and ‘overload’ will pose significant financial risk and often results in poor performance.
Ideally, you will have a separate operational team dedicated to your events. This ensures the potential for revenue generation and growth of both events and non-event products is maximised, and you don’t end up with an underperforming, burnt-out and resentful team.
5. Building Your Events Team
Assuming you are able to create a separate team to run your events, we recommend the following organisational set-up:
Production: A dedicated content production function is essential. Producers are responsible for research, agenda creation and speaker acquisition. They must work closely with editors, marketers, sales people and other subject-matter and target audience experts to gain the best knowledge internally before conducting their external research.
Marketing: A specialised and dedicated event marketing resource is essential to attract the event sponsors, exhibitors and attendees. This is usually a combination of inhouse staff and external specialists – both of which should ideally have event marketing expertise. Some organisations outsource their event marketing entirely as it requires a specialist, and in many ways highly technical, skillset which is often difficult to recruit for and manage (MPG has some case studies you might find useful – request them here).
Sponsorship and exhibition sales: This function can either be integrated with the organisation’s existing/main sales team, or can have a unique focus on events. This sales operation requires excellent internal communication and a good CRM tool.
Logistics: Logistics managers should have the responsibility for the sourcing and management of venues, catering, audio-visual equipment, event badges, signage and other key areas that need focus in order to run a well-organised/seamless event. This function also often looks after speaker support (arranging accommodation etc), ensuring all sponsorship and exhibition commitments are fulfilled and the delivery of customer services for attendees.
6. Onboarding and Managing Great Event Talent
Event specialists with specific experience in event production, marketing, sales and logistics are in high demand and short supply. This, along with the often ‘seasonal’ nature of event resourcing requirements means that organisations will often have a core team of event managers and then look externally to bring on board flexible and cost-effective resources that can deliver the exact specialist skillset at the time and scale needed.
Regardless of resources being internal or external, it is critical to set clear, measurable objectives for each party and ensure there is strong project management in place to optimise the investment in all areas.
A framework for success.
If you’re looking to grow your events, then we recommend you focus your time, attention and money on these six areas. Investing in events in the right way will nurture this vital and often high growth revenue stream, while creating a loyal and engaged community around your products and brands.
We spoke with Econsultancy founder Ashley Friedlein on his latest venture, Guild – a messaging app that facilitates valuable conversation between professionals.
Q: With the messaging space dominated by the likes of WhatsApp, and LinkedIn so strong in the professional networking space, what inspired you to launch Guild? And why now?
WhatsApp works fine as a consumer messaging app but I don’t think is fit for purpose for professional use cases. LinkedIn is like a professional version of Facebook and everyone understands why you want a social platform dedicated to professional use even though they functionally do pretty much the same thing.
Currently there isn’t that professional version of WhatsApp and that is a problem as people are confusing personal/professional, there are no professional profiles on WhatsApp, no way to delete content after an hour, no email alternatives to notifications, no custom branding, no admin/analytics etc.
Timing-wise, recent regulations like GDPR in Europe and CCPA in California have made businesses much more cautious and sensitive to the use of apps for work that do no comply. WhatsApp is not GDPR-compliant, for example, and businesses don’t want to risk a €20m fine because their employees are using it for work.
Q: Why did you choose the name Guild? Does this name travel well globally, or do you see it being more meaningful in certain regions?
We don’t believe that new is always best. We are excited by the opportunities that new technology offers, but also respect much older values and ways of working. So we deliberately chose “Guild” to echo the medieval institutions which were all about craft, quality, learning and community. Those things, and humans’ desire to belong to a ‘tribe’, have not changed.
We also want to create a brand that is British/European. Most tech companies are American and we believe it is an opportunity to differentiate with a European brand that plays to Europe’s long history – and it is where guilds originated. Some European countries are particularly sensitive to privacy (e.g. Germany, France) and distrustful of US “Big Tech”. Likewise, in the Middle East. And India, and much of Asia, have long held an interest in European luxury brands. We are positioning Guild more as a premium brand than an everyday consumer app.
Q: What do you see as Guild’s particular strengths and/or unique selling points?
We will struggle to compete on features in the long run so really it is about the brand, the quality of the experience, and quality of the people using Guild. We have to make Guild the aspirational thing to belong to.
If you take a private members club like Soho House, for example, which is also a British brand that has expanded globally very successfully, it doesn’t really do anything that other venues don’t and yet it has a huge waiting list.
A lot of our thinking around Guild is similar. The details of the experience are ‘high touch’, the look and feel very distinctive and refined, the hosts of groups have to pay, there are no public directories or listings as everything is invitation-only, private and discrete. Guild is really only for your most valuable professional connections – the cream of your contacts. People who you really value and want to have access to. LinkedIn is not that any more if it ever was.
“Guild is really only for your most valuable professional connections – the cream of your contacts. People who you really value and want to have access to.”
Q: What kinds of organisations are responding best to Guild’s offering at present? Is this what you expected?
We have identified 23 different target segments with quite different use cases. What they have in common is that the groups are all relatively small (10s to 100s), all professional, all high value. We see our main competitor as the business use of WhatsApp, so wherever you see WhatsApp now being used for work stuff – that is our market. That could be anything from awards programme judges to VIP conference speakers, governors/trustees, shareholders, special interest groups, boards, management teams, entrepreneur groups, peer networks, user groups etc.
The organisations we are speaking to most at the moment are either B2B media organisations who have high value customers they want to add value to, or professional membership organisations like trade associations or chartered institutes who have lots of sub-groups within their member base they want to engage with better.
Q: With MPG’s focus on the marketing of conferences and large scale B2B events, we’re particularly interested in how Guild can be used to grow engagement and deliver better value to the various event stakeholders – including delegates, speakers, sponsors and exhibitors. How do you see Guild playing an important role here?
Three obvious use cases we see for events are: editorial boards/councils, awards judges, and speakers. In all three cases you are typically talking about groups of around 10-70, who work across different organisations, but who see value in networking with each other. I have been an awards judge many times, and a speaker even more often, and part of the reason I do it is to meet and network with my peers but often that is not done very well.
Most event networking apps now work a little better than they used to but the actual levels of activity and engagement are still low. The quality control and curation still are not good enough. And at all B2B events there are still buyers and sellers present and the buyers almost always want to hide from the sellers, so do not want to make themselves available via these apps. Guild could work for delegates but would have to be properly curated and managed by the event organiser to ensure relevance – just opening it up to all attendees is unlikely to work in my opinion.
The danger with sponsors, of course, is that the experience is too salesy/spammy and so members of any such group in Guild would quickly leave. However, if handled properly by the B2B media business and the sponsor, then communities of interest/expertise could work where there is an anchor sponsor who provides real added value and insights. These sponsors are therefore more likely to be selling premium/high value products or services and be prepared to invest time and money in treating their best prospects, or existing customers, with a really high level of attention and service using Guild.
Q: Do you see Guild playing an important role in building and serving genuine communities around B2B events?
Absolutely. Guild allows people to continue the conversation between events. Before the event that would be about shaping the editorial program, discussing topics that should be covered, suggesting and finding speakers, exciting people about the agenda etc.
During the event it is about capturing the buzz and excitement of the event itself as well as networking and meeting up. After the event it is about reflecting on the event itself, highlights, new ideas or inspiration or contacts made, getting feedback to improve the event for next time, capturing ideas on the format, and starting to plan for the next event.
You would just need to think through who would host the group, how long it would last, and how many participants you should have – our current thinking is that fewer than 150 (but more than 20) is about right. Too many participants and it risks feeling too anonymous or noisy.
Q: Do you see Guild significantly changing or disrupting the way in which B2B events are planned, taken to market and delivered?
I don’t think Guild will become a substitute for events in the way it was once thought virtual events might be. In fact, quite the opposite. We still believe that, however good we make Guild, face to face is the best way to build relationships and trust and meaningful connections.
Guild is a better way to maintain and nurture those relationships so it is best as a complement to the physical experience. Guild should extend the event experience, blur the digital and physical more effectively, help nurture stronger emotional bonds and improve engagement between professionals with a shared interest.
Q: How do you see Guild becoming embedded in event strategies and event marketing in the years to come?
I think there are obvious ways to improve the current experience for speakers, judges and editorial boards/councils.
For high end sponsors, and high value delegates, Guild should be used pre, during, and post event to increase the excitement and engagement at each stage to build a stronger emotional connection with the event brand. This will improve turn up rates, conversion rates, repeat business, brand perception etc.
It is too early to know the optimal ‘choreography’ of how Guild would augment and complement an event, and it would depend on the scale and nature of the event itself, but currently we believe the Guild experience should begin 6-8 weeks before the event and last 2-4 weeks after the event so the lifetime of a guild related to an event might only be 3 months. However, for some ongoing communities of interest then the guild could be year-round and ongoing with spikes of interest, and the physical meeting of the group, occurring at the event(s).
Q: We’ve heard that the notification sound for Guild will be quite unique. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
I own a set of hand bells which were among the last to be cast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in the East End of London before it closed. The notification sound for Guild is the high ‘G’ bell. It sounds a little like the standard WhatsApp ‘ting’ but has a less digital, more soulful and nuanced tone to it.
Q: Finally, you’ve become a role model for many entrepreneurs, in particular due to your success with Econsultancy. Some would say you should be taking it easy now, but you are instead jumping into a very competitive market with a new app. What is it that makes you want to keep taking on new challenges?
I suppose it is a compulsion that all entrepreneurs have. You just feel you have to do it. You have an idea, or a passion, and you know you will regret it if you don’t at least try and make something of it. Working with great people, doing something new, and creating a brand or business that has value and which people respect… why wouldn’t you want to do that?
Ashley Friedlein is President of Centaur Media and founder of Econsultancy (with Matthew O’Riordan in 1999). Econsultancy was sold in 2012 to Centaur Media.
One of the most influential figures in digital/marketing, Ashley is an author of two successful business books, a respected industry commentator and blogger and works across a range of businesses as an advisor, mentor, investor and consultant.
In May 2018, Friedlein announced the launch of Guild – a private professional messaging app. He has described the app, set for full rollout in Autumn 2018, as being as easy “to use as WhatsApp, advertising free and GDPR compliant”.
Great event marketing is about great communication. But event marketers can often spend so much time crunching numbers in spreadsheets, working on CRMs and databases, budgets and attendance targets that it becomes easy to forget our important role of effectively communicating with our customers.Yet many marketers never truly visualise who their customers are. Failure to consider the ‘buyer persona’ carefully is a common problem in B2B event marketing and hamstrings countless campaigns.
People are busy. They only have time to open their eyes and ears to organisations that can help them be better at their jobs or progress their careers.
Event marketers need to know:
What keeps our customers awake at night?
What stops them getting the results they need?
What can your event do to help them reach their goals?
What are their KPIs?
Where do they go for information?
Does your marketing address these issues? Or are you sending over vague messages about an event that would be ‘nice’, but not ‘essential’ to attend? If so, you need to build (or rebuild) your personas. Think business-to-person, not business-to-business.
Understanding obstacles preventing attendance
As well as revealing the wants and needs of your audience, good persona work will unveil what it is they don’t want and the obstacles that stop them attending an event.
In particular, what are the objections to them attending your event:
Time and cost?
Working conflicts (e.g. being unable to leave office for too long?)
Their employers cannot see the true value of the event?
Marketers need to know these objections, so they can then include the right benefits to counter these points in their messaging. Our next blog will delve into the process of creating benefit led copy, but without investing in persona creation, it’s not possible to create ideal copy for your audience.
An example of how you can create a target persona from your chosen target market can be downloaded here…
A marketer’s work is never done
As industries change and technology evolves, so do the needs of your target audience. Personas need regular revision to remain relevant. As your target market evolves and expands, so must your persona descriptions.
Personas put marketers at the top table
Persona creation – and the results they bring – is another way for the marketing function to prove its strategic value and earn a voice at the top table.
A common gripe for event marketers is they are not consulted on event strategies. Strategic persona work is one of the best ways to transform this situation.
Marketers should take the opportunity to step up and champion persona development. This will benefit the event, the organisation and event marketers.
In recent years, the remit of the conference or exhibition marketer has expanded – mostly to cover more strategically critical areas of an event’s value proposition.
The marketer’s role is no longer limited to planning and delivering a pre-event campaign to get ‘bums on seats’. It extends to how customers experience the event itself – i.e. the ‘brand experience’, or more often called the ‘customer experience’.
Don’t let marketers be excluded from customer experience decisions
Marketers often have a deep understanding of an event’s brand and the value it delivers to customers. However, when it comes to event design, they are not always at the decision-making table. So, it often happens that customers experience an inconsistent brand message across the full event’s design, product development, marketing and delivery cycle.
This can take the form of speakers being booked because they are high-profile and attract attention, even if their expertise or profile is inconsistent with a brand’s positioning. Or, it can be as simple as delegates’ information packs lacking correct visual branding.
Any approach which leaves marketers outside the planning and decision-making process about event design and customer experience should be confined to history.
Marketers need to see things differently to achieve strong brand positioning
A good marketer must have a deep understanding of how a strong brand position needs to be developed and embedded in every aspect of an event and should champion this strategy. This ensures all internal event stakeholders are working to a consistent branding strategy when working on event features and when engaging with external stakeholders like speakers, sponsors and delegates.
A good marketer will also challenge the business and event team if an event brand doesn’t include a compelling unique selling point or very strongly differentiated proposition versus competitors, or if the positioning is not consistent across all channels and touch-points – the most crucial of which is the ‘at-event’ experience.
Marketers need to ensure brand consistency for brand loyalty
Marketers should take on board the responsibility to step inside the customers’ shoes. What does the customer expect from your brand, based on what has been promised? How is the customer understanding and absorbing the brand’s positioning and messaging via every interaction?
A customer’s ‘event consumption’ and ‘at event experience’ should feel completely consistent with the marketing campaign that attracted them in the first place. From the customer service interaction in making a booking and paying an invoice, to signage that directs the customer to the check-in desk, to the physical passes they are given as they sign in, to the look and feel of the event space – the brand must be consistent.
Similarly, when multiple events run off a parent brand, the experience should be consistent and therefore lead to a positive impact of delegates attending multiple events and increasing the loyalty to the brand as a whole.
Marketers must measure success to be masters of event brand experience
As it’s so emotion-based, customer experience and brand perception are often difficult to measure – but that doesn’t mean it should not be measured!
It is essential to understand how your event brand is being experienced and if it is living up to its promise. Marketers must pay attention to the following metrics and measurement methods:
Customer retention – are event customers coming back year after year?
Are we conducting ‘at-event’ customer surveys?
Are we doing in-depth post-event customer research?
Are we paying attention to social media engagement and sentiment?
For marketers to confidently and meaningfully take on a more strategic role they need to ask for and embrace the responsibility of managing event brands.
As Jeff Bezos, the famous founder of Amazon once said, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room”. It is up to marketers to know what those ‘other people’ (the customers!) are saying and ensure the business takes notice too!
We have a dizzying array of channels and tools available to today’s B2B event marketers, and the humble email is still one of the most effective. Deployed smartly, email marketing remains critically important when marketing events.
GDPR means event marketers are likely to be sending fewer emails to data subjects in the EU than they did previously, so it is even more important than ever that campaigns are designed for complete relevance, maximum impact and constantly measured against the industry benchmarks.
It’s also crucial that new campaigns are compared to pre-GDPR results: you should see engagement levels improve. If this does not happen, you need to take a very close look at all elements of your campaign and ask yourself these questions:
Is your database strong enough?
Is your value proposition and messaging relevant enough?
Is your email optimised for opens and clicks?
An essential area for measurement and benchmarking
Whether the purpose of your email campaign is to inform, promote, generate leads, generate revenue or ‘all of the above’, you must be able to analyse your efforts so you are able to:
Determine your email marketing return on investment
Make informed, evidence-based decisions to maximise the performance of future campaigns
MPG have put together a benchmark guide – based on real data from B2B event campaigns – to help you compare how your conference and exhibition marketing campaigns are performing:
The most common reason for low delivery rates is when ‘bad’ contact records – invalid, closed, or non-existent email addresses are present in your database. Now that GDPR is in play, these kinds of contacts should be far less prevalent. At MPG, we expect to see this benchmark soon increase to above 99%.
How to boost your delivery rate
The simplest way to improve your delivery rate is to remove any ‘hard bounces’ from future email campaigns. Provided you are using ‘legitimate interest’ as the basis for processing direct marketing data under GDPR, you can utilise the hard bounce data to help grow your database by researching the contact associated with the bounced email address.
If the contact has been replaced within their organisation, find the details of their replacement and add these to your database. In addition, find out where the original contact has moved on to and, if still relevant, update these details. This way, from one hard bounce you gain two new relevant contacts for future campaigns. The exception to this rule is where specific countries require opt-in for direct marketing – see the useful guidance on the Linklaters website for latest rules by country.
NOTE: If you do update / add names to your database in this way you need to ensure you are GDPR compliant by informing the individual/s concerned that you have their data – see ICO’s ‘Right to be informed’ guidance for more info.
Watch out for the spam trap
Event marketers must be aware of how the dreaded spam filter can lead to misleading benchmark figures. ‘Delivered’ figures include emails that have reached their intended ISP, but the sender is not informed whether their email arrived in the recipient’s inbox or their junk mail folder.
To ensure emails reach their intended destination:
Make your data and messaging relevant – too many ‘unsubscribes’ raises a red flag for email providers and clever spam filters
Focus on formatting – avoid using shouty capital letters; overdoing exclamation marks; poorly formatted HTML; excess images (a particular issue with lots of sponsor logos!) and ‘spammy’ subject lines containing terms like ‘buy’, ‘save’ or ‘discount’
As with delivery rates, we expect to see open rates improve with GDPR thanks to better quality contacts.
The most typical causes of low performing open rates are:
Unengaging subject lines
The best subject lines are direct and descriptive
Make the most of your event in your subject lines. If you have a big-name speaker or influential company on board, include these in the subject line
Make sure you are getting the most relevant messages in to your subject line so your email really grabs your audience
A/B test different variables to learn what resonates
Unrecognisable sender name
Always use a trusted sender name
It’s almost never a good idea for a marketer to be the sender
For events it’s far better to use a prominent name in the sector such as a conference producer, event director or editor of an associated media outlet
If it is a nurturing email within a sales process, use the relevant sales person’s name
Test your emails with different sender names to see what gets results
Poor preheader text
Most emails are opened on mobiles, where preheader text is visible prior to an email being opened. Weak messaging, repetitive content (repeating the subject line in the pre-headed text) or inappropriate language and tone are just some of the factors which can ‘kill’ your email’s chances of success
Inconvenient day / time
Timing really matters – especially when it comes to getting recipients to notice and open your emails. Sending them mid-week, mid-day may have been safe advice in the past but now it also depends on user habits and what device they’re reading their emails on – it all comes down to demographics and knowing your audience.
A/B test your send times to see what works best
Combined, ‘click through rates’ (CTR) and ‘click to open rates’ (CTOR) give a better indication of overall engagement than simply how many people opened your email.
Crucially, CTOR gives you insight into the success of your email’s content based on the behaviour of the recipients who opened your email. It does not consider reactions to other factors such as subject lines, sender names or email timing, which might affect whether the email was opened or not in the first place. So, we recommend paying more attention to the CTOR than the CTR – as long as you’re also keeping an eye on your OR!
How to improve CTOR rates
What are the most common reasons people don’t click on links in emails?
Irrelevant or bad data, or irrelevant messaging
It is important to think about what your subscribers are expecting to receive from you and ensure that your content is relevant and aligned to expectations. Segment your list so that you can send the right content to the right people. You want to make them feel your event is unmissable and by attending they will become better at their jobs. If you aren’t doing this and give them generic content, they won’t click links.
Poor design or mobile experience
Make sure your emails look good and all design elements work mobile as well as desktop. Limit copy length, test the layout, monitor image sizes and avoid Flash or video embeds to ensure none of those elements are hindering your CTOR.
Call to actions (CTA) are not prominent enough The best CTAs should grab the subscriber’s attention and are action-orientated (create that sense of urgency), eye-catching, legible and concise. Make sure your CTAs sit in the right spot – too early in your email and you won’t have had the chance to make a compelling case for clicking; too far down and you may find people drop off.
Benchmarks are essential to event success
It’s quite simple really: if you don’t constantly benchmark your email marketing performance – ideally using both industry averages (provided in this blog) and your own internal averages – you won’t know how your email marketing is performing or how to improve it!
MPG will be closely monitoring the impact of GDPR on industry benchmarks and we will be updating our guidance here for conference and exhibition marketers towards the end of this year. So, watch this space for updates!