How most startups do events wrong…and 6 ways to do them right
Looking to get the most out of an event? Whether you're sponsoring or attending solo, columnist Megan Hannay discusses six tips to consider when choosing what to attend.
When you’re in startup mode, awareness is everything. And event marketing combines awareness with message testing, audience conversations, networking, and even (sometimes) fun. But event selection is often arbitrary, at best.
At the first startup I worked for, we chose to sponsor a B2C marketing event because it fit best into our calendar. We then chose to attend a B2B event because it was South by Southwest, and we were a startup, and therefore we should be South by Southwest-ing too, right?
The second startup I worked for didn’t do many real-world events, but those that we did do were more of the “wining and dining” variety. Our executives met with other execs at industry events; deals were done; hands were shaken, and the efforts likely added up to some great business development relationships.
And hey, there’s nothing wrong with rubbing shoulders with industry — or real-world — celebrities. Events can have many purposes: networking, educational, a chance to show off how cool your company is because you’re here, too.
But if you want real B2C event ROI, some of the best events may be ones you haven’t heard of. Here’s how you can plan to do them right:
1. Consider location(s), and start small
If you’ve got the money to get noticed at South by Southwest or to infiltrate events in New York City or Los Angeles, and your team truly believes that these are the best cities to consider, then go for it. But if not, why not try some “second-tier” markets first?
Austin, Texas; Portland, Ore.; Raleigh/Durham, NC; Atlanta — these cities still have a ton of early adopters, but they aren’t as overwhelmed with marketers as top destinations, meaning events will reach a similar demographic, but will be cheaper and have less competition.
2. Pare down the attendance list
One of the biggest reason local marketers don’t engage in more events is their expense. And event attendance doesn’t just include sponsorship and travel expenses; it also costs a day or two of work for all involved.
It’s important, especially if you’re planning multiple engagements, to put a lot of thought into who needs to be in attendance. Ask:
- Can you really afford to send the CEO for three days?
- Does the whole marketing team need to be there?
- If you have time to experiment, see who on your team is the best at events — who can garner the most follow-up conversations or generate the most signups, and then continue to send that person, and maybe just that person.
By the way, solo B2B event attendance, while scarier than public speaking, is the cheapest and most effective tactic to ensure you (or your lucky team member) will interact with people outside of your organization. Meeting people from behind a booth is one tactic, but long lines and after parties are also great places to find potential connections.
3. Consider benefits beyond shaking hands
With every event, there’s potential for social media, SEO and email marketing benefits. These are factors to consider while choosing events.
Who has the strongest online community? Which sponsorship also comes with a blog post profiling your company?
Reach is bigger than “people met,” and events that extend your brand’s reach bring more eyeballs for your buck.
Speaking of eyeballs…
4. Focus on audience
First, always ask for attendance demographics. Many event organizers have these numbers ready to send out. But don’t stop there.
Demographics such as age, median household income and favorite guilty-pleasure TV show are a great start, but if you really know your target customer, consider events in conjunction with the places they’ll be or the types of entertainment they’ll seek.
If you have an app for travelers, consider sponsoring events at or near popular tourist attractions. Or if your product is for parents of young children, consider events at public parks.
5. Debate micro vs. macro event attendance
If you can spend a total of $1,000 to $2,000 each on five events, or $10,000 sponsoring a bigger gathering, which would you choose? This isn’t a test; there’s no right answer. But your team’s choice should be a conscious one, and it should be aligned with your event goals.
Going back to points 3 and 4, the value you’ll get from an event is a combination of raw reach and alignment with your target customer. A company for dog owners could find thousands of pup parents at South by Southwest, and they’ll also reach a few thousand people who prefer cats and many more who have pet dander allergies.
Or they could support adoption day at an Austin dog park and reach a couple of hundred animal lovers, but at a more personal scale. Reach and targeted audience are almost on a spectrum, so be conscious about which end your selected events lean toward.
6. Plan for prep time
If you’re sponsoring, plan for a few hours, or maybe a few days, of coordination time before each event.
- Do you have brand assets in place — signage and proper logos to send? Swag for goody bags? Copy for tweets and site mentions?
- Do you have the internal processes in place? Do you need a W9? Are you ready to cut checks for organizations that only take checks? Will anyone else need to approve before money is spent?
- How will your brand stand out? How will your booth or business cards look? Do you have a way to collect prospects’ information for later follow up online? Teams spend week or months perfecting their digital sales funnel. Events are customer funnels too, and you don’t even need Google Analytics to report on their success.