Live events are a critical part of any B2B marketing plan. Whether you're planning digital events such as webinars, or in-person events such as conferences and trade shows, your company can expect to benefit from increased sales, higher brand awareness, and a better understanding of your products and services.
Today's B2B marketers know just how important events can be: According to a recent Event Marketing Institute study, event budgets will grow twice as quickly during 2012 as they did the year before. Among respondents to the study, more than 80% agreed that event marketing is important to their organizations - and more than 40% consider it critical.
Yet marketers also face a growing challenge when it comes to maximizing their event marketing ROI. At a time when integrated, cross-channel marketing plays such a critical role for B2B companies, just 29% of companies say their event marketing initiatives are very integrated with their other marketing campaigns. This makes it difficult to coordinate marketing activities or to apply data generated from live events to other campaigns.
It can also be difficult to measure live event ROI, as suggested by the fact that 47% of companies selected "not applicable" when asked to provide their event ROI ratio.
Whether you're planning webinars, in-person conferences or other types of live events, the right approach to data management and marketing automation can eliminate these problems and maximize your event ROI. The following guide will offer seven important tips for taking an automated, data-driven approach to your live events.
Establish your event marketing goals. Whether you're planning a webinar for 500 attendees or an executive dinner for a dozen, you need to start with a clear picture of what you'd like to get at the end of the process. Some examples of specific event marketing goals include:
Decide how, where and when to distribute invitations. The nature of your event, the time frame for the event and your target audience will all play a role in the invitation process. If the objective is to generate new leads, then you'll want to take advantage of email marketing, social media and perhaps even direct mail to distribute invitations automatically against your prospect database.
In each case, it's important to use a system that allows your organization to track precisely when and how it distributes event invitations; otherwise, you risk spamming potential attendees with multiple invitations and conflicting messages. A "save the date" social media campaign, for example, should be timed to happen before you launch an email marketing campaign with specific registration or speaker information.
Manage the registration process. Most event registrations take place online - and those that don't probably should. When you set up landing pages for your event registrations, be sure to have a system in place for tracking the source of each registration. You should know, for example, whether an attendee is responding to a social media post, email or direct mail, or some other event marketing channel. Custom landing pages and tracking codes are ideal for this sort of task.
Be sure to use a system that allows you to close the registration process automatically. This allows you to enforce registration deadlines and prevent misunderstandings with attendees.
Also, have a plan in place for sending event confirmations and reminders. These are useful for any live event, since they allow you to keep your brand front-and-center; you also get a chance to engage in personalized communications with each attendee and to extend other content or product offers. Here, too, it's important to use tools that automate this process, so that your team isn't overwhelmed by the task of tracking and sending reminders.
Establish your lead capture process. Event registrations and on-site activity (such as scanning business cards or badges) can be a source of robust and accurate lead data. It can also be a colossal waste of time and effort unless you focus on two important tasks:
Be prepared to score and prioritize the registrants from each event. Every B2B marketer knows that the leads generated at live events can run the spectrum from red hot to ice cold. That's why it's important to have a system in place that can evaluate leads based on key business criteria (job title, company name) and prioritize them for follow up. Better still, a robust lead scoring system can compare incoming leads against an existing database and identify other relevant behavior (such as content downloads or web site activity). Such a system can then decide whether to route a lead directly to sales, place it into a nurturing campaign, or discard it as irrelevant.
Plan a nurturing strategy for the contacts you connect with during events. Lead scoring, of course, also yields data that feed lead nurturing campaigns. Specifically, leads generated at online or in-person live events should be nurtured with appropriate content and well-timed touches. A webinar attendee, for example, could be offered additional webinars or white papers in a follow-up email, while a CEO attending a trade show could receive an invitation to an exclusive executive dinner or panel discussion.
Keep in mind that it's important to identify and honor a lead's communication preferences for a nurturing campaign. If a registration form allows an attendee to request information by email rather than by phone, for example, that preference data should be applied to all of your applicable campaigns.
Select your metrics and analyze your results. Establishing your event marketing goals in the first step makes it easier to choose useful metrics. If the objective of an event is to generate leads, for example, then the number of marketing qualified leads (MQLs) compared to the total number of attendees is an important metric to track.
In order to use metrics effectively, however, it's important to have a system in place for analyzing them. Simply identifying MQLs isn't enough; you also need to know how many of these leads convert in the sales pipeline, how long they take to convert and how much revenue they generate - all key metrics for establishing ROI for your live events. The more you do to integrate all of your marketing activities - and to employ closed-loop reporting with your sales team - the more visibility you'll have into your ROI.
Gather feedback from your attendees. Finally, always look for ways to gather feedback from attendees at your live events. This is easier in some cases than others; many webinar platforms, for example, automatically generate attendee feedback forms at the end of each event. For smaller events, capturing feedback by email, phone or even in person may be useful - especially if you identify ways to improve your event content and, ultimately, ROI.
By the way, don't forget to monitor social media both during and after all of your live events, and to supply Twitter hash-tags for each event. This will give you an important real- time source of feedback on your live events, and in many cases you might even be able to respond during the event to address complaints or requests from your attendees. This isn't just good marketing, it's good customer service - and your attendees will take notice