One of my college professors, Kees Fens (a famous Dutch literary critic, with a brilliant first name) once told me: “Jongeman, make sure you read as many books as you possibly can before the age of twenty five. After that, it’s work, and marriage, and children, and debt, and trouble – and you’ll be done reading!” How right he was. So let’s put the books down and get back to marketing.
Events. Events. Events.
The last months have been all about events. I am writing this on the plane to Las Vegas, to Knowledge13, our annual customer conference, which will be bigger than ever this year with over 4,000 registered delegates attending. End of April, we exhibited at the Service Desk & IT Support Show (London), and at the Best Management Practice Kongress (Bonn). In June, Gartner’s Infrastructure & Operations Summit (Berlin), Forrester’s Infrastructure & Operations Forum (London, again), and the CRIP Conference (Paris) will be added to the list. Additionally, we started running online events; live webinars in local language in the UK, Germany, and France. Eventful times, indeed.
4 general observations
Of course, each of the events mentioned above targets a specific audience, in a different location. Some events are owned by ServiceNow, others are sponsored. Some are broad IT events, others highly targeted to a specific niche within that industry. Nevertheless, here’s a couple of general observations on business-to-business event marketing in 2013. I would be grateful if you could add your own insights to help complete the picture.
1. Every event is an online event, too
Five years ago, in B2B marketing, social media where the playground of a handful of early adopters – hobbyists not to be taken too seriously by real businessmen. IT events were get-togethers of in-crowds, mostly – you’d be talking to the same people year after year, to a point where nobody even asked why an event would be invested in. Push-push-push messaging, attendees were generally talked into buying stuff they’d never deploy. This has changed materially.
Today, social media are an intricate part of most every aspect of marketing, and especially so around events. They bring new, highly engaged audiences to events. People who are well informed, who have already researched the exhibitors before hitting the show floor with questions prepared. It’s a different experience altogether, with the quality and relevance of conversations going up.
Nevertheless, we haven’t reached a standard by any means, and quality levels of social media integration vary hugely between industries and companies. Many exhibitors are still using social media to just broadcast their messages without facilitating engagement. Many audiences still just follow and read vendor’s content online without engaging and sharing out.
The beauty of social media: it is all in the hands of the buyers, the show attendees, the followers and their networks. They decide what spreads like wildfire, and what drops dead untouched. The million dollar question you have to keep asking yourself: What turns a follower of my company into an amplifier of my message and calls-to-action?
Our Knowledge13 event is a good example of how an offline event (Las Vegas, 4000+ attendees, keynotes, customer breakout sessions, hands-on lab sessions, training sessions, channel side events) is turned into an online social event with all possible channels geared up to deliver content through video, blogging, photography, live streamed TheCube video content, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, community forum discussions, and to spark conversations that will continue beyond the walls of the event venue.
We have reached a point where you can get a very good grasp of what is going on at the event without leaving the comfort of your home – just look for #know13, and check out our Social Hub site, where we pull together all social content in real-time over the next days.
O, and just to illustrate what happened to vendors pushing their messaging down the attendee’s throats: 90% of Knowledge13 content is delivered by ServiceNow customers, like CERN, Home Depot, Staples, Volkswagen, KPN, and many others.
2. Every event is a data drill
Yesterday, I came across this interesting infographic on LinkedIn, attempting to depict the current marketing technology landscape. True, it is an insane picture – I wrote about the subject before. But be it as it may, sales and marketing systems like Eloqua, Salesforce.com, Omniture and Radian6 allow us to understand exactly how our events are performing, not only in terms of lead generation and sales, but also when it comes to audience engagement, reach of messaging, and share of voice online.
Now, Marketing has always been reluctant in sharing objectives with the business, but that will have to change. Because with the ability of tracking performance of all aspects of (event) marketing comes the clear requirement of setting marketing and sales objectives to validate investment, to report against those objectives, and to optimize the marketing investment more rigorously than ever before.
And this conversation will have to transcend simple Marketing ROI and pipeline attribution type statements (we invested x, we got 20x back, and it was all marketing – YEAH!), to really hone in on data segments and characteristics, buyer behavior, tactical marketing and sales mix, and effective multi-channel follow-up. Did we reach the right accounts, the right job functions within those accounts, at the right point in their influencing and buying cycles, and did we follow-up in the most efficient and effective way – with our direct sales, our channel partners or our strategic pathways? It has to be a clean data conversation between marketing, sales and business partners.
3. Every event is part of a broader conversation
Attendees walk in well-prepared and ready to engage. The same doesn’t necessarily go for exhibitors – at the SITS13 event, I witnessed quite a few examples of competitor booth staff just hanging around browsing their iPhones, speakers delivering random corporate slides that I already saw up on SlideShare months earlier, stand messaging only pointing out the obligatory iPad raffle (“Leave your business card in this bowl, and WIN – WIN – WIN ! ! !”), but nothing else.
To build maximum engagement, be as prepared as your audience will be.
Attendees spend time preparing online. Make it easy for them to include you in their research. Map the channels they will most likely use to gather their information, and give them compelling content and calls-to-action (research papers, websites, webinars, chat sessions – anything that will convince them meeting with you is a smart idea). Enable them to set a meeting with your crew, be available for questions, and respond without delay. Monitor the pre-show engagement data. Brief the stand team on customers and prospects likely to attend, and visit your booth. Have a plan, set targets.
Expect attendees to know your business and offerings in detail. Be ready to give them a very specific demonstration of your capabilities, and allow for ample Q&A time. Connect prospects with their peers in other customer accounts, analysts, business partners, and consultants, based on their business requirement, not based on the sales opportunity you think you spotted. Invest in ways to not just capture the bare contact data, but use the conversation to collect additional details that would enable a rich follow-up conversation. Set dates for follow-up sales meetings.
For marketing purposes, the audience not attending the event is more important than the folks who actually make it there. In social media, give the non-attendees a clear picture of what’s going on: the big announcements and messages, the demonstrations, the customer feedback, the overall impression and atmosphere, again augmented with premium content in various formats (writing, recorded sessions, video reports, photography, slides, audio).
Continue the conversation. Continue managing the event, but through other tactical means – as if it didn’t even end. This is where the real impact to bottom line is being delivered. Make your event content available on-demand, start promotions. Consolidate and qualify the contact data, follow-up through all marketing and sales channels, start nurturing the contacts that aren’t yet ready for sales engagement. Begin reporting against your objectives out of sales and marketing systems.
4. …and content is king, still
In content marketing terms, an event is just another vehicle designed to carry your message to its intended receiver – and it’s up to the event marketer to optimize the vehicle to do exactly that. But content marketing is too big a topic to be covered here. Check earlier posts (here and here) for more.
4 attributes unique to events
One thought I’ll leave you with while you’re here: In your marketing mix, every instrument (John, if you’re reading this – this one is for you, buddy!) has to play its particular function, making the most of its specific attributes and qualities. There are 4 attributes to physical events that cannot be covered anywhere else, at least not in combination:
- Serendipity, or the “stumble upon” factor (at events, attendees tend to discover vendors and solutions they didn’t even know they were looking for).
- The face-to-face contact between prospect and solution consultant or sales rep without any strings attached.
- The opportunity to address very specific, even unique customer questions and requirements.
- The opportunity to see a bunch of vendor representatives at work at once without being in their offices – and get a sense of their team dynamics and quality.
In your content marketing strategy for events, take full advantage of these unique attributes, and don’t focus on things other marketing tactics may deliver just as well (and probably cheaper).
Do drop me your feedback. I am heading down to the Knowledge13 show floor – from NOW to WOW!