2020 was on track to being the best year yet for most businesses. Buyer confidence was high, and the proven methods of sales and marketing were working. However, the COVID-19 pandemic brought that to a screeching halt. Buyer confidence plummeted, and most companies are in survival mode.
The important question, really, is what does survival mode mean? Does it mean that your business shuts down all efforts for expansion, or does it mean you fight even harder to grow your business with more creativity?
The “proven method” of hosting events is perhaps the sales and marketing effort that has been hit the hardest. Event management needs to be reinvented post-pandemic. Hosting different types of events, whether it is a trade show or a national sales meeting, has become not only difficult but illegal in some cases. For smart and nimble sales and marketing professionals, this is an obstacle that can be overcome.
In a time where most internal meetings are now virtual meetings (see: the endless stream of Zoom memes), why can’t we turn trade shows and national sales meetings into virtual conferences? What are the keys to making every virtual event successful? This is how to use virtual event marketing to make every virtual event a great success.
Create a Virtual Event Marketing Plan
When planning an event, a thought-out marketing plan can be the difference between success and failure. Sock Club attends over 20 trade shows per year so we know a thing or two about event marketing. There are 3 pieces to a great event marketing strategy: email, social, and giveaways.
Email Marketing for a Virtual Event
There are 4 things to consider when creating a virtual event email campaign:
Segmentation is dividing your email subscribers into smaller groups. When you create segmented email campaigns you can see higher open rates and higher click-through rates. You can divide your subscribers based on company size, industry, contact job title, and even previous events they’ve attended with you. This will help you deliver relevant content to more of the right audience. According to the Data and Marketing Association, segmented email campaigns can see a 760% increase in revenue. (Campaign Monitor)
Personalization is another way to increase your email open rates. According to Experian, personalized subject lines can increase open rates by 26%. (Campaign Monitor). Personalization can be as simple as including the reader’s name in the subject line.
Pre-Show email marketing helps you promote your event and allow your subscribers to sign-up and register. This email sequence should contain the what, when, where, and why information of your event. It should be created to create excitement!
Post-show email marketing should be designed to convert and contain your call-to-action. If your marketing budget permits, it may make sense for you to do a post-show webinar where prospects can get to know you and your company on a more personal level. It creates a space for them to ask questions and process more information before actually committing.
Social Media Campaigns for a Virtual Event
Social media is a great way to spread the word about your upcoming event or presence at an industry event. You can post organically through Facebook, Instagram, or Linkedin, or you can even curate a paid ads strategy. Social is also a great place to post event recap highlights, get tagged by influencers, and even use it as a blog post distribution channel.
To learn more about using social media in your event marketing strategy, be sure to read our article, How to Create a Succesful Event Marketing Strategy.
Event Giveaways for a Virtual Event
Later in this article, we will talk about how event giveaways can help make virtual…reality. Sending an event swag box to attendees can help break the fourth wall between them and the screen. It brings one of the comforts and familiarities of an in-person event directly to people wherever they are.
Our favorite event giveaway is obviously socks. It allows people to experience our Made in USA quality before buying and is a practical gift that everyone will use again and again.
To learn more about selecting the perfect event giveaway swag, read our article, Best Trade Show Giveaways of 2023.
After you’ve curated your virtual event marketing strategy, there are some key things that will help you make your virtual event just as successful as any in-person event.
One of the most under-planned and underestimated aspects of in-person events is the social component. The person-to-person connections that are made at events often produce more solid relationships than any sales pitch. How can those be replicated virtually?
The real key to this is that it needs to be natural. How are you connecting with the people in your personal life? What methods of communication seem organic? Pre- and post-event communication facilitation is key.
When beginning your virtual event planning start a Slack channel for attendees, or a LinkedIn group, and post and engage often. Share helpful content, but also content that makes your participants feel at ease with the process, like industry-related memes or funny (and SFW!) videos that deal with the common experience of working from home. Make it easy to keep attendees engaged and feel included! This also creates a platform for networking opportunities that attendees typically benefit from.
Make virtual real.
More often than not, your participants fall into one of two categories: they are ordering so many things from Amazon that they are forgetting what is showing up to their house every day, or they are strictly not ordering anything unnecessary at all.
Either way, receiving a gift, unprompted, from the sales or marketing team that is excited to include them in a future event will be welcomed and appreciated. Sending all attendees a pre-show package is great event promotion and allows people to enter the virtual event feeling confident about the experience. Bonus points for including branded socks!
Choose the right virtual event platform for hosting
First, if you’re an event organizer, you need to decide, are doing a pre-recorded or live stream event.
It’s important to reach people how they want to be reached, to speak to them the way they want to be spoken to. Is your event going to be mostly older C-Level Executives? Providing a WhatsApp group is probably not the best way to engage with them, and planning networking events during the time when they are trying to have dinner with their families is not going to be successful.
Trying to engage with Millennials and Gen Z? Providing them with a mobile-first experience with a lot of opportunities to navigate independently is probably your best bet for engagement. Send them a cocktail kit for a virtual happy hour to encourage social interaction! Use event technology that provides a platform for smaller group chats to really get the networking started.
If you don’t want to invest too heavily in the technological platform to host a virtual event, you can pull most of this off with free or low-cost programs. A combination of Zoom, Houseparty, Slack, and LinkedIn can accomplish most of these goals.
Follow up and follow through.
What is the goal or marketing strategy of your event? Is it a virtual trade show designed for lead generation? Is it a company-wide meeting designed to build company culture and disseminate new information? Is it a strategic planning session for your top-level executives?
No matter what the goal is, follow-up is key to pushing that agenda forward.
Often, events are so jam-packed with information that attendees leave feeling energized, but without a specific direction or call to action. Provide recordings of sessions and message board highlights so that the information gleaned from the event is easy to find and easy to reference.
Building a post-virtual event landing page is a great way to keep people engaged and coming back for the valuable information that you provided. Hubspot does a great job of this with their Inbound Event.
If you have made some valuable connections, don’t be afraid to send them a follow-up gift! We created a list of some great ideas for custom gifts for high-value clients that you can use throughout the year.
The bottom line is that each new obstacle that the pandemic presents to sales and marketing professionals is an opportunity to flex our creative muscles and find opportunities where there were none before. Focusing on the attendee experience for online conferences and virtual events is the best way to get some real-time ROI. With the right attitude and focus, this can be a great chance for growth!
Click here to return to Sock Club's Guide to Mastering Event Marketing