1. Introduction: Events Marketing 101
No matter what type of business you run, events marketing is a great way to promote your products and services, interact with current and potential customers, and position yourself as a leader in your field. In-person events offer important face-to-face contact with your targets, while online events help you reach a broad audience.

A 2015 survey by The UPS Store and Inc. found that 42 percent of small business owners spend marketing dollars on events, second only to social media (63 percent). Maximizing your investment, however, requires planning, creativity, and follow-through.

 

2. Choosing the Right Event

To choose the right event, start by defining your objective, says Joe Panepinto, PhD, a senior vice president with New York City-based marketing agency Jack Morton Worldwide. In The UPS Store/Inc. survey, respondents reported that the most common free and paid ways they promote their businesses are social media (73 percent) and personal interaction (67 percent). Events incorporate both methods and can help you generate leads, build relationships, and create awareness.

Once you’ve got a good sense of what you want to accomplish, focus on four key factors:

Attendees: The organizer should be able to provide details of how many people or companies attend or are expected to attend the event along with breakdowns by demographics, region, and business type and size. Ask about cycles in crowd density and demographics, says Michael Shea, partner at Fort Lauderdale, Florida event marketing firm Team Enterprises, so you can target times for peak productivity. Denver, Colorado-based small business Simpalo Snacks has found that focusing on these kinds of metrics improves marketing effectiveness and reduces customer acquisition costs.

Format and Layout: The logistics of the event can have a big impact on your success there, Panepinto says. Identify the locations of high-traffic or popular event features so you can anticipate traffic flow. For virtual events, know how and where your business images will appear. For example, if you’re participating in a chat with Twitter or Facebook users, find out where your logo and a link to your website will appear.

Promotion: Ask how the event is promoted and whether there are opportunities for sponsors, speakers, or exhibitors to be highlighted, says San Francisco, California event marketing consultant Allison Saget, author of The Event Marketing Handbook: Beyond Logistics and Planning. Do event contests or giveaways create opportunities to draw more attention to your business? Are there opportunities for cross-promotion? For example, if you’re presenting an online event such as part of a webinar or providing prizes in a Facebook contest, ask the organizers how they’ll promote your participation and help drive traffic to your website.

Timing: When is the event, and how long will it run? Will you have adequate budget, staff, and resources to commit to it? Does it conflict with a busy season or other key dates in your business operations? Be sure the event won’t disrupt your business, Shea says.

Planning to Stand Out

Once you’ve chosen the right event, plan how you’ll participate-; and how you can make the most of your time there. Sixty-one percent of respondents to The UPS Store/Inc. survey said that the single most effective way of promoting their businesses is word-of-mouth marketing and referrals. Events offer a great opportunity to cultivate both. Saget says success begins with contacting the event organizer, who may have resources such as a preregistered attendee list or may work with you to find unconventional places to display your message.

“Maybe you’re a small catering company, so you provide all of the meals, and print some great signage at your UPS Store to let everyone know the food was provided by you,” she says. Look for opportunities to trade your products or services in exchange for promotion. If you’re participating in a business seminar, you might sponsor the program and feature your ad prominently in it instead of spending more on an exhibit and staffing. Find ways to connect as directly as possible with the people you wish to reach.

 

3. Following Through and Following Up

Think about ways to make your participation memorable, fun, or interesting. Demonstrations and giveaways can be great options. Saget notes that massage therapists often sponsor relaxation areas at events where they give five-minute shoulder massages to weary attendees. Sporting event organizer Nashville Sports Leagues’ game plan is to give away logoed t-shirts and sunglasses, which will act as marketing tools well after the event. Postcards, brochures, and other custom print materials are tools to keep your business on attendees’ radar after they’ve gone home.

During online events, include a series of useful tips or a beautifully designed, inspirational message that participants may be likely to share. Event attendees will often post photographs or information about the event on social media. If you have an interesting or unusual presence, this gives you the opportunity to reach their contacts and networks.

Make sure your business’s presence shows that you and your staff are actively engaging with the audience. These details can make or break effectiveness. “I think that’s a big mistake people make,” Saget says. “They don’t engage once they sign up for an event. People don’t show up on time. The space doesn’t look good. Their event falls flat. They didn’t get the word out. There are so many little deliverables that can be forgotten.”

Finally, capture information so you can follow up after the event. Actively encourage attendees to sign up for your mail or email lists by creating a special offer or information for those who do so. Use signage to encourage them to follow your business on social media. Create an incentive for them to let you know how they learned about the event and your business. And follow through after the event, with a telephone call, thank-you email message, or special offer via a postcard campaign. Such activities help you build your customer and prospect base, making your participation and investment worthwhile.