In the wide world of marketing opportunities for small businesses, event marketing is the cream of the crop. Hubspot reports 80% of marketers attribute their business’s success to events.
From an afternoon golf tournament to a week-long trade show, the only limit to event opportunities is your creativity. Event themes can be closely tied to your business — a product launch party, or industry-related webinar — or more community-driven — a 5K race, or job fair.
Let’s build a basic understanding of the event marketing process to help you discover if launching an event is the right marketing tool for your business.
Why host an event?
Take off your business-owner or marketing manager hat for a moment and think like a regular person. What is your favorite community event? The holiday parade of lights? The summer farmers’ market? The back-to-school family fun run? The chamber of commerce annual dinner? Whether there is a parade, festival or race in the name, most of these signature community events didn’t originate as signature events. They started smaller, both in budget and attendance. Your event has just as much potential to become a community staple.
All events should serve three primary purposes.
1. Bring value to attendees. This should be your primary purpose if you want to build a successful, recurring event. The “value” could be entertainment value or educational value. People like to go places, do things, and have fun. Make the event more about the attendees than you — the business.
2. Increase awareness of your brand. This doesn’t mean the event needs to have your company’s name in the title. Through marketing the event, your business name and logo will be seen by hundreds, if not thousands, of people.
3. Gain potential customers. Ultimately, this is why your business wants to host an event. You’re not necessarily selling products or services at the event, but you should be gaining information from attendee registration that can become leads for future sales.
Types of events to consider
Normally competitors pay an entry fee to compete to win some type of prize. It’s possible you could also have spectators at a competition event where attendance could be free or ticketed.
Examples: 5K race, golf tournament, poker tournament, talent show, bake-off.
Awardees selected either through a nomination process or by a committee. Traditionally awards are announced and distributed during a ceremony accompanied by a dinner, banquet or happy-hour gathering. The event may also incorporate a motivational speaker, or speeches from awardees.
Launch parties and celebrations
For new businesses, new products or specialty products, a launch party turns a product into a celebration. Make sure to keep the focus on bringing value to your customer--a sale is not necessarily an event. A 10th anniversary weekend sale could be an event if there is something to bring value to customers besides discounts — maybe you have live music, free food or giveaways. Many businesses have VIP events for top customers — these are great for “bringing value to attendees” (event purpose No. 1 above,) but might not be so great for generating new leads. If you throw a VIP event, offer your VIPs an incentive to bring a guest so you can meet some new potential customers.
Pop-up shows are ideal for businesses that don’t have a traditional retail storefront or a service business that doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic.
Examples: booth at a tradeshow, farmers’ market or artisan market, food truck at a community festival.
Tradeshows are usually industry-specific, with more than one business typically featured. One or more businesses organizes the event and then invites or sells space for others to participate.
Examples: home and garden show, boat show, gun show, outdoor recreation expo, artisans market.
Seminars and workshops
Informative events that are educational or developmental in nature. These can include discussions, lectures and networking components. Seminars can vary in scope from 1-hour classes to full-day, multi-session events.
Conferences are beefed up seminars scheduled across multiple days. Whereas seminars and workshops usually revolve around a single topic (content marketing), conferences have a broader industry focus (digital communicators).
If you’re not sure which type of event you’re capable of organizing, start with approaching the organization behind a similar community event and ask to help sponsor their event and be included in the process. You can gently dip your toe into the event marketing waters and gain some hands-on experience without taking on all the responsibility.
How to plan an event
Below is a short overview of the process for organizing an event. The process would vary depending on which type of event you’re planning, your marketing budget and other factors.
You can also use this downloadable Event Checklist to help you get started.
- Set your event marketing budget. This should be separate from your regular marketing and advertising budgets. You don’t want to reduce or halt any of your other marketing or advertising efforts during the event promotion timeframe.
- Set goals for your event. You might want to measure things like attendees, ticket sales, new email addresses gathered, or other relevant data points.
- Determine the type of event.
- Create a name and logo/brand for your event.
- Look at your business calendar and community calendar to schedule the date and location for your event. Just like brides send out save the date cards for weddings, you can begin to promote the event once you have the name, logo, date and location. Early promotion is especially important if your event happens at a busy time of year.
- Create a webpage, website or online platform for your event. This could be as small as creating a Facebook or EventBrite event listing, or as big as creating a new website specifically for the event. Make sure either option links somewhere to an informational page on your company website.
- Event logistics: This step takes the most time and staffing, and depends on which type of event you are planning.
- Who is your target audience?
- Do you need sponsors or additional vendors?
- Do you need speakers or instructors?
- Do you need food? Do you need entertainment?
- Do you need to buy specialty items to run the event?
- On the day of your event, who will staff it? Your company’s staff or hired help?
- Promote your event. Read “How to promote nonprofit events with little or no budget” for some ideas to get you started. You don’t have to wait until you have all the logistics in place before you start promoting. Promote continually. When you have the keynote speaker or featured entertainer confirmed, then you can promote it, (but make sure it is truly confirmed in writing). Make sure you have multiple channels for promotions (email, social, direct mail, phone calls, print ads, other local media). In a Google study, 30% of community members said they would have attended an event if they had known about it — so get the word out!
There you have it: event marketing 101. You might not be an expert (yet) but hopefully you are better prepared to start planning your own event. Nearly 30% of marketers believe events are the single-most effective marketing tool, compared to digital and email marketing. It is definitely worth the time and effort, but it does take more time and effort than other marketing channels.
P.S. Bonus words of advice — don’t blow your own horn and name your event “1st annual XXX.” Yes, you hope your event will become an annual happening in your community, but just don’t. Let’s cut through the semantics and say don’t use “annual” until it’s your 5th. Trust us.