By Bob Mitchell
With the increased proliferation and pervasiveness of messages and content across multiple platforms, the power, impact and influence of live events have only accelerated. Within the “live events category,” many times interchangeably referred to as experiential marketing, resides what has been traditionally referred to as the speaker lecture circuit. These typically have included keynotes, moderators as well as panelists for events, conferences and meetings.
Conventionally as its own business niche, these have included paid, fee-based speaker appearances for primarily (although not exclusively) B2B audiences for a wide range of organizations, varied purposes/formats and across all professional management levels and functions. The speaker’s background and expertise can vary from leadership, global affairs, education, health & wellness, innovation and cybersecurity, amongst many others.
As with many things happening against the backdrop of digital disruption, it does appear as an opportune time to press the reset button on the “system like” tradition-bound approach to the planning, programming, scheduling and marketing of many of these speaker-based events. In order to fully reimagine and reinvent these conferences beyond the annual or semi-regular exercise of determining new themes, new roster of speakers and myriad “bells and whistles”, a fresh, innovative mindset needs to be injected that seamlessly and strategically aligns brand, content, data and platforms across a continuous, pre-determined time period.
The One & Done Syndrome
As observed, too often the events and conferences involving speakers appears as a one-off, time-locked proposition. Understandably because of many factors including significant budget commitments, customer obligations, current internal staffing infrastructures or an organization’s business needs amongst other variables, this has placed the focus squarely on the “day of conference/event/meeting.” In a pre-digital world this legacy-based approach provided a framework where defined working roles and responsibilities were neatly dictated and did not necessarily require the full integration of other departments nor encouraged a true partnership of various business constituents.
As the digital world compresses time, removes the “walls of place,” enhances accessibility, expands reach and provides a much greater creative canvass an “one and done” philosophy not only seems at times out of step but very likely could mean lost short- and long-term business opportunities and a hindrance to greater growth. A possible alternative set of performance metrics should be explored.
The Long Tail
The term Long Tail made popular several years ago by Chris Anderson (author, former WIRED editor-in-chief) is defined in part as “the portion of the distribution pipeline having a large number of occurrences far from the ‘head’ or central part of the distribution” can be directly applied to the discussion of the “one and done” philosophy of many events and conferences. In this case the one singular event is the “head.” The aforementioned “occurrences” are the multiple touchpoints, aggregated impressions, end-user engagement experiences and numerous opportunities for lead generation from pre-event through post-event.
In order to effectively maximize the long tail for events, conferences and meetings four essential elements come into consideration: brand, content, platforms and data analytics.
The significance of the “event owner” as the arbiter and curator of the conference brand cannot be underestimated. The so-called halo effect is applied across sponsors, speakers, program schedule, location, strategic partners and attendees. Ideally a harmonious confluence should exist that burnishes the image and identity of all parties. As with any kind of brand campaign (which a conference should be considered beyond the “day of” event) establishing or enhancing the customer relationship is critical for success.
Understanding, as well as properly serving, the various customers for your event (incl. sponsors, attendees, media partners, speakers, etc.) is much more than good business, but provides the necessary “win/win” framework to maximize all involved entities to drive new revenue opportunities, extend media reach, build greater brand awareness and enhance your conference brand.
In the recent past, slotting in various speakers, promoting their bio credentials, teasing various speech topics and a competitive fee to maintain financial margins was looked upon as sufficient to drive various business goals. The digital age has expanded numerous creative communications options propelled by technology. This is has ushered in the golden age of storytelling.
It is not sufficient to merely inform, enlighten, educate or entertain, but critical to create emotional connections with your customers (including members, franchisees, sponsors, etc.) through the power of storytelling. Event marketers must immerse end users in an unique experience well before and after the on-site event. The alignment with your brand partners in the aforementioned brand section can also open up various content marketing opportunities for blogs, webinars, short form videos, white papers, e-newsletters and eblasts. Establishing a multi-month content plan that includes pre-conference, on-site and post-conference tactics with a combination of paid, earned, shared and owned content will amplify your messaging, prudently maximize budgets as well as provide real time quantifiable performance metrics (i.e. opt-ins, clicks, views, website traffic, likes, event leads, etc.).
As with any good content plan, determining and utilizing appropriate and targeted platforms for cross channel messaging is essential. From my perspective, too many times the various stakeholders do not coalesce around a shared set of goals and objectives which, at times, means that the selection, planning and coordinated timing can be insufficiently executed and increasingly rolled out in an ad hoc and haphazard manner that impacts the overall effectiveness of the conference’s and/or event’s performance metrics. Another essential component of selecting various marketing and communications platforms is to realize that context matters. In order to fully maximize social media, email, websites, publishing partners, leverage speakers’ individual branded activities and all on-site promotional activities – various platforms need to be carefully considered based on creative assets, relevant content, internal resources, timing, intended user engagement and editorial environment. Included in the aforementioned list is establishing and incorporating a necessary ROI benchmark of both quantitative and qualitative metrics in order to effectively gauge and track all phases of a meeting/conference marketing campaign.
Although there’s myriad of event management software solutions to promote, plan, execute and evaluate meetings and events, it’s essential that managers first determine their desired business outcomes.
As big data analytics (the ability to analyze large volumes of data from many sources) are making headway into meeting, conferences and events, a 2017 Cvent study with over 600 leading producers, meeting planners, corporate event marketers and attendees reveals, however, a disconnect between event data collection and integration. The study revealed that “81 percent of event professionals say gathering data from attendees’ digital and physical footprints at live events is extremely important so that event planners can track the attendee journey to create better events and realize their full ROI – but only 20 percent feel their organizations are effective at this integration process.”
There has been a plethora of new data collection sources pre, during and post events; mobile event apps (where every touch is trackable), beacon technology, twitter feeds, polling, a range of social media input, live streaming, exhibit hall heat maps, wearable technology, procurement databases, predictive analysis and, coming soon, virtual speakers.
Over the last couple of years, several technology companies (like the aforementioned Cvent) are stepping up to address this avalanche of data with the goal of improving event ROI, enhancing the attendee experience and making better event and conference decisions including the programming, schedules, selection of speakers, entertainment, etc.
Many event interactions and a range of others, including lead exchange, polling, social media activity and other real-time event data can be transferred into marketing automation and CRM systems. By automatically transferring attendee signals captured in an event app, marketing and event teams can now enable timely and relevant follow-up by scoring attendee leads, setting up personalized trigger campaigns, and delivering real-time alerts for sales teams.
Reinventing the meeting of the Future
In this time of unprecedented change, new advances in technology have led to significant improvements in the events management field. These enhancements have streamlined and consolidated the meeting systems, making it easier for event planners to get their jobs done. However even more than various new devices and automated processes, is the necessary ability to reinvent how all various players see their roles and to relook at their essential “reason for being.” From venues to meeting planners to speakers and speaker’s bureaus and brands, no one can stake a claim in ownership of the “live event experience.”
The competition in fast-moving markets for share of mind (and time) is occurring at a rapid fire pace. The blurring of the line between B2B and B2C with event content seamlessly and instantaneously traveling across platforms means all organizations (corporate, trade associations etc.) of all sizes are under pressure to maximize ROI not only for the event but for their overall customer relationship. Disruptors from many different types of organizations and businesses are organizing, hosting, sponsoring and programming various meetings and events.
Meeting planners and their marketing counterparts must know not only how to interface with technology, but apply it in an integrated marketing and communications approach with a myriad of internal departments and external business partners.
Onsite, the future of visual meetings with interactive displays and whiteboards and much more interaction will be required and expected from two-way dialogue and 2nd screen technology.
Finally, there’s the most important element – personal connections. In addition to the importance of face-to-face networking for personal and professional growth in a digital world, the emotional connection of the live event experience is the true business value proposition.
Bob Mitchell most recently was Executive Director, Marketing, for Keppler Speakers, Washington, D.C., one of the country’s leading speakers bureaus, where he was responsible for the organization’s branding, strategy, partnerships, research, communications, meetings/conferences and business development.