Event marketing is having a major moment in B2B right now. Multiple research reports indicate a rise in event marketing spend and success, while event technology vendors have built a strong presence in the B2B martech landscape.
Events have proven to be a top engagement tactic for all the stages of the funnel. New research from Demand Gen Report revealed that events were:
However, a top challenge for marketers is tying their event strategies back to revenue and measuring overall event success. While a recent Harvard Business Review study showed that 52% of respondents said event marketing drives more business value than other marketing channels, only 23% admitted they can calculate ROI for events.
Companies such as Microsoft, Red Hat and Morningstar are taking unique approaches to engaging event attendees, prospects and clients at all stages of the event lifecycle — including pre-, during- and post-event — such as sending personalized follow-up event recaps, collecting important demographic data to determine the event agenda and more.
“I’ve been doing event marketing for about 10 years now. Over the past three years, I’ve seen the most acknowledgment of the influence of events on the funnel,” said Ben Hindman, Co-founder & CEO of Splash, an event marketing software. “What’s really exciting is that we started to see marketers look at events and try to predict their effect similar to how you’d see prediction in the demand generation space. We’re now finally starting to hear people say, ‘We can actually predict what events do to our funnel.’”
Here, experts highlight four trends, tactics and best practices for successful pre-, during- and post-event engagement, including:
Mobile apps have been a staple at events for some time. But a majority of event organizers end up making them available to attendees for on-site interaction. Progressive B2B organizations are uncovering unique ways to incorporate their mobile apps into pre- and post-event engagement, according to Laura Ramos, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester.
Ramos suggests using the event app weeks before the event to help attendees set up their entire trip. It can even go as far as helping with travel arrangements and sharing personalized session recommendations.
“That app should say, ‘Based on our knowledge of your interest and things, here are the [sessions] that we think are important’ and ‘Here are the people you should meet with because we know they’re also going to be there,’” said Ramos. “It should manage their calendar, and what’s going on while they’re at the event. Then, have some sort of meaningful follow-up afterwards.”
Experts noted that personalizing post-event follow up can have a greater impact on engagement and possible conversion.
“Organizations do really well at the pre-event [stage] with highly personalized, more meaningful interactions and they’re optimizing better at the event, but we still have some room to grow in the post event follow-up,” said Brad Gillespie, VP of Enterprise & Corporate Marketing at Cvent, an event management solution provider.
One example of an effective post-event strategy is sending a personalized summary of the attendee’s event highlights. Red Hat, for example, sends follow-up trip reports to attendees, which highlight the sessions they attended and share additional content based on what they did before and during the event, according to Matthew Camuso, Researcher at Forrester. “It would be customized based on target stage in the buyer journey, among other things,” he said.
Ramos added that this strategy also helped attendees justify their trips to their bosses. “The problem that [Red Hat] was looking to solve is that, before the event, people would say they can’t justify it,” she said. “So instead of just sending them a survey to ask how they liked the event, they would collect data [during the event]. They would look at their badge scans to see which sessions they went to and put all of that together in a trip report format. The intention was, ‘Take this, modify it slightly and give it to your boss, so you wouldn’t have to build it all from scratch every time you went.’”
Another example Ramos noted was Microsoft, which spent a lot of time working out post-event marketing automation and nurturing streams.
“Depending on the degree of interaction, if somebody said, ‘Yes. Scan my badge. Send me someone or something, or have someone get in contact with me,’ that went into a specific nurturing stream, as opposed to somebody that just may have scanned the badge, took something and not had any sort of engagement at the booth,” said Ramos. “They thought through all those scenarios, and they had very specific nurturing streams for someone who is considered to be a high score for that event in terms of engagement, medium score or a low score.”
These days, people have more reasons to attend events or not than ever before, and they have many to choose from. That means, having a specific audience-centric mindset and catering to their needs with relevant content on the agenda to compel them to attend is table stakes, experts noted.
“Most organizations have always known what the audience makeup is, but now, they’re looking deeper and asking, ‘Do we have enough content in our programming and in our agenda to compel someone to come to our event?’” said Cvent’s Gillespie. “Now, organizations are doing a better job of looking at the mix of the audience. That could be by role, function, persona or industry, any dimensions that exist in their business to make sure the agenda has something for everyone. Having a personalized agenda for my role or for my attendee type — that’s much more common today than it was just a few years ago.”
For example, Morningstar, an investment research company, asked registrants to provide specific demographic data as part of the registration process instead of capturing it during a post-event survey follow-up. According to Cvent, this results in 100% visibility into the attendee base prior to the event, which allowed Morningstar to improve programming and even provide the right data to conference sponsors before the event. Using the event platform, Morningstar was able to successfully collect 80% of attendee demographic data.
To prevent the assumption that any or all leads from an event are ready to talk with sales, veteran B2B companies focus heavily on engagement with leads at the event to determine lead priority, according to Gillespie.
“We still too often jump the gun to think that the attendee is ready for a sales interaction when perhaps they’re not,” he said. “Perhaps they need to be nurtured. That is in the three big pieces of an event: pre, during and post. That’s the one we can all improve upon the most. The good news there is event technology plays a really critical role, because it helps you capture attendee behavior, draw insights from that behavior, couple those insights with all of the other insights we already have, and do a better job of scoring what’s the next step action.”
Gillespie advises that capturing meaningful data around interactions made with an individual — and not just scoring them based on a one to five score or a sales rep’s gut feeling — is critical.
“Best practice number one is to capture the data and maintain the standards you have for what a good lead looks like: definition of a lead, level of a lead, etc.,” said Gillespie. “Best practice number two is don’t leave the data behind. Take the data with you and make it as automated as possible. Having the most timely, relevant follow-up is going to depend on your ability to capture the true nature of the interaction and to be able to as quickly as efficiently you can get to the next follow-up with the right next offer or interaction to put in front of that individual.”
It comes down to working closely with sales to determine their lead requirements and getting the right information on what is considered a qualified lead based on the attendee’s engagement at an event.
“What excites me about events and why I see them as so challenging often is that it’s the only true marketing activity that I know of that is triggered by salespeople,” said Splash’s Hindman.
“Get compliance from your salespeople, get them actually to do what you need them to do so you can collect a level of clean data. Once you do that, once you’ve set things up right in your CRM, once you’re understanding and you’re thinking about time, and once you’ve created the culture of systematizing what you’re doing, really at that point, the next step is setting benchmarks and starting to track the stuff.”
It’s been a whirlwind of a year for the B2B marketing world, as marketers took their strategies to the next level to engage buyers in a more authentic, human way. The landscape is ever-evolving and new technologies and channels have made it easier for marketers and sellers to build relationships with their audiences.
The B2B marketing landscape is looking more and more like its B2C counterpart with each passing month. As B2B marketers invest more in mobile optimization, personalization tools, podcasts and more, they shouldn’t forget about social media.
Online communication via email and mobile devices may be on the rise, but face-to-face engagement with customers and prospects at live events is far from fading away. In fact, the 2018 Event Marketing Benchmarks and Trends report from Bizzabo reveals that more than 80% of marketers view live events as a critical factor to company success and 63% plan to hold more live events and increase budget spending in the future. Marketers from companies such as WorkWave, Marketo and HubSpot are looking ahead and investing in live events as a tool to build communities around their brands and collect better leads more quickly.
Yet, despite the growing demand for event marketing, many marketers still struggle to prove event success and calculate ROI. New research from Certain and Heinz Marketing shows that nearly half of marketers spend up to 25% of their budget on events. Another quarter said they spend between 26% and 50%. But of the marketers surveyed, only 30% said they find their spending to be effective.
“I think the disconnect is due to a lack of maturity in how companies measure and track ROI from events,” said James Huddleston, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Certain, in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “Because events are a physical channel, many companies don’t have the right tools or processes to convert physical buying signals from events into quantifiable ROI.”
Validar CEO Victor Kippes agrees, saying incomplete or irrelevant event data was a constant struggle in his previous marketing roles and was the reason he started Validar as an event marketing software company.
“I was on the receiving end of event data for many years and it was a big frustration of mine,” said Kippes. “When my company went to an event, they’d come back and give me 100 leads or 500 leads and say, ‘call these; there’s some good ones in there.’ I didn’t call them. You may as well have ripped six pages out of the Yellowbook. Those leads weren’t qualified or categorized at all.”
Just as content is becoming more personalized and authentic, marketers are taking their strategies up a notch by doing the same for event experiences.
WorkWave, a cloud-based field services and fleet management solutions provider, is doubling its event marketing efforts in 2018 and focusing its efforts on developing valuable events that are tailored to the target audience. According to CMO Ken Wincko, the company held less than 100 live events last year and will hold around 150 this year.
“We are trying to create exceptional experiences at our events,” said Wincko. “We are tailoring events and event content based on industry, company and role. [Attendees] are put in different rooms based on the type of company they’re in and their level of proficiency. So, we’re providing different content for the small business owner because they have different challenges than the enterprise-level companies.”
In addition to its own branded events, WorkWave does roadshows and participates in third-party sponsor events. Wincko said live events comprise between 20%-25% of the company’s marketing budget for 2018.
According to Wincko, the company conducted focus groups and surveys to better gauge what their attendees want out of events and catered their approach accordingly. As a result of this feedback, WorkWave shifted its events to focus to how to’s and product optimization which is tailored to different industries, companies and roles.
B2B companies have also found success by creating memorable event experiences and building year-long communities around the event.
“We have found that giving the attendees an experience along with information is the most successful,” said Simon McPherson, Director of Global Events at Marketo, in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “Our theme [this year] was ‘The Fearless Marketer.’ We used that in messaging and content, as well as in experiences at the show.”
According to McPherson, the conference included a zip line, as well as a “Swallow Your Fears” booth with scorpions and other insects. The experiences allowed attendees to fully embrace the theme of fearlessness and guaranteed that the conference would not soon be forgotten.
The INBOUND event itself is centered on the idea of communities and puts attendee needs at the forefront.
“INBOUND is not a traditional B2B conference,” said Kimberley Darling, Senior Director of INBOUND, in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “We actually banned the word conference because it has that user group connotation within the B2B tech world. We think of INBOUND as a community. We want people to have a place where they believe in doing things in a better way in order to grow their business, grow their careers, grow their teams and grow themselves.”
The company aims to continue the conversation post-event via the INBOUND Studio, a series of video interviews that are published to Facebook, YouTube and Instagram throughout the year.
“We have enough content where we’re putting out videos each month,” said Darling. “Really, it comes back to how you think like a marketer. You have this property, which is your event, and you want to be able to leverage your social channels to keep the conversation going year-round.”
When done right, live events can serve as a shortcut for marketers to gather more qualified leads. In-person events give marketers a direct platform to engage with current and prospective customers, promote and demo new products, answer questions and more.
“I think in the digital age, the people-to-people aspect of marketing has become even more important,” said Wincko. “When people come to your events, they’ve committed time, so they’re more serious about it. It shows that you have more interest than just a casual exploration phase.”
But better leads are futile without the right technology to support them. Progressive marketers are turning to mobile event apps, such as Doubledutch and Attendify, to gather qualified leads and collect data for informed follow-up.
“It's all about how you collect and utilize data,” said Jared Bodnar, VP of Marketing at Attendify, in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “When the technology is used correctly, it’s [also] used to enhance the attendee experience and move them through the event in a very delightful way.”
But according to the 2018 State of B2B Event Marketing report, only about 30% of marketers are using mobile event apps, which James Huddleston, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Certain, an event automation and management software provider, said is a surprising statistic.
“Given the importance and ubiquity of mobile phones, companies who are hosting events should absolutely utilize a powerful event app to foster greater engagement and provide a personalized experience for their attendees,” he said.
In addition to doubling its marketing efforts, WorkWave is prioritizing mobile event apps as a strategy for success. According to Wincko, the company recently changed its event software to Cvent, in part because it offers a mobile component.
“We’re investing more in our events and in mobile apps because that’s where everyone is,” said Wincko. “Even in events, people are sitting at a session and they’re on their mobile phones. They’re recording you, taking pictures, tweeting or they’re looking at some other content on their phone.”
In addition to collecting attendee data for lead generation and nurturing, mobile event apps can also serve as a useful tool for B2B companies to share content and connect with attendees post-event.
“Some of our clients use apps as sort of community apps throughout the year,” said Bodnar. “They don’t want the momentum to slow down after the event is over, so they use the apps throughout the year to keep people engaged, to keep people posting, to keep sharing information and sharing content.”
Hosting live events are growing in importance for B2B professionals, but according to a new report from Certain and Heinz Marketing, attributing event spend to revenue generation is a difficult task. The report showed that, of the one in four companies that spend 25% to 50% of their marketing budget on hosting events, fewer than 20% can make that direct tie to revenue.