Personalized, VIP Experiences & Influencer-Driven Content Drive Strategies For Live Events

Published: June 5, 2019

As digital channels grow more crowded, B2B marketers are pouring more of their marketing dollars into events, where they hope to meet with new buyers face-to-face and strengthen current relationships with key accounts. According to research from Bizzabo, 41% of marketers say live events are the most critical channel for achieving business outcomes and 50% say they spend at least 21% of their budget on events. To ensure event success, B2B companies such as Merkle, GumGum and SAP are incorporating end-to-end personalization and partnering with influencers to take their event strategies to the next level.

“Events are very important because we have such a broad range of products and a broad audience that we need to be out there reaching,” said Ursula Ringham, Head of Global Influencer Marketing at SAP, in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “We like to bring influencers to the events because they can talk to the audience about what is happening and what they see from their perspective. I look at it as people-to-people marketing and an essential marketing tactic that we use at events.”

Given their high investments in events, modern marketers are being increasingly pushed to prove ROI and demonstrate that their events are accelerating deals and keeping their brand top-of-mind for months to come. To do so, industry experts recommend taking a personalized approach to your event strategy.

“Events will always be a core part of B2B marketing because it is such a long sales cycle and there is a face-to-face component that has to happen,” said Jonathan Tam, Senior Research Director of ABM Strategies at SiriusDecisions, in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “There are situations where organizations spend too much on events only because they’re not doing them properly … It’s about making a personalized experience versus the typical event strategy, where you walk up to the booth, get the standard sales pitch from someone who is not your rep and get put into this standard lead nurture program afterwards.”

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Creating VIP Experiences Fueled By Personalization

Today’s buyers crave personalized experiences — and events are no exception. In fact, 74% of marketers say personalization should be a bigger business priority and 97% plan to maintain or increase their budget for personalization in 2019, according to industry research from Evergage. In addition to creating personalized content and messaging, B2B brands are now infusing personalization strategies directly into their events.

GumGum, an applied computer vision company, hosts close to 270 global events annually. According to Som Puangladda, VP of Global Marketing, nearly 70% of the company’s marketing mix is dedicated to events. In addition to national and regional events, GumGum is increasingly focusing on custom events, which are personalized from end-to-end for key accounts.

“Clients have these expectations and we have to keep raising the bar,” said Puangladda in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “The number one thing [for our events] is personalization and everything in the experience is built around that. It’s not just about going to a conference anymore and having a booth; it’s about how you can really stand out.”

The company hosts two custom events each year, Bringing Cannes to You and the Hamptons House. Bringing Cannes to You is a luxury event for GumGum’s current and prospective customers that is inspired by the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. The one-day event — which includes gourmet French cuisine and champagne — is held on yachts and in chateaus and upscale restaurants across seven international cities. The Hamptons House is designed as a retreat where top accounts can network with one another and learn more about GumGum’s messaging. Due to its success, the event is moving to a larger location in the Catskills this year.

Both events include personalized invites, such as luggage tags and customized landing pages. To follow-up after the event, GumGum creates personalized pages for each account featuring photos of their team to ensure the memories remain long after they disembark the yacht or return from the Hamptons.

“We’re not creating events anymore; we’re creating experiences,” said Puangladda. “If a key account is involved, we do that starting with the invite all the way through the experience.”

Taking a personalized approach to events has proven successful for GumGum. According to Puangladda, the Bringing Cannes to You campaign resulted in 10x ROI in 2018 and has already doubled in RSVPs for the upcoming 2019 event. In addition, the 2018 Hamptons House campaign drove 30x ROI over the past 12 months. 

Adding A One-To-One Touch To Larger Events

Custom field events aren’t the only way to satiate buyers’ desire for personalization. Other B2B companies, such as Merkle, a performance marketing agency, have found success by making their larger events (think trade shows and expos) feel more personalized.

The company is currently preparing for its largest event of the year: Merkle’s Annual Executive Summit. According to Zoe Fernandez, Director of Global Event Marketing, the marketing team is taking a more white-glove approach to this year’s event. To do so, they created a VIP list of attendees, mailed them personal invites and followed up with email outreach, as well as personal phone calls from the sales team. The invites were personalized so that each person received a recommended list of sessions to attend based on their industry, role or previous content engagement.

“We might reach out to someone and say, ‘We noticed that you downloaded the [Marketing Imperatives E-book] and attended this webinar, so we recommend that you come to our Summit … Here are four sessions that speak to the things that you expressed an interest in,’” said Jaclyn Sass, Director of Global Marketing and Events at Merkle, in an interview with Demand Gen Report.

The company also aims to make the events themselves feel more intimate and personalized by hosting smaller executive dinners for people in the retail industry or women in leadership, for example. Follow-up emails are then customized based on event engagement captured via Cvent and other solutions, including sessions and meetings attended, whether they stopped by the booth, etc. A subset of attendees also receives personal follow-up calls. These efforts have helped Merkle’s events generate 10% more value from opportunities between 2017 and 2018.

“We’ve done a lot of thinking and strategizing around how we approach events,” said Fernandez. “We’re always looking for that next level of incorporating personalization because technology is constantly changing, and the industry is constantly changing, so this is what we have to do to keep up and be more innovative at future events.”

Tapping Influencers To Humanize B2B Brands At Events

Research from Demand Gen Report reveals 95% of B2B buyers prefer credible content from industry influencers — up from 65% in 2018. Influencer marketing is rising rapidly, and forward-thinking brands are starting to not only partner with influencers for evergreen marketing campaigns, but for events, as well.

“Influencers can help tell your story,” said SAP’s Ringham. “When you look at the buyer’s journey, they’re more apt to believe a friend or someone they trust than a brand. That’s why we say our influencers are trusted voices influencing buyer decisions.”

Influencers are a cornerstone of SAP’s event marketing strategy. The company, which uses Traackr to manage its influencer marketing program, recently worked with 29 external influencers for its 2019 SAPPHIRE NOW conference. This included co-creating content pre-event, such as an infographic on the five neighborhoods of IoT that featured influencer perspectives on each one. Prospects spent an average of five minutes on the infographic, which is rare according to Demand Gen Report research that shows most buyers (54%) spend less than five minutes reviewing infographics.

In addition to creating content, SAP works with influencers to help humanize its brand and executives. According to Ringham, the company partners its executives with influencers for on-camera interviews, as well as short, fun Boomerang clips. One Boomerang, in which SAP CMO Alicia Tillman and Thulium CEO and B2B influencer Tamara McCleary celebrate the 30th anniversary of SAPPHIRE NOW, racked up 17,000 views.

“I try to humanize our executives at these events, so besides doing some interviews, I’ll say ‘Here’s an influencer; let’s do a Boomerang,’” said Ringham. “We have one executive who is very buttoned up and formal. But I asked her to do a Boomerang and she said, ‘Only if I can belly dance.’ So, we have this clip where she’s doing a quick belly dance with an influencer. It’s all about building brand awareness and doing these marketing tactics that humanize people.”

Over 30,000 people attended SAPHHIRE NOW, yet 20% of all social buzz was driven by nearly 30 influencers. As SAP, GumGum and Merkle have discovered, influencers and personalization are powerful tools that can enhance brand awareness, build trust with buyers and boost ROI.

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