Last week I was having dinner with David Beisel, a venture capatalist at Venrock in Cambridge. You can check out his blog here. We were discussing an annual event he hosts for some of his stakeholders and he asked me, “What are the most common mistakes companies make when planning an event?” After working with several companies both large and small on their experiential marketing programs, there are several that come to mind. Here are my thoughts on how you can avoid these common mistakes and ensure your event is the best it can be.
1. Make sure your event has clear objectives. You’d be surprised at major corporations who participate in events because “they always have” or “our competition is there”. Unfortunately, these are not sound business reasons for participation and there is often a great deal of wasted money and resources that go into events that yield no return as a result. Its important to have a business purpose to participate in an event, as well as established objectives. Remember objectives should be SMART.
Specific – Be specific about what you want to achieve as a result of the event.
Measurable – You should be able to measure performance against objectives.
Achievable – Ensure your objectives are achievable and attainable.
Realistic – You should have enough of the right resources to realistically achieve your objectives.
Time-bound – Objectives should be accomplished within a predetermined time limit.
An example would look something like this: “We will go to XYZ event to make 320 contacts which we will qualify into 100 leads by October 22, 2009.”
Its OK to have multiple objectives for a single event, but make sure you have a primary objective, and not many more to ensure you are geared for success. The key here is focus.
2. Create experiences designed to meet your objectives. Setting objectives is the easy part, doing the right things to accomplish them is another. Years ago I had a client who wanted to drive brand awareness with new prospects. This is a fine objective (although not SMART) however, they started by inviting only existing customers to a proprietary engagement, so there was no way to meet this particular objective. If your objective has to do with awareness, do things at your event that drive awareness. If your objective is about nurturing relationships with existing customers, do things that will engage and nurture them. One-size-fits-all events are far less successful than highly targeted, activities rich in experiences designed around objectives and audiences. An example here would be an objective like: “Drive understanding of XYZ product to 400 prospects by the end of XYZ expo.” Then, by creating an interactive, hands-on experience (perhaps a kiosk) to demonstrate features an benefits of a XYZ product to target audiences you’ve moved the needle.
3. Measure performance against your objectives. Measurement should always be based on objective, emphasize outcomes over outputs, and drive a culture of continuous improvement. If you’d like to drive sales, measure sales. If you’d like to increase awareness, survey your audiences before and after the event to see if their awareness of your company or product has increased as a result.
4. Do everything possible to generate the right audience. The most important part of any event is the audience. Its relatively easy to get an audience, but attracting the right audience is a different challenge altogether. Relying on show producers alone is fine, but their focus is to deliver as may people as possible to all sponsors and exhibitors. Its a good idea to supplement this with your own targeted activities. Use internal lists, alliances and business partners, purchased or rented media lists, social media, etc. Promote the event by communicating compelling reasons for your target audience to attend. Talk about those things which will activate their triggers and eliminate their inhibitors. What can they get at your event that they really want or need and cannot get anywhere else?
5. Follow up quickly and consistently. This is a big one. All too often, companies go into an event without a plan for how they will address leads afterwards. Have a process by which you will sort and manage hot, warm and cold leads. Establish different communications streams for each type of lead. Assign the appropriate resources to execute against this plan and make sure it happens. If a prospect is at an event looking for a solution and you do not address them, they will fill their need elsewhere.
6. Ensure there is appropriate funding for everything. Don’t run out of steam at the 80 yard line. Make sure you budget for audience generation, engagement at and around the event, follow up and measurement.
7. Invest in activities that offer the highest ROI. No one ever bought a multimillion dollar solution because of a sign at an event. Branded conference bags, toys, pens, t-shirts, etc. do not convince people to buy your product (unless that is what you are selling.) Once you have the right audience at an event, the most powerful motivators are those things that drive engagement with that audience. Conversations, case studies, networking, speaking, interactive workshops are great ways to engage and interact with your audiences. Invest in these things first.
8. Make your event part of a 360 approach. Remember, it takes more than one date to win the girl. The same goes with business relationships. Every event is important, but what’s more important is how you use that event in the overall marketing mix to court your suspects, prospects and customers. It is this cadence of touches and parts of the conversation which drive deeper, more meaningful relationships.