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Laws of Audience Attraction Series: Digital Marketing 101

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Stacy O'Connell
Stacy O'Connell

VP, Strategy

Freeman XP

Your digital starter kit: best practices for using digital to gain event attendees

During last week’s Thinking Thursday event, we gathered industry experts to discuss ideas for solving the elusive audience attraction mystery, which often feels like harnessing a unicorn. The concept sounds sparkly and amazing, but the process of corraling attendees — not just any attendees, but the RIGHT ones — and keep them coming back can feel unrealistic. While it’s tempting to dust off tried-and-true marketing tactics during planning, especially with limited time, staff, and budgets, you’ll reap better results with fresh approaches that go digital.

Between our experts’ astute advice and a lively audience discussion, we uncovered a heap of keen digital ideas to kick-start your efforts. In fact, we gained so much valuable insight that we’re posting the findings in a three-part series to arm you with ideas.

To start, we have a collection of digital primer tactics to set your program in motion. Learn from industry experts (and our Thinking Thursday panelists) Jenn Heinold, senior vice president of events for Access Intelligence, Meghan Jackson, events marketing manager of Infocomm, and Kevin J. McCourt, Sr., senior director of business development for the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP).

Bounce back ads

According to eMarketer, increases in digital ad spends will continue to rise. In fact, digital ads surpassed TV advertising for the first time in 2016. With more budget against digital, the stakes get even higher for marketers seeking performance and results. If you’re hoping to stick with unpaid social posts and generic email blasts to drive audience engagement and conversion, think again. Aspire to become digital marketing experts to prime your event for the future and grab more attendees in the process.

Our panelists confirmed these projections, noting their digital budgets have all increased, with tactics including paid social media advertising, online ads, retargeting, and other advanced digital methods (stay tuned for Digital 201!). In addition to standard online ads, retargeting (or re-marketing) is an online advertising method that gets your brand in front of bounced traffic following exits from your website. According to AdRoll, generally 2 percent of shoppers will convert on a first visit to an online store; retargeting brings back the other 98 percent.

Meghan Jackson of Infocomm uses this approach to target visitors who begin the registration process without finishing. Jenn Heinold of Access Intelligence also has used multiple tactics including audience segmenting, targeted exhibit messaging, and retargeting campaigns tailored for people who unsubscribe for an event by offering new content, webinar information, and white papers to win them back. “We’re applying old school tactics into new digital formats,” added Heinold. “And we’re seeing positive results with conversions.”

Getting Attendees Involved in the Content Mix

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Social butterflies

Social media remains a solid digital foundation tactic, but putting paid support behind your posts will add heft and deliver results. ACRP uses paid Facebook ads and has increased campaigns on LinkedIn by creating sponsored posts as well as InMail messages targeted to attendee interest or industry position. Heinold has also increased Access Intelligence’s paid Facebook ads, which are showing conversions — previous unsponsored posts no longer worked alone. Currently, the team uses a mix of ads featuring static images and video, which netted conversions. They also tried Facebook Live for a recent keynote session with positive results.

You’ve (still) got mail

Email campaigns remain top of mind — but to get to the top of your audience’s inbox, craft messages with targeted, personalized, and pertinent, benefit-driven information they crave. For example, ACRP creates role-based emails that speak directly to the receiver’s individual position and responsibilities. The ACRP email strategy no longer includes partner organization messages to reduce clutter for their recipients, which has improved click-through rates.

Our Thinking Thursday attendees discussed how getting creative with subject lines can drive results. One group tied the subject to a current news item (“ripped from the headlines”) that related to an upcoming education session, while another opted to ask questions such as “Have you seen this?” to drive content submissions for their event. Choosing to send messages from a human with a name versus the organization and customizing the pre-header text in lieu of a generic message also generated positive results. Jackson said Infocomm’s open rates have improved because of a personalized email approach.

Messages with heart

Another way to enhance email is to infuse heart into your messages — cause marketing impacts email with purpose-driven concepts that can drive registrations. For example, Access Intelligence sent out a campaign highlighting Earth Day — for every registration made on that holiday, a tree was planted. Infocomm used event alumni registration data to send pre-populated, customized messages a week before event registration opened, which allowed recipients to update their information and helped the organization maintain a current database — both ideas worked well and increased registrations.

Parting thoughts on gathering tactics

When asked for advice on how to proceed down the attendee marketing road, our panelists offered these points:

  • Establish a great team who can offer varied insights and listen to them
  • Turn data into action: track, check, adjust as needed
  • Set aside money in the budget to try something new; then track the results
  • Personalize to your target audience — by delivering customized value, attendees will reward you with their support and loyalty

It’s time to say farewell to generic, one-size-fits-all messaging and say hello to the new attendees you’ll gain when you refine your existing digital tactics; master new, personalized opportunities, and take chances that could just deliver herds of that elusive unicorn. Regardless of the tactics you embrace, keeping a fresh attendee marketing approach using the latest digital bells and whistles will elevate your event and help it grow happily ever after.

{Read this next: Event Personalization and How Technology Can Help}

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