The last thing you want at a corporate event or conference is visitors.
Visitors turn up, look around, have a coffee and go back to their job a couple of days later with a few unenthused words and a flyer or two.
What you really want are participants; people who are involved physically, mentally and, yes, emotionally with your event. Participants may start as visitors, but a well crafted and curated experience will delight, surprise and engage them completely. By the end, they’ll want to tell everyone about it.
This doesn’t happen by chance, it takes careful planning and thought.
Every event, industry and business is different, of course, and something engaging for one sector may not work for others.
Which is why, before we get onto the engagement tips, we need to talk about your audience.
Understand the audience
If you’ve ever received a spam email, you’ll be fully aware how frustrating it is receiving information you don’t want. Companies who just fire out sales mailers left, right and centre quickly get unsubscribed.
Smart companies, however, send mailers tailored to your needs and interests using preferences previously gathered. They understand who you are, they market accordingly. And it works. According to email marketing platform Campaign Monitor, personalised email campaigns are 26% more likely to be opened than general campaigns.
A great event or exhibition should mirror this level of detail and understanding of audience This level of detail same should be true at your event or exhibition.
Before you start to build the event, answer two questions about the people you want to see there. Firstly: why are they there? Secondly: what
The former seems like an odd question to ask, but in some cases the target participants are not there purely to see you. They might be visiting in between other sessions or meetings; they might be on their way to an educational presentation or product demonstration, particularly at vast conferences or symposia of which your presence is only a part.
Whatever the reason for their attendance, once you know why they’re there, you can tailor the experience accordingly.
New or newsworthy
If you have something fresh, disruptive or unrecognised, bring it to the attention of your participants: make it front and centre. Some events and conferences are better suited to this than others. TechCrunch, for instance, is past master of this – its Disrupt events are almost overloaded with new tech and newsworthy stunts, and it’s news that resonates beyond the world of technology. It may be trickier for, say, the insurance industry to make as big a splash on such a wide scale. But news doesn’t have to mean as many people talking about something as possible, as long as you have the right people engaging. Again, know your audience, and understand what will appeal.
If you can, provide access to a celebrity, a senior figure or thought leader who would normally be beyond your participants’ reach. If there’s someone relevant to your industry who would make an engaging host, speaker or interviewee, sound them out. The Content Marketing Institute, for example, host Content Marketing World every year. In the last few years, they’ve had the likes of Kevin Spacey as keynote speaker, with Mark Hamill in this year. Check out this video of Kevin Spacey’s closing keynote highlights from Content Marketing World 2014. Of course, high profile doesn’t have to mean celebrity; most industries have a rock star guru who can draw the crowds. Get the right person, and it’s newsworthy, too. Even if you can’t, offer something that’s exclusive to the event and worth attending for.
Surprise them - say goodbye to the stage set
Transform the setting while the participants are in it. Kinetic scenery – automated changes of lights, backgrounds and objects – is a powerful tool for building engagement. Something unexpected gets people excited: they want to see what’s coming next. More than that – if you’re going to keep people in a venue all day, you can repurpose the venue around them to pace their experience, guiding them seamlessly from introduction and development to refreshment and relaxation. That’s the approach we took with the Renault Annual Dealer Conference.
Out of the ordinary
In our everyday lives, we can turn information on and off at our convenience. Event participants have come to expect that level of control in a B2B environment. You can’t count on a captive audience: attendees will walk away from an event which gives them the same old, same old.If everyone at an industry event is attending the same exposition, or if clients are attending presentations and launches for a dozen firms, offer standalone events for targeted clients. Invite them into your brand space – an environment which you control, and which they’ve entered on their own terms. Cutting edge technology works well here, as do personalised experiences: out of the ordinary means creating something memorable.
The B2B crowd are time-poor – they’re unlikely to commit to an event out of the blue. To manage this, pre-market the experience, extending the event’s life before their participation. Offering a bespoke invitation extends the experience before the participant’s arrival, and also allows you to ask questions about what they want to see. Their answers enable you to tailor the event toward them. It also helps to think about things they can take away – mementoes of their time at the event. At Cannes Lions, YouTube Beach created an underwater 360 degree video for every attendee. Participants could jump in the sea, swim about on camera, hand over their email address and have the video sent to them. Of course, not all events have the golden sands and blue seas of Cannes in their favour, but the point stands. Participants are more likely to attend, remain and remember something that’s directed toward their needs, and they’ll think well of you for asking and delivering something they wanted.
Live and immediate
Rather than scripted, pre-made presentations, the best events use real people and mockups of real situations, and present your offering in context, as a kind of live theatre. It’s authentic, it’s human, it makes for great streamable and follow-up content, and above all, it’s exclusive. The goal is to make the event feel like something that’s happening, right here and right now and nowhere else. Get your attendees saying “you should have been there…”, and you’ve won.
What’s the ultimate point of hosting an event? You want your participants to do something – to re-engage with you down the line when they’re in need of the product or service you’re actually trying to sell them. It seems obvious, but businesses often neglect the crucial post-event marketing which converts attendees into customers or clients.
Follow-up surveys, social media and newsletter shoutouts and push messages all keep the memories alive, and turn them into practical actions. This ‘post-marketing’ is direct and purposeful – it should bring the event to mind and then provide a simple call to action. Extending the life of an event like this helps with ROI conversations. The more relevant engagement you can offer attendees, the more loyal a base you can build up. It’s so often the little touches that make the biggest difference.
It’s one thing to deliver an event with engaging content, but quite another to deliver an engaging experience at an event. To do that, you need to understand your crowd: who they are, what they want, and what they will need at each stage in the process. Understanding their reasons for attending, as a business, and their responses to events as individuals, will turn your events into experiences.
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