A Guide To Maximising Your ROI For Events And Exhibitions. In my 30-year career I’ve been involved in literally thousands of events; designing and delivering them, exhibiting, speaking or even just attending them as a delegate.
I’ve attended many great events, some good events and even the odd bad event, but one of the things that always surprises me is how little effort a business puts into leveraging events for the benefit of maximising their reach, amplification and engagement. Most people have an expectation that by simply purchasing an exhibition space or securing a speaking slot for an industry event they will guarantee more business, and then end up disappointed when their pipeline isn’t creaking under the weight of new prospects.
But the effort required to maximise your participation at an event starts months and months before the event actually takes place.
PRE-EVENT – START EARLY!
Whilst some events occur opportunistically along the way, most events these days are advertised up to a year in advance. This means the event is often on the radar of your business months ahead. Yet a lot of organisations leave it until just 2-3 months beforehand before committing to it, often to save cashflow.
This, however, counter-productive and my strong advice is don’t do this.
At the start of your fiscal year, determine what your event budget is going to be, define what you want your event strategy to deliver (whether it’s to raise your profile, assert your voice of authority, disrupt your audience, exhibit your latest value proposition, launch a new product, add to your pipeline etc), identify the key events that will support your strategy – and then select and commit to them straight away!
The advantage to this is that most events will promote your involvement from the outset, giving you several months of ‘free’ multi-channel advertising (which, these days could well deliver an ROI before the event actually takes place). If this isn’t part of the agreement, negotiate; most event organisers will be more flexible at the beginning as they will want to get some early adopters on board. Because of this, you might also be able to negotiate on price, or ask for add-ons as part of the deal (Note – a lot of businesses leave such negotiations to much nearer the event, but this is a false economy; if the event is selling well (in tickets or sponsorship), the organiser is unlikely to be as flexible on price or additions. And if the event isn’t selling well and you’re being offered knock-down prices or add-ons, do you really want your brand to be associated with it?).
As part of your pre-defined event strategy you will already be aware of the types of organisations that have attended previously, and also identified your target audience down to who in each company you are specifically targeting (that is, the name and job description of your target prospect). You should then connect with the individual (not the company) on social platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and/or Twitter. This way, they will see any of your promotions around the event without you being too intrusive.
Once you have done this you should have a marketing campaign producing weekly content that is aligned to either the overall theme of the event, the nature of your exhibition or the topic of your speaking opportunity. In addition to conveying your key business messages, your marketing content should also signpost your attendance at the upcoming event. Use the event-specific hashtags where applicable, alongside your own unique hashtag. This way you can track engagement levels; who is commenting on the event, acknowledging your participation in it and also who else might be attending.
Provide something of value for free to your target audience in the run up to the event. This could be a series of compelling downloadable 101 Guides, Top-Ten-Tips e-books or themed White Papers that are aligned to the event (and most importantly, also addressing your target audience’s needs). Signpost that the final edition in that series of downloads will be made available exclusively at the event in order to encourage people to visit your stand, or to approach you during your attendance.
All through your marketing campaign you will have calls to action (in your social feeds, at the foot of your e-books and white papers, and on your website, etc), suggesting businesses drop by to see you at the event, or better still book an appointment to meet with you. Suggest that you are in demand so they should book early to avoid disappointment. At regular intervals signpost that spaces are filling up!
Work with the event organisers! You have effectively signed a partnership agreement with them so it’s in both your interests to promote the event and your participation in it. In effect, they will become an additional marketing channel; make sure they Like, Re-Tweet and Share your content on their own social channels, or ask if your related blogs or videos can be hosted on their website. Often, they will produce event-specific graphics featuring your brand, logo or Speaker profile. If they don’t – ask them. Remember, it’s in their interests to provide you with collateral to help you promote their event.
Don’t forget your existing clients either. Involve them in the countdown, share the marketing collateral with them through your existing client distribution channels (Newsletters, Client Briefings, Direct Mailings, etc). If you are speaking at the event, invite them along to hear your thoughts, views and opinions – remember, it’s easier to upsell to an existing client than it is to acquire a brand-new customer.
AT THE EVENT
Have a plan for the day. Be clear about which sessions you are attending, which networking areas you will focus on, where you want to be at coffee breaks etc. If your budget allowed, and you were provided a list of attendees in the run up to the event, you will have highlighted all those that you wished to speak with. Focus on getting to as many of those people as possible.
If you are exhibiting, you will have perhaps identified the businesses (or better still, people – remember, specifics!) attending that you want to meet. You will have hopefully engaged with them via social channels in the run up to the event, so you have ‘social’ permission to approach them at the event and engage.
DON’T TRY TO SELL!
If you are overtly salesy you will simply drive people away. Whether you’re exhibiting or presenting make your engagement informative, interactive, fun and sales-free. If you are delivering a presentation or speech never begin by talking about yourself or your company. Instead, focus on providing education and information – address your prospects’ key needs/industry problem and share your solution or opinions on the matter. If you must, talk about you or your company only in the closing few minutes. You will come across as knowledgeable and confident. I have seen people give keynotes where they don’t even mention the name of their company or what they do throughout the entire presentation, and then walk off stage to a queue of people wanting to talk to them. This is simply because they focused on only providing value to the audience. Your goal in attending any event is to engage new prospects, establish a rapport and then gain their trust and their contact details so you can follow up afterwards. It is not to deliver a 20 minute salespitch whilst standing in the queue for the buffet – or worse still, the toilets! Captive audiences will find a way to avoid you as soon as they think they are being sold to.
After the event has come and gone and once the dust has settled (say, no sooner than two days later but certainly not longer than a week), you should reach back out to the list of contacts you have collected. Start by asking how they enjoyed the event or thank them for stopping by your exhibition stand. If you can, offer them one final piece of exclusive content that is educational or informative. Invite them for a coffee (or lunch or dinner, depending on your strategy and budget) to explore how you might collaborate further together for mutual benefit. Position the next meeting as a further exchange of ideas rather than a sales pitch. Make it clear you value their opinion.
Avoid automated mailings! Personalise the exchange where you can. Make short notes about such meetings on the business cards you’ve been given and then write them up afterwards. This means you can drop in specific details about the meeting, which gives the impression that you gave your prospect your full attention.
Throughout all your marketlevel exchanges – social channel feeds, marketing content, downloads and calls to action, exhibitions, speaking slots and networking – remember you are showcasing the very best of your brand promise. And never forget that marketing in all its forms is about engagement at a human level and that every business transaction is based on an emotional trigger. If you’ve approached your events correctly, you will have come across as professional, courteous, authentic and engaging in all your content. In my experience such an approach will always get you a favourable response to your follow-up email or phone call.