In-person events have seen enduring validation from B2B marketers. In Content Marketing Institute’s B2B Technology Content Marketing 2016: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America, events were rated the most effective content marketing channel. And, according to our own research, events will be the biggest bucket for IT channel marketing budgets in 2017 (look for our IT Channel Marketing 360 Report coming soon).
With that in mind, we wanted to hear from Lauchlan Senior Account Manager Stephanie Blaisdell. Stephanie has helped our clients plan and drive attendance to IT events of all types and sizes. I asked her about trends in the space, what she sees working and other insights.
What do you think are the key things an IT pro looks for in an event?
I think a big thing they look for is the opportunity to ask the experts questions and have candid conversations. They want to gather information on new ideas and approaches, potential vendors and solutions—within the context of their role and industry—that address their challenges. We’ve also found that an interactive, hands-on element to the event is something attendees value, according to our post-event surveys.
What about day and time—any best practices there?
Days like Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays have worked out consistently in planning events. Mondays are difficult because the work week is just beginning, and on Fridays people are thinking about weekend plans—especially if the event is towards the end of the day and early evening. Timeframe can vary quite a bit, and each timeframe has their place: full-day, half-day or just a couple of hours. Also, it probably goes without saying but you should avoid events on Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings (conversion rates have historically been very poor).
It’s also critical to conduct some research to see if there are any competitive events in that area where there might be overlap.
In your experience do incentives (prize raffles, booze, food, games, etc.) work to bring an IT audience to an event, or is the content and networking all that matters?
Content and networking is definitely critical to getting people to attend events, but the other incentives certainly can help attract people too. If you look at an event from a prospect’s perspective—why would I attend? Does this product or service help me do my job better, make my job easier, bring efficiencies or increase cost savings for my company? The value of the event is in the content, and everything else is sort of gravy. Which isn’t to say that people object to most things offered to them for free (unless in the case of certain public sector professionals where incentives are actually off limits).
Now the really important stuff: Do you see trends in the type of food and/or booze IT pros prefer?
Craft beer along with a nice selection of spirits seem to be really popular and go over well with the tech crowd. I think that casual fare like finger foods and appetizers are simple and light, and generally enjoyed by everyone. They also help to structure the event and encourage people to mingle and ask questions as they network. Then again, who can say no to foie gras and a glass of Sauternes?
What about gift incentives? Any standouts that you see drawing an IT audience?
IT pros actually seem to like less expensive items just as much as higher-priced tech gadgets. I think it’s because it’s sometimes more about value than the overall price. For instance, a nice metal tumbler might be more appealing because you can get a lot of use out of it (home or office), rather than possibly receiving yet another tablet or activity tracker that might just end up collecting dust or be re-gifted. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t splurge. There are a number of great sites that have the latest in innovative products from virtual reality headsets to solar panel chargers to 3D printers. When in doubt, you can’t go wrong with Bacon of the Month Club (no, seriously).
What kind of venues are working for IT events right now?
Venues can vary depending on the type of event you want to hold and the specific requirements. We’ve seen great results from sports complexes, hotels, restaurants, demo centers and industrial/loft spaces. Important factors to consider are the anticipated number of attendees, room setup, any particular AV needs, cuisine and the general location. Depending on where you want to hold the event, factors like accessibility and easy parking are definitely aspects that might have an impact on attendance. Try to make it easy for people to attend and not give them reasons not to.
Is there a magic number for amount of emails and total touches it takes to meet registration goals?
There is no magic recipe so to speak, but one of the most important parts of promotion is the list you are using (list quality > list quantity). They should be people that have engaged with you and are familiar with your company’s offerings. Events that target net-new prospects can be very challenging since events are typically more of a mid- or down-funnel activity. It also certainly helps to add in other tactics like direct mail and social posts (paid or organic) for increased visibility of your event to your target audience. To summarize, it can take as many as 8-12 touches in several formats to meet registration goals… with a quality list.
What are some of the best ways to follow up with event attendees?
Following up with attendees (and sometimes registrants) is very valuable. This could be through email for its low cost and efficiency, but sometimes direct mail or following up with a friendly phone call can be beneficial to further the discussion. And it doesn’t have to stop at one touchpoint. As we know, the buying cycle for IT can be as long as 9-12 months, so continue to be helpful to them by providing more information and content through marketing automation and lead nurture over a longer period.
Is there a sweet spot as far as when to follow up?
Generally, we like to wait about 2-3 days before following up. A few days will give them time for the subject matter to resonate, but also soon enough to keep you top of mind. By including a survey about the event in the follow-up you can also gather some helpful insights for future events—perhaps in exchange for a valuable piece of content. After the initial follow-up, future emails should be behavior-based and driven through an automation program.
If you could make one recommendation to IT marketers planning events, what would it be?
Give yourself the time you need to plan, scope, budget, develop creative, launch and promote. Sometimes there are constraints with timeframes and budgets, but not having the runway you need can end up being a significant waste of time and money. Like most people, prospects want to be able to schedule things in advance, and last minute events will end up at the bottom of the list of priorities. Give yourself at least 6-8 weeks to promote, at a minimum. This way, you will also have time to make some changes if you aren’t seeing the registration results you want.
Awesome. Thanks, Steph!
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Pete Fuduric is Content Director at Lauchlan. You can email Pete at firstname.lastname@example.org.