For marketing teams that have spent the last two years building up their virtual strategy, in-person marketing events may still be a thing of mystery. After all, event marketing has been nearly 100% virtual for a while now, so new team members may not have experience with in-person events. Even experienced marketing event planners may need a refresher on field marketing strategy for in-person marketing events.
First, though, let's talk about safety. It should be a concern for your team, speakers, exhibitors, and attendees, so you'll need to make sure you take the necessary precautions to make everyone feel comfortable and safe.
Is It Time to Safely Return to In-Person Events?
We are finally (fingers crossed!) on the other side of this pause to everyday life. Widespread vaccine distribution has ensured that everyone in the U.S. that wants to get vaccinated has the option and ability to receive a vaccine. In addition, society has become more aware and conscious of the health risks posed by in-person contact and how to prevent these risks.
We haven't spent the last two years practicing social distancing and disinfecting for nothing, and these precautions can roll over into your event marketing strategy. Asking attendees to wear masks, giving out hand sanitizer as booth swag, and strategically setting up demo stations to take social distancing into account are all ways you can put health and safety precautions in place while still embracing in-person engagement.
Even if you're running headfirst towards in-person events, keep in mind that virtual options are still available. It has become the norm to provide a virtual option for any in-person event, creating a hybrid, multi-channel event strategy. Your attendees will appreciate the option and attention to their safety, and your marketing team can experiment with new and exciting marketing campaigns and ideas.
A Quick-Start Guide for Hosting In-Person Marketing Events
Here is your quick-start guide to hosting an in-person marketing event:
Step 1: Choose Your Event
First and foremost, you need to determine the type of event you're going to host. Unlike virtual events, which can be limited to webinars, Zoom networking events, digital conferences, and the like, there are tons of different events that your team could host. A few of the most popular marketing event types include:
- Conferences, trade shows, and expos
- Workshops, training seminars, or roundtables
- Networking events, happy hours, and parties
- … and many more!
Knowing what type of event your team will be hosting – and sticking to your event early on – will help you determine other critical points later on, like budget and execution. However, one of the most important things to remember when selecting your in-person event type is that your event must fit into your larger marketing goals and strategy.
For example, if you want to host an event for customers to launch a new product feature, a few things need to happen. First, your team will have to do a demo of the new feature. Second, you will need to have a Q&A session for customers to ask questions and learn about the new feature in detail. And third, you will want to celebrate your team's hard work – and your client's new abilities – with a party. While a trade show or conference might not be the right idea specifically for a single feature launch, a workshop, seminar, or happy hour would be perfect.
Step 2: Determine Your Budget
Before you even get into the fun part of actually planning your in-person event, it's time to talk numbers. Having a clear budget defined as the planning process begins will keep your team on task, ensure nothing gets out of hand, and allow your team to measure success easily.
Since it's been a while, there are bound to be things even experienced event planning and field event marketing teams forget about in-person events, such as how dull booth setup day can be. In all seriousness, whether you've been to a million events or if you're starting your in-person event career, there are bound to be a few things left behind.
Here are some key considerations to take into account when budgeting for field marketing event planning for your in-person event:
- Travel and travel expenses: if you will have to send team members to an event, make sure you consider travel, lodging, and food. And, since a best practice is to pay for a customer if they are traveling to your event, don't forget to budget these expenses. Don't forget about miscellaneous expenses that may be charged (or expenses) by stakeholders or speakers during the event. These can stack up quickly (even at local events), so make sure there is some wiggle room in the budget.
- Promotions: sometimes, marketing teams will promote their event through a third-party publication or send promotional materials that can cost money. Some examples of these costs include sending prospective attendees a personal invitation, posting sponsored ads on LinkedIn or Twitter, and paying for an industry list to send promotional emails. These are pre-event costs that, while they might help drive attendees, are also part of other marketing initiatives outside of events. If your team is going to associate the promotional costs with your event, you should have this as a separate line item in your budget.
- Venues: any time you're not hosting an event in your own office space, you will most likely have to pay for venue space. Often these venues include food and drink minimum costs as well, which can increase your budget.
- IT connections: One particularly annoying thing that many conference centers, hotels, or other event host spaces have started to see if there is a charge to connect to the internet. Check beforehand to see if connectivity is a one-time cost or if every person will have to pay separately to connect. If you plan on streaming any of your events, you'll need a robust connection, too. Trust us – these costs add up, so make sure you read the fine print carefully and plan accordingly.
- AV equipment: Another surprise cost that could come up if your team is exhibiting, presenting, or sponsoring a speaking session at an in-person event is AV equipment costs. While many spaces provide things like microphones or projectors for speaking sessions, any 'extra' AV needs may be an additional cost. Plus, if your team has a large booth setup planned, consider the cost of any extra connections, cords, plugs, and the like.
- Customer costs: again, if customers are traveling out of their way to attend or speak at your event, you're going to have to pay their way. Outside of travel expenses, also consider dinners and other costs that come up when customers are around.
- Thank you gifts: If you ask a customer to come to your in-person event to present a session, speak to attendees, or even be at your booth to talk to prospects, saying thank you is a must. The size and scope of your customers' involvement will determine the overall cost of your thank you gift, which could be anywhere from $50 to hundreds of dollars. Ensuring this is a line item in your event budget will also ensure that you don't forget to follow up and promptly send the gift.
Step 3: Get People There
Now comes the fun part! While you're probably thinking to yourself, "Finally!" the preparations you put in place will make it much easier to do things moving forward. One of the most significant measures of success for an in-person event is if people show up. And what better way to get people to show up than to promote a fantastic event!
There are three main areas to consider in rolling out your marketing event planning strategy:
- Inviting the right people. No matter what type of event you're hosting, you want the right people to attend. This means the people who will a) find the most significant value from your event, b) result in a valuable exchange with your organization, such as a new lead or upsell, or c) act as another channel to share your value proposition with others. Build your ideal attendee profile and then target your promotions to these people for the most significant impact.
- Promoting your event. Depending on the size of your event and your ideal attendee profile, there are a couple of different ways to go about promoting your event. If your event is smaller, more personal, or you want executive-level attendees present, then a personal invite is the way to go. Online channels are typically more cost-effective for a large conference or trade show that you want to open up to anyone. And, if there will be other vendors present, make sure they have guidelines for promotion to their network.
- Differentiating your event. After more than a year without in-person events, marketers and attendees alike are itching to get back out there. What will make an attendee choose your event over a competitor? As you're planning your in-person event, any unique or exciting addition (Booth games! Signature cocktails! A magician!) should be front-and-center on the invitation as a differentiator.
Step 4: Plan Your Metrics
Historically, in-person event metrics have been notoriously hard to gather, track, and manage as part of a larger marketing strategy because they are so hard to pin down. This is especially true regarding ROI and the hard and fast 'numbers' in event marketing. Many marketing executives have found it challenging to integrate and understand in-person event marketing in relation to a larger cohesive marketing strategy because the data involved is not so cut-and-dry as, say, the number of downloads of a whitepaper or the number of link clicks on a website.
Just because something is challenging to uncover, however, does not mean it can't be done. Event marketing executives must be fully aware of how in-person events perform to build an integrated marketing strategy and deliver the right results. Here are three metrics every event marketing executive needs to track as you get back on the road with in-person events:
- Brand Awareness: In-person events are incredible for many different reasons, but brand awareness is one of the most important. With the right minds in the same room, your team has the chance to share your story, connect with customers or prospects on a deeper level, and spread your message. Brand awareness metrics include:
- Social media mentions, likes, or shares
- Online and website traffic (including searches)
- Industry media mentions and coverage
- Engagement: One of the most significant differences between live and virtual events is that, during live events, you can have a deeper understanding of how engaged your audience is. Engagement can mean different things for different teams, which is why executives need to have a clear definition of 'engagement' with their team before an event starts. Examples of engagement metrics include:
- Attendance at a booth or speaking session
- Q&A engagement during a session or at a booth
- Live demo requests during an event
- Lead Generation (aka ROI): And now the big daddy metric of them all: ROI. One of the main ways event marketing executives can continue to drive buy-in and support for in-person events is by proving unequivocally that these events drive new leads, help move deals through the pipeline, and contribute to the bottom line. Your team can associate real returns with your event marketing efforts by attributing a dollar amount to accounts or customers 'brought in' by events. Lead generation metrics include:
- New lead or customer acquisition
- Leads moved from one sales stage to the next
- Closed deals with an event lead source
Step 5: Host Your Event
Once the planning is done (whew!), you're all ready to host your event. However, there are plenty of opportunities to continue promoting both the event itself and your brand during an in-person event. As a best practice, try to dedicate at least one team resource to during-event promotions while the rest of the team is busy running the show behind the scenes.
Here are a few ways you can continue promotions while hosting:
- Continue to post on social media, especially if you have a speaker. Post pictures and/or videos with links to relevant content on your website.
- Go live on Instagram, Facebook, or another social platform during the event to give people who aren't there a taste of what they're missing.
- Add a banner or pop-up to your website that takes anyone who visits your website during the event to a virtual page with content, speaker information, and other highlights.
- Send out an email follow-up to people who registered but could not attend as soon as the event ends with a summary of the discussed content and a CTA to reach out for a personal follow-up.
Step 6: Analyze The Data
After the last attendee leaves, the real work begins. Just kidding – but the work isn't over yet. Suppose this is your first in-person marketing event. In that case, you want to have definitive numbers to back up your decisions and recommend future events as part of your larger marketing strategy. To do this successfully, you need to have the correct data available.
Metrics like attendance rate, social hits during the event, tagged posts, etc., are a great place to start when measuring if an event was a success or not. But the number one metric that most event marketers look to (and that executives ask for by name) is ROI. Thank goodness you built a budget beforehand, huh?
By putting a dollar amount on every event impact, your team can accurately measure the total return on your investment (ROI) from your in-person marketing event. And, with this data in hand, your team can make more strategic decisions around in-person marketing events moving forward.
Specifically, you want to analyze these data points to help gauge success:
- The registration-to-attendee ratio was within expectations. Often, not all of your registrations will be able to attend your event in person. As long as the registration-to-attendee ratio was not too unexpected, then you are well on your way to a successful event before it even begins.
- Attendees were engaged and excited about the programming. One of the most significant qualitative indicators that an event is a success is if attendees are engaged with your programming and excited about being there. Look around – if people look bored, are on their phones, or are not engaged in events (such as a Q&A or a hands-on demo session), then things may need to be livened up a bit.
- Your brand experienced a noticeable impact online. One of the silver linings of the past year and a half of virtual events is that most people – aka your event attendees – have learned how to use technology to their benefit. This means that people should be posting online, engaging with your social posts on LinkedIn or Twitter, and even searching out new content on your site.
- Those that couldn't attend engaged with your follow-up content. If for some reason, users are unable to attend, they should still be reaching out to access the content your team shared at the event or to do more research of their own on your website or social channels.
- You achieved measurable ROI. And, finally, the most crucial success metric of them all: ROI. This is the bottom-line number for achievement that will let your team, your department, and your executives know at-a-glance if an event was successful or not. However, the biggest challenge for many event marketing teams is being able to calculate measurable ROI successfully. Our biggest tip is not to wait until an event is over to calculate ROI. Instead, put technology in place to capture ROI at every step of your in-person event for a more robust calculation.
Optimize In-person Events with Circa
As a leader in cloud-based event marketing technology, Circa is your one-stop shop for all things in-person event planning, budgeting, execution, and reporting. Circa can help your team fill one of the most significant gaps traditional in-person marketing events face: measuring and reporting ROI as part of a larger marketing strategy.
With Circa, your team can have all the features on-hand required by any modern in-person marketing event without sacrificing insights and analytics.
Learn more about how Circa can help your team optimize your in-person events.