Turn A Non-Event Into The Main Event

In my last post, I shared that many small technology companies I encounter use ten and fifteen year old marketing methods.

I described a company whose event strategy consisted of exhibiting at trade shows and conferences where, to generate leads, their marketing and sales teams attempted to lure wanderers into their booth to hear a pitch in exchange for a chance to win a cool gadget.

Here’s the problem…

First, by focusing solely on exhibiting, this company isn’t deploying other event marketing methods (webinars, executive briefings, VIP outings, user groups, etc.) that may be better suited to help them target and connect with their audience.

Second, they sound like they’re not very particular about leads. Are attendees interested in the product or the prize? It reminds me of a guy I know who won a car at a trade show during the halcyon dotcom days. He never bought anything from the vendor but he walked way – I mean, drove away – in an Audi.

Properly conceived, the right strategy and tactics can turn an unmemorable event into a successful tool for engaging your audience.

Put The Horse BEFORE The Cart

Do any of these sound familiar?


We need to do a webinar each quarter

We’ve always hosted a user group in September

Or even worse… Competitor X is doing this, so we must, too

Without having defined goals, those aren’t good reasons to do them.

What is the marketing goal? To obtain sales leads? Garner media attention?

The answer will drive your event strategy.

ISO Your Audience

Once you’ve identified the goal, pick the appropriate marketing events to connect with your audience.

A good way to figure this out is to ask your customers and partners at which events they attend and participate. If it’s conferences, which ones? If they love webinars, find out which ones they’re geeked up about and why.

Similarly, identify journalists and bloggers who cover your space and discover what events they like and attend. Hint: also check out their Twitter feeds.

Oh, and just because your competitors are doing something, that doesn’t mean it’s right for you.

Kickin’ It New School

Today’s companies are funded differently (seed and A round money is lower compared to the money that poured into the dotcoms) so you can’t spend your way to event success. Broadband is prevalent. Smartphones have nearly 50% market penetration. And social media has changed the way many buyers interact with sellers.

Which means there are many more event options – some very cost-effective – to connect with a desired audience.

Webinars and podcasts, when done right, are effective ways to reach audiences. Lower costs mean that you can frequently host them. Your success hinges upon attracting your audience and giving them a reason to listen. Practice and don’t make it a sales pitch. For more tips, check out the how-to chapters in the awesome book Content Rules.

Virtual trade shows take the exhibit hall into an online environment so that attendees can interact with exhibitors regardless of geographical location. However, virtual conferences can suffer from the challenges of traditional trade shows: high costs and an untargeted audience.

Lastly, Twitter Meetups, which are in-person, informal meetings of people connected through Twitter, are another potentially targeted way to interact with your audience.

Think Outside The Booth

If you’re including trade shows and conferences in your event marketing program, do you need to exhibit? After all, it’s a big chunk of change – about $10k per show. (Should you choose to exhibit, Jason Calacanis has a a great list of tips for operating a trade show booth.)

Instead, consider scheduling meetings inside the exhibit building or at a nearby hotel lounge or restaurant with buyers, partners, journalists, bloggers and analysts. Whet their appetite; they’re meeting with many others – often in back to back meetings – so be memorable.

Alternatively, host a happy hour which includes your customer-champions and would-be buyers along with your key team members. It’s cheaper than dinner and less stuffy to stimulate lively discussion. And your customers – assuming they’re happy – can work wonders for you because they can talk as peers with your buyers.

Pre-Market & Follow Up

Regardless of the event, success hinges upon research and targeted marketing to make sure you connect with the right audience or you’ll be stuck with whoever shows up.

Also, make sure you follow through with your new contacts after the event and continue to nourish those relationships.


I want to learn from your experiences – what types of events have you found to be successful or unsuccessful for your company and why?

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