Event Strategy: The 2020 Guide
Event organizing ain’t easy. In this guide you’ll find what you need to know about event strategy in 2020—from planning an event, to promoting an event and more!
Event professionals have a million and one things on their plate. They’re determining event goals, building the event website, sending out email blasts, deciding on what type of event planning software to use (if any), making sure event goals are hit—and that’s just the beginning.
The thing is, events are more important than ever. Leading organizations like Apple, Microsoft, The Wall Street Journal, HubSpot and Target all consider events to be absolutely essential to their event strategy. Meanwhile, the average B2B CMO allocates 24% of their event planning budget to events. Organizations who aspire to be at the top of their industry need to invest in their event strategy.
To help you keep track of every stage of the event organizing process, we’ve put together this event strategy guide. In this guide, we’ll focus on 5 critical aspects of the event strategy timeline:
Although this guide is intended for those organizing events, those attending and exhibiting at events will find it to be useful, as well. If you have any feedback or would like to see a section added, leave us a comment at the bottom of the page.
Why You Need an Event Strategy
As we mentioned above, events have never been more important. According to the Event Marketing 2019: Benchmarks and Trends Report, most marketers believe that events comprise the single-most important channel for accomplishing key business goals.
What’s more, the most successful organizations plan on increasing their event budgets in the future, and they plan on increasing their budgets by more than the average organization.
Why? While there’s no simple answer, three trends loom large.
First, the majority of interactions between people and organizations has moved to the internet. While email, digital advertising and social media have made far-reaching communication more possible than ever, they’ve also created a real desire for face-to-face interactions.
In-person events provide the solution.
Second, organizing events has never before been easier. In the early 2000s CRM software (like Salesforce and Sugar) made managing relationships between organizations and contacts easier than ever before. Then, marketing automation software (like HubSpot and Marketo) made nurturing those relationships easier than ever before. Today, these platforms work seamlessly with event management software to make measuring, organizing and growing events easier than ever before.
Third, account-based marketing (ABM) is back—and events are an essential ingredient. Identifying your target accounts or organizations allows you to zero in on the tactical parts of the event (when, where, how, whom) in order to cater to your target accounts. Based on how your events engage those accounts, you can determine the long-term strategy (how many events, attendee size, budgets and resources) to keep you primed for future success.
Bottom-line: Your event strategy is critical to your organization’s growth—and it’s never been easier or more relevant to tackle. Let’s dive into the how.
Planning the Event
The planning stage is arguably the most important. It’s the foundation on which the rest of the event will lie. In this section we’ll look at how you can make a sound foundation possible—from the event types to the event budget to early event promotion.
The first and most important step of your event strategy is determining why you are organizing an event in the first place. To do this, list and prioritize your event goals as shown in the example below.
What are your event goals?
- To increase awareness
- To generate leads
- To improve customer/organization relationships
- To educate prospects
- To educate employees
- To generate qualified leads
- To drive surging activity in target accounts
- To retain customers
- To drive sales opportunities in target accounts
“As much as we’ve changed and improved technology to be able to connect with people, nothing yet replaces real-time, face-to-face interactions in terms of creating new opportunities.”
—Hugh Forrest, SXSW
There are any number of reasons to organize events. It’s up to you and your leadership team to determine what your purpose will be. While events can succeed with multiple goals in mind, having a clear prioritization of goals will help you to better organize, measure and market your event.
Once you’ve identified a specific event goal (or goals), it’s time to make sure that they are S.M.A.R.T. That is, specific, measurable, achievable and results-oriented. For more information on setting goals, check out the SMART Event Marketing Playbook.
Event Success KPIs
Your event goals will then inform how you measure your event. Just as there are many types of event goals, so there are a number of event KPIs with which to measure them. Here’s a list of some of the most popular event KPIs from a demand generation funnel perspective:
- Gross revenue
- Attendee satisfaction
- Attendee engagement
- Cost-to-revenue ratio
- Number of qualified sales leads
- Sales pipeline created
In comparison, when looking at your KPIs from an account-based marketing perspective, you’ll want to surface metrics that show engagement in your target accounts. Each metric you choose should capture the level of engagement. Here are a few examples:
- Registrations from target accounts
- Gross revenue from target accounts
- Attendee satisfaction from target accounts
- Attendee engagement from target accounts
- Qualified sales leads from target accounts
- Sales pipeline created from target accounts
For a more extensive list of event metrics, check out this post on event success KPIs.
“ABM is a big part of our marketing strategy and a huge part of the approach that we take within the event.”
—Nicola Kaster, SAP
Next in your event strategy is determining what sort of resources you have at your disposal to make those goals a reality. It’s time to draft an event budget.
Align with your leadership to see what sort of funds are available to you. Then create a rough event budget— itemizing each element you think you’ll need along with a description, estimated cost, and actual cost.
Your rough event budget could look something like this:
|Item||Amount||Description||Estimated Cost||Actual Cost|
|Microphone||5||Cordless microphones, rental||$400||$600|
Once you have a better idea of the particulars of the event vendors and suppliers that you’ll need you can create an advanced event budget that might look something like this:
|Microphone||Cordless microphones, rental||$600||Mics..com||Frederick Microphone||Frederick@mics.com|
Strapped for cash? You may be interested in what Lloyed Lobo, Co-founder of Traction Conf, has to say about growth hacking an event with no budget.
Understanding your event budget will help you determine the best channels for promoting your event and the best tools for managing it.
Event planning is difficult. Event planning tools make everything much easier. Depending on your goals, KPIs, budget and team size you may be interested in adopting one of the below tools:
- Event Registration Software
- Event Planning and Analytics Software
- Event Marketing Software
- On-site Event Registrations
- Mobile Event App (for attendees)
- All-in-One Event Management Software (includes all of the above)
Whether you decide to use a collection of platforms or an all-in-one event management solution, make sure that your event stack offers important features aligned to your event goals. For example, if you’re looking to optimize for attendee engagement and capturing key metrics, you’ll want to invest in solutions that provide data integrations with other platforms, options for on-site registrations, and a mobile friendly event experience.
For instance, you may want to seamlessly send data from your event platform to Salesforce or HubSpot. In this case, having event software integrations will be key. An integration between your event platform and your CRM allows better visibility into all your prospect and customer activities. The benefit of adding an integration to your CRM is empowering your sales team with more data so they can curate their conversations, messaging, and better align to your ABM strategy.
Below is an example of how Bizzabo can integrate event data from contacts to leads into a CRM like Salesforce.
On the attendee side of the event, first impressions day-of are critical. Having a plan (and contingency plan) for your onsite registration process will ensure a seamless and delightful experience for your attendees.
For example, you may want to review event platforms that have options to build onsite kiosks for attendees. This allows for a faster check-in experience. Additional technical support may be needed on hand in the event of an outage or other troubleshooting issues. An on-site experience also allows you to quickly capture important event data for analysis.
This example below shows Bizzabo’s onsite solution dashboard which includes key data:
- Total number of attendees
- Total checked-in attendees
- Total checked-out attendees
- Total attendees with no status
- Real-time check-ins
Once your attendee has check-in, you’ll want to make the event as engaging and accessible as possible. Investing in a mobile event experience allows attendees to engage with your event and each other in real-time in the palm of their hands. A branded, in-app event experience can add brand equity, drive attendee engagement, grow your event community, and help sponsors engage with their audience.
For example, SEMrush increased their attendee engagement with a mobile experience for their user conference SEMrush LIVE.
We’ve covered a lot of the preliminary groundwork that goes into planning an event. The final thing we have to cover before building out the infrastructure of your event is your event brand. Everything about your event—from the website, to the promotional emails, to the on-site decor and food served should be an extension of your event brand.
The critical question to ask yourself: What is the feeling that I want to convey to my attendees?
A great example of an event with a strong brand is Social Media Marketing World, arguably the largest social media event on the planet. Everything about the event’s online and offline presence conveys adventure and fun. Social Media Marketing World creates a brand consistent with the event experience allowing attendees to feel continuity.
Source: Social Media Marketing World
While not every brand needs to convey adventure and fun, every event should present an experience to the attendees. To not do so would be as remiss as not setting proper event goals.
“Spend your time worried about the attendee. What experience are we trying to create for that attendee? What journey are we trying to create for them?”
—Colleen Bisconti, IBM
To learn more about conveying a strong event brand, check out the event branding guide.
Now it’s time to build your event website. This will be the front page of your event. In many cases, it will be the first thing that prospective attendees and stakeholders see. You will want to make sure that your event website clearly communicates the mission of your event, your brand and a call-to-action that visitors can take. It’s imperative to have a strong white label URL for your website.
Check out how GitHub nails the event website below:
Source: GitHub Universe
Depending on your event, it may be worthwhile to create a pre-event website before you have the rest of your digital event infrastructure built out. A pre-event website can be as simple as a landing page with information about your event.
You can learn more about event website design here.
“Your website is your brand. A website is probably the most important visual identity you’re going to have for the conference.”
—Devin Cleary, PTC
Create an Event Hashtag
Part and parcel of building your online brand is creating a short and memorable event hashtag. Ideally, people will take to social media to talk about your event. Make it easier for them to do so (and to find other fans) with an event hashtag. If you don’t choose an event hashtag, someone will choose it for you and you will end up with a fractured online discourse.
Research which hashtags are not yet taken and then begin promoting it on your event website, emails and other marketing materials.
One common best practice is an include the year with the event. This can be especially helpful if someone already has the root of your event hashtag or if you plan on using your event hashtag in the future.
Below are some examples of great event hashtags
Event Tech Live
|#smmw20||Social Media Marketing World|
Partner, Speaker and Sponsor Outreach
No event exists alone. In order to get the most out of your event event, you’re going to need enlist the support of partners, speakers and sponsors. The sooner you begin reaching out, the easier it will be to spread the word on your event further down the line.
In formulating your outreach strategy first determine why you are reaching out for each potential stakeholder. Some questions to explore include:
- Are you looking for help spreading the word about your event?
- Does their product offering align with yours?
- Are you looking for sponsors to help mitigate the cost of planning event?
For example, Bizzabo partnered with InsightSquared for a virtual fire side chat centered around ABM and Personalization. Bizzabo’s VP of Marketing and InsightSquared’s Head of Marketing co-hosted the event delivering valuable executive insights to other marketing leaders in the B2B space.
To help you organize outreach to potential event partners, create a list of potential stakeholders. Include the name of the stakeholder, the type of stakeholder they would be, the reason that you are reaching out to them, the name of the contact, the contact’s email address and a status on their responses. You can then begin personalized outreach campaigns to start conversations. Here’s an example of what that list might look like.
|Stakeholder||Stakeholder Type||Reason||Contact Name||Email Address||Status|
|James Bond||Speaker||Requested by many attendees||Money Penny||MoneyPenny@MI6.com||Responded|
|Very Cool Company||Sponsor||Aligns with product offering; expressed interest in partnerships||Cool McGee||Cool@VCC.com||Sent|
|Comic Sans||Media Partner||Willing to help promote the event for free tickets||Arial Sans||arial@TNR.me||Confirmed|
“At Forbes, we really try to guide the sponsor experience so that they’re creating meaningful activations that can actually build the event.”
You can find more event partnership marketing advice here.
Launching the Event
Now that all of your event infrastructure is in place, it’s time to launch your event! In this section we’ll touch on all of the bases you’ll need to cover for spreading the word.
Announcement Email Blast
Once your event is live, it’s time to let the world know! Send out an on-brand email with information about your event and a clear call-to-action. You can also use an invitation maker like Venngage to design your own in minutes.
If you already have data on prospective attendees from other marketing efforts, segment your list for best results. (You can learn more about event data segmentation here).
Check out this great announcement email from Gainsight.
For more information on getting the most out of email marketing to promote your event, read the Secret Science of Email Marketing for Live Events by clicking the button below.
Blog Posts and Contributed Content
One of the first things you should create, sometimes before you even create your event website, is a blog announcing your event. This can be featured on your organization’s website, your personal website, or both. You can then reference post with a link whenever anyone has a question about your event.
Focus on the big picture of your event: Why is it meaningful? Why should people be excited?
Once you have blog posts written for your home turf, consider reaching out to other publications for contributed content, or guest posting. You may be able to secure a placement on another organization’s website either through a content exchange (wherein they write a piece for your blog in exchange) or by simply writing a high quality blog post for their blog that mentions your event in passing.
If you are working with other partners, ask them if they are willing to write a blog post about the event linking to your site or if you can write a post for them.
Contributed content is not to be confused with PR, which we’ll cover below.
“I think great events right now understand how to balance good content and substance.”
—Andrea Rosen, Adobe 99U
Publishing a press release for your event increases the chance that someone will hear about it. In writing a press release, focus on what makes your event unique. Is it the speakers? The mission? The topic you are covering? Prospective attendees and journalists may receive Google Alerts depending on the key terms included there.
You may end up writing several press releases for several industries. Various press release platforms offer targeting based on industry among a myriad of other criteria.
If your event promotion budget is limited, consider splitting the cost of a press release with your partners or other key stakeholders.
Below is a list of PR networks. Note that different PR networks come with different price tiers and analytics functions:
Social Media and Co-marketing
Now that your event is live, it’s time to really start promoting it on social media. Devise clever copy and images to draw attention to your event, and post away!
Create posts that focus on different aspects of your event. For instance, one series of posts can focus on the amazing speakers at your event, others can focus on your partners, sessions, discounts or something that makes your event stand-out.
Here’s a great example of a piece of collateral that features Bizzabo’s VP of Marketing:
It will also help to send event sponsorship packets to your partners containing copy, images and promo codes that they can share. To help your partners out even more, segment the materials that you give them by social media network (e.g. Twitter and LinkedIn), newsletter and even blog posts. Each of these different mediums may call for different content lengths and style.
The below table gives you a rough idea of the character count for each medium:
|Medium||Suggested Character Count|
|140 – 280|
|Facebook/LinkedIn||200 – 400|
500 – 1000
Keep in mind that organic social media can only reach so far and so you may want to consider paid social media placement.
You can find more social media event marketing wisdom here.back to the top
Promoting the Event
Your event is launched. Now it’s time to keep it at the top of people’s minds. The event promotion stage is critical for driving registrations and building excitement.
According to the Event Success Formula report, the most successful organizations consider email the most effective channel for promoting an event. Chances are you won’t hear from people after the first event promotion email you send out. Only through continued promotion will you be able to drive registrations.
Since you will be sending out a variety of emails, here are different approaches you can take.
Super Early Bird Pricing: Base Forecast
Speaker Feature: Women In Product
Video: Influitive Advocamp
You can find more exceptional event email marketing examples here.
Blogs, Social Media and Co-marketing
Similar to the launch phase of the event, you will want to promote your event through blogs, social media and co-marketing up until the event date. Don’t forget to plug promo codes where applicable.
Here’s an example of a co-marketing image we shared for our partners at Argyle:
Getting your partners to help you promote your event is one thing. But what if you could get your attendees to help you out, as well? Having a short and memorable event hashtag (see above) is one way to encourage your attendees to talk about your event, but it’s not the only one.
Depending on the event tools you are using, you may have access to a variety of features. For instance, the Bizzabo platform has two novel features that help turn your attendees into event ambassadors.
Social Media Integration: When attendees register for your event, they have the option of linking different social media accounts to their profile. Then, if they want to share anything about the event, they can easily do so from within the platform. (The entry form will even auto-populate the event hashtag).
Ticket Boost: With Ticket Boost, attendees get rewarded for promoting your event. When they register for your event and at any other time up to an end date of their choosing, attendees have the option of sharing a special link to your event on social media. If someone purchases a link through that link, the original purchaser gets a discount. Ticket Boost can also be set-up so that both the original purchaser and the new purchaser gets a discount. The choice is yours.
If you are not using social media integrations or Ticket Boost, there are still many other ways you can turn attendees into event ambassadors. Here are a few:
- Create a special promo code for them to share and track how many times that promo code has been entered
- Offer special prizes for event referrals and track those referrals over the web by assigning each attendee a specific tracking link
- Encourage your attendees to share your event on social media (you can even offer a prize for the post with the most engagement)
For more info, check out these other creative tips for increasing ticket sales.
Last-minute Event Promotion
It’s often the case that there are still event registrations to sell within weeks (or days!) of the event. Fortunately, there are several tactics at your disposal for last-minute event promotion.
Email follow-up: Look through your contacts database and see if you can segment a group of likely registrants and send them an email blast. You may even want to reach out to them individually.
Paid Ad Targeting: Whether through Google Adwords, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, create a paid ads campaign that specifically targets your ideal attendee. You may want to limit this geographically, by industry, job title and other criteria.
Co-marketing (Again): If your partner’s haven’t already done so, ask them to help you promote the event. Make clear how they will benefit from the additional attendees and make it as easy as possible for them to promote the event by supplying them with images and copy to share.
For more info, check out these last-minute event promotion ideas.
Once your attendee has registered for your event, send them a confirmation email. This can be sent manually, through email marketing platforms or through some event platforms.
Once your attendees are registered for the event, send them at least a couple of reminder emails at set times approaching the event day. This is especially important for smaller or free events where attendees don’t have a sizable event registration fee to help them remember. Regardless of the event you’re throwing, you’ll want to send out a reminder email with helpful information a few days before the actual event day.
You’ve gone through all the work of getting people to your event, now it’s time to make sure that everything runs smoothly.
On the day of your event, send your attendees a welcome email with helpful information. This email can include:
- The venue’s address and convenient ways of getting there
- Information about where to check-in
- The WiFi password
- A general overview of the event day
- A reminder about the event app
Event App Adoption
If you’ve invested in an event app, you’re going to want your attendees to get the most out of it. You should start encouraging your attendees to download the app as soon as they register. Once they get to the event, drive home the importance of using the event app through signage and other reminders.
For example, Bizzabo offers a Private Label Mobile App solution for events. Below you can see the home page of an event app for attendees. This allows attendees to easily interact with event content like your agenda, speaker bios, and community networking options.
For more information, check out the guide to increasing event app adoption.
Monitoring Social Media
Depending on the event that you’re holding, there may be some chatter about your event on social media. Whether someone is sharing praise for a speaker, critiquing a particular session or is asking a question about the event, you’re going to want to engage with them on social media.
One way to track event chatter is by tracking the event hashtag or handle.
Below is an example of an attendee syncing their personal Twitter account to their event app using Bizzabo. As an event organizer, you can follow tweets and discussions around your event hashtag. In this example, the event hashtag is #Bizzabo.
Break out session locations change, emergencies come up, people get hungry and want to know where to grab lunch. Email will be your stand-by for sending out event updates, but if your attendees are using an event app, you’ll be able to push notifications directly to their phone.
Early Bird Discount
It’s never too early to start promoting for next year’s event. Try offering an early bird discount to attendees that expires once the event is over. You can see an example of how TechCrunch did this for their Disrupt Series. Here they are promoting Disrupt Berlin event with early bird pricing:
Wrapping Up the Event
Congrats on creating a successful event! Now it’s time to make sure all of your loose ends are tied up.
Thank You Email
Send out a thank you email to your attendees and stakeholders. Your event wouldn’t have been possible without people to attend it and stakeholders to support it. Let them know that. Using email segmentation, launch an email blast for your attendees. Depending on the sophistication of your event software integrations, you may be able to fine-tune email segmentation based on ticket type, sessions attended and more.
You established your event for clear goals. Now it’s time to look over your event data to see how successful your event was. Whether your event KPI for the event was registrations, pipeline generated, revenue generated or simply attendee satisfaction, it’s time to dive into your event planning analytics.
If you’re using event software, you should be able to clearly visualize all of this information from the event dashboard.
Event ROI and Attribution
Whether or not ROI is your main reason for planning an event, being able to attribute tangible results to your event strategy and personalization strategy will be key. There are a number of event ROI and attribution models for you to look into. Below is an example of the simplest model: the first-touch model.
The first-touch model attributes 100% of the credit for a new customer to the first trackable marketing material that they encountered. This likely will not be your event, but it could be marketing collateral related to your event.
Event App Analytics
If you’re using an event app, you’ll want to see how people used your app to determine whether or not it’s worth the investment. There are a few metrics you’ll want to track including:
- How many people downloaded your app?
- How many people used it?
- How many messages were sent?
- How many connections were made?
Learn more about event apps in the event apps guide.
After the event you’ll want to give attendees the opportunity to speak about their experience, what they liked and what you can improve in the future. A post-event survey with open-ended questions is a great way to get this type of feedback.
As an example, HubWeek built a post-event survey for attendees who join their annual fall festival. This allowed HubWeek to capture valuable intel around what event activations worked best, which sessions and speakers resonated most, and what areas were open to improvement in coming events.
For more quantitative data you may want to issue an additional type of survey.
Once event is complete, you’re going to want to know what attendees thought of it. The NPS (net promoter score) survey is one the best tools at your disposal.
This survey method asks one simple question: On a scale of 1-10, how likely is it that you would recommend this event to friends?
- Scores of 9-10 are considered “promoters” who will act as loyal enthusiasts for your event brand.
- Scores of 7-8 are “passives” who are satisfied attendees but are still vulnerable to competitive offerings.
- Scores between 0-6 are considered “detractors” and run the risk of damaging your event brand through negative reviews.
The NPS is then calculated by subtracting the % of detractors from the % of promoters.
This score is a key indicator of how much value your event brought to attendees, which is something all major stakeholders will want to know.
For more information, check out this post on event metrics
Event Strategy: Key Takeaways
If there’s one thing to takeaway from this extensive guide, it’s this: your event goals are crucial to your event strategy.
Your event goals create the foundation for everything—from your event promotions, to your success metrics, to your event brand and more. Having concrete goals will provide the direction you need to proceed with your event strategy timeline and will help you determine the best tools for getting the job done—in 2020 and beyond.
Here are our key takeaways when planning your event strategy:
- Identify your event goals
- Procure event technology aligned to those goals
- Determine the event metrics that will help you reach those goals
- Create a consistently branded event journey online and offline
- Find the right partners and sponsors to enrich your event
- Curate your event content for an engaging experience
If that means leveraging out-of-this-world event software, we’re here to help. Click the button below to connect to a product expert and discover how Bizzabo can take your event strategy to the next level.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on December 13, 2019 and has since been updated.