How to reset your attendee acquisition amidst a crisis

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By Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes, chief marketing strategist at mdg

Over the past couple of months, the world has changed in significant, unprecedented ways. As such, the approach to building live event audiences must change in significant, unprecedented ways. While no one knows exactly what the aftermath of the global COVID-19 pandemic will mean for the events industry, we expect to see two competing sentiments: lingering concerns about travel and mass gatherings and a pent-up demand for the commerce and community associated with live events. The event strategists at mdg have been providing ongoing guidance to producers of trade shows, conferences, meetings and corporate events about how to approach the necessary shift in planning, marketing and communications. Here are a few highlights.

Start the strategic planning process anew. Without a current strategic plan in place, there will be a temptation to simply pick up and adapt what was done for your last event, and a good chance that you’ll miss both the opportunities and the threats associated with today’s new reality. Use the SWOT analysis framework and perform the exercise cross-operationally, not just with the marketing team. Ask yourself how the audience your event serves has been affected and how your approach to database development and marketing may need to adapt accordingly. Are certain geographic regions impacted more than others? Are segments of your audience still under travel restrictions? What new partnership opportunities might exist? These are just a few of the many considerations that will help shine a light on the path forward.

Similarly, adapt your tactical plan, as needed. Ensure you are basing your tactical plan and marketing spend on your current strategy, not what was in place pre-COVID-19. The personas and customer journeys you created became outdated virtually overnight. Your content marketing strategy did too, as the information you need to engage participants and address their key pain points has changed. Objectives, budgets and even the resources you are using to deliver need to be rethought. For example, digital marketing is going to be more critical than ever before. Automation, smart campaigns, performance modeling, agile marketing—these are no longer sexy marketing buzzwords. These are the concepts that will make or break your next campaign. So, if you’re trying to execute a digital campaign with anything less than an A+ digital team or if you’re trying to piecemeal together solutions from a variety of disparate vendors, it’s time to consider a new approach.

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Rethink your brand voice. For far too long, event marketers inundated their audiences with sterile listings of show features (net square feet of exhibit space, the number of sessions offered, the number of attendees anticipated, etc.) in an attempt to appeal to the logical side of their brains. In doing so, they forgot about the importance of emotions in decision-making. There’s never been a better time for event producers to retool the essence of their brands, injecting more empathy, kindness and authenticity into their communications. Spend some time identifying what some of the key emotional triggers that are driving your prospects might be—a need to join with their tribe, a fear of becoming irrelevant, a desire to be inspired or a passion for their profession, etc.—as a way of making a more compelling case for action.

Finally, consider a hybrid event. While it’s hard to totally replicate the face-to-face networking, spontaneous exchange of ideas and overall sensory experience associated with a live event through an online one, savvy event marketers should be adding virtual components to future events. Coordinated as a combination of in-person meetings and virtual presentations, a successful hybrid event blends these elements seamlessly to expand reach and engagement, tailor content to the audience, create memorable experiences and collect valuable data.

Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes is the chief marketing strategist at mdg, a full-service agency specializing in growing attendance for live and virtual events. Founded in 1977, the 110-person event marketing and PR agency has offices in Atlanta, Chicago, New York City, Southern California, and Washington, D.C. Hardcastle-Geddes can be reached at kimberly@mdg.agency.

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