As we enter year three of a global pandemic that upends plans from one minute to the next, marketing events remain a highly challenging endeavor. We thought vaccines would bring us back to normal by 2022, but once again, we find ourselves resetting our expectations about event outcomes at this moment. Maybe we won’t see the pre-2020 crowds just yet, but they’re coming, and maybe we do need virtual aspects of our events as much as we value the in-person connections. So now, we ask ourselves as marketers in these constantly uncertain circumstances, how do we convince our audiences to move forward with us?
By adhering to three basic principles of marketing communication, we can execute flexible strategies that forge trust in our brands and speak to the unique needs of our audience members.
Trust is the most important element we can have with our audiences. There is no price on its value. Understand that no one is expecting perfection or expecting things to be just as they were. You don’t need to pretend that everything is working seamlessly or hide the challenges you face.
Your marketing messages should:
- Set expectations appropriately. Openly explain what you can and cannot do right now.
- Convey your commitment to your audiences’ health and safety. Show how you are doing that in person and through virtual channels.
- Acknowledge that situations change rapidly and that you will keep your audience up-to-date on changes that may arise, no matter how big or how small.
- Over-communicate rather than under-communicate.
Your marketing plan should be built to adapt as speakers or exhibitors commit or pull out. Use appropriate spokespeople such as organizational leaders to humanize the communications.
Build Lasting Relationships
For many years we slowly edged away from the outdated concept that events occurred in silos outside of the universe of the rest of the business world—one where registration opens, marketing strategies are executed, the event takes place over a series of days and then we take a break before repeating the cycle. COVID accelerated that journey toward embracing a content marketing mindset that allows us to develop ongoing relationships and connections with our audiences. And here’s an exciting development: Now we can truly establish ourselves as the place where business gets done any day of the year.
Approach your marketing strategy from the perspective of “ongoing” and not “begin and end” to develop new experiences that excite and delight your audiences.
- Use new technology to facilitate networking between in-person events.
- Send regular e-newsletters that curate important trends or research.
- Host webinars or launch a podcast.
Segment Your Audience and Provide Highly Customized Messages
Another tactic we’ve worked toward for years is audience segmentation. This is a critically important tool to implement in the current environment. People’s preferences have changed since the pandemic began and they vary widely from person to person right now. Spending time thinking about how their needs have changed and what they really value in your event and then marrying the right messaging with those preferences will earn a higher marketing ROI.
For example, segment your audience geographically. Some people may not want to fly to an in-person event, so segment your audience by region and deliver a tiered marketing approach, pushing harder on your drive-ins than your fly-ins. Consider extending your traditional drive-in radius because some people might be willing to drive an hour or two longer than they would have pre-pandemic. In addition, even more uncertainty exists for the travel abilities of international attendees, so conserve budget by limiting your marketing efforts to this audience for now.
You can also segment and customize content and messages by seniority or by roles within an organization. It might be more important for senior leaders to gather in small groups than entry-level employees to meet in-person for education you could offer online, and procurement teams might really need to view products in person, whereas other personnel could participate virtually.
Despite everything that’s changed, the basic needs remain the same: People still need to trust the organizations they engage with, they need to develop meaningful relationships, and they need information that matters to themselves. Marketing’s job has always been to deliver on those needs and by using fundamental marketing tactics, we can do it in any situation!