Planning an event can be stressful, especially when your business or brand is involved. Whether you are a professional or a startup company trying to gain exposure and build your profile, events can be an important part of your business development strategy. Even with terrific planning skills, it can be tricky to target your ideal audience and get them interested in your event. Marketing and event experts share their insights on attracting attendees and how to keep them coming back for more.
Focus on Quality
Developing a reputation for producing high quality events is key to driving interest and attendance. Jeff Musson is the founder of North of 41, an organization that connects Canadian and American entrepreneurs in the digital, mobile and social media space. “The secret to running a successful event is to focus on quality,” says Musson. “This means quality speakers, quality attendees, quality programming.” Musson knows a thing or two about running successful events. Through North of 41, he consistently runs well-attended events for entrepreneurs, and he’s got the numbers to prove it: there are over 12,000 members across North America and a network of incubators who participate in North of 41’s Passport program. North of 41 continues to grow and its reputation for being a great place to learn from entrepreneurs and leaders in their respective fields continues to help Musson attract great attendees and speakers: “Once a group organizes a handful of high quality events, the organization will begin to grow organically.”
Identify Your Ideal Audience
How do you find quality people to attend your events? Take the time to identify your ideal attendee. Identify specific individuals within your existing network and think about the abstract qualities a prospective attendee should have. Khaleed Juma, Associate Creative Director at Mosaic, a North American sales and marketing company with over 12,000 field staff members, understands that events are an important part of a broader business strategy. Events allow your target market to learn more about who you are and what you do. “When it comes to attracting a specific audience, I think the biggest success comes from understanding who they are and what their lifestyle touch points are,” says Juma. “What are they interested in? What is their lifestyle like? Are they social? Understanding your audience in that respect is the product of a number of things, primarily focused around their social habits.” Juma suggests that marketers should participate in the process of social listening – using tools like hashtags, Facebook comments and social polling, and other information publicly available through social media — to understand where an audience’s interest are. “The number one place we start is to identify who we are trying to reach. That allows us to understand what’s going to work for them in an event concept.”
Form Strategic Partnerships
In addition to expanding your client base, planning an event can be a great way to build your network and meet people who can help you connect with sponsors, speakers and attendees for future events. Consider partnering with other organizations with similar objectives to help promote your event to their existing networks. Finding event sponsors with connections to your organization or industry can bring more value to the table than simply providing capital: leverage their contacts and experience to reach attendees and prospective speakers through new channels.
Use Social Media
Ask attendees to share your event through social media. If attendees are required to RSVP, register or buy tickets, add the option to share their attendance and event details on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn directly on your registration page. On event day, encourage attendees to share and tweet comments and photos. Creating an event hashtag (keep it short!) helps attendees connect to your brand and each other.
Look At the Big Picture
Identify the outcomes you’d like to see from your event. “We look at an event as part of an overall strategy that can allow someone to interactively learn about a product, which then leads to an online conversation, which then captivates them in a retail environment,” says Juma. “Our biggest success,” he explains, “is when someone has seen something that sparked a moment of curiosity, and has gone online to learn something about it.”
Collecting data after your event can also provide insight into what worked at your event and what can be improved. Sending a Thank You note to your attendees with a link to a survey asking for their feedback is a good way to follow up, get valuable feedback and reconnect. Connect on a one-on-one basis with sponsors and closer contacts, and be responsive to their feedback.
About the Author
Melissa Reiter is a corporate/commercial lawyer in Toronto. Her typical day involves anything from working with start-ups to advising some of Canada's largest pension funds on a wide range of complex commercial and investment matters. Melissa organizes and speaks at events where she teaches businesses and entrepreneurs about strategy and planning. When she was 5, she had the deed to her Barbie Dream House notarized.