The Event Farm marketing team is getting ready to host an event series. As our CRO, Chad, likes to say, it's an exercise in eating our own dog food. The marketing team prefers to think we're sipping our own champagne.
Either way, we're using our tech to build an event marketing campaign, and we want to share our process and give some insight into how we're thinking about our own events. (PS—we'd love to hear how you're thinking about yours.)
We've got a marketing team of three, and none of us is a dedicated event marketer. Even though our jobs require that we think about event marketing every day, the idea of actually hosting an event has seemed like a huge undertaking in the face of our other responsibilities.
But we've experienced firsthand the impact events can have on building and growing a business, so we wanted to seriously ramp up and expand our own event marketing strategy. A few weeks ago, we finally set a date and turned the idea into reality—and so far, the most difficult part of the process was taking the initiative to just start.
We weren't initially planning to host a series, but we quickly realized that our broader event theme lent itself well to a multi-event campaign. Once we settled on the idea of hosting a series ourselves, I started wondering why anyone would host a single, one-off event.
Yes, more events might mean more overall work. But on average you'll put in less work per event if you do it right. And you won't sacrifice the quality of your events or the impact they'll have on your business. I think the opposite is true—each event will become better because you'll be able to refine your strategy, and a series will build the kind of momentum for your business that a single event simply can't accomplish (unless we're talking about a huge, industry-leading conference like Dreamforce or INBOUND).
Even if you've never hosted an event, planning a series of small-to-medium sized events is completely achievable. Making the commitment to get a series up and running will probably be the most difficult part of the process. Once you've done that, you can go through the steps I've outlined below to make sure you're laying a solid foundation that you can leverage for all of the events in your series—not just the first.
Step 1: Decide who you want your audience to be.
Marketing teams already have established audiences, but your event series will be most successful if you build it around a specific subset of your audience. Whether it's a blog post, an email, or an event, people respond best to messaging and content that's highly relevant to them. Planning an event is so time-consuming that you might be tempted to build them around broad topics relevant to large groups of people. But unless you've got the resources and bandwidth to host large conference, it's better to choose a smaller, more specific group of people and build an event series that is highly relevant to them.
How we're doing it: At Event Farm, we build event marketing software, so our broad target audience is mostly made up of marketers. But a good chunk of our customer base and audience is millennial women, so we're catering our series to them.
Step 2: Choose a broad and timely topic for your series, then break it down into specific subtopics.
Once you know who you'll be talking to at your events, you can decide what you want to say to them. Ideally, you'll choose a broad theme or topic that appeals to your audience and is also timely and contextualized within larger industry or cultural conversations. Once you've defined that topic, break it down into more specific subtopics that'll guide the content for each of the individual events.
Choosing specific subtopics for each event will help you in a couple of ways:
1) The content of each event will be different and fresh. The goal of hosting an event series is not to spew the same content over and over again; it's to explore differnet questions with in the context of a larger topic of interest.
2) You'll be able to cater each event to an even more specific subgroup of the audience you've already defined. This'll help you take a more strategic approach to event marketing, and will make the event experience more relevant and enjoyable for each member of your audience—which will ultimately leave them with a more positive impression of your brand.
How we're doing it: To cater to our audience of millennial working women, we're building our series around the theme of women crushing it at work—and we're calling the series Women Crushing It Wednesday. The theme is highly relevant: it has (unfortunately) taken centerstage in recent cultural conversations that have required women (and men) to defend the value of contributions that women make at work.
But the goal of each event is not to rehash the larger conversations taking place. We want to champion women, give them a platform to share their ideas and expertise, and create a space where they can learn from each other so they can continue to crush it at work. By contextualizing our series within the larger cultural conversation, however, we're drawing on the energy that already exists around this topic, and bringing our own spin to it.
For each individual event, we're choosing a different topic to focus on in order to create content that is more targeted and specific. For our first event, we're focusing on the intersection of community-building and technology—which is still a broad topic, but one that will produce intersting discussion among our attendees and panelists, most of whom work in different capacities in customer-facing positions.
Step 3: Find badass panelists.
For our series, we'll mainly deliver content through panel discussions. Each event will start with a 45-minute happy hour that'll lead into an hour+ of panel discussion and Q&A—so for events like ours, panelists can really make or break the attendee experience.
We're going to write another blog post about how we managed our panelist outreach (which will also include a Q&A with one of our awesome panelists), but for now I'll briefly walk through some of the main things we thought about as we were forming our panel:
1) This is obvious: We wanted to make sure each woman had a proven track record of success so she could share her expertise with our audience.
2) This was more difficult: We wanted our panelists to be similar enough that they could each expertly speak to the event's topic, but different enough that they wouldn't all have the same perspective. We don't want our panel discussion to become an echo chamber; we want to create room for debate around questions that really don't have one right answer.
Step 4: Start creating everything you'll need for event promotion.
When you're creating email invitations and the registration site for your first event, create something that you'll want to repurpose for each of the events in your series. This'll help your events stand together as a cohesive series in the minds of your attendees, and it'll also save you time. For our event, for example, we might tweak our marketing material, but we've set it up so we can simply hit a "duplicate" button within the Event Farm platform and quickly be up and running for the next event in our series.
Also, don't be afraid to create a brand for your events that stands apart from your company's brand. If you're targeting a specific subset of your overall audience, brand your event in a way that will best speak to them.
For our WCW event series, we used bold, feminine branding for all of our event outreach—and it looks nothing like Event Farm's typical branding. We did this to create a more personalized and relevant experience for our target audience, and we still included our logo across all of our event materials so people still know that it's coming from us.
Step 5: Segment your guest list.
We're huge proponents of guest list segmentation, and I don't think enough marketers think through this crucial step. I recently wrote an entire blog post about it, but here's the short version: If you're not segmenting your guest list, you're not setting yourself up to collect accurate or actionable event data, you won't understand the holistic impact your event has on your business, and you're not approaching events as strategically as you should be. (You can read the full post by clicking here.)
Within the Event Farm platform, we were able to set up several specific guest lists that feed into our overall list for the event. This is how we divided it up:
- Public registration
- Friends and family
- Specific guest lists for each of our panelist
Here's why we did it: We will be able to quickly and truly understand the impact our event has on our business. And by the way—we're also able to create more customized event invitations and registration processes for each group on the list.
For this specific event, we're hoping to engage with customers, influence prospects, and generate leads. We already have the contact information for customers, prospects, friends and family, and each of the panelists' guests. Because we have their email addresses, they'll receive email invitations and will go through a more customized registration process. As they RSVP to the event, we'll not only see a running total for the number of registrants, but we'll also be able to see how many people from each segment are registering. We'll know which group the event resonates with most, and we'll have data to tell us who might require more outreach if we want each group to have a presence at the event.
As for the leads we're hoping to generate, we obviously don't have their contact information and cannot send them an email invitation. But for anyone who uses a URL link to land on our registration site—and not an email invitation—a public registration form will show, and we will be able to clearly see how many new leads are making up our total event registration count.
All of this segmented data will not only be useful before the event, but will become extremely valuable during and after. As we check people in, our check-in app will give us real-time updates about how many of our attendees are from each specific segment of our guest list, and the post-event data will allow us to analyze how each specific segment helped us reach a particular business goal.
If you've made it this far reading about guest list segmentation, you're a champ—but it's a super important topic if you want to be data-driven.
Step 6: Send invitations, and immediately start planning your next event.
Go back to the second step and start planning the next event before the first one is over :)
If you want a behind-the-scenes look into how and why we're planning the WCW event series, watch the recording of our webinar, How We're Driving Revenue and Building Brand Awareness with Our Events, Step by Step. We talk about everything from setting high-level event goals to why we think it's so important to segment our guest list—click here to watch.