What The Pandemic Taught Us About Event Marketing

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I’ll never forget where I was when I found out SalesLoft’s Rev2020 was officially cancelled. It was early March 2020, and I was sitting on a bench near the Fairmont in Downtown Austin, Texas with Matt Amundson and Shonal Narayan, killing time before making the trip back home. We just toured The Sunset Room for a campaign we were preparing to launch during another tradeshow the same year, SiriusDecisions Summit 2020. As the days progressed, it became clear that these upcoming events would inevitably transition to virtual with stay-at-home orders in place and restrictions around live events forced cancellations across the globe.

The campaign we were preparing to launch was automatically in jeopardy. Just like that. The hours of idea conception, strategy, researching, creating, scheduling, and planning have now become irrelevant. What mattered now was how our team was going to move forward amidst the global tragedy unfolding before our eyes. This was an event marketer’s nightmare.

That’s the thing no one ever warns you about when you’re entering into field marketing. Events can be cancelled in an instant, and your entire campaign can come crashing down.

But it doesn’t have to crash.

As the team discussed a post-COVID approach, we decided to slow down and re-assess our current initiatives while the world began to reset. We re-allocated our event marketing budget to feed into our digital strategy, and we began investing more time into different marketing programs, including our account-based marketing (ABM) strategy.

The Show Must Go On

What could’ve been. The empty ballroom space at The Sunset Room in Austin, TX, one of many event spaces forced to close amid the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Sure, event marketing during the pandemic has become more difficult and tricky. There are multiple virtual events and webinars a week shown on my LinkedIn newsfeed, and the digital space has now become even more competitive. But the event marketer role requires being creative, strategic, and tactical. We have to come prepared for last-minute pivots when something doesn’t go as planned (anyone who’s ever planned an event knows that’s usually the case). This job calls for the need to have a Plan A, B, and C, and still somehow get to impromptu Plan Ds once in a while. The secret was to never show your audience how rocky things were during production, or even behind the scenes. As they say, The Show Must Go On

That’s the same approach we should take in a post-pandemic world. So, in a time when creativity and strategy are more important than ever, it’s important to keep your gameface on, even as we’re all taking today’s climate day-by-day. And, as always, remember your end-goal. Whether it’s to drive brand awareness or demand generation, there are many aspects of events that could become a part of your strategy in today’s world.

Doubling Down on Account-Based Marketing

We decided to sip our own Kool-Aid and used our platform to source the best-fit accounts to target with our core messaging for this program. We found our best-fit, tier 1 accounts and added them into a multi-channel campaign that involved marketing, sales development, and 2 executives with touchpoints spanning over 10 weeks, either via email, InMail, direct/digital mail, text message, or phone call. 

EverString was recognized as a Finalist for ABM Program Of The Year for The 2020 OpsStars Awards.

Our friends at CS2 Marketing helped build this project from a MOps perspective, which really added the strong foundation from the beginning. With automatic triggers, alerts, and reporting, we were able to see what was working for us and what needed to be fixed or tweaked. Amidst the pandemic, we made some minor edits to our messaging and shifted from direct mail to digital gifting.

Our ABM strategy helped us engage many of the same data and revenue executives that had been unresponsive to prior touchpoints. This program provided a blanketed message with a SWAT team approach. So much so that we were finalists on LeanData’s 2020 OpsStars Awards for ABM Program Of The Year.

The Shift To Virtual, Smaller Events

Events that drive demand generation with a low number of high quality attendees have become an integral part of our marketing strategy here at EverString. We’ve started to focus more on appointment-setting events, like IQPC’s CDAO Exchange and Evanta Summits. These events offer a smaller number of attendees than general summits, but they offer great opportunities to network with executive leaders in the space and usually boast that the attendees are actively shopping for or evaluating data solutions.

It’s important to keep everyone’s safety in mind, so we’re steering clear of in-person events and leveraging our digital channels instead. So if you’re looking for ways to drive demand and brand awareness, consider your options in various digital channels. 

In-house, we’ve shifted to virtual events and material that highlight the importance of data quality and features many of the industry’s top leaders, including:

What We Learned

As the initial shock to our daily lives started to die down, we had to come to terms with the level of truth the phrase we all hate to hear held: The New Normal. We’ve found new ways to adapt to this extreme shift in the world and have learned countless lessons along the way.

So what can you take away from pre-COVID19 physical events and bring into your marketing right now?

When I think about what aspects of physical events made them a positive experience with great results, I get a list like this:

1. Thought Leadership

Seeing and learning new tactics from the success of others is always one of the most important aspects of an event. Whether it’s a motivational speaker or other leaders in the space participating in a case study discussion, it’s always good to stay up-to-date on what’s working (and not working) for your peers. When you’re planning the event, choosing the thought leader(s) stems from who you want to be a face for your brand.

From left: Jim Powell, David Ewart, Andy Ruffles, Matt Amundson, and Maria Pergolino at SiriusDecisions Summit 2019 in Austin, TX.

Post-March, as we began to focus more on the virtual side of events, we’re finding our stride with on-demand shows, like our D.R.E.A.M. Webinar series that features discussions about the current shift in the market, and what cross-functional teams can agree on to drive more results in your organization.

We’ve also leaned into roundtable discussions. We invited data leaders from various companies to sit down with our executives to discuss all things data, from how they handle the challenges of maintaining the highest data quality to strategies to improve data quality and predictions for the future.

2. Conceptualizing The Branding

Creating the story behind your brand’s presence at an event is one of the most fun (and difficult) parts of event planning. This includes things like booth graphics and any event-specific content to increase conversions. Doing away with the physical aspect of events means moving even further away from physical artwork and getting used to relying almost entirely on digital marketing.

Now, we’re still creating content and digital assets like helpful guides, a data buyer’s toolkit, and we’ve even launched a newsletter to keep our customers, partners, and followers up-to-date on our brand. We’re constantly updating our blog with our latest updates.

3. Working Cross-Functionally

Working with other teams within the organization is a true testament of how likely you are to drive positive results, and how smooth the ride will be to get there. Oftentimes, we forget that we all have the same overall metrics in mind, so collaborating early-on is the best way to make this work. In the event-driven world, marketing and sales (and sometimes more, like our executive team) worked together to drive attendance to our booth, talk to our sales development team and read our content, schedule meetings with our sales team, and, ultimately, begin and close a sales cycle.

We’ve taken the same approach to our account-based marketing strategy, as well as our transition into appointment-setting events.

4. Fun Happy Hour HangoutsA-Drink-With-Dan-Frohnen-EverString

We all know the daily happy hours, events, and the main performance are the cherry on top of a successful event. In the past, we were able to jam out to live performances and enjoy everyone’s company, but they would not be nearly as fun without the actual crowd. In order to replicate the feeling while maintaining our social distancing, we created a series to mimic the feeling of togetherness – of community – with our A Drink With… series, hosted none other than Matt Amundson.

And these have not yet lost their wow-factor. When I took that list and tied them to specific programs we’ve worked on, I learned that we incorporated each aspect into our new marketing strategy. And we’re still driving similar, if not better, results. Other brands have also done something similar, like the strategy Sendoso kicked into high gear as their customer base shifted from in-person interactions to virtual communication.

This ongoing state of constant change hasn’t been the easiest to manage (and, if you’re like me, the lack of control can drive you crazy sometimes), but it has been incredibly rewarding. I’m definitely excited and ready for what’s to come.

 

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