Virtual Event Marketing: 3 Strategies to Drive Attendee Engagement

This is a guest post from Maggie Greene at Pathable Inc.

The modern marketing landscape is focused on building experiences for customers, prospects, and associates—and this applies to events as well.

Increasingly, successful businesses consider events to be part of their overall organizational marketing strategy. In light of this year’s pandemic, however, we’ve seen many in-person events pivot to virtual events.

See how other companies have used email in the wake of changing business plans.

That necessitates taking a more holistic approach to driving engagement among attendees.

Read on to explore key strategies for marketing your next virtual event, helping you zero in on your audience and create engagement before, during, and after.

 

1. Set your stage early.

The most memorable experiences are those that truly engage your attendees. Establish and incorporate an overarching theme inspired by the event, the time of year, or the latest trends in your industry.

Lean into details like color, design, and sound to articulate the “setting” of your event, which is ultimately the environment you’re seeking to create for your event communities.

Culture

As the event marketer, you know your audience better than anyone. You understand what motivates and inspires attendees and what keeps them coming to your events.

When it comes to your event culture, consider the relationships and conversations your audience will respond to most. Is the event culture one of sales (buyers and sellers, like you might see in trade shows and expos)? Is the culture more about thought leadership and education? Or maybe your event is something more niche—specifically catered to a less-represented group.

No matter your event’s unique culture, keep it top of mind in every marketing message you create. This will ensure the expectations you set before the event are carried through to the online experience.

Check out our 7 email marketing best practices for event promotion.

Environment

We all know the physical space and surrounding an area can be a major draw for in-person events, but how does that apply to a digital experience? And how does it affect your virtual event marketing?

Because you can’t entice attendees based on location or venue, you’ll have to get creative. Consider using emotional triggers to create a desirable virtual environment: one that offers networking opportunities, giveaways, and a supportive atmosphere.

You might do this by opening up Q&As, setting ground rules that both protect and encourage dialogue. Most webinar software offers a live chat option, so try utilizing this to make attendees feel included.

Content

Every event features cornerstone content that speaks to the culture, environment, and overall experience you’re trying to build as a planner. Remember to weave in the key themes you established early in the planning process into your content.

Be sure that all speakers, demo leaders, activators, and staff understand how important it is to align around the event theme. Lean on them to reinforce your marketing messaging where appropriate in their presentations.

Take everything you know about the culture and environment of your event, and seize opportunities to augment content with those details. This will help attendees remember the experience. They’ll feel more confident that your event was time well spent, because it’ll be easier for them to bring value back to their businesses.

Context

We all understand the importance of content, but context deserves the same amont of care and attention. Each message should be thoughtfully produced and considered as a piece of the broader portfolio of communications associated with your event.

Each marketing channel (e.g. email, social media, banner ads, etc.) for your company and event should reflect consistency in brand and tone. Consistency in language, color, texture, frequency of content production—all the things that make a brand’s presence unique—will help you contextualize your messaging for attendees.

The better they’re able to remember and understand, through their own contextual lenses, the more they’ll feel naturally inclined to engage with your event, even before it takes place.

Value

Of all the products and services out there, no commodity is more precious than time. Whether evaluating time spent or time saved, people who attend events make an investment and, as such, they’ll expect a return on that investment.

Marketers are taught to lead with benefits in their communications. For events, consider the ways in which value is perceived by the various communities impacted by your event.

Sponsors and exhibitors, for example, find value in business development. Depending on the culture of your virtual event your attendees will find value in both business development and network-building.

2. Pull back the curtain.

The biggest, most successful events may seem to unfold like magic, but there are actually multiple teams at work behind the scenes. As part of the attendee experience, let them in on that action.

Give them a sneak peek at what you’re building for them. Giving away some of those perceived secrets will help your attendees see themselves in the event long before they attend.

Highlight your speakers, panels, and keynotes. Let them know what they’ll be learning. And if you’re doing a giveaway, tease your attendees with the promise of a free gift.

Diversity

Events—whether physical or virtual—draw in a number of professionals. Lock in a diverse group of speakers and panelists from a number of organizations to provide a sense of inclusivity and representation for your audience.

Your attendees will likely not want to see a group of speakers who have similar titles, work for similar companies, and have similar experiences. In fact, 67% of job seekers consider workplace diversity an important factor when considering employment opportunities.

This means your event could be a driving force for change.

Humanity

As modern marketing is focused on building great experiences, it’s important to recognize the most powerful brands are no longer nameless, faceless corporate entities with no personality. The professionals who work there are as human as the people they serve.

Opening the proverbial curtain to reveal what’s behind-the-scenes at your event makes attendees feel like they’re part of your plans.

If you want to drive greater engagement, especially pre-event, lead by example across all your available channels. Show them you’re human and genuinely excited about the event. Give them a taste of what they’ll experience.

3. Tell them a story.

The human brain is wired for stories. Narrative arcs help us retain information and activate senses that ultimately control decision making, actions, and taking risks.

Every good story has a hero and conflict with moments of change, then (hopefully) concludes with a positive ending or valuable lesson.

Your event is the hero, perhaps, and not attending would be a tragedy. Tell them why they matter, build up their connection to the experience before it happens, and explore what they’ll gain by attending.

Give them a part to play.

Invite attendees to lean in with you at every touchpoint of your event:

  • “What sessions are on your can’t-miss list?”
  • “If you could ask one question of the keynote speaker, what would it be?”
  • “If you’re a first-time attendee, what are you most anxious about?”

These are all examples of open questions you and your teams might pose (in open or closed social media groups) to attendees before the event takes place.

Be sure you’ve planned to continue the conversation because, if you’ve cultivated the right culture and environment in your marketing messaging, they’ll be eager to open up and engage.

Personalize communications.

Consumer expectations have evolved such that personalization is requisite rather than recommended for effective marketing. Personalization is often as simple as leveraging existing data to tailor a broader message.

This data can come from any number of sources: your CRM, registration solution, or a combination of both.

Attendees need you to help them along their journey through your event experience. Personalizing communications is one way to assure them you’re paying attention to who they are and what matters to them.

Set them up for success

Recordings of previous years’ event content and highlight reel videos are great for giving attendees a peek at what they can expect to experience.

Proactively inform them how they can plan ahead by sending them emails to excite them for the event, as well as reminders and countdowns.

Additionally, mobile event apps and conference microsites are great examples of technology built for attendees.

Wrap up

While your on-site event marketing may have turned into a virtual event marketing strategy, there are still plenty of ways you can curate a unique experience attendees enjoy.

Consider the culture event attendees crave, the environment they want, as well as the content, context, and diversity they need to feel empowered. By doing this work on the backend, you’ll create an event attendees will be sure to remember.

And for a deeper dive into getting attendees to engage with your emails, check out Campaign Monitor’s Comprehensive Guide to Elevate Your Email Engagement.


Equal parts voracious reader and passionate writer, Maggie Greene is an expert in communication. As Marketing Manager for Pathable Inc, she’s customer-obsessed, results-oriented, and dedicated to celebrating the value of highly customizable event apps and web solutions.

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