Tech startups on a lean budget always look for cost-effective ways to market their products and services. In-person conferences are often far more effective for lead generation than webinars. Although webinars offer a convenient and cost effective way to reach an audience, they lack the engagement and interpersonal connections that can be formed in a physical setting.
In-person events also give a startup the chance to tailor their message specifically to each attendee’s needs and interests, making it easier to build engagement and education in a way that is specific to their business.
People tend to remember experiences better than facts or statistics, and an in-person event provides a unique opportunity to create a tangible experience that will get people talking about your product or service.
Event marketing is one of the most powerful tools for marketers, allowing them to reach out directly to potential customers and build in-person relationships with current ones. However, planning an event can be expensive and time consuming. Fortunately, there are several strategies that can help startups maximize their return on investment while keeping a lean budget.
This blog post discusses some of these tactics to help make your next event a success.
Event ROI 101
As a startup company, it’s important to plan events by beginning with research. Consider your target decision maker persona (MQL/SQL) and identify events that they typically attend. Look at the potential ROI for the event based on the total investment (costs for space, logistics, promotion, on-site staff, travel). Does it make sense to go halfway around the world for one week when a similar, but smaller event is within driving distance? Set a ROI expectation for each event, including expected leads (MQL, SQL, and closed won net new leads).
Is It Right for Me?
Any new event for your company is always a gamble, but you can reduce risk by knowing more. An event that has been running for a few years will be able to give you an event report after each one of those events. In addition, I ask for the exhibitor and attendee lists from the last event (company, job title, geography) from the event organizers. This list helps me make a decision with the sales and management team about whether enough of our audience is present at the event. In event marketing, effectively reaching your target audience is crucial.
Big Big and Bigger Events
Is a big event like MWC, WebSummit, GITEX, or CES the best fit for a smaller startup? We prefer focused industry events that are shorter and more concentrated on the technology and issues that the startup is focusing on. We do that because we know exactly who is going to attend.
For larger events, the focus and technology at the event tends to run wide to capture the big 100,000 plus attendees that they need to make the event a success. A small or medium startup will have a very hard time cutting through the noise to get noticed. The established brands and groundbreaking tech will capture the attention of the media, investors, partners, and potential customers. Going small at a big event is also challenging.
Our recommendation is to first visit the event as an attendee with a biz dev lead, try to set meetings, talk to vendors, talk to attendees, and network. Talk to the show organizers on the last day to discuss your potential participation for the next year to see what options they have available for you. Some large tech shows also cater to startups, like WebSummit, MWC, and GITEX, with dedicated startup areas, speaking opportunities, and heavily discounted participation costs.
Smaller, more targeted events may also provide good opportunities for event marketing, as they tend to be easier to evaluate and offer valuable networking and speaking opportunities.
Moving Forward with Your Selected Event. What’s Next?
Once you have the event for your schedule, you need to create the plan for it along with a comprehensive budget, setting realistic goals and objectives, deciding on the type of event participation (exhibit, speak, activation, sponsor, dinner for leads, dinner for customers, meetings nearby), and marketing assets to promote your participation in the event.
They should also have a promotion strategy in place to attract attendees and prepare an agenda to ensure everything runs smoothly. They should include thoughtful details such as memorable giveaways and activities to make their event stand out from the competition.
A great event marketing strategy is to use the event as a product launch with a press release, media outreach, and an in-booth launch party. The product launch party should be designed to attract potential customers, media, partners, and create buzz around the product.
The budget for the event should include costs for venue rental, catering, entertainment, decorations, giveaways, branding, marketing, sales assets, landing pages, online promos, equipment rental and promotion. Giveaways should be something that attendees will remember long after the event is over; this could be branded t-shirts or mugs, souvenir photo prints, or even custom fun giveaways like rubber ducks and socks. We prefer smaller things that are easy and cheap to store, ship, and get rid of. If you want bigger items then reserve them for VIP booth guests, like the top qualified leads.
The budget needs to be flexible enough to include Plan B items when Plan A items don’t work out. If one thing is true of any event, it is that something always goes wrong. The last time a Chinese satellite burned up on reentry to Earth, causing an airport closure in Lisbon (yes, actually), it certainly wasn’t on our schedule, but we had to deal with traveling staff stuck at the airport regardless (rental car anyone?).
Manage the budget like a hawk. There are nice-to-haves and needs, prioritize the needs and then work down to the haves. Question all requests to ensure that they fit, and if they don’t but are needed, that’s your argument to management for more budget. Don’t forget to book flights and hotels as soon as possible to save money and ensure you have someplace convenient to stay. For larger clients, we prefer being close to the hotel or having a reserved shuttle from the hotel to the venue and back when the staff is all at one hotel. Reach out here to discuss how we can get you prepare for your next event.
Promoting Your Presence at the Event
To promote the event, startups can use email campaigns, social media ads and word-of-mouth marketing to reach their target audience. Additionally, they can create personalized invitations with custom URLs that direct people to a registration page where they can sign up for free or discounted tickets to attend the event, which many event organizers will provide to startups.
As part of your event marketing strategy, reach out to your SQLs and customers that you will be attending the event and take the opportunity to meet them there face to face.
By thoughtfully planning ahead of time and creating an engaging environment on launch day with plenty of food, drinks and fun activities for guests to enjoy—all wrapped up in an experience that’s unique enough to capture attention—startup companies will have created a memorable event that’s sure to leave attendees talking about their new product long after it’s been launched.
Continuing the Conversation Post-Event
Follow up as soon as possible on any leads generated by the event. The marketing team should send out follow-up emails for the sales team to thank potential customers for coming to the event, set a follow-up call (using a calendly link), and learn more about their offering with a CTA. The lead goes into the CRM, marked with source data, scored, nurtured, and tracked. At the end of the quarter you can then measure the ROI of the event by looking back at leads generated, MQLs, SQLs, opportunities, and closed (won/lost).
Handy Cheat Sheet for Event Marketing Success
With thoughtful planning ahead of time and engaging activities on launch day, startups can create a memorable experience that will leave attendees talking about the startup’s new product long after it has been launched.