Event marketing, although expensive, may be the most personalized and effective B2B marketing channel there is, especially for strengthening business relationships and closing deals. Live events continue to make a comeback as COVID-19 concerns fade. Despite being forced to rely on virtual events and other digital channels since the pandemic began, 94% of event marketers said they planned to return to live events this year and into 2023.
Doug Binder, author of the recent book Gather: The Business of Coming Together, has been an organizer of B2B events for over three decades and knows as much about organizing great events as anyone.
“Live events have been lost for a while, and that’s led to lost value and feelings of loss too. Face-to-face (F2F) interactions at events can be very valuable for strengthening human relationships as you're sharing ideas and experiences or just having very human encounters. Those human moments matter. Serendipity is a very real and valuable thing that can’t be easily replicated virtually,” Binder explains.
Event Marketing 101: Why people gather
Humans want to gather, as countless surveys have shown, because F2F gatherings strengthen human bonds and build deeper connections. Emails and other forms of digital customer engagement are great, but a real-life conversation over coffee or lunch is hard to beat. While people enjoy the comfort of their own homes and devices, they’re also craving social connection and new F2F experiences.
“Gathering together supports personal connection and growth,” Binder says, “because you learn from other people, and you can gain from helping others too.” Binder adds that “humans also have a need for celebration, which might be collective rituals like celebrating a birthday or collectively celebrating business milestones.” Those human moments resonate in memories and strengthen connection, in ways an email can’t replicate.
Binder points to a widespread sense that something has been missing from our lives when everyone does business remotely. Technology, especially remote technology, has made it possible for us to interact in ways we never would have pre-pandemic, when being on Zoom all day would have been inconceivable. “Technology can deliver the sight and sound of real life,” Binder says, “but not that sixth sense of being in a room with other people and sensing the vibe.”
Binder offers an example “If you're presenting in a room in front of others, you can sense if people are getting the message or not, then adapt what you’re saying and doing. You can't sense that vibe so well on Zoom. For me, I’ve missed live events the most, the magical sound of applause and laughter – you feel that stuff viscerally in your bones and in your heart.”
Conferences are places where you can build intentional relationships among your customers, sharing deeply human interactions.
Organizing successful events: 4 best practices for coming together
1. It’s about them, not you. The mistake Binder sees organizers make most often when planning events/gatherings is beginning and ending with a notion about what they're going to do, such as an agenda of sessions or schedule of speakers.
“Instead,” he says, “organizers need to begin by thinking about what the audience needs and wants. As organizations struggle to bring people back into gatherings, the audience holds more of the cards. You need to provide them with a clear reason to come, because they can access virtually.” It’s about their needs first, not yours.
Your events need to have a clearly-defined purpose. Ask your stakeholders and attendees what they want to see and use their feedback to build the event. Collective and data-driven decisions go a long way towards engaging your attendees.
2. Make people feel something. Binder believes the pandemic has “rewired people’s brains and motivations” around life. To succeed at organizing gatherings, according to Binder, “you must put yourself in the audience's shoes. Empathy is a much bigger deal now than it was before the pandemic, because we've all been through so much. It’s not so much about what we say or what we do at the gathering that matters: people largely remember how you make them feel.”
Provide meaningful opportunities for your attendees to engage with one another during the event, because those F2F interactions usually create the most memorable attendee experiences.
3. Give people choice. In addition to a desire for “experiences,” people also want more control of their time and more choices. So at a typical conference, you might have the general sessions, two hours where you need people to be present in order to listen to the leadership team, learn about the product, or watch the demos.
“But after that’s done,” says Binder, “give people options where they can go to the beach or go to a class or maybe have a one-on-one meeting with the VP of product marketing.” Giving people choice drives better experiences and more engagement.
4. Leverage technology. Binder views technology as an important enabler of gatherings. People need the capability to plan and coordinate their schedules, which technology enables, but Binder also champions “the capacity of gatherings to deliver serendipity, surprise, and delight.”
The right tools, including event websites and apps, can help you give your attendees an overview of the event, from what sessions are available to what activities are taking place that week. The easier it is for your attendees to access the information they need to have a sense of control over their event experience, the more likely they are to be satisfied.
In the end, the goal of event marketing should be to make people feel valued, to offer them a clear purpose and a sense of deeply-human connection to your brand. When you do that, you’re also doing great business.