Mark Masters offers some home truths about content-driven event marketing.
While creating, curating and taking the lead with events is the perfect opportunity to cement relationships and build a sense of realism (people get to see if you can walk the walk), it is also probably the hardest medium to make a success. You are doing the doing, and people are watching in real time.
Getting people to come to your event is hard. This is the most transparent thing you will ever make that leap into. You can tell everyone that you have huge monthly subscriber rates, massive website views each week and an abundance of email enquiries, but who is to know? When you make something physical, you look like Popeye or Homer Simpson.
My monthly You Are The Media Lunch Club and the You Are The Media Conference in May are two projects where people come out from behind the screen and spend time together. I love every minute of it. But to get to a point where you understand why people come, there has to be a reason why people don’t come. Let’s look at why people won’t come to your event.
These are the moments when you’re looking over the precipice and about to make that call to cancel an event and go back to the drawing board. What you have created could be the most insightful time someone spends with you, but the reason people won’t attend has nothing to do with the depth of knowledge of the subject matter, it’s a lot more personal than that.
Let’s just say that it’s not them, it’s you.
Setting the scene
Just because you have the technology, doesn’t mean that you are going to see the return (sign-ups, purchases and attendees). Just because you can do an event, doesn’t mean that you should. While it’s straightforward to set up an Eventbrite page for a seminar at a local hotel or put a date in the diary for the afternoon webinar, it doesn’t mean people will show up.
Before I committed to this side project that is You Are The Media, I was scratching around with ideas to bring people together. There were one-offs where I hoped people would come and spend a few hours in a seminar format or, in a much looser description, a talk. While the promotion around it looked pristine – printed flyers, some social advertising and looking to build word of mouth around clients and their network – nothing much materialised.
It’s only by seeing what didn’t work, to what seems to be building momentum in the offline space, that I can offer some form of insight into why people won’t come to your event.
We live in a world of expected gratification and acceptance, where likes and followers represent some added element of personal reward. Popularity from strangers in an online place is easier to cling to rather than looking to make things live and direct in a physical space.
OK, deep breath. Let’s share these seven hard-earned lessons with you. It’s not just what I have taken in, but from asking others, too …
It’s not them – it’s you!
When I started my business in 2007-08, I was a sponge for free events. Anything from the “7 simple tricks you are missing to gain new customers” to “how to master your website as a relentless lead generator”. It was my way of being in touch with what was happening and it cost me nothing. However, the more I participated, the more I could see these types of events cropping up.
The thing was, while the attention-grabbing headlines of the seminars were there to pull me in, it was never about providing value, but a way to fast-track me to buy from a stranger.
If you create something where the intention is to sell a product or service quicker than you can say “free 30-minute website audit”, you’re never going to win. There has to be a way of providing genuine value – not just manipulating others.
Gordon Fong, owner of UK internet companies e-mango and Datacenta Hosting, says: “There will be those events that are going to be stiff as a board, corporate marketing non-speak all over it, to those that are more a beauty pageant for the organiser than the content.
“When you break the mould and you’re the only event within that space, nobody else can touch you.”
“If I’m going to invest time away from the office and my team, I need to feel that it’s going to be worth it but also [that I was] made to feel comfortable. The comfort factor comes from scratching the surface and seeing how the speakers and organisers have acted before and what people have said about them.”
This sentiment of taking value is echoed by Andy Headington, CEO of digital agency Adido. “Having run events for the best part of six years, I think there a few main reasons why people don’t come to events. The first is that I think a lot of people have become cynical about going to events to be sold to.
“Our time is precious, yet it is often abused by sales or marketing people going over the top when on the stage and pushing their agenda rather than educating or entertaining their audience, which turns people off. On top of this, we all live very busy lives and often have children or other commitments that means getting the timing right is crucial for success.”
Too much time, too little return
If you’re looking to take up any portion of someone else’s day, it better be worthy. A full-day event makes sense if the subject matter is deep and wide, but becomes energy sapping when it’s “how to set up a Twitter account and who you should be following”.
Talbot Heath School marketing manager Hayley O’Shea comments: “Time is a massive factor in not wanting to go to some events. Much as I love a good mingle, there are always deadlines and things I should be cracking on with. The feeling that I’m not being physically productive when I’m not sitting at my Mac can be a very conscious thing! The drain on time alongside the same circuit of people trying to sell their services can be awful.”
You have no proof
If you’re putting yourself out there to be observed, you need to hold someone’s attention. Allowing access to what you believe in lets others determine if it’s right for them. From the videos to blog articles to the podcast presence, the more someone can be familiar before they commit, the easier it is to make a decision.
If you treat an event as the equivalent of an advert in the local business magazine, all people are going to do is turn over and forget about the strapline you spent three days on.
To stand any chance of people wanting to come to something that is yours, at least have a presence first. Even better, build an audience first.
You also need to consider creating a body of work. Even if it means revealing the elements of your seminar through LinkedIn, sometimes you don’t always need the grand reveal for people to take notice of you. The small things have merit, too.
It sounds too complicated
While it may look lavish to use long-winded superlatives to describe an event that puts you in a self-granted elevated status, it just becomes something everyone else will never connect with.
As senior lecturer in marketing and communications from Bournemouth University Chris Miles points out, we like to make things more highbrow than they actually are. “One of the ways that we make ideas seem revolutionary or unique is by making them more complicated than their originals – a complicated tool or strategy appears impressive, so we think there must have been a lot of thought put into that! Wrap everything up in some nice impactful metaphors and Bob’s your shiny new marketing tool!”
No-one ever wanted to commit to something they just couldn’t make sense of.
People aren’t in the picture
If you’re looking to get someone to commit, at least make it clear what they’re walking into. If it’s a networking breakfast where there is a group of people living the dream handing out business cards, then it’s easier to see that the value received is what people can take in the shortest amount of time. However, it’s easier to understand when there is more of a focus on the “delicious cooked or continental breakfast” than the subject matter relating to your business.
If you’re looking to put on a more considered event on a particular topic, at least make it easy for people to understand how it will benefit them. Even if this means breaking down topic areas into a series of blog articles, at least make what you do easy to understand. If someone’s investment is to make them a better communicator, salesperson, parent or speaker, then tell them.
“Having 10 minutes of content and 20 minutes of sell isn’t beneficial to anyone.”Chris Huskins
Every aspect of what you create has to be relevant to the commitment of someone else. Matt Lawrence, head of marketing for hospitality company Urban Guild, says: “These days you need the courage of a lion to announce you’re off to an event (aka ‘jolly’, ‘day off’, ‘piss up’). I find that’s usually enough to put anyone off attending a trade show, conference, networking event or seminar. Then you have to go cap in hand to the boss to ask if the company can pay for you to go on this jolly.
“With permission slip in hand, but still getting evil looks from the accounts department, you head online to book only to be faced with the question everyone dreads: ‘What is your level of buying power?’ (or words to that effect). Has anyone ever answered that other than, ‘one step down from tea maker’? You know that if you declare you hold the purse strings you are getting eaten alive by the first sales executive that spots the green sticker on your name badge. Everything has to be relevant and value driven.”
The marketplace is crowded
If you’re competing in a crowded space, an event has to look, sound and taste different. If you think you can rock up and create a lunchtime networking event, someone else has been doing it longer and probably better.
What I intended to do with the You Are The Media Lunch Club was to put the learning/value first and the networking second. While there are people who consider it a networking event, this was never the plan. However, if people managed to connect with others and that led to business, then that makes me happy.
The focus is always on the topic of discussion, area to think about, person or company who has built their own space and audience. When you break the mould and you’re the only event within that space, nobody else can touch you.
This is something that Matt Desmier, organiser of the Silicon Beached conference and one of the team behind the regular Open Sauce evening events, knows too well. I asked him why they decided to create an evening event: “The catalyst for Open Sauce came from the three people having spent years attending – and quite honestly organising – carbon copy events with the same people doing the same dance around the same small talk.
“We were bored. We wanted to attend something different and we figured others would, too. We also wanted to create a space that would introduce the interesting and inspiring people we knew in a fun and engaging way. So the idea is that folk will come to Open Sauce. They will see and hear something different. They might learn something, they might meet someone new, but they’ll almost certainly be entertained.”
You treat everyone like a transaction
The biggest lesson I’ve learnt from creating events is that my biggest allies are not necessarily customers. I went into events thinking that this can become a sure-fire lead magnet, where everything I touch turns to sold. I was wrong.
The deepest connections I’ve made are people I know who enjoy being part of the whole journey. There is no hidden agenda and there is a sense of feeling and solidarity to make the whole experience work. This might be sharing their own perspectives or promoting within their own channels.
The biggest mistake you can make is to come in as a complete stranger, where you have a hidden past, or no Twitter post since October 2014, and treat the world as though it owes you. If you come into something cold, where there is no association or presence, you won’t hold anyone’s attention. You can’t treat the world as leads.
Chris Huskins, founder of the podcast resource company Abrupt Audio, picked up on the fact that you can’t take people for granted. “For me, a real turn-off for events is auto-invitation, where I’m automatically added to your event page updates, or I get an automatic email or LinkedIn message inviting me to an event immediately after connecting with someone.
“We all acknowledge that events are hard to put on, and that they have to convert to something for our businesses, otherwise we wouldn’t put them on. However, having 10 minutes of content and 20 minutes of sell isn’t beneficial to anyone.”
Let’s round up
People won’t come to your event when the value you provide is not something anyone else can associate with. Nobody wants to make that step into the unknown with a person/company they are not familiar with (even if it means an email from you when someone signs up … it’s the small things, right?).
If you want people to commit, you have to be committed in the first place. No-one ever wanted to come to an event, especially if there was nothing to watch/hear/read apart from a pleading email invite.
If you’re looking to make that step where you take the connection offline, there has to be proof for people to make their own judgment that it’s right for them. More importantly, if you are looking to get people to come to your event, how can you contrast it with what is already out there?
I’m nowhere near the finished article or an impresario when it comes to events. But the reward when someone says “I’m in” is on a different level from any retweet, subscriber or download you will ever receive.
Note: This article first appeared on the ID Group blog.
Links & references
Mark Masters on being a people magnet in Brand Tales