Picture McCormick Place — the largest convention center in North America — situated in the heart of Chicago. It’s the weekend of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, and runners are picking up their race packets at the Abbott Health & Fitness Expo at the convention center.
Within just two days, 45,000 runners and their families will shuffle through the enormous space the size of 46 football fields, browsing booths where more than 200 exhibitors are showing off the latest running shoes, organic veggie chips and new flavors of sports drinks.
Every brand present has staffed its booth with helpful, smiling representatives. The samples are plentiful, and the event center is buzzing with excitement for the race. But if these exhibitors’ only goals are brand awareness and customer engagement, they won’t realize the maximum impact from the expo experience.
Although you do need to provide excellent customer service and create a fun, engaging event experience, those elements alone are not enough to guarantee success. And unfortunately, this “strategy-lite approach” is the reason many events flop and end up getting slashed from the budget.
To put on a live event that makes an impact, you need to set concrete objectives from the beginning and formulate a strategy to achieve them.
Success Doesn’t Always Mean Sales
Many marketers shy away from setting concrete objectives when planning an event because the term itself suggests a dollars-and-cents approach. Any marketer who has ever hosted an event knows it can be difficult to close the sales loop when leads convert weeks or months later. For this reason, marketers often avoid setting measurable goals altogether. However, it’s possible to set clear objectives for your event that aren’t measured in sales or revenue.
For example, a brand struggling with declining sales could determine that its upcoming event should focus on elevating the brand’s image — not pushing product. To do that, the brand could unveil upcoming changes that will be implemented in its stores and explain the adaptations it’s making to its products. These two moves would underscore the fact that the brand has heard customers’ feedback and that the brand is willing to act upon that feedback.
Because the focus here isn’t on sales, the brand wouldn’t measure the number of products sold or the amount of profit made at the event. Instead, the brand’s glimpse into the future would provide a venue for customers to ask questions and develop an open line of communication with the brand, stoking customers’ interest and enthusiasm. By measuring attendee engagement and participation — including things such as number of email subscriptions earned or number of samples consumed — the brand could assess the effectiveness of its event experience.
How to Plan an Event That Delivers Results
To host a live event that will drive results for your brand, use these tips when crafting your strategy:
1. Pinpoint your brand’s biggest challenge. Your organization probably has many marketing challenges, but there is likely one major reason you want to host the event. Sit down with your team to discuss the big hurdle you hope to overcome. Listen to what people are saying, and try to articulate this challenge clearly and get everyone on the same page.
2. Create measurable objectives. Whether you hope to increase brand awareness or generate buzz around a new product, it’s a good idea to establish concrete, measurable goals for your event. These objectives don’t necessarily have to tie back to sales or revenue, but they should be quantifiable.
For example, if your biggest challenge is creating awareness around a new product line, one objective might be to bring 5,000 current customers and 1,000 prospective customers to your event to try the new line. You could also measure how many attendees sample a product or attend a demonstration.
3. Identify the activation you want to see. For your event to make an impact, you need specific tactics to support your goals. It’s not enough to collect business cards or give away free stuff; you want to create opportunities for attendees to interact with your brand. What touchpoints should your event include to achieve your objectives, and how can you use those touchpoints to drive engagement?
4. Follow up. Gauging how well your event fulfilled your objectives starts well before the event and often continues four, five, or even six months afterward. For instance, if your main objective were to improve retention by 5 percent, you would need to revisit that metric long after the event to see whether you hit your target.
When putting on a live event, delivering a great customer experience should be a given. But to truly make an impact, your event must do more. To overcome your brand’s biggest challenge, establish concrete objectives at the beginning of the planning process, and use those goals to guide your event design every step of the way.
Have you had success using an event to overcome a major brand hurdle?