Guest post: For events, promote the WHY

This is a guest post written by Corwin Hiebert, an entrepreneur from Vancouver, Canada, who specializes in strategic event design, marketing, and creative talent management. His company, Red Wagon Management, produces and hosts CREATIVEMIX – Vancouver’s Ideation Conference. You can follow Corwin at www.twitter.com/corwinhiebert.

In the midst of all the planning, we event managers often have the difficult task of leading the marketing effort for our projects. Generating demand for an event is no simple task, but it’s even harder when we spin our wheels promoting the wrong thing. When advertising efforts focus on registration (and ticket sales), they are a liability rather than an asset to the marketing plan because they require the most difficult type of commitment from our target audience: a financial decision.

Event promotions that overly emphasize registration details (price, discounts, deadlines, special offers, etc.) are in fact eliciting the simplest reaction possible: one of dismissal. Instead of trying to appeal to a potential attendee’s pocketbook, we should focus on piquing their interest on an experience they can’t easily find elsewhere. When we message our event in such a way so as to build up their expectations, we can minimize the advertising noise and create more meaningful collateral. Content-rich e-mail blasts, blog posts, tweets, updates, posters, and press releases are far more successful than ones full of registration pitches. By planting in their minds an image or emotion of what they will do, who they will see, and what kinds of memories or benefits they’ll receive, we’re connecting people to the true value of the event, not the cost.

Marketing collateral shouldn’t be that different than from verbal promotion. Think of it this way: if I were in a massive auditorium, standing in front of my target audience, and had 10 seconds to convince people to attend my event, I would not say something as moronic as, “Hello people, our big event is just $25, plus tax of course. So would you please sign-up today?! It should be lots of fun and, if you register right now, we’ll give you the early-bird free drink special package.” Silly, I know! I’d speak to what makes my event special and why people should want to be there; I wouldn’t even bring up the price. Posters, e-mail campaigns, advertisements and the like are a waste of time and money if I spend too much space promoting registration.

It’s common for sales people to be trained to elicit the word “yes” three times from their prospects before asking them if they would like to buy. Event marketing should take on the same tactic. If we can show our target audience that our event will meet at least three of their felt needs, that the pricing is reasonable, and the registration process is simple, then I think collecting their money will become the easiest task in our event plan.

Here are some helpful tips for your next event marketing effort:

1. Smaller is better. Decrease your need for ticket sales; adjust your budget and event space and focus on critical mass.

2. Less is more. Ensure your collateral is simple and visually compelling. Don’t get into the details; that’s what your event website is for.

3. Push it to the side. When sending an e-mail campaign, use an HTML template that has a sidebar—highlight your registration links and details separately from your primary message. With the majority of your e-mail body focusing on building excitement, your invitation will be perceived as subtle yet well-connected to the value of the experience you’re offering.

4. Use testimonials. Promote positive feedback from attendees at a previous event. Make sure you list their names (and their companies if possible)—anonymous quotes are useless.

5. Feature faces. Use images from previous events showing people having a lot of fun (they should be close-ups of faces, not a documentation of the activity).

6. Build partnerships. Develop a small, loyal affiliate base from people or groups who benefit from a successful event. Highlight them, and their stories, instead of always talking about the event. Treat them well, and they’ll become ambassadors who are passionate and motivated to spread the word. Be a fan of theirs and they’ll return the love.

7. Add value, don’t discount. Consider removing early-bird rates or special offers—set the value of the event and stick to your guns. If you need to boost sales, add benefits and give attendees more for their money.

Primetime marketing space shouldn’t be gobbled up with the details about dollars and deadlines. Instead, put the effort into creating a meaningful call to action. Dial down the registration hype and beef up the “why” hype.

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Thanks again to Corwin Hiebert for sharing his insights and ideas! Be sure to read his event planning eBook, Eleven and a Half Ways to Help Make Your Next Event a Huge Success. The downloadable PDF is only $3 when you use the special promotional code eventbrite2. Purchases can be made at http://www.redwagonmanagement.com.

And check out Corwin’s previous Eventbrite blog post about charging for events, which sparked some great conversation: Free is a Dirty Word.