Events can be powerful opportunities to check off boxes on your marketing “to do” list. We’ve seen that first-hand here at Lambert with many of our B2B clients – especially with the view from the other side working with the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). Even though digital communication is causing conferences and trade shows to shift their focus, gathering like-minded people together will always be an important activity – especially for B2B companies.

One seductive and comforting trap that holds many B2B brands back is thinking that they can’t think or act like B2C brands. Events can be a catalyst for breaking out of this mindset. In fact, your company may even find it useful to frame your activities for the year around the events that are relevant to your industry. Trade shows and conferences can be a useful prompt to get you thinking about audiences, messages, timeliness, and context – all of which are critical to any successful campaign.

What Are Events For?

At the most basic level, there are three important purposes for events:

  1. Connect with People: this could be customers, industry professionals, or the media
  2. Public Relations / Marketing: leveraging the gathering of people for newsworthiness/attention
  3. Benchmark / Learn / Be Inspired: eyeball competitors, hear from experts, refresh your thinking

All of these ends have both traditional and digital potential applications. Moreover, your company can capitalize on these opportunities using traditional or digital means (or more likely, a combination of both).

Where We Are Going?

As illustrated by the recent announcement by the NAIAS that it will move from January to June in 2020, the conference/trade show/event landscape is changing. The staffing and budget cuts in the newsmedia have meant an uphill climb in breaking news with events. Austerity at the corporate level has meant fewer employees traveling for business. As a result, the conference/event landscape is shifting to focus on outcomes beyond media coverage or networking.

Similarly, the digital landscape is also changing (as always). Some of these recent changes mean that events are more important than ever:

  • Pay-to-play is here for social media. The free ride of organic reach is over. However,
  • …through social media, marketers have access to better audience targeting options than ever before – from custom audiences build from customer lists to lookalike audiences that leverage the hundreds of signals platforms like Facebook capture about users (audiences that events help build).
  • Dynamic content is king. Facebook’s research finds that video produces five times more engagement than still images (events are great opportunities to capture multimedia).
  • Social media has wormed its way into every moment of our lives, which means the next frontier for optimizing your campaigns is contextualizing your messaging based on the what, when, and where we now know about users when they interact with content (events are an important contextual object).

What Does This Mean?

For B2B brands, this means events can offer a wealth of new opportunities for the digitally-savvy:

  • It’s easier to identify audiences – including influencers, and
  • …use the context of an event to craft more relevant messages, and
  • events can be golden opportunities to create multimedia content (whether it’s a full-length video, a vignette, or a gif)…

…all of which supports your digital campaigns.
This new era in digital means that your Owned digital properties (think website and email marketing) are more valuable. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Your lists (whether email subscribers or website visitors) have many more applications – they can be used to create custom and lookalike audiences for targeting on social media and PPC platforms like Google Ads.
  2. They free you to reach your stakeholders in ways that aren’t dependent on the whims of social media’s increasing ad costs and non-existent organic reach.
  3. Owned digital properties are often the most important for nurturing long-term relationships – the kind most B2B companies rely on given the unique demands of their sales cycles.

How Do We Put This to Work?

Returning to events as an organizing principle, think about event attendees: what does their attendance at an event say about them? – What can you infer about them to make your message more relevant when you get their attention? Conversely, if someone is NOT at an event (but paying attention) – what can we intuit about them?

Everything is connected. Everything is also part of your marketing funnel. Event-specific web content on your site helps reach, engage, and retain audiences. Those audiences, in turn, can help feed the targeting for your ads. Those ads can now be informed by the context supplied by your website, email marketing efforts, and the event-related activities of your stakeholders – this allows you to better tailor your messages to those individuals to help ensure they stand out in a sea of clickbait.

You’ll need some tools to make all of this happen.

A social listening platform can help you watch events (whether or not you have a booth in the exhibitor hall) to help you with the heavy lifting of identifying influencers for future campaigns, keep a finger on the pulse of the topics of discussion, and point you to opportunities for content you can create that has value.
Audiences are more important than ever, and social media has moved past targeting by interest or demographics as the gold standard. Despite the Cambridge Analytica scandal, few people deleted their Facebook pages, and the trajectory of digital marketing points toward the ability to gather more data on users which can be used to inform targeting, timing, and messaging. The customer lists you assemble can now be used on most of the major social media and PPC platforms, including Facebook/Instagram, Google Ads, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

This new era of social media advertising, informed by algorithmic audience targeting, has made your website more important than it has been for the past few years. It’s now an important node you can use to track, understand, retarget, and refine your efforts. Did you know, for example, that if you have the Facebook Pixel installed on your site – Facebook uses website visits to learn who to serve your ads to?

Now What?

Here’s your to-do list.

  1. Sponsoring an event? – Get those attendee email lists. Fold those into your audiences and put the magic of algorithms to work identifying untapped opportunities. Prepare relevant, event-specific promotional content (customized for each social channel with optimized media/links) for the event organizers to share – many brands don’t take advantage of this opportunity that typically comes bundled with sponsorship packages. Don’t leave it up to the event organizers to decide which of your posts to share.
  2. Construct audience profiles to test. – Keep it simple and start with event attendees (hopefully you have a good idea of these already). Use these educated guesses to kick off your process of experimenting and iterating toward improved performance.
  3. Map out your calendar. – Use events to frame out your efforts for the year. This can be a great way to weave in timely and relevant content into the usual stream of product announcements, “careers at _____ company” posts, and corporate news.
  4. Get your website into shape. Stitch in analytics and tracking scripts to start building audiences based on who has visited your website. Some tools even allow you to identify the companies of the users who visit your site based on their range of IP addresses.
  5. Look for content opportunities, with an emphasis on video. Tour the floor. Interview attendees. Summarize the event. Walk through or shoot a 360-degree video of your exhibit. Capture b-roll for future use.

Need Help?

Lambert has two decades of experience helping B2B (and B2C) clients wring every drop of value out of their investment in trade shows, conferences, and events. We’ll be happy to have a conversation about exceeding your goals with a comprehensive event-focused digital strategy.

Derek DeVries is a director of digital and social strategy at Lambert.