How to Plan, and Measure, Online Event Marketing

Marketers strive to break through the noise in this message-rich world to engage consumer attention. Event marketing connects consumers with your product in a special environment to create a compelling, inherently personal experience.

By its nature, the Internet changed event marketing. You can create online events around a product, leverage an existing program to enhance a brand, and build an ongoing online community with a natural brand affinity. As a result, you can cost-effectively engage consumers in a brand experience that extends over time and yields measurable results.

Online event marketing enables you to attract new customers, build brand, and increase revenue. Maximize the outcome with a well-coordinated plan of related programs. Consider incorporating other aspects of your online offering, extend the program offline, or move an offline happening to the Web. An event can be implemented on your site or in partnership with a related media site.

Examples of Online Marketing Events

  • Unique online events. For its 10th anniversary, CondéNet’s Epicurious.com developed a program of advertiser-sponsored events and content. It’s generated hundreds of recipes and customer comments, including specific brand citations. “The most exciting thing online brings is immediate feedback regarding how users feel about brands,” says publisher Jennifer Cole. “This is the best proof of consumer responsiveness I’ve ever seen!”
  • Integrated online/offline programs. Consider how an offline event can involve customers online through some type of engagement. An online program can also extend offline. The Free Lance-Star’s highly involved FredTalk user groups moved their relationships offline for functions. A bridal show drew about 5,000 participants with only a posting, and community holiday parties were spawned.
  • Contests or sweepstakes. Contests and sweepstakes can integrate online and offline components to engage visitors and convert them into responsive users. Though contest participants may be more involved, coordinated sweepstakes use can broaden the interested participant base that doesn’t fulfill the contest terms. ePrize developed a trivia game to encourage General Motors dealers to participate in distance learning. “This game increased dealer participation since it wasn’t schedule dependent and reduced costs relative to multilocation training,” said ePrize’s VP Josh Glantz.
  • Online communities. “It’s important to build your community so that you create a natural audience with a strong brand affinity that you can leverage,” says Bill Blevins, former Fredericksburg.com Internet director. FredTalk created sponsored chats, promoted primarily with an online posting, that attracted very interested, targeted participants.
  • Online video. Movie or TV previews might include outtakes, interviews, and other value-added features to extend user engagement.
  • Webinars. Business-to-business (B2B) companies often use Webinars (define) to engage prospects on a topic of interest. Business-to-consumer (B2C) businesses can also use this approach to engage potential users. It would work well for products for which customers need additional information. A car maintenance company might show owners how to take care of their cars and utilize safety features.
  • Creative new approaches. Test new ways to extend brand experience and drive visitors to your company. To drive post-Thanksgiving traffic, Target offered customers a choice of 10 different wakeup calls, all requiring online registration.

Important Online Event Considerations

  • Ensure the event is in line with your brand and your target customers’ interests and needs. When planning the event, consider how it will relate to your long-term strategies. Publishers should think about how the event will work for potential advertisers as well as the interaction of the media and advertiser brands.
  • Extend the event experience and integrate it into your marketing calendar:
    • Engage visitors prior to the event. To remind users of the event, send opt-in email or put a countdown clock on your home page. Make anticipation a fun opportunity to extend your brand and involve customers.
    • Plan a post-event experience to maximize the marketing investment. At a minimum, thank users. Use communications to extend the experience, such as with a coupon. Post-event follow-up can involve respondents who didn’t participate. You might offer an audio-only version of a Webinar or a link to special video footage. As events continue to live online, consider modifying them for future visitors.

Marketing Online Events

When developing an online marketing event, make the promotion as creative as the program (in some cases, such as films, the promotion and event are integrated):

  • Online advertising can drive traffic to event registration.
  • Sponsored showcases are often used for online video. The best executions are tailored for the online medium and integrate its functionality.
  • E-mail marketing can promote an event or extend the experience.
  • Viral marketing can occur spontaneously, attracting others through word of mouth. Last summer’s politically charged JibJab video exemplifies this. Facilitate the viral nature of your promotion by including forward-to-a-friend capabilities.
  • Social networks can create ad-supported interest groups. Friendster’s business development director Jim Scheinman says, “Friendster created a community of over 11,000 members around ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.’ On average, each member told 15 friends about the movie offline.”
  • With search marketing, use relevant terms for paid search and make press releases search engine friendly.
  • PR can raise event visibility and drive users to your event.
  • Offline media can direct users online. Make the promotion easy to find on your home page or build a microsite with an easy-to-spell name.

Analyzing Online Marketing Event Effects

  • Measure site-related factors, including visitors, time spent on site, page views, referrals, and actions such as registrations, videos viewed, Webinar attendees, and actual purchases.
  • Calculate brand effects using established metrics. Like sponsorships, online events should improve brand impact. Also consider how your brand will interact within the environment. Monitor customer comments for specific brand mentions.
  • Analyze buzz-related metrics. Include community measurements such as social networks, chat, message boards, and blogs. BuzzMetrics CEO Jonathan Carson calls this “carry-forward impact,” where users pass your brand message on to others. Also check search engine rankings, press pickups, and customer feedback. To this end, ask users for input.
  • Calculate revenues, costs, and profits generated:
    • Revenue may be generated directly through on-site purchases or indirectly, as with movies. Understand some sales generated online will occur offline, with no means to measure them.
    • Cost factors include the cost of the event, related promotion, and prizes.
    • Profit = net revenues – costs
  • Assess the value of assets created due to the event. For example, an email list or an online community such as FredTalk can be tapped for future events.

Online event marketing enables marketers to extend relationships with customers and raise brand awareness by creating engagements that can be very personal. It aids branding and other marketing measures by taking users out of their usual environment, if only for the duration of the online event. This enhanced experience reflects on your brand and your company and helps nurture long-term relationships.

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