Online Event Marketing: Engage Your Audience

What do you think of when you hear the words “event marketing”?

A conference hall swarming with company executives, celebrities, and media personalities? An outdoor venue transformed into a branded wonderland?

Then you haven’t been spending enough time online.

Typically, event marketing is used to promote a product launch or new release, drum up brand exposure and sales, and increase purchase intent. It’s been an offline promotion mainstay for decades. According to “PROMO Magazine,” marketers spent an estimated $166 billion on event marketing in 2004, up 9 percent from the year before. They’ll allocate about 25 percent of their overall marketing budgets to it in 2005.

This investment may materialize in the form of the Dr Pepper booth promoting a grandiose contest in the parking lot of my local grocery store last weekend. Or as a wild invitation-only house party sponsored by Unilever’s AXE deodorant body spray.

Lately, event promotion is finding its way online. By combining offline events with unique online features, companies are demonstrating the Web can make event marketing even more engaging.

Amazon.com is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary with a series of extravagant events and special site features. The event launched offline last week when customers began receiving “special deliveries” from the stars of the movies, TV shows, and albums they’d purchased online. If you ordered the new Moby CD recently, watch for the artist himself to appear in a UPS hat at your door before the event is done; a handful of lucky Amazon customers have already received product deliveries from Jason Alexander, Minnie Driver, Michael J. Fox, and Nick Lachey (those who miss out can view video clips of the deliveries online).

This weekend, the event will extend to a concert featuring Bob Dylan and Norah Jones that will be Webcast on the site. A Wish List shopping spree contest, an author Hall of Fame, and a link to Amazon’s original home page round out the event’s special features.

Another Web-based heavy hitter is so intrigued with online event marketing, it seems to be making it an annual event. In 2003, Yahoo’s online dating service, Yahoo Personals, launched an online search for the Web’s most eligible bachelor. Women interested in meeting the candidates could sign up with the site to access audio and video clips. They could also be chosen for a Valentine’s date with a bachelor in their home city.

Last year, Yahoo Personals ran a “Billboard Dating” campaign that, like Amazon’s initiative, combined an offline element with online promotion. The company followed the experiences of a single L.A. woman who spent three days living and dating atop a billboard on the Sunset Strip. The woman used a wireless Internet connection and Yahoo Personals to search for and schedule her dates. Internet users watched it all via a live Webcast.

One could say the company took the concept of online event marketing to new heights.

As with other forms of online media, originality and relevance are the means to a successful campaign. Amazon’s and Yahoo’s promotions have been both imaginative and effective at encouraging brand interaction.

Online event marketing shares another trait with traditional online advertising: a reliance on third-party site promotion. This, of course, is where media buyers take the baton.

Many online events have mass audience appeal. That can tempt buyers to cater to consumers outside their target demographic. An urgency to drive traffic can easily eclipse the ultimate objective. But the nature of the event alone shouldn’t dictate ad placements. As long as the campaign goal is to increase brand awareness, purchase intent, and sales, you’re best targeting potential customers as you would with any other campaign.

It’s also good to promote online events by revisiting the properties you’ve successfully advertised with before. Positive response rates indicate an interest among site visitors. Returning to the scene of a previous campaign can both increase the chances of locating interested consumers and solidify their relationship with your brand.

Event marketing isn’t what it used to be. It’s far better, and we have the Web to thank. With a little innovation and a solid media buying plan, the next buzz-generating online event could be your own.

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