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The new economy has left many marketers with scaled back budgets or having to defend strategies regarded by some as extravagant, such as events. However, when done right, events offer high value—and even an opportunity to generate a profit.
While not a new concept, self-funded events are a smart option, especially in today’s economy. With expenses shared between participating brands or companies, this approach provides cost-savings benefits for the organizer and its partners—and, just as importantly, there is added value for attendees, gaining access to several brands at one event rather than investing time and money to go to several.
So, where do you begin? The key to executing a successful self-funded event is to start with a focused, targeted and customized approach.
Focus on a Specific Purpose and Goal
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Self-funded events can take many forms, including being held in conjunction with an industry trade show or as a stand-alone expo. No matter the format, all events warrant a specific purpose and set of goals.
Understanding the desired outcome helps establish a framework for a self-funded event. Here are two types in a little more detail:
Event within an event: Several companies are realizing a highly effective way to ensure uninterrupted, personalized time with a targeted audience is to combine a private event with a trade show, or other industry gathering. Private events help cut through the competitive noise on the show floor and build relationships between your brand or company and the audience or prospects. The result is a dramatic shortening of the sales cycle, and reduces the time for making the sale.
Despite budgetary concerns, professionals are still attending trade shows because they are looking for solutions to challenges or ways to build business. However, they are pressed for time. Inviting other brands to participate in your event allows attendees multiple engagement at one location. Plus, with each brand contributing to production costs, a shared approach allows the partners to essentially do more with more, but using less individual resources.
Self-funded expos: Holding a self-funded product showcase event brings the target audience to your doorstep. Unlike trade shows, your brand or company is the centerpiece in what can be a highly memorable and profitable attendee experience.
Typically in these events, non-competing companies engage attendees by offering access to a wide range of products and services. With each partner inviting its “A-list” audience, the event helps garner wider brand exposure for all companies involved.
Identify Target Audiences and Partners
Like any marketing program, you have to know who you are trying to reach or influence when formulating an event strategy. This could include retail buyers, suppliers, consumers or media. Honing in on your specific audience will also make it easy for you to identify other products or services that may appeal to them and strategic partnerships to pursue.
Keep these points in mind when working to identify potential partners:
Brands within your company: For companies with more than one line of products, a self-funded event is a great way to bring all of the brands together and share the cost of the event across budgets.
Non-competing brands: Often, non-competing companies join forces to create an event that appeals to a shared target audience. This may include media, fashion, packaging or other luxury goods brands.
Executing a Successful, Customized Event
When planned, managed and executed properly, events can be a valuable marketing vehicle to build brand awareness and relationships, generate sales through qualified leads, and move customers into action. Things to keep in mind:
Lay the foundation: With clear and measurable goals established, and a target audience and partners identified, an effective implementation strategy can be developed. Map out the big picture to identify how to best attract existing and prospective customers to an event. Spending time up front will help build interest and momentum for that event.
- Make sure there is an end result benefit. For example: “Marketing beauty in a challenged economy.” Structuring a plan where the private agenda is married to a bigger industry perspective helps position an event as relevant and important to attend.
- Engage the media before, during and after the event to keep it top-of-mind and generate coverage.
- Use social media and other e-strategies. Set up a blog or e-mail distribution several weeks before and after the event so that attendees and partners can track the coverage online.
- Share promotional activities with partners.
Build for form and function: An event provides an opportunity to showcase a brand and engage new and existing customers. Their experience is a critical component of the event, and, therefore, there needs to be a balance of fun and functional elements to appeal to the audience.
Assess the opportunities to determine the best mix of elements that would offer higher value and help create a high-impact event.
- Location, location, location.
- Form: Find a great location that offers some in-demand leisure activities.
- Function: Base the location of the event on its proximity to your audience.
- Let us edu-tain you…
- Form: Hire a major industry talent to speak at the event or live entertainment and create dynamic presentation videos.
- Function: Offer industry-specific training that would attract otherwise reluctant attendees. Also, consider adding general sessions with buyers or retailers, press conferences, keynote presentations.
- More appeal than meets the eye. Form: Create engaging displays and marketing materials that reflect the general theme of the show.
- Function: Expand production elements and marketing tools to include online platforms, which will help engage attendees after the event as well as those who couldn’t make it.
Self-funded events have proven to be an effective way for brands to achieve marketing goals with high impact and lower marketing spend. If done correctly, long-term partnerships can develop and attendees will have had a rich, personal experience. With the proper partnership, the brand will also generate better ROI than if it were to have produced the show on its own.
Dennis Church is an award-winning event producer, who has produced numerous self-funded events for Fortune 500 clients globally. He is currently the Southeast division president of Georgia-based MC², which specializes in design, production and management of integrated marketing programs.