For some businesses, gatherings are a crucial part of their operation. Those trying to do event marketing, specifically, have felt the toll of COVID-19. Now, as states gradually reopen, they’re still grappling with how to keep people safe when they don’t stay at home — especially when those reopenings concern larger gatherings and events.

Businesses of all sizes have had to cancel or postpone planned events, but the thousands of dollars in lost revenue have put smaller companies in a financial bind. These organizations now have to reinvent the wheel and host events in new and innovative ways.

For many, this will mean shifting in-person events into smaller, virtual gatherings where attendees feel equal parts safe and informed. What does event marketing for small businesses look like moving into an uncertain future?

The New Event Marketing

First and foremost, effective event marketing for small businesses starts with thinking about the audience. People who once might have been eager to attend events will likely think differently about attending them in the future. They’ll be concerned about their health and safety, and they might only feel comfortable going to events outside or in large, open spaces.

Develop an understanding of where consumers are right now and how they feel in light of the pandemic. This research empowers small businesses to develop an event marketing plan that will help them overcome the challenges they’ll face post-pandemic.

It can be done, though. Not long ago, people in every industry were confident that experiential marketing would be the future — especially as younger consumers increasingly value experiences in their consumer journeys. We’re hardwired for human interaction and experience, but it will take some time until these types of events return.

The Importance of Targeting

Small business leaders are dealing with so much right now. They must be able to separate fact from fiction to decide which event marketing strategies to employ.

Unfortunately, events don’t automatically attract attendees and generate revenue. Some small businesses think it’s a worthwhile investment to incentivize people to attend their event. They might spend a lot of money on a blanket social media advertising campaign and general emails to subscribers, but then only 10-20 people show up. Ultimately, people need a compelling reason to sacrifice their time to attend an event. 

They also need to feel safe and heard. One study showed people to value three major things most when choosing whether to attend an event: restrooms that are properly and thoroughly cleaned, hand-sanitizing stations throughout, and limited capacity to create the ability to safely distance.

Events — just like any good marketing tactic — must be targeted, engaging, and relevant. Event marketing is more than putting together a great gathering and hoping people will show up simply for a novel brand experience. When done strategically, events offer more than an innovative way to connect with customers. This might involve hosting virtual local gatherings or letting experts take over your social media channels for a day to connect with your audience.

Small businesses can learn a lot about hosting events by watching how large corporations do it. For example, it’s crucial to plan as far in advance as possible and find the most efficient processes to develop and execute an event. The best event marketing is always thoughtfully researched, designed, planned, and coordinated.

Planning is key because so many things can go wrong with an event. Considering the time teams need to discuss and answer seemingly endless “what-if” questions, larger events can take years to plan. Great events have a plan A as well as plans B, C, D, and E. If the planning team understands the vision and how to make it a reality, this will make facing any event marketing challenges more straightforward.

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Assembling a Top-Notch Event Marketing Strategy

There isn’t one recipe to follow when creating a plan for your event marketing efforts, but there are a few things to keep in mind as the virus continues to spread but the country reopens. Beyond ensuring thorough sanitization, limiting capacity to create natural distancing, and being mindful to make all parts of your event as contactless as possible, do these five things:

1. Define your audience

As a small business, you can’t afford to blow money on an event with empty chairs or uneaten food. It not only wastes resources, but it also fails to achieve your marketing goals. People will attend and remember events that are built for them — ones that make them feel welcome and deliver the advertised experience.

Identifying and defining your target audience should always be the first step in event marketing. It might seem natural to start building an event based on a good idea rather than on your attendees. By first identifying your target audience, you ensure everything that follows will organically bring your good ideas to the surface.

2. Set goals

Often, events are a byproduct of company initiatives that recognize the hard work of employees and engage potential clients. Whatever they’re meant to achieve, they have to be rooted in goals if you want to measure success down the road.

Without setting benchmarks, you can’t track progress or success. Event marketing goals hold teams accountable for deadlines. Keep your goals realistic and ensure that your team sticks to them. This road map will keep the team aligned and the event on track.

3. Plan more than you already have

Establishing a timeline for your event and making sure all team members understand their responsibilities is another step you can’t overlook. How do you make this happen? Planning, planning, and more planning. Small business events can be challenging to promote, but planning helps you do it well.

Create specific touchpoints to connect with your audience members and engage them. Some of the most well-attended events are those that are promoted with a tailored omnichannel campaign, which is only possible with planning.

4. Track everything

Results are essential in determining whether you’re using effective event marketing strategies. They give you perspective on what you did right with your event and what could be improved the next time around. Tracking registrations forms, clicks, and attendance shows you which efforts are the most lucrative.

Data-collection technology provides excellent insights into the success of your efforts and is one of the best event marketing tools. You can use an event app, work with a ticketing partner, or track results with a CRM. You might also consider sending out surveys and feedback forms before and after your event to see what worked and what didn’t. This will help you better understand your audience.

Finally, don’t forget to harness social media insights. Every platform collects metrics of some sort that can help you see how effective your campaigns are.

5. Adjust accordingly

Once you’ve sifted through the data, use it to build even stronger events in the future. Tailor everything to meet the needs of your audience members and improve their experiences.

Especially during this pandemic, use technology and host virtual events through social platforms or your website. A connection is still possible, but you have to create it with your audience’s best interests in mind.

Most importantly, don’t get discouraged. Event marketing is challenging and takes time to perfect. As a small business, you need to give yourself time to learn and adapt. Once you have data on how your first (and second and third) events performed, you can build bigger and better events more confidently.

In this unprecedented time, it’s more important than ever for small businesses to create event marketing plans driven by data. As the world moves forward into a new normal, be ready to move along with it. Anticipate what your audience members need, and give them that experience the right way.

AvatarChad Reid

Chad Reid is VP of marketing and communications at JotForm. He’s also a frequent contributor to various tech and business publications, and an absolute wizard with a Vitamix.