Five Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Event Marketing

Hindsight is everything, right? Before I began as National Sales Director here at USA Expo, I was working for a Fortune 100 company and tasked with building an event program from the ground up. I had zero experience in event marketing, so I had to learn on the fly, and I’m not afraid to admit that means I made a lot of mistakes along the way. Luckily, I also learned a lot, but there are still a few things I wish someone had told me a little earlier. I’m all about sharing, so I’m talking about the five things I wish someone had told me about event marketing.  

A Display is Only the Beginning. Event marketing is great, right? You’ve purchased your display, now you attend the event, sit back and watch the leads and sales roll in. That would be every event marketers dream, but in reality, after you’ve purchased your display, you’re just at the beginning of a long road – and it’s an expensive one. To be honest, you should have been doing a lot of work on your event marketing program before even purchasing a display. Strategy and goals should come first so that you can ensure purchasing a display is the right move! 

Once you've nailed your strategy and goals, you can create a footprint and plan your display. But keep in mind that the cost of activating a display is typically far more expensive than the display itself, because of shipping, set up, tear down, drayage, storage and much more. Unfortunately, many event marketers don’t take early strategy and these activation costs into account when building out a budget – which can lead to many headaches down the road.

Drayage: It’s Expensive, but Important. Before I began in event marketing, I didn’t know what drayage was. But when I saw how expensive a line item it was on an event marketing budget, you better believe I learned more about it! Keep in mind that drayage is not the only hidden cost involved in activating your display and running a successful event marketing program. These can also include: 

  • Shipping costs
  • Hanging signage 
  • Late fees incured if deadlines are missed
  • Labor fees
  • Services ordered from the floor show (these can be expensive if not ordered beforehand!)
  • Travel
  • Display storage 

Hidden costs are a huge factor in driving decisions for a display - don't take them lightly! 

Managing Display Logistics and Activation Yourself is a Huge Undertaking. I mentioned activating a display is expensive, right? There’s a reason. It takes a lot of time, effort and relationships to be successful – and that’s only if it goes smoothly. If you need to troubleshoot when things start to turn south, it can be even more daunting of a task. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, either from an event marketing agency or other team members! It can save you hours of time, plus help you avoid all the stress that comes along with managing such a large project solo.

Less is More. The initial instinct for many event marketers (myself included) is to be at as many events as possible. This approach causes your budget to be spread thin across many events, which in turn means you don’t have very much to invest in each event. That means an average display, a location that’s not ideal and minimal sponsorship assets.

The best approach for event marketing is to find the right events for your brand– those that include all of your target demographic or customer personas, located in the right geographic locations. Once you find those events – invest more in them. Trust me: I used this approach and saw a 4x increase in sales with the same budget by cutting the number of events in half and doing events the right way. Yep, that’s right: a 4x increase without increasing my budget.

Data Matters. We’ve all been guilty of it: selecting an event or evaluating success based on your gut feeling. We say it a lot here: data matters! It’s critical to identify your target audience from the beginning and only focus on the best events that hit that demographic. If you have 200 leads from a show, but none are in the target demographic of your product or service, chances are not many will convert to sales. Make sure you have clear KPIs in place before you even select an event so you don’t have to rely on your gut to define success or failure.

In addition, it’s important to use data not only to determine if an event is a success, but to select the right ones. Keep in mind that all events are not created equal. If your product is a great fit for home shows, that doesn’t mean you have to be at every single home show.

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