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What Will Marketing and Sales Events Look Like in 2021?

We escaped 2020, but surprise surprise, we’re still not gathering at conferences with really bad coffee and lame “swag bags” again. This means events are still going to be in a virtual environment for at least some period of time going forward. And beyond that, even after we’ve more or less returned to normal, you’re still going to need to have a virtual strategy. I have yet to have a single discussion with any company that is not including a virtual option in their event strategy moving forward.

As you’ve most likely experienced yourself, there are some real advantages to virtual events. They attract a broader range of people, allow those who may not have the option to travel due to scheduling issues to still interact with your brand, and can even be more beneficial for sponsors than in-person events when managed correctly. However, there are certainly aspects of in-person events that we all crave and want back. It is hard to beat the networking opportunity afforded by an in-person event. And, frankly, those swag bags actually do sound fun after a year of seeing nothing but the inside of your own house. With all of that in mind, how should you include events in your marketing strategy for 2021 and beyond? Let’s dive in.

First, understand and determine how events enhance your business strategy

One of the most common mistakes we see when companies embark on marketing initiatives is deciding to do something in a vacuum. This can be as major as a website rebuild, or as simple as choosing to attend an event in your industry like a trade show. Every time, without fail, that you make a decision to take on a new marketing tactic without considering how it fits in with your strategy, you’re gambling on it being completely useless.

The better road to take? Understand where and how events can aid what you’re trying to accomplish this year. For many businesses, events are a key component of relationship building and can be the number-one driver of business pipeline. This is especially true in long-sales cycle industries such as manufacturing and life sciences. If you’re leading marketing for a business in an industry where your main deliverable from events is pipeline, you will need to ensure that your event strategy aids that goal.

Another perspective to take is that of your attendees. If your event services a specific industry, which it most likely does, you have to consider what your attendees need from your event and then formulate a strategy that makes it as easy as possible for them to get it. If you don’t know what they’re looking for, try asking. You’ll be amazed at how forthcoming with suggestions and insight your customers can be.

Make your events goal oriented

With each event, and your event strategy overall, you will want to assign metrics that help you determine whether your event has been successful or not. As always, these metrics need to ladder up to your overall marketing strategy. If your focus for the quarter or year is brand awareness and growing your share of voice, you’ll run different events than you would if you are focused on driving a specific amount of revenue, leads, or clients. I know it is nearly heresy to assign any other goal to marketing than revenue and leads in today’s world. However, there are times when other metrics matter more. Don’t immediately jump to sales as the number one metric.

Once you’ve established the appropriate metrics for your events, you’ll need to ensure you have the marketing technology in place to measure accurately. The pre-event marketing will have its own set of metrics (most commonly registrants, attendees, etc.) which will differ from your during-event and post-event metrics. Each of these need to be tracked. Get clear on what infrastructure you need in order to measure accurately.

Finally, every event you run will have its own set of metrics. Let’s use a hypothetical virtual event as an example. For this event, your business is entering a new market. You’re attempting to reach a new audience with this event, and to support it you’ve run an ABM campaign. You may have top-of-funnel metrics such as registrants and attendees as your core KPIs. In contrast, six months later you put on a smaller, invite-only event with only your top 20 target accounts. For this event, your metrics may be aligned to post-show efforts and be focused on deal opportunities created.

Will you hold in-person only? Virtual? Hybrid?

If you recall, at the very beginning of this post I mentioned that every conversation I’m having currently with prospects regarding events includes a virtual component. Generally speaking, that seems wise. Virtual events have become a mainstay in most businesses’ strategies. However, how does that open up an opportunity for you to create truly unique experiences for your customers or prospects by eliminating virtual at specific times?

For example, what if you could hold an in-person only, private invite event for your top customers to share ideas and grow professionally? That simple idea could generate new relationships for the people who are already doing business with you, and you’d be at the center of making those connections—which is a very positive benefit for your brand and business. The point of this example is not to say you should create an event to accomplish that goal, but rather to encourage you to consider how in-person could become a disruptive and impactful avenue for your business growth—especially in moments when you choose to eliminate virtual attendance as an option.

There’s no “one size fits all answer”

It’d be nice if I could just tell you exactly what will make an event successful in 2021. But since we don’t even really know what this year’s going to look like yet—and since it could look very different depending on your situation and your industry—that’s hard to do. There’s no single answer that will guarantee a successful event. But if you’re thinking strategically about what you need your event to do for you and tactically about how to build an event that helps you achieve those goals, you’re on the path to success.

Joe Mills Team Photo at Element Three

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” This advice has served Joe well as he’s worn many hats throughout his career–from college soccer player to marketing expert to Business Development Manager. He’s passionate about using big ideas to build mutually beneficial partnerships, because “to help yourself is to help others.”