While conferences can be immense revenue generators if you get your conference marketing right, they are often a valuable marketing channel themselves, generating sales leads, promoting brand recognition, and bolstering customer loyalty.
In fact, one-day conferences are the most common events hosted for marketing purposes, with 54% of planners hosting these events annually. What’s more, sponsors see immense value in these events, with 43% sponsoring at least one conference per year.
As valuable as conference events can be, however, they’re only as effective as the event promotion strategies behind them. I’ll list some more detailed event marketing suggestions later in this blog, but first: let’s dive into what conference marketing is and why it’s so critical.
What Is Conference Marketing?
Conference marketing encompasses all activities aimed at advertising and promoting a conference in order to engage a planner’s target audience, attract as many attendees as possible, and generate revenue.
Why Is Conference Marketing Important?
Conference marketing is critical to planning a successful conference. Every goalpost planners set for their events would be impossible to meet without a great conference marketing strategy behind them.
- Attracting Attendees: First and foremost, the goal of conference marketing is to attract as many attendees as possible. The better the promotion strategy, the higher your conference attendance.
- Generating Revenue: While ticket sales can account for a large portion of event revenue, agreements with sponsors and exhibitors can also boost revenue if you successfully market to these audiences and secure partnerships.
- Building Brand Awareness: Events have the power to cement your organization’s brand as a leader within your industry, and your marketing efforts can help build brand awareness and credibility among your audience.
Hot tip: Check out these event branding strategies for creative ways to promote your brand (without going over the top)!
- Fostering Brand Loyalty: A conference is about more than the event itself. As attendees engage with your event branding before, during, and after your event, you have endless opportunities to shape them into brand loyalists who will return as both customers and attendees.
- Community and Network Building: Whether you’re hosting an in-person or virtual conference, networking and community building are a major draw for attendees. With strategic pre-event messaging and opportunities for interaction, you can bring your community together and get them excited ahead of your event.
- Creating Buzz and Excitement: For attendees and prospective attendees alike, you should be creating buzz leading up to your event. For those who are attending, you’ll be setting the stage for what’s in store, and for those on the fence or missing out this year, you’ll be creating some serious “FOMO!”
- Boosting Ticket Sales: Launching marketing campaigns aimed at particular audiences or during specific times can be a great way to boost sales. You might be able to grab a few attendees with the FOMO you’ve generated, or you can hold ticket sales leading up to your event that hook a few people who couldn’t afford the higher prices.
- Facilitating Understanding: All event attendees want to know what to expect from your event before they register. Of course, once they’re in, feel free to share some trade secrets. Your marketing materials should help attendees and prospective attendees understand what’s in store at your event and how they can get the most out of their experience.
Of course, it’s critical that you’re able to measure the success of your marketing efforts, so be sure you’re leveraging event marketing software as well as the right conference management tools to help you make data-driven changes to your strategy, and replicate or improve future conference marketing efforts with the help of ROI measurement.
12 Conference Marketing Ideas
Combined with a strong planner-marketer relationship and the right conference management software, a strong conference marketing plan can help you tap into all the amazing benefits event marketing has to offer.
Conference advertising can include a wide range of strategies, from social media promotion and email marketing to partnering with sponsors to get the word out. Here are 12 conference marketing ideas (plus a ton of social media promotion tips!) to help you get started.
1. Identify Your Target Audience
The first step to marketing your event is figuring out whom you want to attend and how you need to speak to them to make it happen. This is where you outline attendee personas, identifying a handful of personas you want to target (i.e., thought leaders, executives with buying power, product users, etc.).
From there, you can build out the general attributes of each persona. The keyword here is general. If you get too specific, you’ll limit your ability to produce segmented messaging. This leads me to my next point…
2. Differentiate Your Audiences
Once you’ve established your target personas, make sure your messaging is segmented appropriately. You might send similar emails to every persona, but they shouldn’t all be the same.
You can also segment your messaging into additional categories to help you personalize your messaging even further. For example, you might have a list of CEOs who are existing customers who receive different emails than CEOs who are prospective customers, or you might send former attendees slightly different content than first-time attendees.
Whatever route you choose, targeted email campaigns and other messaging should be segmented strategically to ensure the right message is getting to the right audience.
3. Create a Killer Conference Website
A central hub for your target audience to find all conference-related information is a must. Details like speakers, sessions, extra activities like banquets or happy hours, networking events, and any other activities should be promoted on your event website. After all, these are the big-ticket items attracting attendees.
4. Build a Brand for Your Event
Your event promotion materials should be easily recognizable and eye-catching so that every time someone sees your event promoted, they’ll recognize it. Especially if you’re hosting a recurring conference, you’ll have a better chance of landing repeat attendees is your event’s brand is recognizable and memorable.
Think custom email signatures, standardized event colors (preferably matching or complementing your company branding), signature graphics that always accompany the event name, etc.
5. Diversify Your Marketing Content
When promoting a conference, it’s not enough to simply share a few social media posts and send out an email campaign begging people to attend. Instead, think about what your attendees are looking for, their pain points and needs, and why they should care about your conference and your business.
A great way to do this is by leveraging other marketing materials to show you understand your audience and want to help. If there’s a blog that could be helpful to a segment of your audience, share that as a resource in your emails.
Have a great video of last year’s event or a relevant customer testimonial? Great! Get it in front of your audience. All your marketing materials are your friends here – eBooks, short video clips, infographics, training materials, etc.
6. Find the Right Partners – and Make the Most of Them
Finding the right sponsors is about more than a bottom line. While revenue is an important consideration when choosing event sponsors, mutual promotion should be a part of the deal every time. If you’re promoting your sponsors before, during, and after your event, they should be doing the same for you.
This cross-promotion can help you land more attendees, brought in by things like social shares by your partners, and build credibility among your audience if you choose your sponsors well.
7. Survey Says: Your Event Rocks!
Post-event surveys are an excellent resource to help you reflect on your event’s success and prove ROI to stakeholders. These surveys can do more, though; they can also demonstrate the value of your event to future attendees.
With the right data, you can show prospective attendees exactly what they’re missing and why past attendees think your conference is absolutely worth the time (and money)!
8. Dwell in the Past for a Moment
Just as surveys from previous events can be a useful tool in targeting attendees, content generated from past iterations of your conference can be a great way to get attendees interested in attending in the future.
Consider sharing recap videos, photo highlights, and any other content demonstrating how great the previous event was. Bonus: all this recycled content helps you achieve even more ROI from your past marketing efforts!
9. Highlight Attendee Testimonials and Customer Stories
In your conference marketing materials, get your customers and attendees talking about what others love about your company and your event. Leverage video testimonials, interviews, and post-event surveys to demonstrate your event’s past success.
10. Offer Incentives to Attend
Not every attendee is going to be swayed by great content marketing or sales pitches. Sometimes, the best bait is a bit of bribery. It’s inevitable that some attendees will expect to get a deal for attending, so think about your registration offerings and how you can sweeten the pot for those who are on the fence.
Consider holding ticket sales during set periods, offering group ticket discounts, setting special rates or organizing exclusive activities for first-time or veteran attendees, and, of course, offering swag and prizes!
11. Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: Promote Your Event Before, During, and After
As events become more digital and content becomes easier to share with attendees, keep the buzz going before, during, and after your event to get the most out of your efforts.
Continue engaging attendees after your event, offering on-demand content on your conference hub, asking for post-event feedback, reminding attendees of the good times using video and photo content from the event, and keeping in touch with updates about your next event.
12. Go Further with Your Social Media Promotions
Social media is invaluable to event marketers, but only if it’s used to its maximum potential. If you’re not leveraging the elements below, it might be time to rethink your social media strategy.
Create a Social Media Handle for Your Event
Your conference is a unique opportunity for attendees to get together, consume the great content you’ve prepared, and network with others in their industry. Showcase this unique, can’t-miss experience by creating a social media handle just for your event.
That way, you can easily share details about your event in an easy-to-find location (and build your event’s brand a bit, too). Of course, if it’s an annual or repeat event, make the handle generic enough to reuse.
#IndustryHashtags Are Trending – Use Them!
You’ll of course be creating your own hashtag for your event, but don’t forget to include other relevant industry hashtags in your social media content. If attendees or customers are using a hashtag frequently, consider using it in your posts to help you attract the right crowd.
It Pays to Advertise (Using Paid Advertising)
It would be a mistake to leave paid social ads out of your conference marketing budget. While we’d all love to catch the attention of attendees through organic reach, it’s just not practical, and you’ll be severely disappointed in the results.
When crafting your ads, make them more like a shared post than an ad as much as possible. Think about scrolling through your own feed – anything that’s obviously an ad is likely passed over, so think about what makes an ad compelling enough to make you stop and check it out.
Do It Live!
Live streaming is having a moment on social media. Take advantage of this capability, and live stream what’s going on at your events to generate FOMO and attract new attendees next year.
Introduce Gamification Across Your Social Channels
Everyone wants to have fun at events, and social media offers a platform for some digital gamification. Leverage your social media pages to get attendees participating in digital scavenger hunts, photo tagging contests, and other games to up that FOMO quotient and get others interested in your event.
Share Past Attendee Testimonials
Customer and attendee testimonials are amazing resources – don’t forget to promote them on your social media pages!
Get Your Sponsors, Speakers, and Exhibitors Talking
Sometimes, what attracts attendees isn’t your brand – it’s your sponsors, exhibitors, and speakers. To help bring in a broader set of attendees, get your partners talking on their social media, and then share their posts!
Provide them with canned content to promote on their own pages, including written content, graphics, promotional videos, and any other branded content. That way, they can put out on-brand messaging and not have to spend extra time generating content themselves.
Cross-Post Where Possible
It might seem obvious, but if you’re posting event updates on your event’s social media page, don’t forget to cross-post on your organization’s main page and even your own professional accounts. You’ll cast a wider net and ensure no one in your network is missing out.
Go Beyond the Buzz: Share Useful, Frequent Updates
It goes without saying that attendees want to know what to expect from your event. As you make decisions, confirm speakers, and land partnerships, keep your network abreast of these milestones.
With frequent updates on your social media, you’ll provide attendees with valuable info that gets them excited, and you’ll entice prospects to take the plunge.
Share Behind-the-Scenes Content
Attendees love to see the inner workings of an event, and social media is a great place for show and tell. If you have stories, videos, or images from behind the scenes of your previous or upcoming conference, share those, and let attendees see the imperfect, “human side” of your event.
Marketing for a Virtual Conference
I could probably write an entire post about hosting a virtual conference, but in many respects, the tips here can double as virtual conference best practices. There are a few notable differences, however.
If you’re hosting a virtual conference, your audience will look a little different, and the post-event marketing materials available to you will change.
Marketing to a Virtual Audience
You’ll be targeting a larger audience in less specific segments, and that will change some of your marketing tactics, including how you segment your email campaigns.
Virtual Conference Registration Considerations
When you go virtual, registration looks a bit different. You’ll likely be offering far cheaper tickets than you would for an in-person event, and attendees will have fewer experiential offerings available. That said, you should try to incorporate as many experiences as possible into your virtual event, including virtual happy hours and networking opportunities.
Fewer Marketing Materials to Reuse
While you’ll still be creating great content for your virtual audience, the marketing content you’ll be able to generate will be limited. While you can’t use on-site videos to boost FOMO and share past event visuals, you can still do things like creating behind-the-scenes planning videos and leveraging customer testimonials and survey results from previous events.
Adopt a Virtual Conference Platform
You can’t host a great virtual event without a virtual conference platform that supports your event’s needs. The right platform will allow you to do it all, from planning and promoting your event to hosting your virtual content and allowing on-demand access to content even after your event wraps.
Give Your Conference Marketing Strategy a Makeover
Clearly, conference marketing isn’t a simple matter of pulling together a few marketing materials and sending well-timed emails. If you’re ready to give your conference marketing strategy a boost, leverage these tips, and keep in mind how you’ll need to adjust your tactics for an in-person, virtual, or hybrid event.
Ready to get started planning your conference? Check out how the right event planner software can help you do it all – including getting your marketing efforts on track!