"Having worked with media companies for many years, I know that everyone has many of the same issues when it comes to events," Robyn Duda of Robyn Duda Creative told me just before the holidays. They scramble to get everything done, tend to reach out to the same audiences and don't take enough risks.
Take event feedback. Yes, we do post-event electronic surveys and maybe even on-site paper surveys, but both are rather passive. Duda wants us to go deeper, talk to people at the event and "measure sentiment as close to real-time as possible." It's most accurate, she said, and excludes the fanatics and haters, and focuses on the core people in between. "They are who shape you."
Here are more recommendations from Duda—who spent seven years at event giant UBM, the last four as VP of brand strategy & experience design—to make your events better in 2019 and beyond.
Start with the problem. "Many smaller to medium-size companies still have the mentality that we're developing the event or product for revenue purposes instead of developing it for our audience—to solve one of their pain points," Duda said. "It's the complete opposite of what it should be. We need more revenue, let's do an event. Instead of, here's a challenge our audience has; how do we help them solve it?"
Then design something that will solve a problem for your audience. We've from an era where sales ruled the landscape, and things were very sponsor-driven. "Build it and attendees will come" is just not true any longer.
Take the time and make the effort to find where the audience needs are. "I remember being on the frontlines and being dictated to—'We want to do 12 events this year [because] we did 8 last year.' On what?" Duda asked. "Are you getting enough quantitative and qualitative information from all of your audiences? End users, subscribers, attendees. Then distilling that into a value proposition that solves that problem? And testing that against them?"
Reach out beyond your usual audience. Talk to the people who aren't coming to your events, Duda said. "Companies tend to talk to those who know their brand. They've already bought in. You have to connect with people who aren't coming to really create growth."
Choose what you're selling wisely. It's a delicate balance—understanding what audiences know and what they want. "I paid big money to go to South by Southwest (SXSW) last year to see things I don't know," Duda said. "I want to hear about something I didn't know existed yet. I know this conference gives me that every year. Media companies miss that sometimes. They're giving what [their audience] already knows. The element of inspiration isn't there—and the energy."
Look to other industries. "I love How I Built This on NPR," Duda said. "I get more ideas from that than anything—from companies like LuluLemon. Their grassroots marketing is genius. They don't spend much on advertising. They put the product on the right people in the community and let them evangelize it. How do we get them to evangelize for each client? That's the ticket."
For instance, "Annheuser Busch educated potential employees on their social impact and what they do by taking SXSW attendees through a custom-designed escape room. There are different ways of presenting information. We can take more risks when we look at how people absorb information. And get that next generation of buyers."
Extend your events cycle. "We are all strapped for time," Duda said, "so we scramble a bit, and our event comes off, and we say, 'Whew,' it's over,' and sit back. Most events need to be on an 18-month cycle, not a 12-month cycle (or even shorter if we sit back too long). We should double down early on figuring out how to make the following year better."
"As I see B2B companies focus on these key areas," Duda said, "they start to see big changes to their events: revenue, satisfaction scores and employee morale all increase."