Who sells your event?

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by Stephen O’Keefe, COO, InGo

Bill Lee, in his 2013 Harvard Business Review article, asks the seemingly obvious question “Who sells your products or services?”  Although most event organizers might answer “we do,” as Lee states and InGo heartily concurs, it is increasingly your customers (HBR, “How to Create True Customer Advocates.“ April 2012.) Event organizers have been historically trained in the school of command and control marketing and thus have not recognized the realities of the modern consumer. Instead of understanding the seismic shift that is social, they have increased their spend on the one-directional, mass marketing of the past, which had been declining precipitously in effectiveness for the past 15 years, or have brought these same one-directional tactics to their new efforts on social. This has been very costly as attendance at these events have declined, or at best held steady, despite a sometimes 100s of thousands increase in marketing spend. The ironic tragedy is that the increase in email, print, and ads, are likely contributing to the decline. The modern consumer wants to participate in the brand making process and the increased volume of mass marketing she receives now makes even the best campaign feel like SPAM.

In this article, I follow on Sean Garvey’s piece in Exhibition News (click here to read), showing how leading event organizers who have recognized this paradigm shift have used InGo to radically change the way they build attendance at their event. By following InGo’s Power Ranking or best practice to create an advocate marketing campaign, they have given their attendees the “means, motive, and opportunity” to turn the event’s brand into their own personal brand.

This is the heart of the matter. Mass marketing sceams “DO THIS!” Advocate Marketing asks, “Isn’t this part of your brand?  Shall we help you promote it?” (Many modern brands like Uber are excelling at this and their results are amazing.)

So, what is this magic formula that creates advocates to enable the most valuable marketing around? Here’s the six steps to getting the most out of your advocate marketing campaign.

Power Ranking Phase #1 – Engage the Prospects

The first engagement an attendee, especially a new one, has with an event is usually the website. The topic of the event, if it is of relevance to her, is most likely the most important determining factor in her decision to register so should, of course, be front and center. The other factors in the decision of the attending the event are personal. Does she know anyone at the event? Are there experts and colleagues beyond the speakers whose company she covets and whose opinion she values?

The team at Comexposium’s ad:tech Brand do such a brilliant job with this type of engagement.  Their clean and inviting opening to the registration process allows a prospect to determine who from their network is going and who else of interest might be there. InGo’s “social widget” is prominently displayed, inviting maximum interaction and the attractive display invites the attendee to be engaged in the event from the first interaction.

  Possible Power Ranking points (5):  Ad:Tech Australia: 5

Possible Power Ranking points (5):  Ad:Tech Australia: 5

Power Ranking Phase #2 – Simple Sign-On

Now that the attendee has determined the event is relevant and she knows and respects the people who are going, she is excited and ready to become an attendee. The key aspect of this part of advocate marketing is to make a tedious activity as friction-less as possible and to focus the prospect on the positive part of the activity. As social has grown and matured, more and more people, especially millennials, have decide that they only have one identity online, their LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. profile. The pain of remembering many logins online and the awareness that the are already “sharing” with every google user most of what they post has lead to increased demand for social as a single sign-on. With the move to social sign-on, they’ve come to expect the speed and ease of auto-fill. (“All of this I’ve made available on LinkedIn; why are you asking me again?”)

The Emerald Expositions marketing and operations team highlights this experience here with their serial award winning and Fastest 25 show, ICFF.

With a clear call to action and the words everyone likes to hear, “easier and faster,” Emerald always gets the highest adoption rates and least drop off. These best practices pay off big time –  ICFF has doubled in size since moving to advocate marketing as their primary means of marketing.

  Possible Power Ranking points (5):  Emerald’s ICFF: 5

Possible Power Ranking points (5):  Emerald’s ICFF: 5

Power Ranking Phase #3 – Social Widget Prominently and Seamlessly Displayed

While the attendee is working her way through the registration process, InGo is busy analyzing her social network to find the most relevant and trusted peers and friends in her network to invite. This is the heart of the InGo solution: selecting for the attendee the exact people who she wants at the event. There have been other “find a friend” or “invite a colleague” solutions before, but like the music player before the iPod, the use case was onerous and awkward. The attendee should arrive at confirmation to the faces she knows and respects, pre-selected, and ready to be invited.
CeBIT, the largest and most internationally represented computer expo, does a great job of seamlessly moving the attendee to the invite screen, not surprising for a marquis brand. The confirmation page saves space for what the attendee cares about.  The preselection of the top six most relevant people based on InGo’s multi-dimensional, social search algorithm invariably produces the top hits for the attendee. Organizers like CeBIT see multiple invites per attendee due to best practice layouts like this.

   Possible Power Rank points (5):  CeBit Australia: 5

 Possible Power Rank points (5):  CeBit Australia: 5

Power Ranking Phase #4 – Social Emails

Now the core InGo platform is up and running. The login widget is the only call to action to start registration, “Who’s In” is prominently displayed, the social widget is as inviting as a wood fire in the winter on the confirmation page. What’s next? Social Emails.

Although social usage is large and growing in every region of the planet, for many the inbox is where they live.  The challenge here is the entering the quagmire of dismal returns which is email marketing and bringing the prospect into the world of advocate marketing.  The answer is the same one that makes advocate marketing so much superior to traditional one-direction marketing – make the email about the person.

InGo has a suite of 5 social emails which are sent during the course of the 4-5 month leading up to the event. In this instantiation of the social email, the call to action is “Find out who’s going” demonstrated below with Fiera Roma’s gorgeous event logo, Cavilli A Roma (Horses in Rome…as it should be).

For the passive social user, one who views but doesn’t interact much, this gives them a clear motivation – events are more fun with friends – to act.

  Possible Power Ranking points(10): Cavalli A Roma (10)

Possible Power Ranking points(10): Cavalli A Roma (10)

Power Ranking Phase #5 – Incentives

If you’ve done all of the above, you are going to have superb results on your advocate marketing campaign. There are two final ways to get the most out of the campaign: incentives and other paths on your event website, such as the exhibitors portal.

You have to careful with incentives when it comes to advocate marketing, as the attendees want to advocate already. The wrong incentive or one that’s poorly worded makes them feel like they are your mouthpiece rather than promoting what they perceive as their brand (an event they love.) We recommend the incentive lean more towards gamification than direct pay for press.  The folks at Fiera Milano, not surprisingly given their position as the mavens of style, do this extremely well.

  Possible points(2):  Homi Milano (2)

Possible points(2):  Homi Milano (2)

Power Ranking Phase #6 – Exhibitor Paths

Every major event website has multiple paths for exhibitors, different languages, VIPs, etc.  It stands to reason you want every stakeholder possible to advocate for your event. The most important path beyond the attendee path is the “exhibitor path.”  The exhibitors have the most keen idea of who they want at events.  If you give them the tools, they will ensure your event meets with their seal of approval.

ASD, one of Emerald Expositions’ jewels in the crown, is the one of the largest retail shows in the US, attracting ten of thousands of buyers. They mix gamification in with their outreach to the exhibitors to spark some friendly competition to see who is the most influential or InGo speak, the “Top Advocate.”

  Possible Power Ranking points (3):  Emerald Exposition’s ASD (3)

Possible Power Ranking points (3):  Emerald Exposition’s ASD (3)


Advocate marketing is the gift that keeps on giving as it is both brand enhancing (unlike email, ads, and telemarketing) and, when following best practices, is statistically on a different planet when it comes to results versus traditional marketing. A well done advocate marketing campaign will have a 10% acquisition rate (not open, or click, etc. – acquisition) on the low end compared to below 0.005% for email, print, tele-marketing, social media marketing, etc. Give those spam filters and voice mail machines a break and enjoy sharing your brand with your customers. They’ll love you for it.


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