If you’ve ever hosted a 250+ people conference, you know it’s a serious job and takes a massive amount of effort and energy.
On top of that, marketing an event is even harder because event marketing has remained unoriginal and uninspiring for far too long that most people do not like to engage with it anymore. This presents an opportunity for marketers to use creative event marketing strategies that’d provide value to your audience without looking like a pushy salesman. As a result, your audience would reward you with their attention and engagement.
In Nov 2018, my company organised a conference – The Ecosystem Summit which took our small team of 25 people about 5 months to put together from the ground up.
Starting with just 3 confirmed speakers and a basic concept note, we built the conference brick by brick to end up with 35+ confirmed speakers, 250+ confirmed delegates and 10+ sponsor partners.
We didn’t have much to begin with but that didn’t stop us from starting the conference promotion early on, which in hindsight was a very good decision.
In last couple of years, our company has hosted many smaller events and meetups, which has helped us in understanding a few key insights:
- It’s difficult to engage the audience for a conference because only a smaller sub-set of audience is interested in them due to time and location constraint.
- If you follow the traditional marketing approach and repeatedly send out the similar direct emails to your subscribers and audience, you’re bound to annoy a lot of them who’d not hesitate to unsubscribe.
- While using the email marketing, after the first three emails, everything becomes repetitive because you’ve exhausted the talking points about the event. So your pull marketing can quickly turn into push marketing which can have dire negative consequences.
Considering these insights we devised a unique content marketing strategy which was executed using email marketing to provide our subscribers with an interactive experience without directly talking about the conference.
Here’s how we did it…
Email #1 – Mystery & Intrigue
Our first dedicated email to our community of 150,000+ subscribers was a simple question.
Instead of directly announcing the summit like every conference does, we did things a bit differently:
- We used the element of mystery by unveiling the conference logo for the first time which nobody was familiar with. We didn’t give any context about the logo either, this made people curious to find out what is it by clicking on it.
- Asking a catchy question that most startup people can relate to because most startup founders dream of turning their companies into a unicorn and look up to entrepreneurs who have already done that. We used this insight to engage them by asking them to choose an answer. Of course nobody really knew the answer because this wasn’t a common public knowledge. This helped us in educating our subscribers while subtly introducing our conference.
What happened when someone clicked on an answer?
They landed on the The Ecosystem Summit website and immediately a popup showed up based on whether they’d chosen the right answer.
This email performed really well because the open rate was much higher and the click rate was double our daily email campaigns.
The most interesting part was however the ratio of the total email opens vs unique email opens and similarly, total clicks vs unique clicks.
You’ll be surprised to know that the total opens of this email were 25% more than the unique opens which means on average, 25% of the subscribers who opened this email opened it twice. This makes a massive difference considering the campaign was sent to our full database of more than 150,000 subscribers.
Similarly, the total clicks were 20% more than the unique clicks which shows high engagement level.
How was this achieved?
This creative strategy combined content marketing with email marketing and created an interactive experience with the use of onsite engagement tool Optinmonster.
Creating the popup in optinmonster was very simple and creating multiple such popups could be scaled easily because only one image element needed to be updated every time.
We triggered the correct and incorrect popup based on a custom URL parameter:
- For correct answer – https://42ecosystem.com/?unicorn=true
- For incorrect answer – https://42ecosystem.com/?unicorn=false
We then converted the URLs for correct and incorrect answers into short links and hyperlinked the answers in the email. This further eliminated the chance of cheating because smart people would hover over the answers and observe the naked URLs to identify the right answer. So we closed that window of opportunity by using short links instead of naked URLs. Moreover, short links also helped us in analysing and comparing the number of clicks with our email marketing software.
Email #2 – Nostalgia
Now it was time to introduce a bit of nostalgia because nothing gets better engagement than emotional content, or at least that was the hypothesis.
This email showcased the version one of the first Indian job site naukri.com (now the largest) when it was launched back in 1997. It was then connected to its founder who was one of the main speakers at the conference.
The goal was to sell the speaker while mixing a bit of nostalgia which would resonate with pretty much everyone who had been a part of the Indian startup ecosystem.
The call to action took the reader to the conference website and more information was provided in the Speakers’ section.
Again, the total opens of this email were 26% more than the unique opens which is an extremely positive sign of engagement. However, the total clicks on this email were only marginally higher than the unique clicks which is understandable because there was only one call to action.
The clickthrough rate of this email was lower than Email #1 because it didn’t have a strong mystery element and most of the information was presented in the email body itself, which didn’t leave a strong incentive for the readers to click.
Email #3 – Reverting back to mystery and engagement
The objective of this email was to actively engage the subscribers, just like we did in Email #1.
And because of the success of Email #1, we baked the element of mystery in this email in two ways:
- Using a unique question about the history of the Indian startup ecosystem which was intriguing enough to garner higher click rate <— this was our hypothesis which turned out to be true
- Strategically showcasing 4 prominent speakers consisting of a Minister of State from the Government of India, two very well known veterans of Indian startup ecosystem and one Japanese investor to highlight participation from international startup ecosystems.
The primary goal of the email was to engage the reader with the question so they’d again be redirected to the conference website. And along with it, convey additional information about the conference by showing the most prominent speakers of the conference.
If you clicked on one of the answers, you’d be redirected to the conference website and a popup would open just like Email #1.
The open rate was extremely high, almost equivalent to Email #1.
The total opens were 19% higher than unique opens which still indicated a very high engagement. But most importantly, the total clicks were 22% higher than the unique clicks which made this email even more engaging than Email #1 in terms of click engagement.
What After The First Three Emails?
After engaging our subscribers with these three initial emails, we finally sent a direct email announcing the conference.
The first three emails gave us enough time to warm up our subscribers before the official announcement and maintained a level of mystery and curiosity about the conference. So much so that we got multiple emails from influencers enquiring about the conference.
We continued this email series till the day of the event and sent out a total of 15 emails. Some of them performed really well and others not as much but the performance of the first three emails were unbeatable throughout the series.
I can tell you it was super fun to come up with this strategy of using content as the means of engagement and mixing it with email marketing and onsite tools to create an interactive experience.
To see it perform better than many of our previous campaign was a joyful moment because we built it on a hypothesis which could have failed for all we know.
But here are a few takeaways that I learnt from this campaign which you can adopt to run a similar campaign:
- It’s always advisable to start marketing your conference as soon as you have a basic plan in hand even if you don’t have a finalised agenda or all the confirmed speakers. Starting early gives you the advantage to run a longer campaign which has the potential to reach more people.
- Most people are use to of seeing the same type of direct emails from the conference organisers and differentiating yourself by adopting this marketing strategy will make you stand out immediately.
- This strategy would also work really well because it leverages the element of mystery which is a powerful psychological tool.
- And lastly, it is important to make a good first impression on your readers and this strategy is perfectly suited for it because it works as pull marketing instead of push marketing and boosts engagement while providing value at the same time.
Got any feedback? Comments’ section is open for you.