How to successfully use email marketing to increase event attendance.
By Maura Keller | Photo from Shutterstock
The email inbox has always been a direct line of communication between consumers and retailers. Now email marketing is being used for all facets of communication within the meetings and event industry. Thanks in part to the proliferation of mobile devices, advanced email marketing tools, and the need for relevant and personal content — meeting industry professionals are using strategic email marketing campaigns to connect with potential attendees in new and engaging ways.
According to Kim Pearlstein, CEO of Pearlmark, a strategic marketing solutions company, over the last several years and due to the pandemic, more businesses are realizing the value of email marketing.
“It is one of the best and most cost-effective forms of mar- keting, with an amazing ROI — $36 for every dollar spent,” Pearlstein says. That’s why savvy meeting and event planners are also targeting potential attendees with better engagement by delivering contextually relevant email.
“Email marketing providers continue to offer new features that make it easy and efficient for businesses to stay top-of- mind with their connections and share products, services and events,” Pearlstein says. “And the number one app on a smartphone is email. In fact, 99% of email users check their inbox every day, with some checking 20 times a day. Of those people, 58% of consumers check their email first thing in the morning. So, using email marketing is one of the best decisions you can make — you are reaching people where they live — in their inbox.”
Brent Turner, executive vice president, strategy and solutions at Opus Agency, a global agency delivering premier experiences, says that from picking a technology platform to developing core strategies, success in any email marketing campaign starts with the basics. First, begin by creating core audience segmentations. “At its simplest, these are the starter lists: Has Attended in Past, Has Not Attended Yet and Has Registered. As the teams advance, these segmentations often get more specific and focused; how- ever, we recommend a maximum of six-to-seven segmentations,” Turner says.
Once the audience segmentations are set, Turner and the Opus Agency team design the email marketing messaging “flights.”
These typically are aligned with the expected event marketing playbook — like ticket price changes and speaker announce- ments. Event teams may add more flights as programs advance, including flights that align to specific segments.
If your email recipient lists have been built over time or were created through an amalgamation of sources, then you may be sending emails to people who do not remember signing up for communications from your company or for the event being planned. At best, these people may ignore your communications. At worst, they report your messages as spam and unsubscribe.
To combat the potential subscriber confusion, Turner recom- mends two approaches. First, for any emails from older lists, send a “warm-up” note that helps them connect the dots and remember their connection. Then, on ongoing emails, it is good to include a reminder. These can say something along the lines of “You are receiving this email because you subscribed to our brand in June 2017.”
Pearlstein points out that you can grow your email list in many ways. However, there are laws that govern how you can email prospects. So, you must get express consent and let your contacts know that they can unsubscribe at any time.
So what are the best ways to gather potential email recipients for events? Pearlstein’s recommendations include:
Many event professionals tend to communicate the “what” when developing an email campaign. They promote the dates, speakers, sessions and location. But as Turner points out, with this focus on features and tactics, planners often miss what’s key to getting someone to take action: benefits and value.
“When you start to design your next campaign, build a message map that begins with clear benefits and a single-minded focus on the value your event is providing,” Turner says.
Also, when picking templates and structuring content, it is best to start “mobile-first.” This pushes teams to quickly hit most of the modern best practices for email marketing. As Turner explains, in a mobile-first approach, planners are more likely to be to the point with both words and visuals. By keeping the copy short and the visuals streamlined, emails are naturally more approachable and digestible — on phones and desktops.
“Explore using ‘social proof ’ to drive persuasion. This includes featuring peers, like testimonials from past events or names of people attending the next event, and connecting your email campaign to social media initiatives through tools like Snoball — a favorite event marketing partner of ours here at Opus Agency,” Turner says.
Pearlstein also recommends following the 80/20 rule: 80% of the content you provide should be information that is valuable to your subscribers, while 20% can be promotional. Also be sure to keep the paragraphs short and include a “read more” link so you know if the person is interested in the content you have shared.
“Include a clear call-to-action above the scroll line,” Pearlstein says. Providing relevant, informative content to your audience helps establish your credibility and makes your prospects more likely to read the emails. Subscribers will be more likely to open the emails to see what is being shared, which also can prompt them to sign up for an event, purchase tickets and share the email with a friend.
“Make sure that the words you choose are concise, compelling, unique and provide value,” Pearlstein says.
And as far as including graphics in email marketing campaigns, remember using too many images can be distracting and make the email too long, so use one to three photos that relate to the email’s content. Pearlstein advises that you make the images clickable to send them to a website or landing page and make sure the email template matches the company’s brand.
“Yes, images are important,” Pearlstein says. “You want to catch the reader’s eyes. Good graphics should support the message and may make it easier to understand the content. They can also motivate readers to feel or do something.” However, Madeline Raithel, communication specialist at Entire Productions, says a lot of graphics will slow down the page speed or not translate well to mobile applications where 40% of emails are opened.
“That being said, a good graphic with valuable information that looks good on mobile is great, but certainly not needed,” Raithel adds. “We like to include a fun picture or two from past events that we resize within our email marketing platform to fit mobile screens.”
Also, as far as hyperlinks, try not to include your link right up front and don’t flood your copy with a ton of links. “Ideally, you should be hyperlinking one or two really important links that help mobilize users to your call-to-action,” says Raithel. “Including the link right away ensures that the person will immediately leave your newsletter and miss the rest of your valuable content. That being said, make sure your links go to open a new window so users can easily navigate back to the newsletter.”
So you’ve written the content for your monthly marketing email, announcing the latest and greatest in an upcoming conference or tradeshow. Now you’re faced with the task of crafting a compelling and irresistible email subject line that entices recipients to open it. Sound familiar?
The good news is that by employing the right strategies you can craft powerful subject lines that will grab the attention of your recipients each and every time. So how do you create subject lines that truly stand out from the crowd?
For event planning, experts advise that the first email should be sent at least six weeks in advance — earlier if travel is required to attend the event. With that schedule, Pearlstein recommends sending one to two emails a week for the first four weeks and then two to three times a week after that, until the event date.
“To determine the best day/time to send your emails, under- stand your audience and see what works for them — experiment, segment your list and test some options. Since every business is different, the same time may not work for everyone,” Pearlstein says.
One strategy to use is a drip campaign, which is a series of automated emails you set up in advance. This helps you stay engaged with your contacts through a steady stream of valuable communication. It also saves you time, because you set up the emails and create the sending schedule in advance, so you can “set it and forget it.”
“I recommend sending the series with one to three days in between each email. More advanced email platforms enable the automated emails to send people on different paths, depending on the actions they take with your email,” Pearlstein says.
And while there are many email marketing tools available today, including MailChimp, EventBrite and Constant Contact, the best platform is the one with the features you need and can afford.
Whatever tool you choose, make sure you include a link to “add to calendar.” “We hate having to create our own calendar reminders only be to waiting the day of the event to receive any info on how to access the event,” Raithel says. “Don’t be this person. Simply Google how to create an add to calendar link if you’re not sure how and include the link to the meeting.”
As you know, it is a lot of work to create and promote events. Pearlstein says it’s important to have enough time to effectively market the event so you can achieve your goals. “In addition, don’t rely solely on email marketing,” Pearlstein says. “Use social media and other online advertising tools (free or paid), and don’t underestimate the power of asking your network to share your event to their contacts, using their email lists and connections.”
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