Sunday, September 30, 2012

6 Lessons Learned the Hard Way About Event Marketing

Friday night I had the privilege of attending an event that I had helped organize and plan for over a month.  My main role was the go-to writer and social-media manager, but I was also a part of all the planning meetings.

This was my first time being a part of anything like this, so I learned a lot about what goes into putting on an event.  Here is what I took away.

1. Allow yourself plenty of time.

There had been talk of putting on an event of some kind for months, but talk was all it was.

And not productive talk.  The kind of talk that you hear when people talk about writing a book, running a marathon, or traveling around the world.

Aside from getting the venue, the serious planning didn't start until about five or six weeks before the event.  I don't think I need to tell you, that isn't a lot of time.

There are a lot of things that you need to get set up.  We needed to find someone to handle sound, lights, hors d'oeuvres, photography.  We needed to find corporate sponsors, donors for the silent auction, performers, speakers.

And on top of all that we needed to build up some marketing momentum.  A big problem when you have very little time.

We put together a radio spot, but it only ran once on a single station.  There was talk of getting local magazines to donate ad space, but no time to get an ad out to any of them.  And a Twitter account was started, but not much of a following could be built up.

Getting people properly worked up takes time.  Make sure you have that time.

2. Practice.

One of the cardinal rules of marketing is to test first to make sure everything works the way it should.  Test your product, test your webpage, test your marketing, test everything.

The same goes for events.  Do a dry run of everything to make sure of the timing, make sure everyone knows their places, and look for any problems that might come up.

We had platters of cheese, meat, crackers, and vegetables for people to snack on while looking at the silent auction items.  Then we took everyone into another room for the main show, and nobody thought about if we would need to put the food away.

Somebody had put it away, but then needed to take it out again during intermission.

It's these little things that can only get ironed out with practice.  And going back to the first point, give yourself time to practice everything and change things if you need to.

3. Make sure everything is to scale.

We had some people working very hard on getting items for the silent auction.  They did a great job and got a number of items from various artists, jewelers, and so on.

When it came time everyone to wander through and bid on the items, it wound up looking like a bit too much.  There were so many items that demand could not be driven that high.  Many items had only one or two bids, and some didn't have any.

We ran into a similar problem with seating.  We had a decent turnout, but still had a lot of empty seats.

If we had had a good way of accurately anticipating how many people would show up, we could have adjusted.  Perhaps if there were just a bit more scarcity, demand would have been driven a bit higher.

Though we may have also gotten more bids if we had ended on time and allowed people a last chance at the items, instead of going long and telling people, "Sorry, the auction closed while you were sitting here."  Another spot where practice would have helped.

4. Know what else is going on.

If there is a major event going on at the same time as your event, it can take away a lot of the attention that you would have been getting, but check if there are any smaller events that would also interfere.

We had an intermission scheduled in our show where people could walk around, have a drink or two, look at the auction items some more, and hopefully bid on them some more.

Except a band had been scheduled to use that same room later that night.

We lost a bunch of space in that room, and their playing was a bit of a distraction during some of the speeches at the end of the night.

5. Keep it focused, but keep it interesting.

Our event was a little bit of a variety show.  We had a speaker, a musical performance, a runway fashion show, another musical performance, another fashion show, intermission, another speech, musical performance, and one last fashion show.

It never felt boring, which was great.  Sitting through two hours of anything can be tough, even if you are interested to begin with.  By breaking the night up into several smaller events, I was never wondering when things would be over.

But at the same time it felt a little unfocused.  We could have probably cut one of the musical performances(especially since one of the performers had a bad case of laryngitis), and we would have had a night that still would have had variety, but would have been more focused and had a tighter timeline.

Keep the evening balanced so people aren't bored, but know what your event is about.  Don't be afraid to skew the balance toward that.

6. "Inspirational" videos are rarely inspirational.

It's good to have a reminder that you're doing this "for the kids," or "for the whales," or whoever/whatever, but don't expect to get a huge emotional response from your audience with a five-minute collection of film clips, unless you have one hell of a filmmaker on your team.

Despite all of this, I feel our event was a tremendous success, and I hope I get to do something like that again.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

SEO is Dead

Okay, I'll admit that headline is a bit sensationalist.  People have been claiming that the art of search-engine optimization is dead/dying for a (very) long time.  Do a quick search on the topic and you'll find articles written years ago in response to this.

Some say that SEO is still very much alive, it's just changing.  That's undoubtedly true.  The glorious thing about the age of the internet is that everything is changing all the time.

But how much change must there be before SEO is no longer SEO?

Now, there are some basics that will likely never go away.  You will probably always want things like clean code in your website, a healthy amount of backlinks, and a few relevant keywords in your content.

Until recently, these have been very set rules.  Use those keywords X number of times, place those keywords here, here, and here, make the article between Y and Z words long, etc.  It was a great business for people who were good at following checklists.

Now, with every update, Google is making their algorithms more and more organic.  Many experts are already telling people to target the consumer, not the search engine.

With Google+ and the +1 button, Google is even adding a social element to the mix.  Some are already predicting that the future of SEO will revolve around social searching.

With so much emphasis on people and what they actually find useful or entertaining, the SEO landscape has already changed to something completely different from what it was only a few years ago.  It's gone from the realm of checklists and formulas to something much more intuitive.

It has become the domain of the artists.

The name search-engine optimization doesn't really apply anymore.  You are not optimizing for the search engines, you are optimizing for the consumers.

SEO is dead.  Now is the time of consumer optimization.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

3 Questions to Ask When Starting a New Marketing Campaign

Whenever I hear about how a great new marketing campaign was created or why it failed, I find the discussion usually revolves around at least one of three areas: What am I selling, who am I selling it to, and who am I?  These three questions are what marketers must ask themselves before starting any promotion.

1. What am I selling?

You might think this is the easiest question in the world to answer.  "I own a pizza place.  I sell pizzas.  Duh!"


There's an old saying in marketing, "You don't sell the steak, you sell the sizzle."  The way I interpret that is: you sell the differences between your product and everyone else's.

What makes your pizza unique?(I'll be sticking with a hypothetical pizza place for my examples)  Is it cheaper than anyone else's?  Is the crust the thinnest or the thickest?  Do you have the freshest ingredients?  Is there some gimmick?  A combination of any of those?

People can get a pizza anywhere.  Figure out why they would want to get one from YOU.

And if you really are the only place in town where people can get a pizza, don't get lazy.  Think about why people should get your pizza instead of someone else's burger or rack of ribs.

Note: If you really have absolutely no competition and just need to get people's attention, then I guess you can skip to the next question.  Congratulations on your monopoly.

2. Who am I selling to?

This is a big one.  Entire industries have formed around researching customer bases and telling businesses exactly who is buying their products or services.  You need to know your customer so you can know how and where to reach them.

"I'm a pizza place.  I sell to everybody."

Wrong again.

Everyone is different and likes different things.  Not everyone likes pizza.  You've just narrowed your target: people who like pizza.

Now narrow it further.  Look back at Question 1.  You are targeting people who want cheap pizza, or pizza with a very thin/thick crust, or whatever your selling point is.  Let's say it's 'value.'

Okay, you're targeting people who like pizza that's a good value.  And who are they?  College students?  Lower-income families?  Bosses who want to show their employees that they are appreciated, but not that appreciated?

Once you get a good idea of the type of person you are going to be targeting with your campaign, you can ask yourself, "What else do they like?"

Video games?  You could invest in a few arcade games, sponsor(or host) a video-game tournament, see what sort of joint promotion you might do with a local Gamestop.

Sports?  Get some nice TVs and a comfortable area where people can watch while they eat, and maybe organize a fantasy league.

Starting to get the idea?

A word of warning, though: being too specific can really limit the number of your potential customers, and end up hurting you instead of helping.  The same if you choose the wrong category.  Don't target college students if there's no college around.

3. Who am I?

Once you've got those first two questions answered, you need to figure out your own identity.  This will depend a lot on your answers to the first two questions.

And like the first two questions, this is more complicated than you might think.

You can't simply say, "I'm Hypothetical Pizza.  We sell pizza at a decent value to college students who like sports."  To really make your brand stand out and be memorable, it has to have a unique personality.

If you're selling high-quality pizza with fresh ingredients to people who appreciate that kind of thing, you will probably want to be more professional and straightforward in your messaging to reflect that quality.  If you're targeting a younger, more carefree crowd, your messaging should be more relaxed and have a sense of humor.

Try to get as detailed with this as possible.  It's better to know the details of your brand's character and not have to bring them up, than to not have them at all and end up seeming too generic.

For more help with this, check out some advice for writers on creating good characters for stories.

Once you have the answers to these three questions, often the rest of the campaign will simply fall into place.  But if you don't have the answers, you might find yourself wracking your brain to come up with a new promotion that falls completely flat.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Promoting in the Aftermath of a Tragedy

You probably heard about the shooting that happened at the Dark Knight Rises premier in Colorado(oh God I hope you've heard of that), but did you hear about the company that actually tried to make money off it?, a "dating" website where men can bid on a date with a woman, issued a press release saying, "During the Dark Knight Massacre, three men lost their lives to save the lives of their girlfriends. But what if you were on a first date, and you had only just met?"

It went on to say that the men on their site were "generous" and implied they would be more willing to take a bullet for their date.

Needless to say, there was some pretty severe backlash.  Many Twitter users called out the company for being insensitive and trying to profit off a tragedy, and Brandon Wade, the founder of, responded.

It was a pretty boneheaded move to use the shooting in the press release in the first place, and not listening to feedback was even worse.  There's no question about that.

But it did make a morbid part of my mind wonder: Could it be done?  Is there some way that a brand can use the publicity of a major tragedy like that and turn it to their advantage?

On the surface that would seem impossible.  I can think of a couple of failed attempts off the top of my head, like Groupon's super bowl commercial with Timothy Hutton, and Kenneth Cole's infamous tweet.  I'm sure you can come up with a few more examples.

But I also think of Budweiser.

After September 11, they had a touching tribute featuring their Clydesdales bowing toward the New York skyline.  There were a few critics(aren't there always?), but generally it was well-received enough that they remade the spot for the 10-year anniversary of the event.

But why were they okay?  What's the difference between the Budweiser Tribute spots, and's "This is so sad, now BUY OUR STUFF" approach?

I guess it would be the "buy our stuff" part.

What makes the Budweiser spots tributes is that they aren't selling anything.  They are expressions of grief and sympathy.  They have Budweiser branding to let you know who the message comes from, but that's all.  It's like putting your signature on a sympathy card.

To emphasize that point, Budweiser only ever aired the spots once.  They didn't want to turn it into a regular commercial because they didn't want to spoil the sentiment. 

So there's the key.  Selling is the poison that turns a touching and heartfelt sentiment into a disingenuous and manipulative sales pitch.  If you want your audience to know that your message comes from the heart, don't sell.  It can't be done.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Marketing: A Love Letter

This was originally going to be my debut post, because I feel it's a good introduction to me and how I look at the world of marketing, but my previous post was much more topical and I wanted to get that out while it was still relevant.

I love marketing.  I think it is a fascinating art, and it's a social art at that.  What do I mean by "social art?"  I will explain(because what else would I do with my blog?).

Everyone has their own definition of "art."  To me, "art" means a mastery of all the little details of a job that make the difference when it comes to quality.  If you're making a table, for example, you turn it into an art by knowing all the little tricks that go into making a table sturdy and level that an ordinary person wouldn't know about.

"Fine art" is when you communicate an idea or emotion using those details.  A poet will choose just the right words, a painter will put in just the right splash of color, and the observer will get the emotion or idea that the artist is trying to get across.

Not every marketing campaign will seem like it's trying to be emotional.  Some of the most successful campaigns are simply fliers stating, "Shirts for $X."  But even then a skilled marketer will carefully choose the font, color, image, arrangement, and many other details to effectively get across the idea that these shirts are a good value.

When marketing is done right, every paragraph is a poem, every image a portrait, every display a sculpture, every meal a banquet, every paycheck a fortune, every formation a parade!  I LOVE the corps!

Sorry, I got a little carried away and started quoting from Aliens.  Won't happen again.

Marketing done well is fine art.  But unlike other types of art, it is not meant to merely be pondered for a while before moving on to the next piece.  It is meant to move the observer to action.  It's a way for brands to communicate to customers, and it gives customers a means to communicate back.  In the past that's been with their wallets or some other way of showing general support for the brand, but now with social media that communication can be very direct.

That is what makes marketing so cool.  Where other arts are narcissistic, broadcasting their message and not caring what you do after, marketing is extremely social, passing along it's message and asking you to respond.  In fact, without that response, marketing becomes worthless.  Fine art joined with social interaction.  I love it.