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Marketing: the power behind the throne

by EN

In her latest feature, EN guest editor, Ruth Carter, speaks with Alexia Maycock, chief marketing officer at CloserStill Group, about the importance marketing will hold as the event industry re-opens.

Venues are ready; organisers are ready; contractors are ready. But, with the ‘wing-and-a-prayer’ date of 21 June fast approaching, never has the role of marketing been so important in helping ensure that our exhibitors and audiences are equally as ready and excited as us to be back and live. Content and sales may be king, but marketing will most definitely be the power behind the throne this year.

Thinking and putting the customer first is something the marketing function has always focused on, and Helen Coetzee, co-founder and director of marketing consultancy and digital marketing agency MPG, feels that going back to basics and framing everything around the initiative of ‘jobs to be done is the answer. Actively asking yourself ‘what jobs does a specific demographic of my audience need to get done and how can this event help them achieve that’ is a useful starting point and will highlight the language, the initiatives and the messaging that marketing need to be using. Simple, cuts through all the hot air and white noise and is highly effective as a strategy .

In order to really understand the strategies and routes that marketers need to be taking, I spoke with Alexia Maycock, chief marketing officer at CloserStill Group. Maycock, unlike many, sees positives from the 2020 period. CloserStill has been on a fast-paced journey over the last six years – reflected by the company receiving the Sunday Times’ Fastest Growing 200 International Companies awards for the sixth year in a row – and Maycock feels that 2020 gave the business a chance to regroup and reset.

“We have had a real chance to stop and think about what we do marketing-wise. A large piece of that is about going back to basics, primarily with data. Understanding who we are trying to target, what is the universe and where are we missing data. And then using that as the foundation for a much more sophisticated approach to digital marketing. If your data is right, it allows you to be more targeted, to really know your audience and therefore to really communicate with them properly.”

Maycock feels that audiences are going to be far more selective going forward and therefore the levels of sophistication needed with marketing activity is going to significantly increase. In order to support this refreshed approach to marketing and the fundamental importance of data, Maycock talks about the profile and expertise of the new people they are currently recruiting. Being an ‘event marketer’ first may not always be the main answer.

“Audiences are going to be a lot more selective about the events that they go to so therefore, you have to make sure that, as far as you can, you know exactly what their pain points are and why they should actually leave their homes and go to your show. And I know we have always said that we need to do this, but now we have the chance and the urgent requirement to do this really, really well.

“While there is always that perennial question of whether live events will survive in a digital age, what the pandemic has done is actually accelerate people’s need for live events. But with that comes the different challenge of exhibitors and visitors of being a lot more demanding about what they get from an event. Exhibitors will put more importance on how many qualified leads they get. Previously, they would have been happy to turn up at a show and get 1,000 leads. But digital has given them a greater insight into the detail and so now they would rather have 50 high quality, pre-qualified leads than a high volume of less targeted information.

“We have been hiring people who are digital marketing experts as opposed to digital event experts. We know most things about events and how to run them but we need to bring in that specific expertise, particularly on the digital side of things, to help us really become a lot more sophisticated. The existing teams are also embracing this new expertise, not only because they want to learn but also because they know how valuable it is.

“The challenge is getting the team balance between event expertise and digital expertise. In the past we have been too keen to hold on to the event side but going forward, we will need to think differently.

“That of course leads to challenges of how you measure an individual’s achievement and therefore how you reward them. Doing it the traditional way will not work when you have a blend of event and digital experts on your team.”

We have always understood the importance of quality data in a successful marketing campaign but that is going to be significantly amplified going forward. Coetzee advises that marketers simply must not be ‘daunted by data’. Stripping back to basics is the first step but also understanding that volume is no longer the commodity that will give you success. Maycock also picks up on this.

“We have spent the last 12 months doing a complete health check on every database that we have. We had millions of names but the reality is that probably as much as 50% is no good. But that has been balanced out by the fact that running digital events has driven a lot of fresh data in. Around 40% of our digital audiences are new contacts who have never interacted with us before. This health check has given us a chance to look at who is interacting with what and engaging with which particular message.

“Going forward, we will be continuing the health check process and will review every single show on a three-monthly basis to see what interactions have happened, what engagement, what new data is collected and what has been cleaned. Those metrics will be the ones we use to measure and reward the marketing teams.

“We are not going to see the returning levels of audience numbers for some time, so rewarding based on audience is just not going to work. Rewarding based on the quality of the data feels like a very real and relevant measurement.”

Maycock also believes that there needs to be a shift in thinking away from quantity to quality. Exhibitors will forgive you if your numbers are down but only if the quality is right.

“Anyone who thinks we are going to get back to the 2019 audience numbers is mad. But, once you have made the decision that you are going to run an event, then you need to be realistic about the number of people who will come this year. The focus therefore, now needs to be about quality and not quantity. It absolutely has to be about having the right audience. So you have to strip out the tyre kickers and aisle fillers.

“But the other key thing is getting one-to-one meetings right. That will be an absolute key component for ensuring that exhibitors stay happy about our show numbers this year. Exhibitors will accept that numbers are going to be down but they are not going to accept a ‘normal show just with less people’. However, if you set up one-to-one meetings where those buyers are actively looking to either buy that exhibitor’s products, or similar products, or are interested in looking at them, then that is different.

“It is such a tricky thing to do as you have to get it right. It can’t just be done by the software though. It also has to have the addition of a concierge service and some eyeballs.

“It is not implausible that audience numbers for some shows this year could drop by 50%. Some may be even more, especially if they have an international audience. One of our shows, which normally gets about 6,500 people, should be considered a success if it gets 3,500 this year. Those numbers, but with the right three and a half, might be acceptable and might be forgiven.

“If anyone thinks that they can just market a show like they have always done in the past then they are very wrong. We have to be realistic about what we promise our customers. If we tell them that we are going to have the same number of people that we had in 2019, they are going to laugh at us. So we need a reality check. We need to work with exhibitors, manage their expectations, be absolutely clear on who they want to meet and go to extraordinary lengths to deliver on that.”

Maycock concludes by talking about the key things marketers need to be considering when planning how to successful deliver on the show objectives for 2021.

“Firstly, don’t overcomplicate things. Keep it simple, go back to basics, ask the right questions. Be clear on who the target audience is and then check and recheck your database to make sure you have the right names and routes to market. Marketing to volume is a waste of time.

“Secondly, under promise and over deliver when it comes to bringing an audience to the exhibitors. Be realistic and honest. Make sure the message you are giving out is consistent though. You may have a clear view of delivering ten thousand visitors but if your sales team are still saying it will be twenty thousand, then you have a problem. Be clear, open and consistent.

“Finally, quite simply, don’t panic. I am not nervous in anyway about what is around the corner for the exhibition industry. Maybe that is because I have been in events all my life and believe in the power of the medium but I do believe that we really are coming back. It might not be great this year but it will be in 2022. And the role that marketing has to play in that revival is absolutely key.”

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