If we had a dollar for every time marketers invented a new buzzword, we’d be writing this blog post from a private island.

As marketers, it’s our job to create hype; to do whatever we can to get our audience’s attention amid the racket of everyday life. But sometimes the buzz we create is just that—noise. Something annoying that happens in the background as our potential buyers go about their day, seemingly needless of whatever it is we’re selling.

Occasionally, though, there’s an idea that’s actually worth the press; one that can really make a difference for a company and its customers. 

The concept that has been on marketers’ lips more than any other this year is content marketing. And for good reason. There are countless examples of companies using content marketing to earn more new business, more repeat business, and a better rank in the search engines. It also has great potential for events, which is why we’re writing about it today.

Yesterday we participated in a webinar hosted by the Trade Show News Network (TSNN) that elaborated on ways to use content as part of an event marketing strategy. The webinar featured Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute and host of Content Marketing World, Monica Haley of the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT), and Chris Dolnack from the SHOT Show and NSSF.org.

We’d like to share their tips for integrating content into your events, but first let’s define content marketing in general.

What is content marketing?

According to the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing as defined as a

“… technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

What distinguishes content marketing from traditional marketing strategies is its focus on helping the customer—that’s the “valuable and relevant” part of its creed. Instead of trying to sell buyers “stuff”, content marketing aims to deliver information that makes buyers smarter. That information might help them do their job more effectively, understand more about their industry, or simply prepare them to have a better night’s sleep. The only requirement is that the material is useful and actionable.

The end result of this strategy is that, as a reward for delivering such great and empowering content, buyers will give their business and loyalty.

How is content marketing delivered?

Content marketing comes in numerous guises, including blog posts, e-books, white papers, case studies, newsletters, videos, and podcasts.

One of the biggest characteristics of content marketing is sharability. The more sharable something is, the more likely it is to reach a big audience.

How can content marketing be used for events?

The speakers discussed the objectives of content marketing for events as well how to carry out a content marketing campaign. We’ll first describe what content marketing might be used to achieve and then dive into their tactical recommendations.

Content marketing is used to achieve:

Consistent touch points with attendees: Content can be used as a 24/7 resource to address questions and encourage participation.

Recommendation: Taking a cue from the Content Marketing World handbook, try hosting live Twitter chats with guest speakers prior to your event, encouraging your audience to post questions embedded with the event’s hashtag. Then following the chat, post the conversation on your event website or company blog.

This is a pretty clever tactic, as it accomplishes a number of key goals:

  1. It gets your Twitter followers interested in the event, and encourages them to register in a very un-salesy way.
  2. It engages folks who have registered, and encourages them to follow your social media activity.
  3. Through re-tweets and mentions, it reaches a broader audience that may not have been aware of your event previously.

What’s also illustrated here is that your best content is valuable independent of the event itself. If content only matters to people who have signed up to attend, it will be hard to grow your audience. Instead, deliver information that appeals to your network and your network’s network.

More delegates: Content marketing can be used to attract attendees, sponsors, and exhibitors.

Recommendation: To entice exhibitors and sponsors, create an infographic showcasing your event’s attendance and buyer statistics, as well as its overall reach through social and online channels. This will help shape the conversation about return on investment.

Greater spend from delegates: Content marketing can be used to cross-promote products, services, and opportunities related to your event.

Recommendation: In a blog post or SlideShare presentation highlighting area attractions, include local businesses that have provided sponsorship. Not only will their sponsorship help cover the costs of your event, you’ll also be supporting the local economy. Win-win.

How is a content marketing strategy for events carried out?

Outline your buyer personas: To craft content that appeals to the decision makers in your audience, it will be incredibly beneficial to create buyer personas. This will help you to address their most important questions and most common objections.

Joe and his team found that six different types of people attend the CMMW conference, but they only market to two of them: executives and “doers”.

Develop a content calendar: Map out when you’re delivering content, how, and to whom. Here’s a handy template to get you started.

Rather than waiting until you’re a few months out from an event to begin delivering content, try seeding your audience with information year round. This will keep your event fresh in everyone’s minds and encourage loyalty and repeat business.

And don’t be afraid to take advantage of sponsorships or media partnerships to cover the costs of your additional efforts.

Convince stakeholders: Use your content calendar to display planned deliverables by week, who is being educated with each piece, and how to measure returns. To make the new strategy easier to swallow for The Powers That Be, Joe suggested calling it a “pilot program”. Assure your team, especially those attached to the status quo, that you are testing the new approach to measure its performance, not simply throwing out everything you’ve been doing.

As Joe said, “The biggest challenge is change.” Once you get people to buy in, a lot of the hard work is done.

Create an event hashtag: Use it in presentations and when promoting your content on social media. At the event, include signage with your hashtag to encourage sharing.

Make it easy to subscribe: Provide the ability to sign up for emails on your event website, company website, or blog. This will ensure that you’re able to delight your audience with new content daily or weekly, and keep in touch after your event is over.

Joe recommended focusing on email subscriptions rather than social media followers because followers can be taken away at any time (just look at Facebook’s restriction of organic reach, for a recent example).

Think about podcasting: Chris pointed out that there are around 4,000,000 blogs in the world, but only 200,000 or so podcasts. Marketing gurus have praised the medium, but business have been slow to adopt. With listener demand greater than the supply of things to listen to, now is the prime time to get started.  

Here’s a how-to guide for the podcast uninitiated.

(Also of note, Apple’s new CarPlay service will be available in select cars later in the year, and will only expand in the years to come, making it even easier for your audience to listen to your information.)

Use guest contributors: Don’t forget to delegate! Ask your guest speakers to write blog posts about topics in your industry as a prelude to their seminars. Get your sponsors to create videos that help your audience prepare to attend.

You might also identify content opportunities that don’t relate directly to the event, but appeal to your buyer personas. Just be sure to provide editorial guidelines so that contributors know what’s allowed and what isn’t (i.e., no sales pitches).

Share and share again: Chris recommended sharing the same piece of content a few times, because while it won’t be new to everyone, it will always be new to someone.

Look at social media schedulers: Platforms like HootSuite, Sprout Social, and Buffer help you to schedule content promotion and get more done. Monica and her team use Sprout Social. We use and love Buffer, ourselves.

In conclusion

Content marketing appears to be a viable, performance-oriented strategy event hosts can use to promote their gatherings. Will it save a woman from a burning building, help you to see in the dark, or perform other acts of extreme marketing hyperbole? No it will not, nor is it a simple solution to implement. But carried out consistently and with delegates’ needs in mind, it can be a powerful shot in the arm for event planner’s promotional efforts.

Check out more of the conversation on Twitter under the hashtag #tsnnwebinar.

Hats off to TSNN for hosting such a great exchange and thanks to Monica, Chris, and Joe for the great information!