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Hey Growth Hackers,

Over the past 3 year's we have been hosting InboundCon in Toronto, Canada to educate the community about marketing & growth hacking. It started in just a small coffee shop and is now being hosted in a 500 capacity theater. We now are bringing in speakers such as Sean Ellis, Oli Gardner, Jon Cooper and Jon Henshaw.

Since the conference is doubling in size every year the methods of marketing ticket sales change. I wanted to know if anyone had some advice on the most effective way to market a marketing conference :)

  • SG

    Stefanie Grieser

    almost 5 years ago #

    Hi Joel,

    I am *so* happy you asked this question and interested to see what everyone else has to add as well.

    I’m the person behind Unbounce’s Call To Action Conference (http://www.calltoactionconf.com/) and also our most recent, mini-conference series, The Unbounce Conversion Road Trip (http://roadtrip.unbounce.com/) and have built both events from the ground up this past year.

    We have mapped out a few tactics and strategies that have helped drive ticket sales and general conference awareness. Naturally, I am finding it’s easier the second time around since I have a group of people who have attended and are interested in attending again (testimonials) and can use existing assets like photography and videos from last years event.

    Here's my list of what worked:

    1. Leverage your existing email list. We send dedicated email campaigns to our customers and leads. And have also put effort into growing our current conference / event list specifically. On the landing page we made sure we asked for an email above the fold versus at the bottom. We’ve found that people aren’t ready to buy a conference ticket immediately. They usually want to join a list and be kept in the loop on important updates like the agenda announcement and end of the early bird.
    2. Partners / Sponsors Outreach. Get partners to share the event page with their audience. Email and tell them why their audience would benefit attending. Include personal promo codes like “____sentme”
    3. Leverage your speakers. Ask speakers to share with their networks. HeroConf and MozCon do a good job of this, creating Twitter-specific sized images to help promote the conference in general and personalize individual cards that promote their own session. Keep in mind some speakers are more promotional than others and no one should be forced to use them, rather encouraged. And like I said, make it easy for speakers to share with media kits and socially-shareable images.
    4. Urgency. Make sure all your campaigns drive urgency. The day we see the most tickets bought is also the day the early bird expires. We use email subject lines like, “HOURS LEFT: Conversion Road Trip Pricing is Going Up 50% ...’ and “Only Hours Left to Save $200 on Call To Action Conference!” In your email communication prior to the early bird, make it easy for people to remember and include an ‘add to calendar: early bird expires’ link. That way your future attendees will be reminded to buy. Make sure your social campaigns and PPC campaigns drive urgency as well. Mozcon created images for social that addressed their capacity. They had 85%, 90%, and 95% sold out and then a Sold Out, but Wait List image for Twitter. This was really effective getting those last tickets sold.
    5. Write blog posts. And don’t just sell the conference. Write an engaging piece that features the type of content that will be at your conference. Something that anyone else can read and still benefit from. Feature your speakers and their knowledge. Check out this post >> http://unbounce.com/conversion-rate-optimization/why-every-marketer-should-care-about-conversion/ as an example. It performed very well, but subtly told the audience about our conference without being too sales-y or in-your-face. Of course, it’s also a good idea to write a piece that sell the conference as well. Like this >> https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/10-reasons-why-you-should-attend-unbounce-conversion-road-oli-gardner-2?trk=prof-post. I would just make sure you balance both.
    6. Leverage webinars and podcasts. Get a couple speakers to be a guest on a podcast you set up. And then get them to offer a promotion at the very end to podcast or webinar listeners.
    7. Retargeting & Paid Marketing. Especially around key events like the end of the early bird discount. Or the agenda release.
    8. Group discounts. Talk to large companies with in-house marketing teams and marketing agencies. Tell them about the conference. Give them a discount. And most importantly, make sure there is a group rate on the site.
    9. Make sure you have a readily available ‘convince your boss’ PDF or email copy.
    10. Reach out to local meetup organizers & influencers. Tell the organizer why your conference would be of interest to their audience. Partner with them. Ask them to send a dedicated email to tell their members. And be sure to give them a personalized discount code.
    11. Don’t be afraid to give out a few free tickets in exchange for promotion. Reach out to top influencers in your community that your target audience values. Give them a free ticket or better yet, give them a ticket to give to their audience.
    12. Straight up PR. Pitch publications. Make sure you give them an interesting angle. And get a few articles written about your event.
    13. Get your conference listed on every event listing site possible. This is a quick win that is a tad tedious, but worth it. We track all our pages with UTM codes and have seen that we get traffic and purchases from posting our events on sites like Lanyrd, Eventyard and more.

    Hope that helps!

    And like I said, very excited to hear what others do in their event marketing efforts.

    • CA

      Casey Armstrong

      almost 5 years ago #

      @sgrieser This is perfect. I have some similar outreach in motion, as well. Would love to chat more. Can I drop you an email?

    • JP

      Joel Popoff

      almost 5 years ago #

      You are my hero right now! Thanks so much for spending the time to write this massive reply. I have definitely taken a lot away from your points. If I have any more specific questions throughout the year I will make sure to reach out :)

      • SG

        Stefanie Grieser

        almost 5 years ago #

        :) Happy that my response helped! And definitely feel free to shoot me an email at stefanie@unbounce.com. I am planning on writing an ebook this year that goes into much more detail about all things event marketing. I'll be sure to post it on here when it's all written and ready.

    • TD

      Tiffany Dasilva

      almost 5 years ago #

      I loved the "convince your boss" PDF from last years CTA Conference. That was awesome.

      So by the sounds of it, you spend (or someone on your team spends) a lot of time emailing/phoning people to invite them personally to your conference. Am i getting that right?

      • SG

        Stefanie Grieser

        almost 5 years ago #

        For CTAConf, we didn't really reach out via the phone. We encouraged our Customer Success team to mention the conference in casual conversation if they were located on the West Coast, but that was about it. I did spent a chunk of my time reaching out to partners I worked with in the past and encouraged a few Unbounce vets to reach out to longstanding customers that might be interested. I would say we may have sent 30 personalized emails, but that's it. I would still say most of our event marketing efforts were put into campaigns (like announcing the agenda and end of early bird), content marketing and everything else I listed above. For the Conversion Road Trip, however, we actually threw a little competition out to our Customer Success team. The top 2 people with the top number of tickets sold, would get to go on the Road Trip. There are two people that have wrote the most personalized emails I have seen in a long time and as a by product sold tickets. Sometimes a personalized email goes a long way.

    • JV

      Justin Veenema

      almost 5 years ago #

      Having attended the CTA Conf in 2014, just wanted to say that you absolutely KILLED it! By far the best conference I've ever attended, and not just saying that because I work at UB. ;)

      Keep it up!

      • SG

        Stefanie Grieser

        almost 5 years ago #

        Awe! Thank you Justin. #CTAConf will always held a special place in our Unbounce hearts. There is so much positive energy around the event one simply can't describe in words. And I know it's going to be even bigger and better this year.

    • LL

      Lloyed Lobo

      almost 5 years ago #

      This is awesome @sgrieser! I'm the co-founder of Traction Conf (http://tractionconf.io) on June 17 & 18 in Vancouver, so all of your points resonate well. We haven't gone down the group rate route only because we're near sold out with 1.5 months to go. The only thing I would add is to double down on what's giving you the best outcome. Email marketing with fresh updates + urgency has trumped every other channel.

  • TC

    Tom Catnach

    almost 5 years ago #

    Hi Joel

    I can only speak from limited experience but these are the things that have worked for me in the past. Some are pretty basic but effective.

    - Don't market too soon. The bulk audience will have a time in their mind when they feel it's appropriate to buy a ticket. They don't want to buy too soon because something might come up etc. When ever they feel it's right is a good time to end an 'early-bird' style promotion. Use your ticket buying data to see when people start buying in large numbers and time your promotions as such. Market too soon and you become part of the noise. Your message is not yet relevant to the audience because "that's ages away."

    - Cross reference social, e-mail, web and buying data. We found that a lot of people would buy on the 3rd e-mail they opened, so after 5 we stopped sending. We didn't then sell more tickets but we reduced unsubscribe rates dramatically without losing sales.

    - Always pre-sell next year immediately on the back of the previous year at a healthy discount.

    - Features in your marketing on the attendees, it's a good way to splice in some valuable content (that the audience cares about) with a subtle nudge to attend the event.

    - E-mail.. E-mail, e-mail and e-mail.

    - Promotional partners: can you form partnerships with people with access to the audience you want?

    - Leverage your speakers, they probably have loyal followings of their own.

    - Solid web based content, the amount of huge events with terrible websites is upsetting. (I've now looked at your site and it's nice! Especially the CTA when you go to leave the page!). You can go as far as "Please the boss" packs where you give people the tools they need to get management to pay for the event. It's worth considering that if somebody is going on their company's behalf they'll have to appease a decision maker within their organisation.

    I'm sure you're already doing all of this anyway, just some thoughts!
    Best of luck with it.
    Tom

    • TD

      Tiffany Dasilva

      almost 5 years ago #

      Hey Tom - I love this >> "Don’t market too soon. The bulk audience will have a time in their mind when they feel it’s appropriate to buy a ticket."

      Do you ever worry that people won't have the budget or money to go by the time your conference is around? Like for example, ours is in October or do you think if they want to go, they'll go?

      • SG

        Stefanie Grieser

        almost 5 years ago #

        Hi Tom,

        I also wanted to ask you a question around this piece of information "“Don’t market too soon. The bulk audience will have a time in their mind when they feel it’s appropriate to buy a ticket.”

        What is your time line like for an event? When do you cut off early bird tickets? Announce your agenda? Speaker lineup?

        I look around at other marketing conferences and feel like I release the speaker lineup, agenda and early bird earlier than more and sometimes question if that's hurting me.

        I also want to echo Tiffany's question. Budgets are oftentimes set up early in the year and larger companies already know which conferences they are going to go to and/ or sponsor. How do you mitigate that when you go to market later rather than earlier?

        • TC

          Tom Catnach

          almost 5 years ago #

          Hi @sgrieser, loved your comment by the way! Full of awesome stuff!

          For me it all comes down to relevance, when does my event become relevant to them. Too early and "that's miles away" and then they forget or tune our your messages. Too late and "woah, I wish I had known about this sooner.."

          We cut off early birds one month out, we would start marketing 2 months out, but softly. If each number represents e-mails sent per week then it would look something like this. (1,1,2,4) Early Bird ends, and then something line (0,1,2,3) up to the event.

          Announcing line up, used to be sneaky about this. We would usually have most of the line-up sorted 2 months out (as you would hope!) but would announce them at intervals that suited the campaign rather than all in one go. One speaker might pull in a certain audience so we would have a run-down e-mail on what they would be talking about with a nice quote and a photo. That way we could get each big speaker into the subject line of at least one of our e-mails. I guess a single name has more impact than many. Also it's more bitesize, focused information. Talking about many speakers and sessions at once will either be TL;DR or lacking in the depth that B2B professionals love.

          Sponsorship is a different animal I think, that would be sold way in advance with the occasional late comer. We had a sales team that would take care of it and I never wanted to muddy the water with our audience by offering sponsorship to them. As a staple we tried to have everything roughly sorted 8-10 months out with an rough agenda and a couple of speakers. Enough to get sponsors on board.

          I met a lot of internal resistance in trying to talk about the any event as little as possible until we REALLY spoke about it. Working in B2B I get so turned off to certain e-mails and tweets that roll in that just bang on and on and on about the same old story. I want useable information, right now. Very little else will grab my attention. I'm busy, if it's not urgent I'm not dealing with it. Maybe that's just the way I am but I applied it to event promotion and it worked consistently.

          Hope this is useful, as above, if I missed anything please feel free to e-mail me at tom@studiographene.com

          Tom.

          Ps, @bellastone your reply is above, I forgot to tag you!

        • TC

          Tom Catnach

          almost 5 years ago #

          Hi @sgrieser, loved your comment by the way! Full of awesome stuff!

          For me it all comes down to relevance, when does my event become relevant to them. Too early and "that's miles away" and then they forget or tune our your messages. Too late and "woah, I wish I had known about this sooner.."

          We cut off early birds one month out, we would start marketing 2 months out, but softly. If each number represents e-mails sent per week then it would look something like this. (1,1,2,4) Early Bird ends, and then something line (0,1,2,3) up to the event.

          Announcing line up, used to be sneaky about this. We would usually have most of the line-up sorted 2 months out (as you would hope!) but would announce them at intervals that suited the campaign rather than all in one go. One speaker might pull in a certain audience so we would have a run-down e-mail on what they would be talking about with a nice quote and a photo. That way we could get each big speaker into the subject line of at least one of our e-mails. I guess a single name has more impact than many. Also it's more bitesize, focused information. Talking about many speakers and sessions at once will either be TL;DR or lacking in the depth that B2B professionals love.

          Sponsorship is a different animal I think, that would be sold way in advance with the occasional late comer. We had a sales team that would take care of it and I never wanted to muddy the water with our audience by offering sponsorship to them. As a staple we tried to have everything roughly sorted 8-10 months out with an rough agenda and a couple of speakers. Enough to get sponsors on board.

          I met a lot of internal resistance in trying to talk about the any event as little as possible until we REALLY spoke about it. Working in B2B I get so turned off to certain e-mails and tweets that roll in that just bang on and on and on about the same old story. I want useable information, right now. Very little else will grab my attention. I'm busy, if it's not urgent I'm not dealing with it. Maybe that's just the way I am but I applied it to event promotion and it worked consistently.

          Hope this is useful, as above, if I missed anything please feel free to e-mail me at tom@studiographene.com

          Tom.

          Ps, @bellastone your reply is above, I forgot to tag you!

      • TC

        Tom Catnach

        almost 5 years ago #

        Hi Tiffany, thanks for the compliment :).

        To provide some context, our tickets were £250 early bird and £450 full price with 250+ attendees. The events were about data and marketing.

        I'm not sure if we have the same budget allocation issues in the UK, or if our tickets are cheaper but we were definitely marketing to individuals within an organisation, not to organisations. Usually budgets are set in spring time here and we had an October event too. We started marketing in late August, but had sent a "date and time, put it in the diary" e-mail much earlier as soon as venue was confirmed.

        I personally never got the feedback that budget was all used up for events. Either they saw value in the event and attended, or they didn't. Also practically nobody bought tickets 5/6 months out. I think about 3 tickets were sold (to the regulars). We didn't really have much to say, other than a date and a time.

        Timeliness of offers was a big improver. So instead of e-mailing consistently over 3/4 months, we started two months out, and spiked our activity in a big way a week before the early-bird offer ended, one month before the event. Including newsletter, blog, twitter, the works.

        We were trying to achieve a double hockey stick of orders. Saying there's "only 24 hours before the early bird offer ends and you could save £XXX" is more compelling than the 5th or 6th weekly e-mail about the same event IMHO.

        Also we changed tact around these last few communications too. We went from full HTML e-mails early on to plain text style right at the end that were more addressed to the reader.

        Once the EB offer was over we went silent for 12 days. I figure right after a big sale ends we probably don't have a lot to say to make people want to buy. Then we started the campaign again, first with occasional e-mails, full HTML with all the brilliant reasons to come, finishing with plain text "Hey ---, it's only a week away you know, you don't want to miss out, From Tom" style.

        Other random points, all our e-mails were addressed from me, and I would always make a point of being on the registration desk so I would get a face to face with as many attendees as possible. Put a face to the "From Tom" who nagged them into attending. I don't know whether it just made me feel better but I guessed that next time they got my e-mail about the next event they would remember me, and maybe feel slightly warmer about the idea. I would make jokes about the campaign, see what people thought, how could I do it better next time?

        Also, we separated out previous attendees from "not yet attended", AB tested this with different messages, found two quite different behaviours and responses.

        Hope this is of some use to you!
        Feel free to e-mail me tom@studiographene.com if I can help any further.

        Tom

  • TD

    Tiffany Dasilva

    almost 5 years ago #

    I love the idea of the mobile web app. Conversion World finished last week and I was so impressed with the idea to use slack to communicate with members of the conference. There was some awesome conversations during each talk and it's still going.

    • LM

      Lincoln Murphy

      almost 5 years ago #

      Ooh... awesome... so there was an official Slack group for backchannel convos? Or was it just something a 3rd party or attendee created?

      • TD

        Tiffany Dasilva

        almost 5 years ago #

        It was something Manuel the creator made and it worked so much better than I thought it would. After the conference he changed up the channels so they were broken up by countries (Since it was conversion world). Great idea.

  • SE

    Sean Ellis

    almost 5 years ago #

    Definitely recommend checking out this article "How the Web Summit used data scientists and physicists to scale from 400 to 22,000 people" https://growthhackers.com/how-the-web-summit-used-data-scientists-and-physicists-to-scale-from-400-to-22000-people-venturebeat-big-data-by-chris-obrien/

  • SK

    Soufyan Kharbouchi

    almost 5 years ago #

    -sponsor (inbound)marketing blogs
    -leverage the speakers & their friends. Someone like Sean ellis is close w/ morgan brown ask him to tweet about the event.
    - email is your best friend
    - ask last years attendees to tweet about the conf to get 10% off or whatever you want to give away

  • JM

    Joe Murfin

    almost 5 years ago #

    Hi,
    Re-marketing ads on Facebook for people who have landed on your site.

    Use your existing and old ticket buyers emails, upload them to Facebook as a custom audience and make a lookalike audience too ... and target people in Toronto with the lookalike.

    Put the majority of spend behind that re-marketing audience and email lists.

    Contact other marketing conferences looking for email promo swaps.

    Run a competition for 2 tickets, use https://gleam.io/

    Contact marketers with large followings, ill tweet if for you if you just ask on twitter. @joemurfin

    Use this to get free press.
    http://customerdevlabs.com/2013/09/24/google-news-api-mturk-press/

    Use sellhack ( http://sellhack.com/ ) to get more emails and more press.

    Your second audience is general business owners... SO target business owners on Facebook in Toronto. ( Surrounding areas)

    Blog content. Send mailers. Limited time ticket offer. super VIP package offer etc etc.

  • EJ

    Elias Jabbe

    almost 5 years ago #

    Thanks for all these tips @sgrieser! Noted and shared!

    https://twitter.com/Lengow_UK/status/593448562916257794

  • JE

    jonah engler

    almost 5 years ago #

    Great post!!

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