We’ll spare you another grave reminder of how difficult this year has been for small business, knowing full well that the impact of several months of ‘event drought’ can never be overemphasized. Let’s consider the flip side of the coin though, and turn our attention to the opportunities that have emerged.
Perhaps the most fundamental revelation for the entrepreneurially-minded, was how quickly human beings adjusted to a new mode of interacting with each other. After some initial panic, we began experimenting with some unprecedented ideas, trialing out virtual gatherings wherever possible, as opposed to simply canceling planned events and waiting for the world to get back to normal. It was novel at first – we all joked about how weird it felt to be interact in this way – but that seems like a long time ago, right?
Heaven knows what we would have done in a lockdown fifteen years ago, but in 2020 we transitioned with incredible ease to the paradoxical idea of gathering remotely. And, in many instances, we’ve found that it makes more sense to do it this way. The eventing landscape has changed entirely, much to the benefit of small businesses,. Three key factors have been reconfigured.
Virtual platforms are either free or very affordable, removing the financial obstacle of venue hire, and all the peripheral costs that go with that: food, drink, parking, security, support staff, etc. You can also involve expert speakers, influencers, or special guests at a much lower fee than if you had to transport and accommodate them.
While many online events are intimate affairs, virtual campfires for a small number of like-minded folks to share or absorb ideas, there’s effectively no limit to the number of people you could have on your livestream, virtual tour, or online class. The conference centre you usually hire might pack in 500 people, but you could envision 10x the crowd on Facebook Live, for example.
A physical event is constrained by its proximity to the audience. “It’s a bit far away” has been the reason for countless declined invitations in years gone by. In an age of virtual eventing, you should be thinking globally. It’s as easy for a client in Brussels to join your online pilates class as it is for one in Addis Ababa. This is huge! It can exponentially multiply your community from a local one to a global one.
In the faraway world called ‘pre-2020’, most of us probably thought of branded events as an opportunity to showcase what you have to offer IRL, sprinkled with entertainment, food, cocktails, or goodie-bags as an incentive to lure folks off the couch, across town, and through your doors. Now we realize that events are really an opportunity for essential human connection – and whether that’s across a table or through a webcam, matters less than we thought.
Ultimately, it’s all about community: finding one, growing yours, and engaging with them. Physical eventing is returning, gradually, to our lives. We’ll no doubt flock to these again in due course, but don’t be too quick to forget about the immense value of virtual events. With online and IRL as dual options (possibly combined), your promotions toolkit just got bigger.
Events are also known as ‘mega awareness generators’ (or at least they should be). Nothing’s better to stir up some buzz and help create a brand community, by getting the right people to take notice. The mere act of hosting an event positions you as more of leader in your category, not merely a participant. It demonstrates initiative, and people tend to notice the players who are energizing their industry.
It’s never been easier to host a small-scale event on IGTV, Facebook, YouTube, or Zoom, so take advantage of this. Whereas you might have been lucky to host one physical cooking workshop every season, you could look at weekly interactive Zoom workshops to exponentially multiply your presence in the lives of consumers. Use regular, small-scale events to get in front of new potential customers as often as you can.
If you’re putting an event together, the action doesn’t all have to centre on your brand. You might coordinate activities that express your values and passions more than your product. It’s a great idea because it’s authentic, and that’s worth a whole lot to consumers.
Don’t get too blinkered on promoting yourself, and consider the association that might linger in a consumer’s mind if you genuinely entertain or educate them with no hard sell at all. Take a moment to reflect on the lifestyle your brand facilitates, and consider some more lateral ideas to pique the interest of your broader community.
For example: If you’re a brand that puts the natural environment front and centre – using recycled plastic. or only raw, organic ingredients in your products – then a beach clean-up day makes a lot of sense. When it comes to audience building, this is showing the world that your ideals aren’t just lip service on social media: you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and turn that inspirational quote into inspirational action.
Better yet, make it on World Environment Day, or during Plastic-Free July, so you can make your event part of the global conversation. It’s amazing that you’re doing it for all the right reasons (we don’t doubt that for a second), but make the effort work in your best interest by generating brand awareness while you’re at it.
Of your thousands of Instagram followers, maybe only 30 will arrive on the day. But those 30 will be perfectly aligned with your values, and unmistakably engaged with your ideas. Here’s your chance to really get to know your ideal customer personally.
The marketing calendar
Because so many brands are intricately connected to activities – running, gaming, surfing, painting, baking, vaping, hiking, biking – events are a brilliant way to mobilise your target market around things they love doing anyway. And if it’s during a specific time when the whole world does it too, well that’s just you being a globally relevant brand.
When it comes to audience building, one level better than a once-off event is a regular one. This might involve sponsorship, but if you’re clever, you could run the whole show and ingrain yourself with a particular community: an annual bike race, debate, olive festival, stitch-a-thon, or beach volleyball tournament… events that your brand brings to life, and people look forward to. Over time, this could add hugely to the brand community you’re creating, and cement you as a household name in that world.
If you build it, they will come. We’re not sure who said that first, but it’s definitely about event posters – even bands hoping to fill stadiums know this. It’s no exaggeration to say that a standout promo design (and a plan to get it in front of as many eyeballs as possible) is the most crucial ingredient for a successful event. Nobody knows about it? Nobody’s coming.
Your poster is also your first and best opportunity to entice. Your design can communicate the spirit of the event, so choose your design elements (photos, graphics, fonts) carefully. Words alone can’t do it. Give us some indication of the vibe: psychedelic, futuristic, elegant, old school, spiritual… your aesthetic will instantly angle your event towards the right tribe.
Use design hierarchy to make the most important info BIG + BOLD. What’s happening, where, and when? We’ll decide very quickly if we’re interested, and if we can make it. Secondary information also needs to be there, but might appear smaller or further down the page. Do we need to buy tickets? Can anybody come? Will there be snacks?