48 ways to supercharge digital marketing for B2B events

By April 28, 2015 Resources No Comments

Here’s how you can get loads more people registering for your event.

If you are reading this page then you want to improve your event’s digital marketing practices. I have some good news, and some bad news.

First, the good. Digital and email marketing is not rocket science, and I am not a rocket scientist (although my father is a nuclear physicist.) You too can quickly improve what you are doing digitally, reap the benefits, and become your boss’s favorite employee.

Now, the bad news. What you will need to do is not easy. There is a lot of legwork involved to get yourself up and running, and some pretty rigorous methodologies you will need to follow. But if you follow these steps, you will be able to chomp on a cigar and exclaim how much you love it when a plan comes together (perhaps an A-Team reference is outdated, but I can’t help myself.)

So with no further ado, here is my 48-steps-to-super-charging-your-B2B-event-digital-marketing guide. These are 48 surefire tips that revolutionise how you market your events online. (By the way, when I say “surefire” it is my honest opinion based upon past experience. If your results aren’t fantastic, well, you wouldn’t sue me for giving you free advice, would you?)

Hang about, why should I believe a word you say about digital and email marketing?

If you are like me, you have probably been approached by self-proclaimed digital gurus who promise the world but deliver the moon. And in the end, you are back where you started. I have been there, and I feel your pain.

Over my career I have experimented with lots of digital tactics – some successfully, some not. What you are about to read is the culmination of years of hands-on practice that has resulted in massive increases in ROI. If you don’t like the points below, hey – that’s ok! But I bet that there is at least one thing there that you could do tomorrow without much bother and noticeably improve your marketing.

So what are you going to learn about here? You are going to learn about 3 fundamental concepts, and 48 ways to implement them:

  • Relevance.
  • Testing.
  • Systematising.

You don’t need a PhD to do marketing (and if you have one then you’re probably much smarter than me) but when you market in a digital world, you need to put some science, statistics and methodology behind your madness. In my previous career as a computer programmer I learned how to optimise theoretical algorithms. In my career as a B2B event marketer, I applied the same logic – take the core issue, boil it down into a bunch of ones and zeros, and then optimise the process.

What do I mean by Relevance?

What are the last 3 marketing emails you received in your inbox? Don’t cheat and look – seriously, what are the last 3? Did you click on them, or even read them? You probably briefly skimmed them, looked at a couple headlines that caught your eye, and maybe clicked on the link and quickly glanced over the content.

Since the recession, marketers have been sending out more and more emails since it’s so much cheaper than offline channels. And if you’ve done this, great – that was the dominant strategy in 2007 thru 2011. But now, you’ve probably seen your open rates go down, down, down. When you used to get 23% opens, now you get 16%. Clicks are down from 2.4% to 1.1%. But what have most marketers done? They’ve sent out MORE emails.

Think about that for a second.

Your market is telling you they don’t want to read your emails anymore, and you respond by sending out more. And that’s not all. If you send out more emails, you need to write more copy.

Copywriters are human too – they get fatigued, and start churning out repetitive, generic stuff, like this:

“Dear XXX,

Register now for <INSERT EVENT HERE> and network with <INSERT NUMBER HERE> of your industry peers … … …”

and so on.

So what do we have here? More emails, with the same message, to the same people. Are you standing out from your competitors? If the above example made you smile, then probably not.

And don’t even get me started on email subject lines for events. No one seems to really spend much time on them – which is odd – because they make people open, and if people don’t open, they certainly won’t click.

This is what I mean about Relevance – if your subject line and message are not relevant, than you may as well pack up and go home because all of your marketing efforts won’t do a doggone bit of good.

And how about testing?

I know what you are probably thinking – testing marketing methods is something you learned about in Marketing 101. You are right! And I sincerely hope you already test out lots of stuff in your marketing campaigns.

But a test is kind of like a bad footballer (let’s call him Lefty*.) Lefty has been playing football for years and years, and no matter how hard he tries, he never gets better. He spends more time on the bench than in the game, and, basically, sucks at football. He has been running the same drills and practicing the same way for 10 years, and yet he never seems to get better. What’s going on?

* It’s OK, I can say this – I am left handed and suck at football, or pretty much any sport. Except eating ribs. I once out-ate my friend Lumpy (yes, that’s his nickname) which is no mean feat – Lumpy put back 16 racks, and I knawed, chewed and swallowed 18.

Lefty has been doing what many of us do – he has been practicing bad practice. This is a great example of a simple concept: if you do what you always did, you’re gonna get what you always got. Practice doesn’t make perfect – perfect practice makes perfect. It’s the same with digital marketing tests – if your test is designed badly, then guess what – you will get bad results.

Are you committing the 7 deadly sins of marketing testing?

  1. Not using a control group.
  2. Not using the correct sample size.
  3. Not isolating the test variable (i.e. testing more than 1 thing at a time).
  4. Not having a clear idea on how to measure success (statistical significance).
  5. Not randomising test groups.
  6. Not time-defining the end of the test.
  7. Not using the test results in future activities.

This is what I mean by Testing – putting some scientific methodology and statistical significance to help you make intelligent marketing decisions.

I’m with you so far – but what about Systematising?

If you are like me, then you don’t like doing the same thing over and over. And even worse, you don’t like doing things because someone tells you, “That’s just how things are done here.” And probably, you would rather that this stuff just happened in your business automatically, so you didn’t have to spend time on websites like this looking for solutions to your problems!

I know how you feel, and I’ve been there, and have come out the other side a better marketer for it. I’ll let you in on a little secret – the things I do, I only do once. That is because I have created a best practice digital marketing system, by taking all of the top tips and ensuring that they become second nature to everyone on my team.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. By following this step-by-step guide, you will bring sanity to your marketing campaigns.

If you have read all of this page so far…

… then you already know more about best practice digital marketing for B2B events than 99% of marketers in the industry. First, before I get into the 48-steps-to-super-charging-your-B2B-event-digital-marketing we need to define some basic concepts so you understand what I’m talking about.

1. Conversion Rate When I talk about a conversion rate, I am talking about the % of visitors to your site that turn into registrations for your event. Or, the % of people who download a brochure, express interest in buying a stand, sign up to a newsletter, or whatever the goal may be.

Why should you care about the conversion rate? Because right now, your event is probably losing bucketloads of registrations. Most B2B event websites do an atrocious job selling to their customers.

2. Usability Usability refers to how well designed your website, emails etc. are. Are your site visitors able to complete the task they want to? Do they click on the links you want them to on your emails?

You should care about usability because a website that is not usable will not be used. Pretty simple, eh?

3. Social Media You undoubtedly have started a LinkedIn group, a Twitter account, and maybe a Wooph feed (I made that last one up.) But when I talk about social media, I don’t mean all of this mumbo jumbo. These are the sites du jour, but next week, next month, next year there will be new ones, the next next big thing in social media.

What I care about is how you can use social media user’s behaviour to make more money.

Will these techniques work for your event?

Yes, absolutely, without a doubt, for sure, 100%. Is that clear enough? I have applied these techniques across lots of markets – from hi-tech, to pharma, to food & bev, to security, to gaming… and lots more to boot. And at every one, no matter what, the results have massively increased. Whatever type of event you run, this will work for you:

  • large trade shows (>4000 m2).
  • small exhibitions (<4000 m2).
  • launch conferences.
  • stage 2 conferences.
  • large scale events (LSEs).
  • confex’s.
  • forums (sponsor-led).
  • summits (executive level).
  • industry award ceremonies.
  • networking events.
  • and pretty much anything else!

48 ways to improve your event’s digital marketing

If you’ve made it this far, then you are probably chomping at the bit – so here we go. This is a big list, and probably seems daunting. You probably won’t be able to do all of them at once (or even at all)… The key point is to do something – now! Let’s get started…

Your registration driving toolkit!

To make it easy to follow, I have broken this list into a number of sections.

Team & Infrastructure

You aren’t alone in this – you (hopefully!) have a team who are fighting the same battles as you. What you need to do is get them excited about digital and email marketing, and thinking about 1s and 0s instead of print and mail.

Leaders are readers – spend 30 minutes every day reading about digital marketing, about your industry, about people you admire. If you want a head start, here’s a shameless plug – check out my posts on Econsultancy here.

Don’t debate with your colleagues over what people think will work better. Test, measure, and systematise – let science do the talking, not assumptions or egos.

Kick ass spreadsheets – are you still using a PromoX or something else archaic like it? Let me guess – half the links are broken, it’s half filled out, and it takes half a day to update anything. Get your resident Excel geek to build a better one – better campaign tracking equals better decision making.

Marketing wiki – get your team living and breathing digitally. Set up a free wiki at Google Sites and allow your team to collaborate and manage campaigns digitally. If they don’t drink the digital kool-aid, your visitors and exhibitors won’t either.

Who should do what – some people are awesome at some things, and not so good at other things, right? Are your people doing what they are best at? Don’t have a team of jacks of all trades. Adam Smith wasn’t kidding – specialisation of labour is more efficient, and if you get your people doing what they are best at, they will be happier, function better, and make more money for your business.

Playtime – are you bogged down in the day-to-day and never have a chance to think? Schedule 1 hour of playtime every two weeks for your team to have coffee and throw around ideas. Don’t make it formal brainstorming – start with a general whinge session (and who doesn’t love a good whinge) then transform it into tangible solution seeking.

Go offsite – once every 6 months, hold an offsite strategy day for your team. Take them somewhere cool – a museum, a gallery, whatever – just not a sterile conference room at a local hotel. The human brain is a muscle and if you always practice in the same way, you will get the same results. But change the scenery and the brain will function in new ways and the results will accumulate.


Okay, enough of the fluffy stuff – what can you do right now to get more registrations? We will begin with your website.

Cool CMS – right now your website is probably hosted on a 3rd party CMS (content management system, right?) and you probably have limited functionality. They probably charge you per build, and it’s probably a pain in the behind to make any fundamental changes. Have you heard the news? Open source is the way forward. Don’t find yourself beholden to an overpriced, inflexible, outdated CMS system – go open, go to the source.

Does your website suck? Start with the basics and take the Does My Website Suck test to see if you are committing any big, fatal website mistakes. And fix them (No sh*t, Sherlock!)

Eye tracking simulation – you have about 3 seconds to make someone want to click on your site. Where are they looking? Eye tracking can be expensive, but using advanced statistical techniques you can mimic it. Take a screenshot of your site and upload it to www.feng-gui.com and discover how your site is seen.

Lots of browsers – not all sites are created equal. View your site in IE, Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera and Lynx (don’t know Lynx? Here’s why you need to learn about it) (and obviously across all mobile devices) and make sure that it looks good everywhere. And I mean everywhere – IE is losing market share to Firefox, which is losing to Chrome. And some people still use Opera. Don’t forget about your Mac brethren while you’re at it!

Too much content – lots of b2b event websites have far too much copy. If a page is read on less than 2% of visits, why bother having it? Less is more. Keep it simple, stupid. Occam’s Razor. Have fewer pages, but have more really, really good pages.

Register now – simple point, but can your visitors easily see where to register on every page, in the same place? Does the button stand out and cry “Click on me!” and do people click on it? It always amazes me when you have to click 3 times to register for an event, but some of these Criminals 2.0 exist still!

Scannable text – have you copied and pasted offline copy onto your website? Here’s a few basics:

  • use half as much copy as for offline.
  • highlight keywords.
  • use lots of lists …
    • For every extra 200 words on your website, people will spend just 4.4 extra seconds on your site – that means only a tiny percentage gets read. It is your job to decide what people read!

Googols of Google – Google has lots of excellent freemium capabilities that you can add on your site. Lots. And they’re constantly coming up with new stuff. Spend an hour a month on Google Labs and see what’s new – who knows, could be the next big thing in Web X.0!

Google Site Search – help your content get found. Use site search. Better yet, link it with an AdSense account so you can make money from it. Come on, do it. NOW.

Google Analytics goals – you already have Google Analytics set up, right? If not, SET IT UP NOW. Next, set up goals (found on GA’s left hand menu) so you can track your conversion rate (remember why that’s important?) This is your first step to turning your website into an all-singing, all-dancing conversion machine.

Multivariate site testing – test what content delivers a higher conversion rate using this free tool. Why? Because it works, it’s easy, it’s free, and it is awesome. Make some bold changes on your site and see what happens – don’t let assumptions and inertia dictate your digital brand. There’s lots of great advice around the web on this – I’d recommend Optimizely.

Rinse, Lather, Repeat – now that you can track conversions and test site designs, do it! And do it again, and do it, and do it, and do it. And do it again. Create a testing culture in your marketing department, and never settle for the status quo. Your website is a moving target, and if you aren’t moving forward, you’re moving backwards. (Plus it’s fun!)

Usability tests – get man-off-the-street feedback on how your site functions. Or, ask your mom to try to register. If she can’t do it easily without getting frustrated, probably lots of your visitors can’t either. Get 5 people who have never been to your site today to carry out 4 distinct tasks, and ask for their honest feedback. Go for it!

Live chat – how many people have a question for you but don’t want to pick up the phone? Live chat is a great way to help sway site visitors into actual registrations. That’s the whole point of this page, right?

SEO myth #1 – don’t get mis-sold on long tailed keywords. They may not drive conversion-focused traffic to your site. Look at your Google Analytics to see how people find you – if the top 5 keywords have to do with your brand name, capitalise on that! If you get lots of long-tailed entries, then it’s a different story. If you want your traffic to turn into registrations – stick to the bell of the curve, my friends.

SEO myth #2 – don’t believe what “SEO gurus” tell you. Google is smarter than you, me and all the SEO gurus in the world put into a box and injected with Stephen Hawking’s stem cells. Your site will rank well if it has good content, so let relevance drive your copywriting. Don’t believe SEO quick-fix loopholes. If you do, that’s fine, but the only person who will win in the long run is your SEO agency (who are probably overpaid as it is!)

SEO myth #3 – don’t worry about meta tags. They’re nice to have, but Google doesn’t care. (Neither does Bing, Baidu or Yahoo, by the way!) Content, content, content. Didn’t get that the first time? Content, content, content. Which is relevant, relevant, relevant.

Loads more – I can’t give away ALL my secrets for free, right? I’m a nice guy, but I’m not that nice a guy. Although according to a recent survey, 1/3 people think I’m ok! (based on sample of 3)

Email Marketing

There are lots of sites and blogs specialising on email marketing, so I won’t rehash the basics. But what I know about is how to make emails work for your show.

Kill your list – not literally, but if someone hasn’t opened an email in the last 12 months, why would they start now? Send them emails over and over and over… and force either an unsubscribe or an engagement. Don’t believe me? I’ve done the research – check this out for the statistics.

Subject line nano-content – don’t try to trick people into opening your email. This will damage your brand. Your subject line should describe what is in the email – does what it says on the tin – your visitors are too smart to fall for sneaky tricks more than once!


Who do you think you are – if someone on your team is recognised as an industry expert, then by all means send the email “from” them – but otherwise, stick to your brand. People know your show, not your people. I know that’s going to be hard for your event director to hear, but it’s the truth. Give them a hug after you tell them, it doesn’t cost anything and might make them feel better.

Get your data in order – what data can you use? If you have a demographic field that is 80% full, can you fill it in using advanced statistical techniques. If you can fill in the extra 20% at a 80% correct rate, then you will be left with only 4% who get an untargeted generic message. (You may need your resident statistics geek to explain in more detail!)

Go fishing – if you want to catch data, you gotta cast your line in the lake. Make sure that every page has a data capture form. Think about what data you want to capture – just contact details? Plus demographics? Plus behavioural data? The more data you have, the better you can use it – but the fewer records you will build. It’s that old gem of quality vs. quantity.

Über-personalisation – you probably already include a person’s name, maybe their company. Big deal. Are you delivering multivariate conditional content delivering their exact requirements? Find statistical correlations between demographics and event features, and send nearly infinite combinations to your database.

Behavioural targeting – how do you target registration page drop-offs? Or more specifically, can you tell who dropped off your page? What about people who visited 3 web pages and didn’t register? Create campaigns that target what people do and this will be more effective than anything else.

Automated lead nurturing – when people show interest in one of your products, do you lump them into the same pile as everyone else? BAD. You have been BAD. Send these people into an automated conversion funnel, such that they get pertinent messages taking them through the entire decision making process.

Apple is your friend – do you know what really grinds my gears? When emails look stupid on my iPhone. If I had an Android and emails looked stupid on it too, that would probably grind my gears as well. If I had a rocket launcher, well, that’s a different story that involves mullets and plaid. It’s the design, stupid – once people have opened your email, are you driving them to a call-to-action? Have you experimented adding in more links, less links, more buttons, less buttons, pictures of cats, and so on?

Don’t copy copy – how many of your emails read like this: “Dear XXX, register now for <insert trade show here>, the premier event for the <insert industry here> community.” Why not just hire a monkey and a typewriter to fill in the blanks? Be bold with your copy, be different, stand out from the crowd. And most importantly, be relevant.

Write for ADHD – emails are not direct mail, they are not brochures. People will scan your email and that’s about it. You have less than 4 seconds to make people take action so make every single word count. Make every single paragraph important. And make every call-to-action effective.

Test, test test – especially with large lists, email offers you the greatest chance to test, measure and systematise. You can easily test out all of the above factors, just make sure you have a way to track it – here is a template you can use to start a basic email testing programme. There’s lots you can test, and test again, and test again. And again. And once more. You get the picture. Live, eat and breath testing. Track the results. And reap the benefits. (Did I mention you should test a lot?)

A/B/C/D/E/F – the easiest way to test is to split your list into random groups and send each group one different element – so, 10 different subject line groups, or 10 different email layouts. Then whichever one works the best – resend it to everybody the next week! Let the numbers drive your campaign and you will reap success.

SHAMELESS PLUG – Phrasee automates email subject line testing for you… just sayin’…

Social Media

I am not a social media guru. I thought I had one for breakfast one time, but in the end I realise it was just a piece of bacon. I’m going to put myself in the minority here by saying, social media is not a revolution, it is simply a new channel exploiting fundamental human behaviour. Remember the schoolyard, where rumours spread, and you would hear about a party at Jimmy’s house? That’s what social networks do – only now it’s online. Don’t buy into social media guru BS – what you have to do is get to the core behavioural drivers of social media users… and get registrations from it!

What’s your strategy – starting a Facebook group is not a social media strategy. What are you trying to achieve? Be “SMART” about it – put some concrete objectives in place, and fit tactics to achieve them. Don’t just do it because it’s trendy or fun (like having a viral game which is #1 in the world… with Norwegian teenagers.)

Platform Agnosticism – don’t fall in love with one platform. Remember Second Life? He dead. Remember Friendster? He dead. Remember Hi5? He dead. Maybe Twitter is here to stay, maybe not. But don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Your social media strategy should be portable from platform to platform, and if it’s not, when Mark Zuckerberg gets hit by a bus, you will be up a creek without a paddle. Hey! That was a lot of metaphors.

Guanxi – that’s probably a new one for you, right? Well check it out – guanxi is what drives social networks. You need to get your brand leaders to develop good relationships with influencers. And I mean good relationships. Buy them lunch. Get them drunk. Whatever it takes. But when you need a favour, make sure they do it (like asking them to send a LinkedIn message to all of their contacts)

Identify evangelists – I don’t mean Jimmy Swaggert, or even Sarah Palin. But every show has a few core people who are super well connected. And whose voices are respected. Go meet them. Buy them lunch. Give them a hug (or maybe not.) And get them to evangelise your show to their contacts, be it on social networks or otherwise. Think about it – if 10 of your friends facebook like something, are you more interested than if you see a banner ad alongside your profile?

Exhibitors are lazy – you heard me. You probably send them eTickets and things like that, and you probably get barely any response from it. Why? Because it is too much work for exhibitors to bother with it. Instead, make it easy on them – give them easy ways to market the event to their networks. Do their jobs for them. They will love you for it, and you will get better results.

Social media is not cheap – people think that since Facebook is free, social media is too. Not true. How much time does your team spend using these social networks? You need to consider the opportunity cost of labour – if they spend 3 hours per day building a LinkedIn group that delivers you 4 registrations, is it worth it? This leads on to the next point:

KPIs – yes, even social media needs to be measured. Develop in-house KPIs and be fastidious about tracking them. What could you measure? Web traffic, group members, registration conversions, brand mentions… it depends on your strategy. But measure something, darn it all, for the love of bananas, measure something.

So what is best practice digital marketing for B2B events?

After years of translating offline marketing programmes to online, most B2B event companies still copy & paste brochures and sales letters onto their websites. But this will never do. Do you read BBC News’ website in the same way that you read the Sunday Times newspaper? B2B event digital marketing is fundamentally different from your offline channels, no matter what your colleagues may think – event directors, sales people, conference producers – I’m talking about you… So how do you improve your b2b event digital marketing?

  • analyse your previous results.
  • then develop a tracking system.
  • and then create.

… new email subject lines, new web copy, new social media activities, etc…

  • and then most importantly, measure what you are doing.
  • so you can optimise your activity and not waste time on needless tasks!

Sounds great, right? Surely that’s what you’re already doing, right? But how much of your day is spent dealing with media partners, sending management reports to the bosses, dealing with agencies and suppliers, updating sponsor & exhibitor info on the website, proofing brochures and catalogues, dealing with printers and mailing houses, managing junior employees, answering questions from the sales team, chasing people for copy, chasing exhibitors for logos, chasing your boss for approvals, chasing your tail…

Your day is spent multitasking, doing an incomprehensible amount of important tasks. So use the available tools to simplify your life where possible.

Final Shameless Plug: Phrasee can sort out your email subject lines for events to get you more registrations. You should try it out. For reals.

Download our free “Subject Lines That Sell” report to help you become a subject line superhero.

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