Brand Extensions Provide Year-Round Buzz for Events
User conferences and other corporate events pulse with energy and excitement, creating buzz at the event and FOMO for those who didn’t attend. Keeping that few days of energy going throughout the year can help event planners draw more attendees to future events and strengthen the event brand.
Brand extensions are effectively a blend of social media, digital marketing and event marketing channels — and can even extend to account-based marketing, with microsites and specialized content. Many event planners are using brand extensions to give more life to their face-to-face events and connect with their audiences more often.
Cathy McPhillips, vice president of marketing at Content Marketing Institute, says brand extensions are an important part of how the organization operates.
“All of CMI’s programs and initiatives go through the lens of how they will attract, retain or be beneficial for our in-person conference attendees,” explained McPhillip.
Brent Turner, SVP, strategy and technology at Cramer, points out the brands that have the most effective approaches for extending their user conferences into a longer-term communications plan have a strategy that starts with simple alignment.
“The long-term-focused content and the event-focused content share the same core pillars,” he said. “The three core pillars of a user conferences are typically announcements, skills development and peer-based learning.”
The possibilities for brand extensions are endless and include podcasts, webinars, online communities and chats, smaller “roadshow” events, video and more. Currently, event planners are using combinations of all of them.
“We offer free webinars three times a month that all relate to topics discussed at our event, and these webinars are often led by CMWorld speakers and hosted by CMWorld sponsors,” said McPhillips. “It’s important to us that our speakers, sponsors and attendees don’t show up at the event without knowing about each other.”
CMI’s online communities (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Slack) are brand extensions of its in-person events, and consistently using the #CMWorld hashtag across all platforms has made a great impact.
“Our best example would be our #CMWorld Twitter chats, which, with the exception of a few holiday weeks, are held every Tuesday at 12 p.m. Eastern Time,” McPhillips said.
Chat guests are community members and speakers, and topics align with tracks at the live event, blog post categories, or both.
“It’s more than an hour of sending tweets, and even more than a learning resource for our chat participants — it’s a gold mine for our editorial team to know where our community is struggling, or what a hot topic may be that month,” McPhillips added. “We can write a timely and useful blog post to complement the Twitter chat.”
McPhillips says they also find speakers through the chats.
“If a chat participant is very knowledgeable on a topic where we have a hole in our event programming, we’ll pass on that name to our event team,” she said.
Holly Swanzy, senior program manager at Brightspot Incentives & Events, says that Brightspot uses webinars and podcasts hosted by partner sponsors to help generate more awareness and hype for the user conference.
“We use LinkedIn frequently to promote this content via our clients’ pages as well as sponsored partners’ pages,” she added.
Swanzy believes podcasts and webinars are fantastic for developing a “conversation before the conversation.”
“They help set the tone and draw of the user conference so attendees know exactly what they’re signing up for,” she said. “We see that clients that properly utilize these tools typically have more engaged and invested attendees.”
Turner’s team worked with Dassault Systèmes and its SOLIDWORKS strategy to move into a year-round content plan.
“Their annual user conference brought together 7,000 of their mechanical engineering and design users and now we’ve taken the pillars of the event and moved them into digital channels,” he said.
Cramer generated numerous live and on-demand videos; a new podcast series primarily recorded from the expo floor; and a new ongoing series of live-streamed webcast events which will launch new products. It was built around SOLIDWORKS’ existing community strategies and successful mini-event roadshows.
Planners believe there are best practices that should be followed when adding extensions to your event brand: be valuable, be consistent, and expand on what people love.
“Our best practice is simply making sure we’re the best resource we can be to our community and customers,” said McPhillips.
She added, “We want to provide them with the platforms to ask the hard questions in a community that will be helpful and not judgmental. In true content marketing form, we want to be valuable, consistent and relevant to our audience.”
For Swanzy, consistency is paramount.
“We create a marketing standard for the conference logo, messaging and theme and are sure that all content channels are including that call-to-action of sending visitors to the conference website for registration.”
Turner says planners must tap into what’s already working.
“Instead of trying to invent new wheels, we expand what people — attendees and brand-side teams — love about the big user conference, and bring it into the market,” he said.
Using brand extensions can add more buzz to your event brand, keeping people talking more often and drawing more people to future in-person events. Sticking to the core values of the event brand will prove most successful when launching a new brand extension.