By Maura Keller
The email inbox has always been a direct line of communication between consumers and retailers. Now email marketing is being used for all facets of communication within the meetings and event industry. Thanks in part to the proliferation of mobile devices, advanced email marketing tools, and the need for relevant and personal content — meeting industry professionals are using strategic email marketing campaigns to connect with potential attendees in new and engaging ways.
According to Kim Pearlstein, CEO of Pearlmark, a strategic marketing solutions company, over the last several years and due to the pandemic, more businesses are realizing the value of email marketing.
“It is one of the best and most cost-effective forms of marketing, with an amazing return on investment (ROI) — $36 for every dollar spent,” Pearlstein says. That’s why savvy meeting and event planners are also targeting potential attendees with better engagement by delivering contextually relevant email.
“Email marketing providers continue to offer new features that make it easy and efficient for businesses to stay top of mind with their connections, and share products, services and events,” Pearlstein says. “And the No. 1 app on a smartphone is email. In fact, 99% of email users check their inbox every day, with some checking 20 times a day. Of those people, 58% of consumers check their email first thing in the morning. So, using email marketing is one of the best decisions you can make — you are reaching people where they live — in their inbox.”
Connecting with Your Audience
Brent Turner, executive vice president of strategy and solutions at Opus Agency, a global agency delivering premier experiences, says that from picking a technology platform to developing core strategies, success in any email marketing campaign starts with the basics. First, begin by creating core audience segmentations. “At its simplest, these are the starter lists: Has Attended in Past, Has Not Attended Yet and Has Registered. As the teams advance, these segmentations often get more specific and focused; however, we recommend a maximum of six to seven segmentations,” Turner says.
Once the audience segmentations are set, Turner and the Opus Agency team design the email marketing messaging “flights.”
These typically are aligned with the expected event marketing playbook — like ticket price changes and speaker announcements. Event teams may add more flights as programs advance, including flights that align to specific segments.
If your email recipient lists have been built over time or were created through an amalgamation of sources, then you may be sending emails to people who do not remember signing up for communications from your company or for the event being planned. At best, these people may ignore your communications. At worst, they report your messages as spam and unsubscribe.
To combat the potential subscriber confusion, Turner recommends two approaches. First, for any emails from older lists, send a “warm-up” note that helps them connect the dots and remember their connection. Then, on ongoing emails, it is good to include a reminder. These can say something along the lines of “You are receiving this email because you subscribed to our brand in June 2017.”
Pearlstein points out that you can grow your email list in many ways. However, there are laws that govern how you can email prospects. So, you must get express consent and let your contacts know that they can unsubscribe at any time.
So what are the best ways to gather potential email recipients for events? Pearlstein’s recommendations include:
- Collect email addresses via a website: Have a pop-up, dedicated area, or page on the meeting or event’s website, or the website of the organization hosting the event, explaining why someone would want to subscribe to the email list. Tell people what they will get in their inbox and how it will benefit them.
- Collect email addresses before and during events: When people register for the event, make sure to provide a checkbox for them to select if they’d like to receive email communications. You can also give away business cards and swag at an event in exchange for email addresses.
- Add a QR-scannable sign-up code to printed materials: Print the code on a business card, brochures, paper ads and posters. Anyone who scans the code can be automatically added to the email marketing list.
- Advertise the event online or in printed publications: Drive people to the event by purchasing an ad. Send them to a registration page where they can also subscribe to the event’s email list and receive future emails from the event’s organizers.
Content Is Key
Many event professionals tend to communicate the “what” when developing an email campaign. They promote the dates, speakers, sessions and location. But as Turner points out, with this focus on features and tactics, planners often miss what’s key to getting someone to take action: benefits and value.
“When you start to design your next campaign, build a message map that begins with clear benefits and a single-minded focus on the value your event is providing,” Turner says.
Also, when picking templates and structuring content, it is best to start “mobile-first.” This pushes teams to quickly hit most of the modern best practices for email marketing. As Turner explains, in a mobile-first approach, planners are more likely to be to the point with both words and visuals. By keeping the copy short and the visuals streamlined, emails are naturally more approachable and digestible — on phones and desktops.
“Explore using ‘social proof’ to drive persuasion. This includes featuring peers, like testimonials from past events or names of people attending the next event, and connecting your email campaign to social media initiatives through tools like Snoball — a favorite event marketing partner of ours here at Opus Agency,” Turner says.
Pearlstein also recommends following the 80/20 rule: 80% of the content you provide should be information that is valuable to your subscribers, while 20% can be promotional. Also be sure to keep the paragraphs short and include a “read more” link so you know if the person is interested in the content you have shared.
“Include a clear call to action above the scroll line,” Pearlstein says. Providing relevant, informative content to your audience helps establish your credibility and makes your prospects more likely to read the emails. Subscribers will be more likely to open the emails to see what is being shared, which also can prompt them to sign up for an event, purchase tickets and share the email with a friend.
“Make sure that the words you choose are concise, compelling and unique, and provide value,” Pearlstein says.
As far as including graphics in email marketing campaigns, remember using too many images can be distracting and make the email too long, so use one to three photos that relate to the email’s content. Pearlstein advises that you make the images clickable to send them to a website or landing page, and make sure the email template matches the company’s brand.
“Yes, images are important,” Pearlstein says. “You want to catch the reader’s eyes. Good graphics should support the message and may make it easier to understand the content. They can also motivate readers to feel or do something.” However, Madeline Raithel, communication specialist at Entire Productions, says a lot of graphics will slow down the page speed or not translate well to mobile applications where 40% of emails are opened.
“That being said, a good graphic with valuable information that looks good on mobile is great, but certainly not needed,” Raithel adds. “We like to include a fun picture or two from past events that we resize within our email marketing platform to fit mobile screens.”
Also, as far as hyperlinks, try not to include your link right up front and don’t flood your copy with a ton of links. “Ideally, you should be hyperlinking one or two really important links that help mobilize users to your call to action,” says Raithel. “Including the link right away ensures that the person will immediately leave your newsletter and miss the rest of your valuable content. That being said, make sure your links go to open a new window so users can easily navigate back to the newsletter.”
Subject Lines That Work
You’ve written the content for your monthly marketing email, announcing the latest and greatest about an upcoming conference or trade show. Now you’re faced with the task of crafting a compelling and irresistible email subject line that entices recipients to open it. Sound familiar?
The good news is that, by employing the right strategies, you can craft powerful subject lines that will grab the attention of your recipients each and every time. So how do you create subject lines that truly stand out from the crowd?
- Use appropriate language: One of the most important things to do is use the language of the recipient. Take whatever the subject of the email is and do some research in a free tool like Google AdWords or Google Wonder Wheel to see what other words and phrases people use to describe your topic.
- Make it timely: Send email when people want it and stay present. Include information within the subject line that indicates it is a timely topic. Many companies make the mistake of gathering emails, then sending out a communication four months later and wondering why everyone marks it as spam.
- Make it targeted: One of the biggest mistakes made in email marketing is not sending targeted, segmented emails. If you have information about a recipient’s preferences, send them specific follow-up emails. For example, if you know someone is to attend an outdoor retail convention in Colorado, don’t send her a mass email about an association convention in Miami that would not be relevant.
- Make it short and sweet: Conventional wisdom says that all subject lines should be five to eight words and no more than 40 characters long because some email recipients will “tune out” the rest. Make each word within your subject line really count.
“It’s a good idea to ask a question or provide tips. Think about sharing a statistic or providing a tip that would make you interested in learning more about the topic,” Pearlstein says.
Timing Is Everything
For event planning, experts advise that the first email should be sent at least six weeks in advance — earlier if travel is required to attend the event. With that schedule, Pearlstein recommends sending one to two emails a week for the first four weeks and then two to three times a week after that, until the event date.
“To determine the best day/time to send your emails, understand your audience and see what works for them — experiment, segment your list and test some options. Since every business is different, the same time may not work for everyone,” Pearlstein says.
One strategy to use is a drip campaign, which is a series of automated emails you set up in advance. This helps you stay engaged with your contacts through a steady stream of valuable communication. It also saves you time, because you set up the emails and create the sending schedule in advance, so you can “set it and forget it.”
“I recommend sending the series with one to three days in between each email. More advanced email platforms enable the automated emails to send people on different paths, depending on the actions they take with your email,” Pearlstein says.
And while there are many email marketing tools available today, including MailChimp, EventBrite and Constant Contact, the best platform is the one with the features you need and can afford.
Whatever tool you choose, make sure you include a link to “add to calendar.” “We hate having to create our own calendar reminders only be to waiting the day of the event to receive any information on how to access the event,” Raithel says. “Don’t be this person. Simply Google how to create an add to calendar link if you’re not sure how and include the link to the meeting.”
As you know, it is a lot of work to create and promote events. Pearlstein says it’s important to have enough time to effectively market the event so you can achieve your goals. “In addition, don’t rely solely on email marketing,” Pearlstein says. “Use social media and other online advertising tools (free or paid), and don’t underestimate the power of asking your network to share your event to their contacts, using their email lists and connections.”