Tips for Creating Year-Round Engagement With Your Event Audience

Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute and SISO Executive Conference keynote speaker, spoke on an Aug. 9 webinar called, "If Content Marketing is the New Black, How Can You Turn It Into Green (Revenue for Your Show),” produced by the International Center for Exhibitor and Event Marketing. He shared several important lessons he has learned from his own Content Marketing World event, as well as things he has observed in his many years in the content marketing industry.

For starters, Pulizzi, whose career history includes leading custom publishing for Penton Media, explained what content marketing is and why it’s now the "fastest-growing thing out there." Content marketing, he said, "is the idea that we are all publishers now. We all publish valuable, reliable basis to attract and retain customers."

The two types of content marketing, he explained, are: Content created by marketers (Google, Intel, DuPont) and content created by publishers. "The only difference is how the money comes in," he said. Publishers’ content is paid for by advertisers, or sold as paid content via subscriptions or paid downloads. Marketers, on the other hand, "attract and retain customers through the creation of content," said Pulizzi.

Why is content marketing growing like crazy? "If you want to be found on Google, or have anything of relevance to say on social media, you have to have good content," he stressed. "We have to tell compelling stories because our customers don’t care about us; they care about themselves … about their pain points." The role of content marketing, he suggests, is to help customers, to become the expert source they trust.

Another reason is that your customers and prospects now have devices on them at all times. Because they have access to information 24/7, this presents a significant opportunity that didn’t exist before for communicating with them.

Who’s Using Content Marketing? Pulizzi reported that "90 percent of all companies use content marketing in one way or another." That doesn’t mean they’re doing it well, he said. Ten percent of companies are not using it at all. And, those companies using content marketing are spending about 26 percent of their marketing budgets on it.

Create Value and Eliminate the Event Marketing Timetable 
"The No. 1 challenge is producing content that people care about. It’s not easy to do," says Pulizzi. "Most brands are not good at doing this, because they’re used to talking about themselves," he says. "We don’t do enough to listen to what the pain points of our customers are … and addressing those pain points.

Where Pulizzi says he sees most companies "falling down with their event marketing is that they have a timetable to it." In other words, marketing is done starting X number of months before the show, and ends abruptly when the show ends. "One mistake people make is not taking advantage of year-round content to keep that relationship going," he notes. "When we end our 2012 event, we start marketing the very next day … but we do that with great content."

The means by which Pulizzi engages his event attendees year-round:
• The website. He says this is an advantage of companies that just produce events. The website becomes the platform for providing year-round content from and related to the event, whereas many others essentially shut down their show sites for many months. Speakers at his event contribute content, and this helps expand Pulizzi’s audience to the speakers’ audiences as well. "I want the people Amanda [a speaker] is talking to to come to our site. We leverage our talent. We believe we can help her be successful and vice versa."

• Pop-up ads. "On every page of the website, I’m asking for some piece of information from them. … Pop-ups are the absolute best way to get e-mail addresses," says Pulizzi. "Since we’ve been using them, our subscriptions have taken off. If you can take one thing away from this presentation, this would be it."

• E-mail list-building: The reason Pulizzi is so determined to collect e-mail addresses is because he believes in the power of e-mail (it’s the No. 1 strategy for him) and of "owning" your customers’ names. His company, he says, hadn’t done this well enough in the past, but it’s a priority now. "What we’re in the process of changing is getting that e-mail address. E-mail marketing is not dead; it’s more alive than ever before. I want them to like me on Facebook and follow me on twitter, but I don’t own any of that. I own our e-mail database."

• E-mail newsletters: Pulizzi offers his customers a daily update with content that he believes is valuable and relevant to them, not sales pushes. They also can get a weekly e-newsletter, which provides informational content to its 20,000 subscribers. Pulizzi’s event is promoted along the side of the e-newsletters.

• Social media: First and foremost, he suggests that if the content on your event site is not sharable via social media, make it sharable now. Include the share buttons for major social media channels.

His overall strategy for developing valuable social media content, he says, is called, "Social Media 4-1-1." "Four times we want to share influencer content (such as from speakers); one time would be our own piece of informational content; and one time would be our sales pitch." (For example, "Two weeks left to register ….")

• Hashtags: Do not only create a hashtag for your event, but "create one you can use all year long," he says, as well as for every future event. (So, obviously avoid hashtags that use the year of the event and changing it every year). Own the hashtag, and keep using it, he says.

• Providing content to other sites/partners: Pulizzi writes as many articles as he can for partner sites (non-competitive, but related sites) and speaks year-round at dozens and dozens of events. "We have articles going on so many different sites. I do as many speeches as I can. So does our lead strategist."

This not only creates more exposure for your brand and expertise, but also can help your content rank higher in search engines when audiences of other sites share your content. "Google is focused more on social media sharing than ever before. Content that is shared more by credible people will come up higher in search engine results."

Three Things to Keep in Mind
Pulizzi recapped the main lessons he hoped webinar attendees would take away with them:
1. Content creation around the event never stops.
2. You can’t just be an event producer if you want to see dramatic growth. You have to think like a publisher.
3. Create a plan before the event happens, to leverage all your event content. For example, he says, "People take the video, with no plan on what to do with it. … I can’t tell you how many events I go to that don’t have transcriptions or videos of the event; that could be your content for the year."

The main idea behind content marketing, he says, is that "People don’t want to be marketed to. I’m hoping that [our customers] never get a whiff that we’re marketing to them." Instead, provide them with valuable, relevant content that helps them. Then you’ll have a captive audience who relies on you as an expert source and will buy in to your event.