One of the funniest and most insightful bits ever done by the late, great George Carlin was his exploration of how changing what we call something can change our perception of it. The message underlying his profanity-laced hilarity was simple to grasp — the thing remains the thing no matter what we call it, only our perception of it has changed.

That’s sort of what’s happened to what used to be called “event marketing.” If you’re a new small business, or new to the concept of marketing that aims to directly engage consumers, it’s easy to get confused by all the names marketers give this type of activity, including engagement marketing, live marketing, participation marketing, and — our favorite — experiential marketing. No matter what you call it, event marketing is still an old-school marketing method at heart. While you can promote it in the digital realm, the actual hook that gets consumers to engage with your brand occurs in the real world — at a community festival, in-store event, rally, etc.

If you’re a young new business owner, you may be far more comfortable with digital marketing than anything that involves face-to-face interaction between your brand and your customers. Or, if you’ve struggled to master digital marketing, you might have put event marketing on a back burner. However, in your first year of business, event marketing can be a powerful way to maximize the impact of your marketing budget.

Here are the five most important points every event marketing neophyte should know:

1. You need to pick a valuable event.

It’s right there in the name of this style of marketing, but what do we really mean by “event”? Simply put, an event is any opportunity for your brand to meet and interact with current or potential customers in a real-world setting (as opposed to the digital world). Two types of events create these opportunities — those you stage, and those staged by others.

In your first year of business, you may find it easier and more cost-effective to participate in events someone else is responsible for organizing. There will be approximately 6 million to choose from, and that’s only a slight exaggeration! From industry conferences and expos, to community events looking for vendors, demonstrators, and sponsorships, a small business that goes looking for an event opportunity should have no trouble finding one. The challenge is finding the one that is best for your objectives.

When weighing the value of an event, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are my current and potential customers likely to be there too?
  • How many of my current and potential customers might be there?
  • What are the side benefits of this event (e.g. raise company visibility in the community, position you as an industry player, make valuable industry contacts, etc.)?
  • Is the cost/benefit comparison for this event in my favor?

2. Leveraging your logo builds your brand identity.

Hopefully, one of your first marketing investments was to have a logo designer create a signature look for your company. A good logo really does establish your brand identity. Think of the vibrant colors and implied motion of the Nike swoosh, or the combination of braininess and action suggested by the bite missing from Apple’s logo.

Once you’ve got a great logo, it makes sense to maximize its use, especially when you’re engaging in event marketing. Put it on your company’s booth, in the program book, and on t-shirts you’ll wear and/or hand out at the event. Find creative ways to display your logo, such as on candy-bar wrappers or cell phone cases, so that it will help create a visual impression when people see it at your event.

3. Swag sells your brand and makes it memorable.

Speaking of cell phone cases, candy, and other items you might hand out, swag is a great way to sell your brand and ensure people remember it long after the event is over. One study by the Promotional Products Association found:

  • 83% of consumers like getting promotional products.
  • 38% say promotional products are a constant reminder of the advertiser.
  • 69% will pick up a promotional product if they think it’s useful, and 23% will grab it no matter what it is.
  • A majority of people have at least one promotional product somewhere in their home or workspace.
  • 76% of people who’d received a promotional product were able to recall the product, advertiser, and message two years after receiving the item.

Make sure your event-marketing budget includes an allowance for swag, and choose a mixture of staples (like pens and beverage containers) that can be handed out anywhere, and items that are tailored for the event (such as logo’d wine glasses at a wine-tasting event).

4. Gimmicks can work great to communicate your company’s persona.

Whether you’re staging your own event or attending someone else’s, a great gimmick can help grab attention and make you memorable. Gimmicks can be kitschy, but you don’t have to be. Yours could be a simple contest (guess how many jellybeans are in a bowl and win a prize from the company’s inventory), community-oriented (sponsor a local sports team or high school marching band), or noble (solicit donations for a national charity and award a prize for the largest donation).

5. Support your event marketing with digital endeavors.

Of course, digital marketing is a critical part of your overall marketing plan, so don’t forget to support your event marketing efforts with digital tactics. Use your company’s website, blog, and social media pages to promote the event and “tease” potential attendees with information about what you’ll be doing and offering. Leverage your email list to announce the event to subscribers. Create a page on your website where visitors can learn about the event and even schedule a meet-and-greet with you during the event in exchange for a promotional reward. If you plan to stage a competition or giveaway during the event, use digital tools to spread the news — and tempt customers to attend your event.

No matter how small or new your business, regardless of who you’re marketing to, event marketing can be an effective, affordable way to build your brand’s identity and make real-time contact with current and potential customers.

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