The Dystopia of Event Marketing: Only the Inspired Will Survive

The Dystopia of Event Marketing: Only the Inspired Will Survive

Have you read The Hunger Games yet? If you want to know how to market your event, you should. Yes, we’re serious. So . . . what do a mega bestselling youth culture book set in a futuristic dystopia and your lovely event have to do with each other? We’ll tell you. But first, play along with us as we lead you through a quick futuristic visualization exercise.

The year is 2017. It’s the first day of your association’s annual event. As always, it’s been a furious few months of preparation. But since you’ve been following the same marketing plan for eight years, it runs like clockwork. You’ve got the same web site (all you had to do was swap out a logo), the same web site (you just had to make some slight tweaks to the event page) the same series of postcard drops (just with different iStock photos swapped in), the same lineup of industry topics (just with different speaker names attached), and the same event happy hour (although wine went up to $17/glass). What could go wrong with such a well-oiled machine?

You breathe in the smell of Starbucks and blueberry muffins, glance at the neatly strung lanyards, the banner ready to greet attendees, and the tote bags tucked under the table. Finally it’s time: you open the doors, ready to greet the masses and welcome them to the 2017 event.

Except no one is there.

You check your watch. Eight-thirty sharp. Where is everyone? You bound down the steps to the expo center. But instead of sponsors decked out in brightly colored booths, there are only a bunch of union guys waiting to unload trucks that never showed up.

You grab your laser-powered, 10 terabyte, ultimate high-def, waterproof foldable titanium tablet to check online. You stumble upon a webinar covering the same topics as your event, and there you see the list of attendees. It’s a familiar list since it’s the same names in your membership database. Panicked, you head to one of the virtual networking rooms made possible by some new Apple technology, just in time to catch the tail end of a business breakfast, and you see the real time stats posted: $90,000 in business just exchanged, 150 strong connections, and two people engaged. Surely, there is Twitter activity. So you head to your association’s Twitter page, where you spot the hashtag #worthittorenewmembership? being Tweeted about. The Tweet-sensus? Probably not.

As you sit sadly with your muffin, the truth hits you: your event has become irrelevant, and your association isn’t far behind. You had the chance five years ago to change course, to heed the predictions, and to shake up the game. You heard some buzz about inspiration and story, but putting on the same event year after year felt much more comfortable. Besides, inspiration costs money. And your well-refined marketing plan seemed to be producing modest increases each year. It seemed good enough. But it wasn’t.

Will You Make it Out of the Arena?

Listen, we’re all ate up with the future. We love technological innovation (and have been known to camp out in line for the next Apple product). But we’re worried about you, because physical (as opposed to virtual) events are about to enter a point of no return. A dystopia as frightening as The Hunger Games. You can come out on the other side, strong and relevant. Or you can get swallowed whole, and never make it out of the arena.

We’ve been saying it for years: to keep your event relevant (and attended), you need to inspire the base. But we’ve got a new idea for you: you also need to inspire the future base. Because what people like to call “youth culture” is about to just become “culture.” The next generation is your guide for what to do now, because not only are they your future (literally), the trends bubbling out of youth culture are infiltrating middle-aged board rooms everywhere.

Why You Need to Pay Attention to The Hunger Games

The next generation may have a nine second attention span (you do too, by the way), but they’re not stupid. They are discerning. And they’re not interested in dumbed-down content. In fact, the only thing that breaks through that nine-second attention span is good content—specifically, a good story. That’s exactly why The Hunger Games trilogy made it big: aimed at teens, but read widely by just about every demographic, it spent more than a year on the New York Times bestseller list (and Suzanne Collins is the most downloaded author on Kindle to date).

What’s the secret to the book’s success? It’s intense. It’s big. The action moves fast. Lots of short sentences. Pure plot. Characters you get. The bold change that you need to root for is laid out very clearly. It’s basically a story that you can’t stop reading—so you buy the next book, and the next one. And then you see the movie. And then you tell everyone you know to do all of these things, too. Not because anyone tells you to, but because it captured you and you can’t not share.

In order to compete against all of the online resources for education and networking, your event marketing has to become The Hunger Games (no, of course not literally). It has to be about big ideas, communicated quickly, and in a way that makes people desperately need to know more, read more, tell their peers, and above all, actually be there.

You have to figure out how to communicate the big ideas behind your event—like education and networking—in a remarkable way that is both easy to digest and inspiring.

Nuances were last generation. This generation is about boldness and clarity.

Make It Unexpectedly Good, or Go Home

Your brandmark, your brochure, your direct mail pieces, your web site, your social media: every piece of your marketing has to be clear, inspiring, and remarkable if it’s to cut through the nine-second attention span and compete with today’s (and tomorrow’s) virtual world. It has to be unexpectedly good. It has to be text-message worthy. Kindle highlight worthy. Hashtag worthy. And—in case we haven’t said it enough—relevant.

If your marketing is that good and that in touch with the people you want to attend, then why wouldn’t they show up in person to see what’s next? On the flip side, if your marketing is that outdated and unremarkable, why would they bother showing up?

We’ll talk more about the anatomy of inspiration in next month’s newsletter, but if you don’t want to wait that long to start brainstorming your mega blockbuster event marketing plan, drop us a line. We’ll figure out how to get you out of the arena triumphant.

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