Eventful marketing

“Meet your customers where they’re at.”

That is advice from Danette LaChapelle, senior vice president of marketing at iQ Credit Union. “Where they’re at” can be either mentally (knowing what is important to them) or physically.

One way to accomplish this goal, said LaChapelle, is to use events to carry your message to the customer. This can range from having a simple customer appreciation day at your business location, to hosting a larger event at a special location (such as a “First Friday” event), to sponsoring a community event that resonates with your customers.

“We’ve used events as a key component to our marketing mix for years,” said Colleen Boccia, senior VP of marketing at Columbia Credit Union.

According to LaChapelle, events have an advantage over more broadside-type marketing approaches such as radio or television, because events target a specific audience. For example, a radio ad reaches not only Clark County residents, but also Portland residents – who aren’t eligible to bank at iQ. An event held in downtown Vancouver, however, is likely to attract mostly people who live in Clark County.

Boccia pointed out that events are a good way to “place our people out in the community – front and center.”

The nuts & bolts of event marketing

As with most forms of marketing, events pose some advantages and disadvantages. Lisa Schmidt, marketing communications strategist at Marketing Matters Inc., said that while events have the potential to “accelerate publicity,” there is also the possibility that when the event is over, people will quickly forget about it. Companies can increase the “stickiness” of the message by holding regularly timed events (such as annual).

Schmidt said that when planning an event, companies ought to assess their organizational resources –marketing support, finances, technological capabilities, facilities and available employee time. Also important to evaluate, she said, are environmental factors, such as timing and social culture.

Another consideration when planning events, according to Becky Weis, sponsorship manager for the Fort Vancouver National Trust, is clearly defining what the goal is.

“There are fundraisers, and there are friend-raisers,” said Weis.

For example, she said, the fort’s Fourth of July Fireworks event is a friend-raiser, while the “Dancing with the Local Stars,” event is a fundraiser. In both cases, Weis explained, the overall goal is to remind people about the National Trust and its historic significance, and showcase the vitality of the area.

“Events create buzz in the community,” said Weis. “That helps us stay relevant and in the public’s eye.”

LaChapelle said that iQ Credit Union keeps event goals in mind, as well. For instance, the company focuses on customers, not products, during customer appreciation days.

“People are not usually in ‘buy mode’ when they come to this sort of event,” said LaChapelle.

Similarly, Boccia said that “event marketing is particularly useful when you can capitalize on the human interaction.” For example, she said, at Columbia’s booth at the recent Recycled Arts Fair, Columbia is not demonstrating auto loans, but rather “our staff’s ability to truly care about our sustainable business practices and connect with customers on a personal level.”

At more business-oriented events, such as a chamber of commerce event, LaChapelle said iQ may focus more on increasing awareness of products and services.

Events, said Schmidt, are intertwined with customers’ value systems. A good example, said LaChapelle, is when iQ – which was started by local teachers – personally invites school superintendents to an event, to learn about what iQ is doing in the education arena.

“Participating in community events not only supports the organizations doing good work in our community,” said Boccia, “it also helps members know they’re doing business with an organization that shares their values.”

Of course, events aren’t much fun if no one shows up. Weis said that the Historic Trust promotes events online, using their website, Facebook page and Twitter. LaChapelle said iQ uses in-store signage to make customers aware of upcoming events.

“We promote events in as many ways as possible that will reach our target audience,” said Boccia, referencing e-mail, newsletters, a corporate website messaging, social media and advertising.

Planning and return on investment

While Schmidt agreed that events are a great way to build excitement, she also cautioned that they are “time suckers.”

“Events don’t happen by themselves.” said Boccia. “In order to meet your goals, whatever they are, events require planning, coordination and follow-up.” However, she added, companies can have a successful event without spending a lot of money and resources – such as Columbia’s “micro-events,” which are BBQs held at local branches.

According to Nancy Olmsted, VP of marketing at Columbia CU, companies should “go into an event with the end-goal fully defined, and develop a process for measuring results.” For example, a goal could be to achieve a certain number of leads at the event, but the return on investment metric should also include measuring sales volume derived from those leads.

Events, according to LaChapelle, have more emotional impact that some other types of marketing, such as bulk mailings. With a mailing, a customer can easily throw it in the garbage. But with an event, the customer is more engaged in what’s going on. This is especially true if customers explicitly choose to attend an event. Although, LaChapelle said, even when members come in to do a banking errand and accidentally discover iQ is holding a customer appreciation day, “they are always pleasantly surprised.”

“Customers realize that it takes effort to hold an event,” said LaChapelle. “They appreciate that.”