What are the best email marketing strategies for event planners? Great interview with Jess Best from Emfluence.

We sat down with Jessica Best, community director at Emfluence, to discuss the many various ways email marketing can benefit event planners.

How can event planners use email marketing strategies?

I would argue that event planners can use email marketing strategies the same way that they should use the rest of their integrated digital and non-digital marketing. Everything is about not just the people that follow you and pay attention to you, which email is very good at, but also who they can share that with and who they can get that message to. So for example if you have the email address of somebody in the company but it’s not the right person to come to a conference or come to your event, they can very easily forward that on to the right person.

Email at its base is very much a relationship based medium and so the people that sign up for your email are your best prospects for coming to your event. If you throw a good event make sure that you’re collecting those people’s contact information, whether its social or business related, it’s probably likely they you’re going to have some sort of connection or offer for them sometime in the future.

How can email marketing help event planners connect with their audiences?

Email marketing is especially helpful for event planners because we try and connect with our audiences. We have the opportunity to deliver directly to somebody. It’s a little like getting a postcard or a letter or a birthday card or an invite directly in the mail. It’s not just about seeing that there’s an event going on, whether we hear about it on the news or through a friend, it’s that somebody actually directly invited to that event. It’s a way that you can not only reach directly out to your audience, it’s a way that you can very personally connect.

Email marketing has sort of a sneaky benefit of being able to tailor that actual message directly, such as:

“Dear Jessica, thank you for your interest in our organization.In the past you donated this amount of money, or you’ve come to these conferences. We think this upcoming event will be a great fit for you”.

So you’re making it extremely relevant to that person because you already know something about them and you’re able to tailor that email marketing message straight to them.

How can event planners increase the response rate for their email campaigns?

One of the ways that you can really connect with your audiences through email marketing is actually one of my favourite ways of increasing response rates too, which is through personalization. Being able to tell somebody that you can relate to them specifically because they came to an event already, and you know that they’re likely to go this event in the future.

Part of that comes with responsibility as a marketer – not just to send everybody an invite to something but to really reach out to the people that are most likely to come your event because they came to a similar event in another city, or a similar social event, or a similar fundraiser or a business event, etc. That’s something that we can take on our side – not just sending out to 10,000 people because we have 10,000 names, but sending out to the right 3,000 people so that not just our response rate is higher but also our return on investment and the amount of time or the money we’ve spent is higher as well.

People are already saying that email marketing is old news. It’s known as traditional marketing and that’s OK because it works like traditional marketing has worked for a long time. You can’t not do email marketing as an event planner, you’re not going to get anywhere. It doesn’t make any sense not to do it because if you have those names in your database that are interested in what you do, then it’s important for those people to know about what’s going on since you can’t make a successful event without the people.

What are integrated emerging media campaigns and how can they help event planners?

I think everything in 2012 and going into 2013 has to have the word ‘integrated’ and the word ‘measurable’ in it. I don’t think that anything stands alone. You never just run a TV campaign and think ‘OK, I’ve done my marketing now or I’ve done my advertising now’.

Email marketing, digital marketing, social media marketing, content marketing, all those are the same thing, you’re not doing any one thing and saying ‘Hey audience, come to me, I’m here!’, you’re in the age where you’re going to the audience wherever they are. And they’re all over the place!  So going to somebody because you have an email address for them is great but maybe they don’t follow you on Facebook – that’s the lay of the land these days! So you have to think about what you’re saying in all of those spaces that lay or lean on one another.

They’ve done this in radio and on TV for a long time – using the same audio cues from a TV commercial and later putting that money into radio where it’s more cost efficient to run the ads. You call back that television ad for less money and it gets run more times.

You can use that same sort of tactic with things that crossover between traditional media and emerging media and specifically between email marketing and social media or email marketing and your website and whatever promotions you’ve done online.

What tips do you have for creating email marketing designs?

Design and email marketing – you could talk to three people right now and they would all give you different answers! Not the least of which is the conversation that’s going around right now about whether to design for web or mobile first. And that of course is going to be extremely dependent upon your audience. If your audience is largely Blackberry users then you would definitely need to take into consideration what the text version of your email looks like, but if they’re not then that’s probably not a big concern for you.

It’s important to know your audience, especially in the mobile vs. traditional format, but the other thing that I can tell people from email marketing experience is test your emails! Test everything! If you have one big gigantic graphic image chances are pretty high that someone might not have images turned on and you might miss that audience entirely. But then every once in a while we’ll have clients test those types of images with their audiences first and they get out of this world results. So if your audience has their images turned on by default – go for it, it looks great! Use big images or integrated fonts if you like, but make sure your audience is in a position to consume it.

I generally tell people that if they don’t have any tests to start with then start with a flow style email. Say what you’re saying in the images and say it in the text because a third of your audience, on average, is going to have the images turned off, so make sure you’re still getting your point across. And make sure you’re getting your point across above the fold.

Designers hate me for saying this because I’m not saying ‘make it a big cool graphic that looks like artwork or a poster’, I’m saying ‘make it something that somebody can read on their phone without having to scroll’. They need to know who is sending them this email and what the point of it is without having to do too much work otherwise you get triaged and cut out really quickly. A lot of the design advice I have is from the practical side, from the results side.

On the design side we have seen some really cool things going on in email marketing. Not the least of which are the emergence of video capabilities. I think people are going to respond to this and it’s going to take off as compatibility changes.

Right now Flash is a big argument in this situation – if I make something incredible in Flash and I send it out to my audience, of which 40% are iPhone users, I literally just sent them nothing. It doesn’t show up at all. A lot of people are taking to the ‘silent movie’ response which are animated GIFs with 3 or 4 panes from the video and when you click on it, it takes you to the full length video in a browser somewhere. That way your phone naturally takes over the compatibility issue for you.

Animated GIFs is something that we’ve had our eye on in email marketing recently because you can add something animated and visual to your emails without too much trouble. You wouldn’t want to overuse it but you could have text about a sale in your email that changes from one image to the next, which catches the eye without being too annoying.

You can even use imagery for personalization. You could use variable images to spell out my name in jewelry for example, instead of just addressing the email to ‘Dear Jessica’.

Designer wise there are lots of great ideas out there but my logical side says test things first! Because if you put out content that’s really cool and creative but a third of your audience doesn’t see it then you’re taking a big hit to your return on investment.

How can results tracking benefit event planners?

I fully believe that if you are tracking what you are doing you can do it better next time, make more money next time, reach more people next time, make it more cost efficient next time.

For event planners, we have the benefit of seeing the results of our work at an exact time. We know that we had an event sell out or didn’t. We know that this worked better than another thing did because we saw the ticket sales for that day come in and most of these things can be tracked digitally.

It’s not like you’re doing a 6 month sales process for something that a sales person takes over and you’re never quite sure what the lead source is. You can track everything! You can track that link that came from the email, you can track the link that came from Twitter all the way through to the ticket buy or to the conference seat of someone who shows up or doesn’t show up. My analytics show me that the people who RSVPd by email showed up at a 95% rate, whereas the people that bought tickets via Twitter showed up at a 5% rate.

That sort of information tracking is very important because without it how would I know that I probably need to nurture my Twitter followers and remind them that they still have a ticket, or maybe I need to tell my Twitter followers that I need their email address so that I can remind them when the event is coming up, in the same way that I do with my email subscribers.