It’s an unfortunate fact of life that all marketing costs money, and event marketing is no exception. For your messaging to reach a relevant audience you usually need to go through intermediaries such as Facebook and Google, who are more than happy to charge you an arm and a leg.
However, accepting the fact that you cannot reasonably hope to sell tickets with a marketing budget of $0 does not mean you should blindly throw money at the internet and hope for the best. Let’s talk about a few key points that you should take into account if you want to build and stick to an event marketing budget that gets results, without breaking the bank.
Focus on ROI
For the vast majority of events, the only number that really matters is your overall return on investment. How much you’re paying per click or per impression, the amount of new Instagram followers you acquired, or the number of people who signed up for your mailing list are all well and good as indicators that you’re doing something right; but if you’re not selling tickets at a reasonable profit margin, you can pretty much throw all of them out the window.
While this principle seems pretty obvious, a lot of marketers still get it wrong – it’s easy to get distracted by the slew of metrics and figures you suddenly have access to, and to forget your core focus. Resist the temptation and keep your eyes on the prize.
Set quantitative targets
A continuation of the previous point – defining goals for your event marketing can really help you or your team focus on what matters, which in turn ensures that money is being spent on the stuff that actually moves the needle.
We’d recommend keeping your goals primarily quantitative rather than qualitative – so even if you’re trying to do something like “raise brand awareness” with a budget of $5K, you should find a way to quantify and measure your efforts (e.g., “increase our social media reach to 200K at a 5% engagement rate”). These numbers might not be the perfect way to evaluate what you’re doing, but they’re better than arguing over whether your banner campaign was brilliant or rubbish based on whether or not you liked the stock model’s haircut.
Have a plan, but be ready to adapt
How much should you plan your event marketing budget in advance? As much as possible, but be ready to scrap your plan on a moment’s notice once you see some real data. Going in blind and hoping you can come up with something on the fly is a recipe for disaster, but flexibility is also an important key to success – so you want to maintain a nice balance between the two:
- Decide on a budget for each channel: Do some preliminary research into advertising costs (using tools such as Google Keyword Planner), and then set a budget for each channel, based on the goals you hope to achieve through that channel.
- Take the full event lifecycle into account: Your event marketing doesn’t necessarily start or end with the on-sale period. For larger events you would probably want to prepare the ground by engaging fans and getting them to register for pre-sale updates, far before you start selling tickets (check out our pre-sale checklist to learn more). If you’re running a line of events you might want to do some targeted post-event promotion to give your next gathering a head-start. Budget each stage in advance to avoid unfortunate mistakes such as running out of money midway through your promotion campaign.
- Monitor performance and shift budgets around as needed: As we’ve mentioned in our previous article about event marketing analytics, one of the great things about digital marketing is the ability to campaign performance in real-time. To really take advantage of this, you have to be willing to stray from your initial plans and either cut or increase spending on a channel, based on its performance.
Maximise organic channels
Remember when we said that all marketing costs money? Well, we’re still saying that, but some channels are much more cost-effective than others – there are still a few excellent ways to reach your audience for free (although you still need to spend time and money on creating high-qualit content in order to excel in these channels).
Before you send all your marketing budget directly to Mark Zuckerberg’s bank account, make sure you’re making the most out of your non-paid promotional outlets, including:
- Social media – while many social networks are clamping down on organic reach, there are still ways to promote your event on Facebook without advertising. Focus on engaging your audience and creating real conversations, and use incentives and rewards to boost social sharing.
- Email – don’t believe anyone that tells you that email is dead: most people still check their email 15 times a day, on average, as of late 2016. You can use emails for newsletters, lineup announcements, or for direct sales – it’s essentially a free and highly effective marketing channel that you should by no means neglect (to avoid any type of confusion, this does not mean sending random spam).
- Customer referrals – a referral rewards program can be an amazing marketing asset and is one of the only channels where you know with near 100% certainty that you only pay for results that matter, i.e. ticket sales rather than clicks or impressions. Being generous with the cashback or goodies you give your fans for a referral that results in a sale will often be more cost-effective than making the same sale through advertising.
Learn from your successes (and mistakes)
Assuming you’re running more than one event, you should never start from square one. Treat each marketing campaign – whether it was successful or not – as a learning opportunity. When it comes to budgeting, this will help you set more realistic spending and sales targets for future campaigns, or to save money by re-using highly effective channels or creatives you discovered in your previous efforts.
Prioritize growth engines over quick fixes
To end on a slightly philosophical note – if you want to drive down the costs of your event marketing over time, you should start thinking strategically rather than tactically – and this means acquiring new skills, knowledge and technology that will help drive your costs over the long run.
Long-term growth engines won’t necessarily pay off in your next event, they can significantly improve your returns over time. These could include:
- Increasing your own knowledge and skills, or hiring skilled staff to handle specific areas of marketing (e.g. social media marketing or Google Adwords).
- Investing in software such as CRM, email marketing and event marketing tools.
- Choosing agencies that can be strategic partners, rather than one-off flings to run a campaign for one event or another.
If you’re just starting out, you probably can’t afford to focus solely on the long run – but we strongly recommend not to neglect it completely. An early start will ensure you have a well-tuned event marketing machine in place sooner rather than later.
Want to learn more? Avoid costly mistakes in your event marketing by reviewing the 9 Must-dos Before You Start Selling Tickets; or plan your content as meticulously as you do your budget with our guide to Building a Winning Social Media Content Plan.