As marketing has evolved over the years to a more analytical and results-driven discipline, so have the tools available to effectively reach and engage customers. The goal of any business, big or small, is to attract and retain customers, and demand generation programs are at the forefront of moving those customers from a passing interest in your product or service to a loyal, recurring customer.
While traditionally, demand generation has been a big business strategy, there are tools small businesses can use to reach those potential customers. If your small business is hosting events, you already have access to a powerful marketing tool that is most likely untapped – an online events calendar.
An online events calendar can not only attract potential customers, but also qualify and prioritize prospects, keep them engaged with your brand, convert leads into customers, and eventually, provide a tool to measure success and return on investment to further improve the marketing and sales process.
A successful demand generation strategy should include three phases: building awareness, engaging users, and maintaining the relationship to keep customers coming back.
Phase 1: Bringing awareness and attention to your calendar before an event
Calendar content is the search engine optimizer’s dream: It’s frequently updated, rich with keywords and details, and can produce a high volume of pages for the search engines to find. Increasing the number of pages in your event calendar – meaning more events and content – provides more keywords and, in turn, more chances for a search engine robot to find your website. Additionally, more pages means longer visits to your website – a good way to boost SEO. Backlinks to your site also help SEO, because these tell search engines that your website provides valuable information. Gain more backlinks by providing an easy way to embed your content on other pages, such as share buttons and widgets.
Social media should also be integrated into any event calendar to bring awareness to your events. Offering administrators the ability to publish event data directly to Facebook and automatically add Facebook attendees to the calendar’s full list of RSVPs, allows users to see if any of their friends are also attending. Share buttons let people promote the event via social media and support for hashtags helps bring awareness to events.
Email marketing can be an effective tool to reach people who have shown an interest in your events. In a February 2013 survey of calendar users, 82% indicated that receiving email reminders about events they’re interested in is important. A calendar that delivers periodic newsletters and automatic reminders for registered attendees straight to their inboxes will ensure users are receiving updated content and are aware of upcoming events, keeping your events fresh in your audience’s mind.
Phase 2: Engage your audience
With the right features and functionality, your events calendar can be a great marketing tool. Everyone wants to know — and spread the word — about events happening around them. To engage your audience, your calendar should include a place to feature special events, built-in maps for easy directions, allow for comments and audience submissions, and create individual venue pages to showcase extra information.
Since your small business probably has a small (or no) marketing team, let your audience to do the talking for you. Integrate your events calendar with Foursquare so event attendees can check-in, offer group profile pages so users with similar interests can interact, allow user comments, and provide the option to RSVP on social media channels to further spread your message to the people you want to reach.
By giving users the option to interact with the calendar, you are making sure they feel like part of the community and have a stake in its direction. The feedback you receive will also allow you to improve future events.
Phase 3: Maintain a relationship with your users
Finally, it is important to give your users a reason to only come back. Create an events calendar that your audience will treat as the central resource for discovering events.
By highlighting trending events – those that are generating the most discussion, have the most attendees, or are more likely to appeal to your audience – you will keep people coming back. Give users the option to sort events by their personal interests, or to subscribe to a feed. This makes users feel as if your calendar – and business – is catering specifically to them. Users who have already attended an event can also follow a venue they like, or join a group they have common interests with, helping build a sense of community.
At DC Dance Card, a website focused on showcasing upcoming dance events, parties, and classes in the Washington, D.C. area, founder Shelley McClean wanted to custom develop a website that would make these events easily searchable and filterable, and make it easy for dance studios to enter their own events. When she first started her project, she partnered with a web developer, but this route turned out to be too expensive to pursue, and she started looking for other options.
With a robust – and affordable – online events calendar, she was able to make her vision come to life. Her calendar enables local dance studios to enter their own dance events, producing huge time savings plus making her website the go-to place to find dance events in the community.
Before turning your calendar into a demand generation tool, it is important to set goals for your calendar content efforts, such as:
- Serving as a content resource for attendees, businesses, and administrators
- Turning your viewers into visitors by engaging your audience with content before and after an event happens
- Facilitating a mutually beneficial relationship between your organization and online users
Keeping these goals in mind, your calendar should focus on providing a valuable user and community experience. Figuring out what your customers care about will help you take the first step toward connecting with them and ultimately reaching your conversion goals.
Mykel Nahorniak is the co-founder and CEO of Localist, the industry’s only provider of an interactive online calendaring platform for the marketing professional. Myke is responsible for the evolution and overall strategy for the company and the Localist platform. In addition, he heads the development team in conceptualizing new features, leading creative development of site design, usability and overall branding. His past experience includes serving as Chief Creative Officer at Betanews, Inc., managing IT projects at The Baltimore Sun and leading web development teams at media companies, non-profits and PR firms. Myke is currently a mentor at Betamore, a Baltimore incubator.