In our latest edition of B2B Inbound Marketing Stories, we spoke with Kelvin Newman, founder of BrightonSEO, the UK's largest SEO conference and MD of Rough Agenda, one of the new breed of B2B events companies shaking up the conference scene. In the interview, Kelvin reveals the secret sauce behind selling out his event in just 60 seconds and shares some pointers on how larger, traditional events businesses can incorporate a start up mentality to steer them to revenue success.
Watch the full interview, or pick up the key highlights below...
BrightonSEO started as a few like minded souls gathering above a pub to share what they knew and drink beer. Lots of beer. And as the size of the rounds grew from the sublime to the downright ridiculous (ever bought a round for 300 people?), he realised he might just have something more than a hobby on his hands. Here's Kelvin's unique B2B inbound marketing methodology that helped him take a casual meetup to the UK's leading SEO conference, all from a shed at the end of his garden.
Product, product, product
Kelvin's very open, honest and downright modest about his successes. He says that it's perhaps because he didn't start out trying to grow a huge successful business that he got so many things right when creating BrightonSEO:
- He started the conversation before he started the event: BrightonSEO had a hash tag before it had a website. Strike that, it had a hash tag before it was even an event! Kelvin engaged with his community on Twitter and discovered a shared passion for learning and a desire to connect with other like minded folks, hence the pub based meeting was born.
- The community shape the event: Kelvin confesses that he's terrible at making decisions. Which is why he's always made a point of asking his event community what they think, how the event can be improved etc. As well as being awesome free market research, this has the added benefit of getting the audience more bought in to the event, as they feel their voices have been heard and they've helped shape the product.
- Growth is an outcome, not a strategy: Kelvin is absolutely committed to the idea that if you want to grow, you don't focus on growth, you focus on building a better event. And for that you need time to think, to talk to your community and space to try new things.
Again, perhaps because the event wasn't originally intended to be a large scale block buster, Kelvin happened upon some neat marketing tricks that have transported his ticket sales to the stuff of almost Glastonbury-esque legend.
- Don't be afraid to say no: BrightonSEO has a finite amount of tickets. If you're not quick enough to snap up a free one, you have to pay. Sometimes even cold hard cash isn't enough to get you in. They regularly say no to amazing brands and job titles which only increases demand for the following year and results in earlier bookings and better cash flow.
- Under book your venue size: Kelvin says if you expect 1000 people, book a venue for 750. You might not get every last scrap of available revenue that year, but you're building demand and sustainability of the event. It can be hard to assure people of the value of a free event, scarcity does a lot of that job for you.
- Deals kill demand: We've all been there, last minute price drops, flash sales, special guest passes for latecoming VIPs. But this later stage scramble for every last penny kills demand and trains your audience to wait until the last minute to get the best prices.
The Rough Agenda approach to community is an interesting one. They've certainly got their own, but they also rely heavily on tapping in to others that already exist, and going way beyond banner swaps with their media partners:
- Conversation equals conversion: Whether it's their year round stream of Twitter chat, the private Facebook group where previous attendees get to shape the next event or the chatty, irreverent and very personal tone of their emails, Kelvin and team make their community feel valued, listened to and like they have a personal relationship not just with the event brand but with Kelvin himself.
- Don't cannibalise the community: Kelvin does content marketing, but probably not as you know it. There are already a host of awesome media brands in the UK and European SEO space, so rather than go head to head with them, he contributes to them. Guest posting and speaking at other events are the backbone of his content marketing efforts.
- Promote the topic not your event: Kelvin believes that by being an advocate of the themes of your event, by promoting the problems that your event solves, you do a better job of engaging the community than you do if you're only ever talking about your own conference or course.
- Use data to market smarter: Kelvin does a huge amount of remarketing, targeting ads not just generically at people who've visited the site, but segmented by the themes of the content they looked at, the levels of the courses they browsed and a tonne of other clever little segmentation tricks that see him convert lots of delegates for very little financial outlay - the powerful benefits of inbound marketing. He applies the same approach to email marketing, gathering lots of data on registration for a free pass that he then uses for smart targeting of his messages. Email is still huge for them as a channel because Kelvin does it intelligently and his tone of voice is distinct and spot on for his market.
Bringing start up savvy into traditional events
By now, you've probably realised that the man talks a lot of sense. But how do you take the methods of a marketing maverick working from a (rather cool) shed and apply them when you're entrenched in a large, traditional events business with 15-20 events a year to look after?
- Start small: You might not have the wherewithal to rebuild your business model from the ground up, but you can make smaller positive changes that have a big impact. Startups do this all the time, they test things with tiny budgets, they eke out a day here and there to test a new idea, they change just one element because that's all they can do right now and it's better than staying stagnant.
- Show the love: You already have a community, with varying degrees of loyalty and engagement with your event brand. People instinctively want to belong, so if you only put a little more effort into bringing those people into the fold and making them feel valued it can have a huge impact.
- Rethink your tech: Kelvin's mantra is that there is no bad marketing technology, just a bad fit for your business. So if you think your systems suck, it's time to change them and this doesn't have to cost the earth. Kelvin recommends using the cheapest thing you can reasonably get away with, as usually with more complex systems you're paying for functionality you'll never use. His hot tips are EventBrite, MailChimp and anything by Google (Docs, Forms, Analytics).
- Ask for white space: Traditional events businesses are a million miles a minute environments where revenue is God. This translates as everyone spending 100% of their time doing and 0% of their time thinking. As the traditional methods stop working, this pressure only increases when in fact underperformance can only be halted with a serious rethink of methodology. Ask your boss if you can carve out a little bit of space and budget to experiment. When you come up with the next BrightonSEO, they'll thank you for it.
If you do just one thing:
It can be hard to know where to start, so we've come up with a single thing that'll definitely make a difference to your event strategy if you commit to doing it over time.
Take a step to further engage with your event community. Write a guest post, lead a podcast, start a conversation on LinkedIn. It doesn't matter what you choose in so much as you put yourself out there and really connect with the people you're hoping will attend your event.
Good luck and if you're keen for more event marketing tips be sure to watch the full interview.