Having just read an article on GDPR that suggests a silver lining for the events business can be found in that new EU regulation, I’ve concluded that the author is right for the most part, if you have a solid data strategy. But if you don’t, welcome to the nightmare.
Why? If you follow good marketing practices, then everyone to whom you are actively marketing is either a past customer or those who’ve opted in to receive your messages. That means, presuming that if you have multiple events and/or multiple modes of communication, you are only sending outreaches to your prospects in ways to which they’ve explicitly agreed and about matters for which they’ve agreed to be contacted. For example, you would not be sending emails promoting an event to those who have only opted in for a newsletter.
Bad Practices Will Cost You
This means there should be no unauthorized adding of names to a database, nor the harvesting or scraping of names from different web sources to populate lists. It also means there’s no sharing of names between partners (without explicit permission of the prospect) nor the adding of names obtained via business cards or LinkedIn profiles, etc. More proactively, how diligent are you about cleaning your database (at least twice a year?) to remove those who have changed companies, retired, or otherwise are no longer where they once were? What about the practice of ensuring that you have full contact data for each person in your database, rather than just the email address?
Being Smart About Following Best Practices
Who actually follows such guidelines? My guess is very few since it is quite hard, time-consuming, and expensive to do so. But if that’s true, your marketing department might well be in trouble. Many people are sick of the onslaught of emails and other modes of harassment they must endure without having provided permission to be contacted. If you have European prospects, GDPR now means they can react to such activities with complaints to the authorities that might result in the levy of huge fines that can total as 4% of your annual revenues or $24M, whichever is larger. And though the US is less rigorous in its protections, the State of California has recently passed legislation that mimics GDPR in significant ways.
Consider one company I heard of which has a prospect database that numbers 40-50K names, 80% of which have only an email address as the mode of contact. Their marketing strategy is to send everyone in their database an email about the latest webinar, event, or white paper – doing so as many as five-to-seven times a week. With an annual opt-out rate of 30% per year, what’s their future likely to be?
How can a smart event organizer launch a new event if the pool of existing clients, together with opt-ins, is not substantial enough to support the new venture? You’ll have to ‘cheat’ to get started.
The Future Could Be Bright
it’s imperative to start thinking about how to navigate the challenges that are ahead. The future of the event business will depend on those who invest in sound marketing strategies vs. isolated marketing tactics. Who wants to react to this week’s poor attendee numbers in panic and cross into the ‘gray’ area? Without a long term and market endorsed strategy you are heading for trouble as year after year it’s only going to get tougher.
If GDPR helps event organizers at all, it will force you to come up with long term data acquisition strategies, with smart enabled staff to implement them. You’ll use your tools and the available content in ways that attract attendees based on what they want to experience at an event and how it will contribute to their business success. This approach is the antithesis of trying to extract money through the bombardment of unknowing prospects with a frequency more determined by weekly registration goals than customer needs.
Welcome To The Winners Circle
Who will be the winners? They will:
- Have a current opt-in database that is segmented by product line.
- Have a staff responsible for devising and executing the marketing strategy and who can change and pivot as needed, using the tools that are available.
- Have content that is worth the investment of time and money of the paying attendees.
- Be able to crystallize the right message to send to the right person by the right means at the right time.
- Have a frequent, two-way dialogue with the audience so that client needs are identified and addressed on an ongoing basis.
- Have the ability to monetize all of the above by attracting the right audiences, which in turn attracts the right sponsors (doing so without foolishly spending.)
- Use analytics to identify opportunities and exploit market gaps.
- Have a passion to serve a market that will get you through the tough bits.
The companies that do this are few and far between, particularly in terms of doing it at scale. But given the iceberg that is approaching, it’s time to get your house in order or face the disaster….