At a time when we all spend hours staring at screens, in-person events have become one of the most interesting and refreshing forms of content marketing. A well-received event can catapult a brand from a vendor to a trusted source of new ideas. The best B2B brands are connectors, bringing people together, and that’s what great B2B events do.
Specifically, user conferences have become a huge opportunity for tech companies. I was at HubSpot’s Inbound the first year it really exploded from a user conference to a major event, with lines out the door for every session. I heard the message loud and clear: People are hungry for in-person experiences, not just tweets and emails.
Open source technology company Red Hat is one B2B company that’s building community through in-person events. Michele Reister is global event marketing manager at Red Hat, and the signature event she works on all year is Red Hat Summit. Last year the summit drew more than 5,300 people to San Francisco, with 155,000 others logging in from around the world. This year Michele and her team expect an even bigger crowd in Boston.
I asked Michele what happens behind the scenes to create a seamless, creative, fun B2B event.
At B2B Events, Start with the Story
As an advocate of open source, Red Hat’s brand is built on community. So the theme of this year’s Red Hat Summit is The Impact of the Individual. “We’re celebrating the individual in open source — the dreamers, doers, builders and explorers,” Michele says.
Red Hat is building that theme by telling incredible stories. “We have an in-house agency that creates videos to tell stories about the cool things our customers are doing with Red Hat software,” she says. “Some of the Open Source Stories (a film series that tells human-centered stories about how openness is a catalyst for change) will bring tears to your eyes, like the woman with cancer who open-sourced her medical records.” Last year the team showed the videos in an Open Source Story theater where attendees spread out on bean bags and ate popcorn while they watched, then sat in on a live Q&A with the people featured in the videos.
“One of the reasons I wanted to work with Red Hat was the community feel,” Michele says. “Forget B2B or B2C — we’re H2H. We want to market to people because they’re people.” Bringing in emotions and stories helps people connect on a human level, she says.
Telling a great story means nixing corporate speak. “Sometimes I read an email out loud and pretend I’m reading it to my kids or husband” to make sure it’s clear and jargon-free, she says. “We have a whiteboard in our office full of phrases no one would say in real life — words like ‘leverage’ and ‘pain points.’ We try to avoid all the corporate buzzwords.”
Prioritize Content over Logistics
Michele says her team focuses on content first. As an event organizer it can be easy to think in terms of logistics — how many people can fit in each conference space, and how many slots do we have to fill? “This year we’re not letting space dictate content,” she says. “We’re figuring out what out customers want first, and then figuring out how to fit that content into the space we have.”
Plus, the event team is thinking beyond standard conference tracks, she says. “We’re giving the sessions to the most popular topics, instead of finding a specific number of sessions to fill each track,” Michele says.
Tailor the Event Using Data
As a tech company, data is important to the Red Hat team. “We’re doing really cool stuff with data at Red Hat Summit. We know everything attendees do on-site,” Michele says, and they’re using that data to design content that will resonate with attendees.
From a sales perspective, gathering data at events is a huge opportunity. Michele says she can show product managers and salespeople what their customers did at Summit — what they signed up for, what they actually attended and who at the company was the most engaged.
Like all marketing organizations, Michele and the Red Hat team are tackling the challenge of improving their data and making more data-driven decisions. “The data is still hard to tackle,” she says. “We’re at a point where marketers have to be data scientists, and that’s a challenge.”
Share Your Best Content to Drive Attendance
For the first time this year, the Red Hat event team is hosting a virtual event called Taste of Summit to promote the event. They’ll share the best-rated sessions from 2016, plus sneak peeks at highly anticipated 2017 sessions. They plan to include interviews with track captains, who are responsible for planning the content, and will share some fun bonus content like what to do in Boston during the event.
Michele says her team works to get people excited about the event ahead of time by offering sneak peeks and opportunities to get involved, like crowdsourcing the conference T-shirt design on Twitter.
For more event marketing ideas from B2B brands, download our white paper, How to Turn Your Next Event into a Content Goldmine.