Even as the world grows increasingly digital during the COVID-19 pandemic, live events — at least in hybrid or remote format — are still opportunities for brands and leaders to cut through the noise and capture attention, boost trust, and increase mindshare. They also help brands capitalize on unique opportunities for networking (even if that looks a bit different nowadays) and establish deeper connections with your brand and among attendees. Yet the standard template for corporate events risks falling short of that ideal.

We rely on corporate events to inspire, motivate, educate, network, and inform — all within a three-day time frame. It’s no wonder that if they’re not designed properly, these events can leave attendees drained of both energy and content. However, if an event is part of a long-term campaign, it becomes a catalyst for change that has a far more lasting impact.

How Long-Term Campaigns Revitalize Corporate Events

Year after year, event teams are pressured to do and achieve more with the same — or even fewer — resources. That means finding ways to drive efficiencies not only within single events, but also across a portfolio of experiences. At the same time, you must achieve both ROI and greater efficiency digitally and without compromising the audience experience. Fortunately, you can meet these objectives by taking a campaign-focused approach.

When you plan an event, you consider the moment in time and dream up how to bring the experience to life while delivering messaging and content. Often, much of the focus and metrics relate to logistics and tactics. But a campaign approach to event planning starts with a broader view of your business objectives. What do you want to achieve over the long term? What does success look like? With that clarity, you can start to map out the right messages for the right audiences on the right channels over a longer period of time. This strategy will drive the desired results.

A campaign starts long before the event and continues afterward. That’s because a one-hit communication touchpoint — even if that touchpoint lives within a dynamic experience — is never enough to change an audience’s behavior or mindset in the long term.

Campaigns create personalized journeys with varying touchpoints, and they bookend experiences with multichannel information delivery. The lead-up communications are just as important as the meeting and post-event communications. Event planners should optimize the event channel for what only works in face-to-face or videoconferencing settings: networking, recognition, training, and team building. Meanwhile, the year-round campaign is the reinforcement that builds on the energy the event creates and connects to the very next touchpoint to keep engagement high.

A long-term campaign delivers an audience engagement experience that transcends the constraints of an event. It sustains the overall business impact beyond each event, extending its effect well into the next event cycle. In turn, this drives greater efficiencies and a more consistently influential experience.

Making Change Without Adding to the Noise

By creating a campaign using multiple channels — such as web, email, and (in the case of hybrid events) meetings — you can deliver the content and information in a digestible way that also provides reinforcement. It’s an integrated, targeted approach that reaches out to specific audience members using the channels in which they feel most connected — or want to feel most connected — to your brand.

The catch, though, is that you don’t want to add to your audience’s sense of being bombarded with messaging from competing brands. You don’t want to become just another source of noise. It’s not the frequency or even the amplification of your messaging that creates noise (though more certainly isn’t always better). If you’re thoughtful about the cadence, personalization, and targeting of your messaging, you can be the signal that cuts through the din.

4 Strategies for Designing an Engaging Campaign

To attract the right audiences, keep them engaged, and deliver an impactful and consistent brand experience, consider these strategies:

1. Plan for people. What is the change your audience needs to undergo in order for you to achieve strategic business outcomes and establish metrics? Understanding the people you’re planning for is crucial to creating a successful campaign. Do extensive research on your audience members: who they are, what they like, and what they want and need. Start with the organization’s stakeholders, or the people who own the messaging that needs to be delivered. Determine the business result you need to accomplish and get the leadership team aligned on what success looks like.

In the context of those organizational goals, use focus groups, interviews, and surveys to discover the audience’s “careabouts.” Couple that with what works within the industry and what is effective for different persona groups to build an audience profile and design a transformative journey.

Planning for people is centered in the strategy sweet spot: the space that lives in between what stakeholders want, what audiences want, and what they’re asking for. Aligning internal stakeholder objectives and understanding the audience shows you how to move beyond the obstacles to get your preferred and secondary messaging through.

2. Understand adult learning. To design experiences that deliver enduring content, consider how the adult mind will process it. As with children, the best and deepest learning comes from immersive, interactive experiences. But there’s a key difference between adult and child learning: As adults, we learn best when we understand why information is crucial and have the freedom to learn it in our own way.

According to Malcolm Knowles’ theory of adult learning, or andragogy, we adults respond best to internal motivators and the ability to make choices about how and what we learn. In designing events and communication strategies, adults should be treated as intelligent, self-directed individuals who can make choices from available options about how to learn within an immersive, hands-on environment.

Thankfully, the campaign-based approach is the one best suited to adult learning. This approach makes sure learning opportunities are not only timely and relevant, but also based on each individual’s needs. Both year-round and during the event itself, improve the quality of learning by providing options for people to explore whatever it is they need to learn and choose the way they learn it.

3. Reimagine and repurpose event-specific channels. Provide training, networking, and inspiring content across multiple channels before and after events. Research shows campaigns that reach out to an audience on one platform alone see an engagement rate of around 5%. On the other hand, campaigns that reach out using three or more channels enjoy an engagement rate of nearly 19%. But what are those channels?

Digital dominates — it’s always at the tips of your audience’s fingers. In fact, it dominates to such an extent that we often compete with it for audience attention when we bring everything together in a dynamic experience. This is a losing battle. So instead of letting technology tools interrupt during hybrid events, make the technology as invisible as possible. Let it support and elevate the experience and harness it to reinforce the event’s learning and messaging.

We tend to think of a mobile app as a key channel for delivering content at an event — and it is. Attendees can use apps to access logistical information, networking opportunities, and personal schedules. Besides this, they can use apps to connect with exhibitors and other attendees, receive content, download presentations, and take surveys. But an app’s use doesn’t need to end when the event does.

Because your app is something attendees take away with them that lives on their mobile devices, it can also be an avenue to continue message delivery after the event. You can repurpose and reposition those same capabilities, meaning the app can become a social channel and host a dialogue that lives on with attendees after they connect during the event. Instead of providing details about presentations, for instance, the app can now deliver customer testimonials and case examples attendees heard about on the main stage, perhaps in an ongoing podcast format.

Similarly, we tie event websites to the event itself — it’s the site that gives attendees access to information they need to know and a list of who will be at the conference. The website even gives them access to registration and any of the downloadable materials and documents they might need for the event. But in the context of a campaign, the website can be a channel for learning-management systems. For example, if your event is a sales and marketing conference meant to train attendees about what’s happening in the industry and give them the tools they need to raise their game, part of your event marketing strategy can include asking them to demonstrate best practices and knowledge based on what they learn before, during, and after the event.

A community website usually isn’t top of mind as a delivery channel, but it’s where discussion can live for your users. You can often generate and pull insights about what it is attendees want to get out of their experience — not to mention their top pain points in working with your company that you can address from a messaging standpoint on the main stage.

Ultimately, you want attendees to establish relationships by the time your event concludes — and hopefully, they don’t want to let those connections die. Your post-event delivery channel strategy can focus on fostering that community in another digital format.

4. Measure as you go. Typically, the only way event planners measure audience response is with a post-event survey that illuminates how the program’s logistical aspects worked for attendees. But to make your event a catalyst for real change, thread ROI metrics throughout the entire campaign and pinpoint specific changes in audience thoughts, perspectives, and actions. Whenever possible, conduct event audits to gain a deeper understanding of what works, what can improve, and what needs to change.

Surveys are certainly one way to measure against benchmarks, but they need to go beyond logistical questions and can’t wait until after the event. Start with the end in mind, or what it is you want to achieve. A survey can help identify where you successfully moved the needle on those objectives and where the gaps are that still need to be filled. If you survey your audiences in advance of the event, you can actually use the results to understand where to focus content during the actual experience.

Say, for example, that a survey before the event reveals 90% of attendees feel like they need training in the same three business areas. Through all of the benchmarking before your event, you’ll know to emphasize those areas in your content. During and after the event, you can use the survey to determine your success regarding the messaging you delivered, lessons attendees learned, and what they got to practice during the experience. You’ll determine whether attendees ultimately felt they learned what they needed to about those top three business areas.

An effective campaign doesn’t involve a set-it-and-forget-it strategy. The great thing about any marketing campaign is the ability to understand your reach and relevance with your audience as you go and see what resonates with them in real time, meaning you can refine the strategy along the way. By the time you get to the event itself, you’ve already created a touchpoint that’s hypertargeted and hyperrelevant to what you’ve found to be successful (or not) through the entire campaign continuum.

After the event, analyze your survey results and transform the data into action plans that balance your campaigns. After all, your audiences now have expectations about the event and the learning they’ll receive. From your communications before the event, attendees will understand precisely what your goals are for the experience and what they’ll get out of it. You can’t let those objectives drop off just because you didn’t have time to fully deliver on them within a three-day program. After all, that doesn’t align with the ongoing value delivery attendees expect. Your pre- and post-event measurements will help you shape the communications map of your year-round campaign messaging and content delivery.

The energy and enthusiasm around events are great news for anyone passionate about bringing events to life — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. But when the spotlight is brighter, the expectations and pressure are greater. A campaign-focused approach weaves experiences across channels over time, allowing for sustained, broad-spectrum delivery that maximizes impact and ROI.

Nicole Bojic also contributed to this post.