Community marketing: the case for 2021 event budgets

Why community marketing will be a better use of event budgets this year.
Community marketing: the case for 2021 event budgets

For years, large-scale events were the cornerstone of most marketers’ calendars. In terms of forging meaningful connections with customers and attracting new business, nothing could compare to taking a hands-on approach and actually meeting people face-to-face - so much so that 61% of marketers believed that in-person events were the most critical marketing channel back in 2019. Then along came 2020. In-person events were wiped out overnight, leaving marketers scrambling to find alternative options.

With little time to fill these gaps, virtual events formed a big part of the marketing calendar for 2020 as marketers looked to compensate for the lack of events that would typically have taken up around 22% of their budget pre-pandemic. While many of these were successful and showcased our ability to adapt during difficult times, 68.8% of event marketers believe it is more difficult to create unique and memorable experiences for attendees in this format.

As more people are vaccinated and COVID-19’s grip on society is gradually loosened, many are now looking forward to the return of in-person events. But with this return still very much up in the air, marketers would be better off investing this budget in community marketing. Creating a year-round space to connect and engage with their audiences will generate better ROI than trying to navigate the road back to in-person events. Let’s take a closer look at why community marketing could be set to replace big events at the heart of the marketing calendar.

Forging connections

Building connections between brand and customer - meaningful ones, at that - has never been more important. ‘The Era of We’, a whitepaper put together by Reddit and Global Web Index, highlights the growing demands of consumers for brands which reflect their own values and make the customer feel personally invested in the product or service they are offering.

In-person events were considered key to building these connections. But even though marketers agree almost unanimously that virtual events will never replace the real thing, it seems that the return of real-life events remains in a state of flux. Though many marketers are betting on a return to in-person events during the second half of 2021, many believe attendance could be as low as 30-40% that of previous years. Others feel that in-person events will never fully return to the level of importance they previously occupied.

With 29% of marketers expecting to be working with a decreased budget in 2021, it is crucial that this money is spent wisely and secures a return on their investment.

The uncertainty surrounding the return of in-person events and the lower ROI of virtual ones has created a vacuum which marketers are now looking to fill. With 29% of marketers expecting to be working with a decreased budget in 2021, it is crucial that this money is spent wisely and secures a return on their investment.

Community marketing: a safer investment

Events make up such a significant part of the marketing funnel for a variety of reasons. One is that they raise awareness and bring a brand or product story to life. An online community creates a ‘home’ for a brand - a hub to showcase the expertise that goes into a product or service, as well as the experts themselves. Pulling this altogether in one space establishes a brand as an authority in their space, generating the top-of-funnel awareness that events marketing once delivered.

Events were of course a vital channel for marketers to generate engagement around a brand, but online communities offer a year-round engagement opportunity. When done well, they create a participatory experience for customers that helps to form a genuine connection. Rather than talking ‘at’ consumers, they create a dialogue, driving conversations between a brand and its biggest advocates. 

Emphasizing the community values of any brand is now one of the primary factors in persuading people to become customers and, more importantly, getting them to keep coming back.

More than 70% of people are keen to see digital solutions that deepen their connections with others, a number which has increased during the pandemic and highlights the growing demand for meaningful connections at a time when most of us have been stuck at home. Online communities provide connect members with other like-minded peers, allowing customers, audiences or clients the ability to connect year-round instead of just the three or four days a virtual event might last for. Emphasizing the community values of any brand is now one of the primary factors in persuading people to become customers and, more importantly, getting them to keep coming back.Community marketing graph

Communities also allow brands to consolidate their digital presence, ultimately allowing for a greater customer experience. There are so many channels for marketers to navigate today but an inconsistent and disjointed experience can be fatal to customer retention. A community makes it easy to deliver a consistent, unified brand experience, placing webinars and video calls in the same online space as educational resources and centralizing the brand’s web presence.

People technology

A community is a hub for content, networking and virtual events with lasting access to a direct channel of communication with their members. It is not simply event technology - it is people technology, designed with the aim of bringing people closer together and building professional networks in a trusted space. Only attempting to engage customers during the timeframe of an event has become an outdated approach. Communities take the best elements of event marketing and extend the engagement into a year-round solution.

In the current climate, community marketing is essential for marketers to meet customer needs for an emotional connection with brands, while also offering a space for engagement and virtual events while a return to in-person events is up in the air.

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