There’s a deep rooted struggle that every virtual event, every content creator, every influencer,
e v e r y business owner faces. It’s a struggle that’s easy to define and identify, but hardly easy to actually overcome, which is why it’s one of the major monsters facing virtual event planners and why it’s one of the key topics we’re talking about in this virtual event strategy series.
No matter what it is that you do in business, you’re selling something, whether that’s a product or a service or an idea. And in order for us to feel successful, to be successful, we need to reach other people, more people. I think we’d all agree that if we want more sales we need to be able to sell to a larger, wider audience, yes?
The thing is, not everyone in the world is in a position to receive what we’re offering. Maybe they don’t have the problem that you solve for. Maybe they don’t have the capacity to accept your solution. Maybe they can’t afford you!
Oh. Some of you really felt that, didn’t you?
It can be hard to accept that our business isn’t for everyone. And it’s natural to assume that the wider we promote and advertise and position ourselves, the more people we’ll reach and the more sales we’ll accrue as a result.
In fact, the more we’re able to refine our message so that we’re speaking directly to the kind of people that absolutely need what we’re offering and can accept it, the more our message will resonate and the more successful we’ll be. This is true for every aspect of business and marketing, including online events and summits.
But when we have big hairy goals in our business, huge numbers of virtual event attendees that we’re expected to hit, isn’t it counter-intuitive to focus on a narrower, technically smaller audience? Aren’t we limiting our chances of success? And if we do narrow our focus, how do we decide what that should look like? How does one actually niche down with a virtual event?
That’s what we’re talking about in this week’s episode of The Virtual Event Strategist.
Seemingly a lifetime ago, I was helping to run a leisure retail store in Ohio called Litehouse Pools and Spas and I was one of the top salesmen in the company. I’d work with customers as they came in to help them find the perfect pool and accessories to fit their needs and budget. And while it was a ton of work handling that retail environment, it was also a ton of fun. Customers generally came in because they wanted to be there, they wanted to own a swimming pool, and I was adept at helping them to articulate and realize their vision for their new backyard, which led to high sales volume.
But imagine if I only ever talked to one customer. Maybe I could have sold that one person a pool and a spa and a billiard table and some accessories, maybe I was just that good. But, at a certain point, they’d have had no further use or space or budget to buy from me. I always needed more potential customers coming in the door.
But the key consideration there is the word potential. They needed to be a potential customer in order to actually become a customer, right?
In the pool biz, that meant they had to be a home owner, with sufficient space to have a pool installed. They also needed to live within a certain mile radius, and have the cash or credit to afford a pool. And they had to want a pool! No one ever walked into my store because they had to. Which meant that as a company, any effort we made to reach people who didn’t fall into those categories was wasted effort. There was no point in talking to someone who lived in a condo or apartment, or was from out of state, as they couldn’t have bought a pool from me even if they wanted to.
But, the more we were able to hone our messaging so that it would resonate specifically with home owners in northern Ohio, the more folks would take an interest and stroll into my aquatic showroom to learn how they, too, could have their own backyard oasis.
Consider for a moment your own business and your own ideas for a virtual event. Recall the Why exercise we went through in episode one and, if you haven’t listened to it already, I recommend pausing this episode and listening to Virtual Event Strategy: Your Why is Why You’re Unfocused, because it’s an important first step. You absolutely must understand what your goals for putting on your virtual event are before you can move forward.
Ok. Hopefully you have your goals in front of you, whether that’s written down on paper or digitally in something like Evernote, which is what I use for all my writing and thought capture. As you’re considering everything we’re talking about in this episode, as well as the next few, keep these goals in mind.
We’re going to dig a little deeper into why it’s important to niche down, and then spend time discussing how to actually narrow your target audience specifically for a virtual event. There’s definitely craftsmanship involved in refining a target audience down to just the right focus. Then we’ll wrap up with some ideas on how your virtual event plan can and should be adjusted, specifically, to allow for this new, refined audience.
Which means, by the end of this episode, you’ll have a clear understanding of not only why niching down is the solution to the issue of having big hairy goals, but also how to actually create a narrower audience and virtual event plan that achieves success.
Why Narrow Virtual Event Audience
I started The Social Media Hat blog in 2011 and at the time, my imagined audience was literally every business owner in the world. I thought, hey, everyone needs to learn about social media marketing, right? I also assumed, wrongly, that if I spent time writing about other topics that might be of interest to business owners, such as office furniture or Apple iPhones, that would help me reach my business goals.
The truth is, my target audience should have been defined as English-speaking small to medium business owners who wanted to quickly learn for themselves how to use the major social networks and what impact, if any, recent changes might have on them. Those were the people who were actually taking an interest in my content, and those were the targeted prospects who would have had the interest and capacity to potentially invest in consulting or other social media marketing products like a book or planner.
It took me a little while to recognize that fact but, once I did, I stopped writing about anything that wasn’t directly related to social media marketing for businesses and watched as my traffic, reputation, awareness and sales increased accordingly. Suddenly, every time I published an article, I was reaching and resonating with my target audience.
But, remember at the outset when I mentioned this issue is hardly easy to overcome? Maybe it’s just me, but focusing on a niche audience has always been a struggle for me. I’m getting better and, if I’m being honest, I think me sharing all of this with you probably cathartic and therapeutic. I think one of us, at least, will take this lesson to heart.
Because in 2018 I was making the same mistake again, only this time it was with virtual events.
I started hosting virtual events for Agorapulse and while I was somewhat targeting social media managers with the events, once again, I wasn’t being very specific or niche. I had sixteen speakers and sessions in our first event and even more in the next, and those topics covered many, many different aspects of social media marketing, as well as content marketing and online marketing.
Frankly, I just assumed that if I hosted more sessions and topics, and shouted to more and more people about the event, they’d look through all of the topics and find at least one of interest that was worth it for them to sign up. And maybe that’s exactly what some folks did, but, it really wasn’t an effective strategy.
Imagine if you host an event and there are a thousand registrants – even if they aren’t really targeted leads, a thousand sign ups sounds good, doesn’t it? But take a look at your Why again, your notes on your specific goals and objectives for putting on a virtual event. If you went through that exercise you know that registrants is just output – that’s not a business outcome. You need those registrants to go on to buy whatever it is you’re selling, don’t you? Maybe just 1% of those registrants will sign up for a trial or book a discovery call with you because they were not well targeted.
Now, imagine if you host an event and there are just one hundred registrants – but they’re highly targeted because you narrowed the niche of your event and the focus of your messaging. You might have fewer registrants for your event, but those registrants are far more likely to go on to take a business action that results in an outcome, aren’t they?
I’d rather talk to 100 highly qualified and targeted prospects and convert 50%, than talk to a thousand unqualified leads and convert just 1%.
My first events were for everyone, about everything. So who were they for? What were they about? Nothing. When I got specific and hosted an event all about LinkedIn for social media managers, we doubled our number of attendees to over four thousand!
The Social Pulse Summit: LinkedIn Edition was very clearly for social media managers who wanted to learn how to better leverage LinkedIn for their businesses or clients. All of the speakers and topics, from the keynote on, were about LinkedIn. And since Agorapulse as a service fully supports LinkedIn, we knew that 100% of attendees were potential prospects, unlike past summits where I might have included sessions on TikTok or Pinterest… platforms we didn’t even support at the time!
If you’re able to better define who your virtual event is for, and communicate that, you will achieve higher conversion rates in both your marketing and in your post-event transactions.
How To Narrow Virtual Event Audience
So let’s talk about defining who your virtual event is for.
If your company has already gone through the exercise of determining an Ideal Customer Profile or ICP, I’d start there. Assuming the purpose of your event is to drive leads and sales or similar goals, your target audience should begin and end with your target ICP.
If you do not have an ICP, take a moment to think about what that might look like. I’d recommend doing a deeper dive into your business analytics at a later date to get more refined, as well as talking to customers and non-customers alike to better understand them. For now, though, you can simply write down some ideas about who your ideal customer is.
What have or will they purchase from you?
What problems do they have that you solve? And what problems do they tend to have that you do not solve for?
What are some other similarities among those customers? Are we talking about consumers or other businesses? Where are they physically, and where are they in their journey? How likely are they to both want and afford to purchase from you?
Thinking through the detailed aspects of your target audience will get you closer to establishing Who you are talking to. But we also need to think about How.
Clearly we’re planning a virtual event but that can mean a great many things. You could host a virtual summit with multiple simultaneous tracks over the course of a day, or a single panel discussion in a webinar. You can focus on content or focus on networking, or a combination of the two. And there’s always the question of whether the event will have an in-person component and be a hybrid event, both in-person and virtual.
CEOs who attend SaaS Academy are very accustomed to an event format where there’s a presenter who gives a brief talk – no more than ten or fifteen minutes – and then the rest of the session time is devoted to allowing just one or a few attendees to come “on stage” and share their unique situation, allowing the presenter the opportunity to advise, coach, and offer direct feedback. This is often referred to as a Hot Seat Session, and is an example of the kind of format you might employ if your audience would recognize and appreciate it.
I have a full list of virtual event session types that you can read through on The Social Media Hat blog to help you think about how you’re going to deliver and format your online event because that, too, will impact how you niche down.
You could, for instance, host an event for your target ICP that is a pure networking event and simply schedule speed networking, matchmaking, round table discussions, and time for 1:1 meetings. Your audience might love that!
So we know the Who and the How, and the last consideration for a niche virtual event audience is the What. What content or kinds of content are we going to offer?
This goes back to my earlier example of offering 16 random sessions on anything related to online marketing, or a dozen sessions focused on LinkedIn. If you take the time to refine your audience and consider their needs, it will be easier to select a focus for your event.
Review the pain points that your target audience is experiencing, particularly the ones you cannot solve. Those are the problems where, potentially, you can put on a virtual event and be seen as a tremendous resource and asset to your audience, creating terrific content around those issues, and then integrate how your business solves for other issues that same audience is facing.
This, too, will take some thought, since many of the issues your audience is facing may be too far removed from your business and solutions to be relevant. It helps if you not only know the pain points, but you also know the severity of the pain points.
Try putting out a survey to your target audience and simply ask them what they’re struggling with the most. Then you bucketize and categorize all of the answers that you get and learn immediately which issue is really bothering the most people.
At Agorapulse, we polled our community of marketing agencies and learned that their top challenge is growing and scaling their business. Most marketing agencies begin with a single individual doing all of the administration, sales, marketing, and client servicing. As they grow they hire more staff but it’s really, really hard to stop working in the business and instead work on the business, so that’s a challenge, and one that Agorapulse saw we could help with through virtual summits, blog posts, and podcasts.
What do you think your audience’s top struggle is that you could help them with through your virtual event?
You can avoid the concern of potentially getting too focused and narrow in your niche by turning to Google or similar keyword research tools, and looking up some keyword phrases relevant to the issues you’re planning on targeting with your virtual event. It’s OK if the phrases aren’t seeing tremendously high volume in search because we want to be competitive. But if no one is searching for the phrases you’re using, I’d question whether they were really a problem or not.
Once you’ve done that check and validated some of the pain points and issues, pick one to focus on.
Now you’re ready to create a virtual event plan.
The Niche Virtual Event Plan
In our next two episodes, we will talk at length on how to overcome the feelings of overwhelm that loom over us when faced with tackling a new project, particularly one filled with so many tasks and details. And we’re also going to work through how and where to find more resources and people to help you, so that you never feel like you’re in this alone.
For now, we’re going to focus on creating a high level virtual event strategy so that you can begin to formulate a virtual event plan that will achieve the results you’re looking for. And the good news is, you’ve almost got it! Congratulate yourself for making it this far and working on all the things. Because you’ve already put so much thought into your event.
It’s OK if you’re still processing and it’s OK if there are things that are still unclear. And it’s totally OK if you want to reach out for more help.
You’ve been taking notes and writing down ideas and thinking about all of these topics. You now have an idea why you’re planning a virtual event, who it’s for, how it will be formatted, and what you think you should include or have the event be about.
As you think about and formalize these individual points, you can combine all of them into a vision statement for your event which will tell you, and everyone in your organization, this is what we’re going to do and why!
Put that at the top of your virtual event plan and documentation.
There’s a lot more detail that will go into that plan, much of which we’ll cover in future episodes or blog posts, but what I want to focus on right now as we get toward the end are some additional considerations for event planning that will help you not only narrow your niche, but also successfully reach a wider audience within that niche.
First, give some thought to the speakers you can bring in and, specifically, how aligned they are with both your target topic and your target audience. Ideally, they will have built a reputation as a speaker and expert in that specific niche for that specific audience!
Not only will this help bring tremendous value and relevancy to whatever presentation they give, it will also reflect positively on your event.
When I was putting together that virtual summit on LinkedIn, and was thinking about speakers, I made sure I was bringing in experts on LinkedIn, specifically. No generalists, and no one that hadn’t built a reputation as an authority on LinkedIn and the topic of their presentation. And for the closing keynote address, I tapped Goldie Chan, known as the Oprah of LinkedIn. She brought tremendous clout and authority to the event, and delivered the most amazing presentation.
When you’re planning your virtual event, you simply cannot accept whatever topics and presentations speakers pitch to you. You must be selective and often that means deciding in advance what topic or topics you want to fill and then going out and getting the best speakers you can. I consider myself fortunate to have been able to bring in Goldie for that event and if you have the opportunity and need for a dynamic speaker who can teach about personal branding, talk to her.
Second, give careful consideration to the brand partners that you bring in, whether as sponsors or partners or even presenters.
Just like your speaker lineup, your brand partners will help solidify in the minds of your attendees and potential attendees what this event is about and whether or not it’s truly for them. An attendee may look at a virtual event’s sponsors and exhibitors as an opportunity to learn about new tools and solutions that can help them, so the lineup needs to make sense.
Furthermore, once you have a few brand partners identified and formalized, that will make it easier to approach and sign additional brand partners.
If I’m hosting an eCommerce virtual event and have partnerships in place with Shopify and WooCommerce, two highly recognizable brands that are specifically in the eCommerce space, that lends credibility to all my future partnership conversations.
Determining who to talk to and, more importantly, how to actually approach potential partners and handle virtual event sponsorships is something I spend a lot of time working with my virtual event clients on. There’s a lot that goes into managing relationships with other brands.
Now, let’s pull all of this together.
It’s baseball season in America which means that nearly every day, the teams are fielding a collection of players that they’ve assembled and trained in the off season.
Now, each and every baseball team has to have the same basic structure and field the same players. On the field there’s always a pitcher, a catcher, and fielders in the infield and outfield. The opposing team has one player at the plate who is taking his turn at bat. For nine innings, it’s the same format.
But in the off season, management has to decide not just who will fill those positions, but how those players collectively will come together. Every player has their own strengths and weaknesses and potential and expense. The cost of one has to be balanced with tremendous potential in another, so that the team overall can remain under budget, yet still competitive.
Assembling your virtual event plan will feel similar at times. You will be balancing your goals against your budget, your audience needs against the cost of your speakers, your vision for the online event against the time you have to organize it.
The beauty of the exercise that we have just gone through is that, not only have you better defined your target audience and the scope of your event, you’ve essentially written your marketing brief at this point. You still need to elaborate on the pain and struggles your audience is facing, then dive into the benefits and solutions they’ll realize as a result of attending your event. But the language is there.
You’re well on your way to hosting a tremendously successful virtual event. In our next episode, part three in our Virtual Event Strategy series, we’ll do battle with the Overwhelm Monster.
This is the moment where you’re going to want to make sure you’ve subscribed to the podcast or my email list so that you don’t miss any future episodes. And please take a moment to rate the show and leave me a review.
One final request: if you found this episode helpful, please share it with your audience on LinkedIn or Twitter so that they, too, can benefit from it!
We’ll talk again soon.
NEXT: Episode 03, Virtual Event Strategy: Getting Started With Elephantine Events