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Within the marketing discipline, event marketing has come into its own as a distinct segment, with its own set of guidelines and tools for success.  I recently attended an event marketing summit that defined these developing parameters and reviewed several case studies to illustrate them.
Today's large corporations spend millions on events, because they're a proven tactic for connecting with current and targeted customers in a tangible, meaningful way, and converting them into brand advocates. A healthy portion of their budget is devoted to event marketing – and rightfully so. It makes good fiscal sense to squeeze the most they can from every event.
Event marketing falls under the umbrella of what's now called "conversational marketing" (or "relationship marketing"), which sprang from the marketing philosophy of listening to your customers first, then creating a dialog (or relationship) with them. While this concept isn't new, it's one I've long believed in and it's gaining more acceptance—because it works.
Event marketing helps create buzz before an event, often by using a "virtual realm" – another new term I learned at the Summit. The Virtual Realm is a feeder place that facilitates customer interaction and starts a face-to-face conversation. It's a direct and personal way to give consumers a taste for what's to come – or, as presented at the Summit, gives your customers a hug instead of a handshake. The Virtual Realm will be used throughout the life of an event, encouraging engagement during the event and continuing the conversation with consumers afterwards.
Trade show producers were in many ways the pioneers of using social media for event marketing. They've already grasped that we are now connected global citizens, and that taking their campaigns on line facilitates their goals. Their event marketing usually begins about four weeks prior, and is executed in three phases. Online communications kick-off Phase 1, followed by off-line efforts in Phase 2 and culminating with mostly online communications in Phase 3. Smart event marketers reach out to bloggers early-on, in Phase 1, because these bloggers are influencers who often will lead the way, in pied piper-like fashion, for the rest of the target market.
One of the keys to successful event marketing is executed afterwards: measuring ROI (return on investment). This is best achieved when numerical goals were specified during the event's conception. Hard numbers—pertaining to attendees, sales figures or press clippings, for example – will yield the most impressive ROI results.
One of the most effective ways to measure ROI is by using photo activation.  While not a specific tactic in itself, photo activation refers to the numerous ways photography and digital technologies are used to gather consumer information, communicate to target markets and disseminate marketing messages.   Most of the big brands are using photo activation in some form for their events because it gives quantifiable, tangible ROI results.  For large corporate events, measureable ROI figures translate to sustained and increased budgets for future events.  

The Summit presented many examples of events that used photo activation to connect with their target markets.  Below is a quick summary of how photo activation enhanced the effectiveness during the Nickleback Tour and helped cement relationships between the brand and their fans.
The hugely popular Canadian rock band Nickleback places great importance on their relationship with their fans. They're obviously more than your average rock stars; they're great marketers who realize that their fans drive their success. Here are some of the photo activation tactics they brought into play on their most recent worldwide tour:
•At the concert, fans received a card with a bar code card, which was scanned when they had their photo taken in front of a green screen in the parking lot
•The image was used to create a shot of the fan with their favorite band
•The card had all the log-in info for fans to access their images online
•When they went online to access their image, they were asked to complete a brief survey
•Online, they had an opportunity to add a frame or stickers to their photos
•The completed image could be automatically uploaded to Facebook, Twitter or any other social networking sites
•Nickleback and their management company received demographic data on the fans and could continue the band/fan relationship with specials and early release announcements

There are many examples of how photo activation can give access to real data.  Now how do we get to use this technology on a smaller scale and still be able to track data.  This is where 5th Avenue Digital is learning what the Big brands are doing, and applying the principles so that everyone has the opportunity to develop relationships with their consumers before, during and after the marketing event.

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