Shaping an event growth strategy

Jonathan Kazarian, the founder & CEO of Accelevents, feels that there are missed opportunities event organisers can tap on during the event planning process, due to the way traditional digital marketing has shifted

Congratulations on ranking in the top 100 on this year’s Inc 5000 list of fastest growing companies in the US. What is your formula for success?
For us, it was all about the customer experience, which is 27 per cent of our team. We built a company around being there 24/7, ensuring that we’re basically an extension of your team to help you get done what you need to do. From Day One, when I started this company, that was part of our DNA.

Tell us about Day One because I’m sure that’s an interesting story.
So I started the business in 2015 because in 2014, I found out that my 17-year-old cousin was diagnosed with cancer. I wanted to do something for her. I had been hosting events for a while, but never of this scale. I realised that what I could do to raise the most money would be to host an event.

I was 24 at the time and I went down to my local aquarium in Boston and put my credit card down to rent out the aquarium to host this fundraiser. I did the math and realised I would need to sell 185 tickets to break even. We ended up selling 840 for that first event.

Frankly, we would have sold more, but the registration platform that we were using on the day of the event had a bug and everybody on our wait list was not able to check out. That probably cost the organisation US$10,000. So that was the first point of devastation with event technology.

We also could not find solutions to run the other aspects of the event that we needed to do. So I ended up working with a friend and we built out our own solution which worked on, and we received great feedback. Ultimately, we decided to build a business around helping event organisers. But technology isn’t going to solve every problem on its own so the support team needs to be there as well. So we built a company around not just Software as a Service, but Software and a Service.

What is one of your biggest pet peeves?
Many event organisers fail to capture the high that people get at the end of an event. It is just this incredible opportunity to have a call to action. Event organisers need to know what that call to action is when they go into planning an event.

The organiser of an event I attended recently did an incredible job of this. He actually sold US$100,000 worth of tickets for the next event, that’s not for five months, within the first day of this event because he knew what the call to action was. He incentivised people to do it.

He sold out of that ticket type on the first day and now he’s got this army of advocates on his behalf advertising his next event or experience, because he used that emotional window to drive registration. I see so many organisations fail to identify what their call to action is.

What other lost opportunities have you identified?
Events make up at least 25 per cent of B2B marketing budgets. So it is a huge segment and it’s at a time where everything is so data-centric right now. For organisers to be putting on these events and not have the data to show what action they drove, they’re doing themselves a disservice.

Your pivot through the pandemic was amazing, growing from US$300,000 to US$9 million in under eight months. Can you give us an idea of what top companies like yours are doing now to keep virtual audiences engaged?
Yeah, there’s been a lot of feature changes, as you can imagine. Over the past couple of years, what we have been telling organisers is, they should be selecting an event platform that’s able to cover the breadth of the different events they are hosting throughout the year – your entire gamut of event programming. But in any given experience, you probably do not want to be using more than say 20 per cent of what they have to offer, because you are going to start to overload attendees.

Gamification is one staple that we see in just about every event experience but at the end of the day, just like in-person programming, you cannot just stuff people in the room and expect it to work out. The events we see that have the highest engagement have great content and great excitement leading up to the event.

You also talk about growing and leveraging your networks in order to provide more services that make sense to the end users. I see many entrepreneurs doing this.
It is a very interesting space and that is one half of it. The other half of it is the way that companies are moving towards this model of essentially being a publisher, being a media agency themselves, because that is how they are building their brand and following by providing insightful content and education and learnings and entertainment out to their audience.

It is another aspect of the way the traditional mechanisms of digital marketing that we know are shifting. When it comes to generating that content, events are one of the best ways to be a thought leader in the industry. It is your opportunity to show, Hey, not only are we hosting this event and sharing all this insight about this topic, but we are also bringing in these industry influencers, leaders and experts who know even more about this topic than we do.

And then we have all of this great content and learnings that we can repurpose, not just during that event, but for additional materials for social media follow up, or as sales engagement content that we can hand off to the sales team. There are so many other avenues to reuse all of that content that is being generated.

Look at Salesforce, one of the largest companies in the world, launching a 24/7 media channel, on sales and marketing related content. People are building an audience and following and a brand before they even launch a company today because it gives them that edge to go out there and start selling and marketing what it is they’re building.

What about companies and events on much smaller budgets for what they are building? Where would you put your money in an event design that gives you the biggest payoff?
This goes back to what I was saying before, start with virtual. If you start with virtual, you can build that audience, get speakers and sponsors into your ecosystem. You already have a following, which makes the risk much less. When it comes to hosting an in-person experience, you are going to be able to drive sales further in advance.

If it is a paid event, you are going to be able to get people to justify flying across the country because they know your content’s going to be good. They are not taking that risk on attending your first in-person event.

What is in development right now?
There has been a lot of talk around the metaverse. I do not think that is a one-year-out scenario. I think at best, we are probably looking at three years before there is meaningful adoption. And I think we are going to have to see better hardware before that really comes into prominence. But in the more immediate term, the focus continues to be on the integration between event tech and the entire martech ecosystem.

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