This article is based on a talk given at the Future of SaaS festival 2022. Catch the full unedited presentation right here.
In this article, I want to discuss brand demand and advocacy. I know what you’re thinking: “Here’s yet another thought leader trying to talk about the next big thing,” but you probably haven’t heard of event-led growth (ELG), an exciting way to engage and grow your community!
Before we dig into that, let’s break down our main talking points:
- The challenges facing SaaS companies today
- Why event-led growth is essential for SaaS marketing
- Rethinking events for the digital age
- The impact of event-led growth on your company
- Post-event follow-up strategy
The challenges facing SaaS companies today
Before anything else, let's answer the “why” question. Why is ELG important? Why should you read this article? Why do I deserve your time?
The CEO of Adobe, Shantanu Narayen, captured this brilliantly when he said, “All businesses must redefine how we engage with customers and deliver digital experiences at an unprecedented scale.” That’s the power of event-led growth.
The world has evolved rapidly over the last few years, and that’s not going to stop. We all need to be thinking about the changes we can expect to see in the coming years, and how we as SaaS leaders can prepare for them.
Businesses need to evolve with the times. The problem is that marketers haven't changed with the times as well as they should have. As a marketer myself, I'm guilty of not being on my toes as much as I would like.
Our world has rapidly become digital-first. When we look at remote work and the Metaverse, they tell us that our habits, lifestyles, and preferences have all fundamentally changed.
The future is personalization
As consumers and buyers, we expect a lot more personalization now. We expect a lot more customization, variations, and options in everything we do, read, consume, or buy online.
A lot of those behaviors are spilling over from the B2C context into the B2B context. It's not just B2C SaaS that's going to be impacted by these trends, it's also B2B.
There are certain undeniable challenges that almost all SaaS businesses face today. Our costs are rising – no doubt about that. There are now more than 25,000 SaaS companies globally, almost 50% more than what we had about five years back – that's a lot of competition.
On top of that, our customers are becoming more mature and more demanding. They don't follow the ideal customer journey anymore – they follow their own path. They do their own research; they compare options; they read reviews; they ask questions in communities.
As SaaS marketers and SaaS leaders, we don't really know what the big part of our customers' journey looks like.
We think they're going to come to our website and sign up for a free trial or just fill out a form, but that's not what’s happening. There's an entire dark funnel that goes on before they take an action like that.
Perhaps the greatest challenge is that most of these 25,000-plus SaaS businesses don't have a unique identity. They don't have a brand that differentiates them from their competition. As the world moves away from paid media towards experiences, they have to keep up.
Why event-led growth is essential for SaaS marketing
The idea that I want to present is that events are a pivotal part of the marketer's playbook, but we haven’t explored them to the greatest extent. The entire structure, definition, and visualization of events need to evolve.
We need to move away from the events that we've seen over the past decade or so, and start designing events that are relevant to the modern buyer.
It's super important that as SaaS leaders and marketers, we redefine what events mean to us and align them with the broader goals of our organizations.
That's why I want to put out the bold claim that events are one of the most important tools in a SaaS marketer's playbook to deliver on future engagement and growth goals.
We need to stop thinking about events as hard-to-scale one-off activities that require a lot of time, bandwidth, and budget to pull off.
Maybe you only do events for brand conferences, and you find that they’re an unreliable GTM channel. That’s the old way of doing events.
We need to think about events in the context of this new world. Events have massive potential to improve every stage of a SaaS organization's pipeline without being too draining on the pocket.
From brand awareness to demand creation, demand capture, revenue creation, retention, advocacy, community, and evangelism, there's no reason why events cannot play a pivotal role in ensuring that you're able to hit all those goals.
I know this because I've hosted and organized more than 50 events over the last five years. I come with expertise in hosting events of all scales and sizes, for different audiences and in a range of formats. I’ve run 15-minute events, and I’ve run 48-hour non-stop events.
At Airmeet we’ve seen thousands of events over the last couple of years. We’ve learned from our customers and concluded that it's about time we formalized these experiences into a playbook that other SaaS businesses could benefit from.
That's what brings me to ELG. You’ve probably heard of ELG, SLG, and CLG; by no means is any one of these a magic bullet for all your problems.
As SaaS businesses, you could find success from pulling off any one of those playbooks, or you could combine a bunch of playbooks. It all comes down to the resources and ambition.
We built this ELG playbook because we saw a massive opportunity to create meaningful connections between our audiences, industry influencers, and our brands and partners.
All these connections are being created as a customized, personalized experience for all these stakeholders, and they support our company’s core goals.
Events are no longer just one part of the overall marketing equation – they’re what defines your marketing playbook.
They define your entire company's ROI. That's because event-led growth is a systematic method to discover, engage, and grow your customers through an immersive and integrated strategy that uses events across the lifecycle of your customers' journey.
Rethinking events for the digital age
I might be reaching here, but hear me out. You've got this AAAARRR funnel that most marketers and SaaS companies tend to follow – awareness, acquisition, and activation, followed by revenue, retention, and referral.
All six of those stages can be profoundly influenced by a systematic events strategy that moves your customers down the funnel.
You just need to think about what the different stages, formats, and sizes of those events look like. You can work that out through the framework that we've developed. It consists of three different stages: discover, engage, and grow.
You can have a variety of different event formats, spread across the entire customer lifecycle, and these events and experiences can help you to discover new markets, new prospects, and new ideas that will engage your audiences.
They’ll help you engage your most high-value customers and your community. They’ll help you grow your revenue, your referrals, your set of advocates, and your community.
Exploring different formats
We’re all guilty of half-heartedly exploring different event formats and running them in a one-off fashion.
Maybe we just run a few webinars or do one annual summit, only to realize that we got a spike in our traffic, but the results are not sticky so we decide not to do that again – it's too much effort and too much money.
That's the very reason why we need to rethink events in this new world. We need to stop doing one-off events and make them part of a consistent strategy. We need to create event waves so that each event ends with the start of the next event.
There are so many ways to explore this. While you might only run summits annually, there's nothing to stop you from doing more frequent masterclasses, roundtables, thought leadership seminars, community meetups, or connection-oriented speed networking events.
If you think of events as a one-off strategy within your marketing, sales, or GTM org, it's not going to be successful – you're just leaving money and value on the table. Instead, you should think of events as a consistent growth strategy that impacts every metric your organization cares about.
The problem with events
Let's be honest – attending events, especially virtual events, can feel empty. It can feel like you're sitting in an empty hall while you listen to somebody on stage. I often wonder why I can’t just watch a recording of this event later. Why can’t I just save my time by watching it as a YouTube video at double speed?
This fixation on live online events is an unnecessary byproduct of the transition from in-person field marketing-driven events. It’s time to redesign events from a digital native standpoint.
That's true not just for events, but for every other journey from the offline to the online world, whether it’s the emergence of eCommerce as an evolution of brick-and-mortar stores or any other process that was initially designed as a replica of the in-person experience.
In this new digital event era, we need to think about attendees first. Their experience should drive all our events from here on out.
That's one of the core philosophies of event-led growth – interconnected experiences that build a deeper affinity for your brand, your product, your mission, your vision, your messaging, and the story behind it.
We need to ask ourselves the following:
- Why can't attendees just watch an event recording later.
- Why do people need to attend in real-time?
- How do we make our events memorable?
- How can we make sure they don't feel tired?
- How do we ensure that people stick around from the start to the very end?
The answer is that instead of making your event content heavy, you need to make it connection heavy. You need to design it for experiences beyond attendees’ immediate requirements, with short, engaging snippets of content sprinkled with networking opportunities. Allow attendees to build genuine relationships.
The impact of event-led growth on your company
Event-led growth is a playbook for you to grow your business. It works because it’s a force multiplier. The impact of events spreads far beyond the events themselves. Let me tell you about the three major impacts ELG can have on your company.
ELG brings your entire GTM function together
Event-led growth is not just for your marketing function, but also for your sales function, your accounts team, your CS team, and every other team involved in your go-to-market. With every team united around this playbook, you can run integrated GTM campaigns.
With event-led growth, you no longer need to wonder “What's my content strategy? What's my social strategy?
What's my demand generation, SEO, or paid marketing strategy?” When you put events at the center of your organization, it almost looks like a solar system – events are the sun that everything else revolves around.
The atomization effect
I'm not talking about the lead generation or pipeline generation impact of events here, significant though they are. I'm talking about the ancillary benefits.
The Atomization effect essentially means that each of your events will be a source of unique content for you to publish.
You don't need to think about what your next blog title is going to be or what your ebook is going to look like. You don't need to have $15/hour content writers churning out articles that are supposedly going to attract high-value customers.
If you're worried about creating unique, insightful content, you only need to bring together the thought leaders of your space through events, then work with them to create unique, insightful content.
Each event can provide the foundation for a series of blog articles or video snippets. Your YouTube strategy, your blog, and your social media strategy all get taken care of with the post-event atomization impact.
Events drive revenue throughout the pipeline
Events have a top-of-the-funnel lead generation impact – we know about that, right? But they’re also a massive ABM play and a great way to attract high-value prospects.
We've seen this across a lot of our customers, we’ve seen it internally at Airmeet, and we’ve seen it in a lot of other successful SaaS companies as well.
When they have great deals in the pipeline that the sales team is struggling to close, hosting a very focused masterclass or networking session with the leaders of the company helps them close those deals much faster.
Arguably the most important impact of events is the huge impact they have on your pipeline revenue. Not only do events help you attract top-of-the-funnel leads, but they also help you turn low-and medium-intent prospects into high-intent prospects.
This is not just about the 10% of your leads that are converted to opportunities; events ensure that you're able to engage the remaining 90% of your customer database consistently and strategically.
That's what I mean when I say that events shouldn’t be thought of as one-off efforts.
Each event should start at the closure of a previous event – that's how you keep moving your low-intent leads to the medium-intent segment, turn medium-intent leads into high-intent leads, make those high-intent leads into prospects, and turn those prospects into closed deals. That's the impact of events.
Post-event follow-up strategy
Before I leave you to implement event-led growth in your organizations, I’d like to take a moment to talk to you about your post-event follow-up strategy.
How you approach this depends on the kind of event you're hosting. I'll give you three simple examples. The first is a large summit, the second is a medium-scale masterclass, and the third is a micro-scale roundtable.
Ideally, at a summit, you’ll have anything from 500 to 5000 attendees, and you’ll probably host this kind of event three times a year at most. The post-event strategy here is very different from the strategy for smaller events.
Ownership lies with the marketing team, who use those event attendees in a list-building exercise. We start nurturing them, engaging them in our next micro-masterclass series, referring them to our case studies, involving them in our crowdsourcing content efforts, and we run surveys and polls with them.
The reason for this is we label our large-scale summit attendee leads as low-intent. They haven’t yet expressed interest in a conversation with our sales team, and they're not signed up for a demo right now, so we keep nurturing them through a sales process.
When you look at the master classes and the roundtables, the post-event follow-up is a lot more focused. Why? Because the audience is smaller and a lot more curated and we have something of an understanding of their intent and their topics of interest.
We work with our sales team and our accounts team to follow up with them in a more customized fashion. We've also explored sending out swag before and after our roundtables, which helps us keep driving the conversation forward.
That's the key takeaway: events drive conversation around your product!