How to design stand-out email marketing campaigns for events

Imagine you receive this email from a professional association you were once a member of:

  • Please join us for our next virtual event

    We’re pleased to announce our next virtual mixer! Meet and mingle with peers as we discuss recent trends in the field.
    Please RSVP at the following link: [URL]

Would you be likely to re-engage with the association or attend the event? Probably not. This short email doesn’t inspire action and would be unlikely to even catch your attention in a crowded inbox.

But what if you received this version?

  • You’re Invited: Claim your spot in ABC’s virtual mixer this Wednesday
    It’s time for another virtual mixer as part of the Association of Badger Crusaders’ autumn event series!
    [Screenshot from the previous event overlaid with a cute badger illustration]

    We’ve been thrilled to see our community of wildlife researchers, enthusiasts, and warriors join previous events, and we’ve got something special planned for our next event on Wednesday at 6:00 PM Eastern — but you’ll need to tune in to find out!
    Please RSVP today to claim your spot, or sign up to receive a recording of the gathering if you’re unable to join us: [URL]
    We look forward to seeing you and chatting all things badger conservation!

Assuming you’re a badger researcher or enthusiast, this email would probably be more likely to grab your attention, right?

Email promotions are among the most important ways for organizations to get the word out about events, increase attendance numbers, and drive engagement. But there’s so much more you can be doing than drafting basic emails notifying supporters, members, or customers about the event and asking them to attend. The ways in which you design your email campaigns and craft your messages will have a huge impact on final outcomes.

Let’s explore four of the fundamental best practices to keep in mind.

1. Determine the value proposition of your event 

Why would someone want to attend your event? When you’re knee-deep in planning and coordinating, it can be surprisingly easy to lose sight of what should be at the core of your event’s promotions: its value proposition.

Value proposition is defined as “a concise statement of the benefits that a company is delivering to customers who buy its products or services,” but it can be expanded to anything that you’re promoting. If you’re asking people to take action, you need to understand why they’d want to.

Break your event down into these elements to uncover and refine its value proposition:

  • Purpose: Why are you hosting this event? What will it accomplish for your organization?
  • Audience:Who do you want to attend this event? What are their motivations for engaging with your organization in general—are they customers, donors, or members? What do they get from being a part of your community?
  • Benefits: How do the purpose of the event and your audience’s motivations intersect? What are the benefits they’ll get from attending—networking, learning opportunities, sneak peeks at new products or programs, a fun time?
  • Unique aspects: What does your event offer that takes its appeal and benefits to the next level, setting it apart from other similar events? Do you have special entertainment planned, or a standout speaker?

As you lay out your email strategy, try answering these questions. They’ll give you a clearer sense of why people would want to attend the event and what they’ll get out of it. This is the core message that should anchor all of your promotions in one form or another.

2. Segment your email list

Understanding your target audience will help you refine your email approach and ultimately maximize attendance and engagement. If you’ve already defined your audience with the exercise above, it’s time to dig deeper to uncover the more specific strategies and elements you might employ in your emails to target them.

Start by defining the specific characteristics of your target audience for this event—for an association, these could be markers like:

  • Active membership
  • Lapsed membership within the last X years
  • Previous engagement with this type of event
  • Location (for in-person events)

When you create a defined segment for your event promotions, you can then take a closer look to see what promotional strategies will work best for your emails. If you keep comprehensive records in a CRM or database integrated with your email tools, you should be able to review previous email campaigns that these segmented donors have received. Order them by clickthrough or conversion rate, and bingo—you’ve found the specific promotions, subject lines, perks, and more that successfully attracted this audience’s attention in the past.

But even aside from this kind of data archaeology, segmenting your audience will still be helpful for simplifying the process of drafting your messaging. It’s always easier to speak to a group when you know exactly who they are in relation to your organization.

Segmentation is also important if your event targets multiple audiences, like potential vendors and attendees for a conference. Segmenting them and developing distinct email streams will keep your promotions organized and effective.

3. Leverage email copy best practices

Once you’ve determined the value of your event and who you’ll be promoting it to, it’s time to write some emails. You don’t have to be a professional copywriter to draft an engaging message, but you do need to follow a few best practices. These are the most important to keep in mind:

  • Subject lines. Your email’s subject line should make it immediately clear what the email is about. Include some flair, humor, or impactful words to catch your reader’s attention depending on the tone you’re trying to strike. Mailchimp recommends that subject lines be no more than 9 words and 60 characters to ensure visibility for mobile users, like in the example from above: “Claim your spot in ABC’s virtual mixer this Wednesday!”
  • Preview text. The preview text (or the first couple of lines of your email if preview text is not set) will display for users before they click through to read your email, so make sure it’s clear, concise, and enticing. This is the place to tease the value proposition of your event or tap into an emotional connection that will compel readers to learn more.
  • Action and urgency. Your subject line and main body of your email need to include active language to best connect with readers and encourage them to take the next step. For example, the subject line above includes “claim your spot.” Don’t mislead readers, but do think about your event’s capacity and registration deadline—these are important pieces of information to share with them regardless.
  • Social proof. How have others benefited from attending your events in the past? Showing readers that your events are valuable and trustworthy, even in subtle ways, can boost engagement. For example, shout out your impressive attendance numbers from your last virtual conference or include a short testimonial or two from past vendors or attendees.
  • Personalization. This is one of the foundational event marketing best practices—take steps to personalize your emails to their recipients however possible. An integrated CRM and email tool makes it easy to auto-fill emails with recipients’ names. An effective segmentation strategy also allows you to develop different email variations for your subaudiences, like previous attendees vs. prospects who haven’t yet attended an event.

Above all, keep your email direct and concise. We all receive spam messages and know what they look like, so don’t let your email get mistaken for one. A direct, eye-catching subject line, compelling body copy, and thoughtful language and personalization choices can make a big difference in the ultimate impact of your emails.

4. Include compelling visuals and calls-to-action

Don’t forget the finishing touches that will drive engagement and more signups for your event—compelling visuals and clear calls-to-action.

Your emails can (and should) include visual elements that reflect the theme or content of your event. These could include:

  • Branded letterhead elements
  • Your organization’s logo
  • Small illustrations or graphics
  • Photos from similar past events

Be mindful not to include any visuals that are too large—this will impact the email’s deliverability and load time, which will backfire and reduce engagement. But compelling visuals that reinforce your brand and trustworthiness, add an appealing look, or provide social proof can go a long way to drive results.

You’ll also need to include calls-to-action that clearly direct readers to the target action you want them to take. For an event, this action would be registering to attend. It’s important to have a single call-to-action so that your message doesn’t get muddled, but this request can be repeated multiple times. 

The first couple of lines in your email should clearly state your call-to-action and link readers to your registration page. Then, sign off your email with a prominent button, graphic, or link that also sends readers to register.

With a well-designed registration page, you’ll start seeing registrations trickle (or flood) in. 

But you’ll also need a way to actually track these conversions. Ensure that your registration page is set up to capture and report conversions, in this case sign-up form completions, to Google Analytics. You can then use this data to put the finishing touches on your event plan and learn more about your performance, both in real-time and once the event is over and it’s time to promote your next one.

Email can and should be a cornerstone of your event promotion strategies. It’s one of the most direct ways of reaching potential attendees, and it’s easy to create streams or chains of emails that educate your readers about the event and compel them to take action. Email performance is also extremely measurable, making it a helpful source of event metrics when integrated into your data collection processes and future email marketing strategies.

With a clear sense of who you’re targeting, why they should be interested, how to best design your message to catch their attention, and extra touches that drive engagement and sign-ups, you can see some incredible email marketing results for your next event.

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