Event Marketing at a Startup

By March 21, 2016Uncategorized

Back in the early mists of time (ok, early 2000’s), I was the first person to run marketing at Ping Identity. Ping wasn’t exactly founded during the boom times, and I even had the pleasure of a post-board conversation with a board member that basically went, “meet your goals, or you’re demoted, and we’re hiring your new boss.” All of which is to say that I understand the pressures, challenges and sheer joy of running marketing at a startup. Furthermore, one of the first efforts at Ping was an open source project called SourceID (which I, quite proudly, named), so I’m also pretty familiar with marketing to developers.

In that vein, it seems like every few years, I get to the point of needing to write a “how to do marketing at a startup” post. Now, to be specific, I’m not talking about all (integrated) marketing in this post, but, rather, just event marketing. To that end, a bit of a rant:

If you’re a startup, do not spend your event marketing dollars on big (BIG) event’s booths/sponsorships (over 1k attendees): a) you’ll never get noticed; and b) you’re better off throwing a private event at a nearby bar for a fraction of the cost.

Split your event marketing dollars into buckets of “lead generation” and “branding” – and distribute dollars based upon where you are in a) your company life cycle and b) any given product launch cycle (but do not EVER think “branding” isn’t important).

Support your local events: yes, you should do that. If you’re a enterprise developer startup in — oh, I dunno — Denver or Boulder, and not supporting a local event, like…oh, I dunno….Gluecon….well, what are you thinking? It saves on travel costs, shipping costs, and, if done right (the right events) gets non-locals to come to you.

After reading the above, GET OUT OF YOUR BACKYARD. If all you do is attend events in the Bay Area (because you’re based in the Bay Area), well, you’re bound to be living in a bubble that will find you a) not seeing problems from the totality of your potential customer’s view points, and b) getting so insulated that you’re effectively operating with blinders on.

Focus on captive potential customers: which is to say, find events that are structured such that attendees aren’t prone to simply “driving by” and being gone after a session or two.

Move past SF, NY, LA and Boston: Think meet-ups in Atlanta, the Twin Cities, Tampa, San Diego, St. Louis, Raleigh-Durham. There are a ton of potential customers that will come to your Tuesday night beer and pizza meet up that you, most definitely, will not meet at another Moscone event.

It’s all about conversations and narratives. You can generate all of the data sheets and whitepapers in the world, but at the end of the day, starting meaningful conversations and engaging in useful narratives is where, as a startup, you’ll generate interest from potential customers.

Lastly, don’t plan your calendar year initiatives with no sense of iterations. It’s unbelievable to me how many marketing organizations practice waterfall methods, while the engineering side is all agile. Think about that for a second, and adjust accordingly (and if you’re a marketer at a dev startup that doesn’t know the difference between waterfall and agile, get out more).

Ok, rant done. I now return you to your regularly scheduled echo chamber. 😉