Marketing Automation for Virtual Events

Marketing Automation for Virtual Events

Author: Mike Macdonald

The technical building and reporting Ninja - Proficient in building and managing automated workflows over various marketing platforms. Creative approach to building systems that can be managed by a solopreneur or large marketing team.

This blog will give  you an overview of how your business can use marketing automation to launch, deliver and follow up on a virtual event. 

It will help you understand how to make it easy for your customers to express their interest, sign up, receive updates and reminders, see replays and receive targeted and customised follow up after the event. 

Online events are growing in popularity. Marketing Automation for Virtual Events means that we can easily manage the following;

  • Costs - Both to the attendee and the exhibitor, are much reduced when the conference is online. Travel and employee time are the biggest sinkholes
  • Regional restrictions - All you need is decent internet speeds
  • Limits on attendees - While platforms will have a seat limit, a small business can fill an online conference more easily than an expo centre
  • Feedback is easy to capture - They registered with their email address, so email them!
  • Much more environmentally friendly. 600 people travelling by car and plane are going to need to plant a lot of trees to make up for their miles. 

If you’re already hosting virtual events, but not using marketing automation to do so, your struggles with registration spreadsheets and failure to follow up are over.

As I write this in March of 2020, Covid-19 is beginning to make a mark on our industry. Event cancellations are coming through thick and fast, including some of the biggest names out there. 

Cancelled Marketing Events

  • Advertising Week Europe
  • Creative Week 2020
  • SXSW
  • Adobe Summit
  • Mobile World Congress
  • Google Cloud Next
  • Facebook F8
  • WFA Global Marketer Week
  • InOrbit20

Here we are in event limbo. There is so much interest in virtual events now, that we want to tell you how marketing automation (what we are best at) can be used to facilitate the success of an online event. 

Speaking of the customer journey…

Using marketing automation requires a plan especially when we're talking about marketing automation for Virtual Events.

Mapping out the ideal journey that you want each segment of your customers to go on is paramount before you start the implementation. 

Building your customer Journey - Add this to your Event Planner

You and your team need to sit down together with a big space to write and stick your sticky notes on, virtual or in-room. 

Put the goal at one end of the space, and your audience at the other end.

Invite people, get them to register, and then deliver an awesome event. 

Unless you’re using the potential that marketing automation can deliver, you could be missing a whole bunch of possibilities 

Before we go any further, it’s important to mention a couple of hurdles that you might need to be aware of. 

 It’s very easy when you get excited about what can be done, to just add it to the journey because it is exciting and new. 

Pause every now and then to think about the resources and time available to you, and whether you expect the new addition to either make a big difference to your customers, or a big difference to your bottom line. 

If you’re caught up on the details of an element of the customer journey, it will distract you from the main plan. Use a different colour sticky note to identify it as needing further debate, and then go back to bash out the details. 

Your audience

Who are you inviting to your virtual event?


That’s the most common answer, and in some cases, that’s the correct answer. 

Think about what your event is delivering though, is it going to be useful to everyone in your audience, or email list? Could they have already bought the product you may be selling, or have they already been on a course of yours that has roughly the same content?

In terms of your email list, it’s vital you are giving them what they want to see. 

If they get too many emails about something they already know, or have already done, they will stop opening your emails, become unengaged, and will eventually unsubscribe. 

It’s a bit like defining your audience when you’re creating a Facebook advert. You probably can’t afford to hit everyone on the planet with your advert, and most wouldn’t be interested anyway. You want the right message at the right time in the right channel in the right tone….

If your email list is not segmented, your message is not going to be targeted and personalised. You will have to write either a long series of emails, hoping your list will open each one to find the relevant message for them, or you’re going to have to write long emails, and hope that everyone will read the whole email until they find the section that speaks to them. 

Segmentation is the key

The very beginning of your journey then, should contain all the segments of your audience you would like to invite to your event. That could be members of a particular group or community on Facebook, it could be the people that signed up for your events newsletter email, or many other groups of contacts. 

Consider what it is that keeps each group up at night. What is their reason for attending your event, and work out a message that will speak to them addressing their pains, or problems, and letting them know your event is the key to making their lives better in the way that only you and your experts know how. 

Segmenting your virtual event audience using marketing automation

What you end up with could be something like the flowchart below

This section is just for the email list, and we’ve only focused on getting the email list to register. 

Instead of one sticky note for your entire email list, we’ve broken it down for more targeted messaging. 

(Segmenting your audience for effective targeting)

The first email is targeted to speak more directly to the person that is reading the email, armed with a little knowledge about them. You can go a lot deeper here with demographics and psychographics, and ideally you would,  segmenting your list further. Bear in mind what we said at the start, that you will need extra resources to be able to create the content, workflow and analytics to go along with it. 

In Infusionsoft, it is easy to segment your list using tags and custom fields. 

Tags are easily applied manually, by going to the contact record and adding it yourself, or automatically, when a form is filled out, when an email is opened or clicked, when an order is made and so forth. Eg: a tag is applied when people purchase our book, Hack the Buyer Brain (Link below if you don’t already have it). That tag is something like ‘Purchase History - HTBB Physical Copy’

Tags are very useful for generic information to group people. Custom fields are more suited to information that is related to that contact only, it can be merged into an email (an appointment time and date for example), and can also be used as part of the campaign structure, Eg. Using the appointment date and time to send reminder emails before an appointment, or your virtual event. 

Using marketing automation for the virtual event registration

Most marketing automation platforms have a builder for landing pages. Most often they will also allow you to mask their address with your own domain. 

This means you don’t need to go away and create a page on your website, or use the possibly ugly registration page that your event hosting software is using to register. 

Additionally, you should be able to push the details of the contact through to your event hosting software for use later on. 

The act of registration should stop any further emails going to the customer. Further invites to an event they have already registered for is a great way of irritating them. 

This is easy to do in software like Infusionsoft, where all emails before a goal will stop when the goal is achieved. The blue flag means  when someone completes the Registration landing page, the remaining emails will not be sent. 

Achieving a goal will stop further emails

Registration follow up

If you have a simple registration form, to a free event, and have only one option, you can send simple thank you emails and simple further information, and even simple countdown emails to the event. 

Your event may not be free though, so you need a way for people to pay for the event. Again, many marketing automation platforms have an E-Commerce function, and can take payments. 

Let’s just assume that I’m going to use Infusionsoft for all my examples, it’s my favourite because it has so many benefits for small businesses worldwide.

Infusionsoft is one (of many) platforms that can do this. You have either a shopping cart, or order forms to choose from, to offer your product. 

A shopping cart is useful if you want people to browse, and collect items to purchase together, and an order form is most useful when you want to drive people directly to a purchase with no distractions. That order form can of course have options for your product. 

One of our events last year had just one type of ticket, but had two options for payment - Pay in full now, or use a payment plan and pay four instalments. 

We have the ability to charge extra for the payment plan, and many people do as for the business it’s often better to get cash in the bank now! (Your marketing automation should also be able to tell you when a payment plan has failed)

Your platform should deliver an invoice receipt, showing any taxes you needed to charge, and be able to deliver different follow up content depending on the product option that has been purchased. 

If they registered for both days of your event, you want to tell them so, and let them know what to expect on both days. 

It’s all about a personalised experience. 

The follow up emails are also your opportunity to reinforce why they should attend. There’s nothing worse than seeing 1000 people register and only 20 turn up. 

We have a great blog about building cart abandonment campaigns for people who just don’t quite commit…(see end for links)

What if they don’t register?

Marketing automation’s most common phrase is “What if?”

Each time you want your prospects to move to the next post toward the goal, ask “What if they don’t?”

If your fourth email passes, and a week later they still haven’t registered, what do you do?

This is what we call a bucket. It’s a leak in your funnel, and you have the opportunity to catch them in a receptacle. You can have buckets all over the place, but be mindful of the resources again…

A bucket you could use in your marketing automation at this point is for people that have clicked on the link within the emails that point to the registration form but did not complete the form. You can have them automatically go into a sequence that waits to give them a chance to register, and if they don’t, you send them a couple more emails, or re-target them on Facebook. Yup, you can link your marketing automation to Facebook and create custom audiences. 

When someone shows interest but doesn’t finish the transaction, we call it a ‘cart abandon’ - Taken from the E-commerce world, when people add things to their shopping cart, but don’t checkout. 

During the event

Your event hosting software may be able to notify you when people show up. This means you can cross them off your list of people that registered, and the rest are lost, right?

Not if you have good automation in place - Send them an email, or a text, (yes, you can link SMS to marketing automation!) to say it has started, and they are missing an awesome speaker - however it’s not too late to hop in and see the next awesome speaker. 

Looking at the numbers here is important. When you plan out your customer journey, you should have goals that are measurable. How many people do you want to register for your event, and how many of those would you be happy to actually attend? 

Work those goals backwards to see how many people need to enter your event funnel and how many need to open your emails, and to click on the registration link. 

 While the campaign is running, keep an eye on the numbers. If low numbers are opening emails, make sure your email deliverability is still good (see info box below). You may need to change the subject line of the email to make it more compelling. 

If your click rates are low, check out the ‘call to action’ that you are using - There are many different ways that you can say ‘click here’ (see info box below)

While the event is going on, you may also be able to poll or survey your attendees. Ask them targeted questions that will help you segment them later on for more direct messaging. That info can also be sent to your marketing automation system so it’s all in one place. 

Online Event Follow Up

More segmentation!

Who attended?

How long did they attend for?

If you have recordings of the sessions, who do you want to send them to? 

The people that attended, stayed for the whole event, and were active in chats, asking questions or completing your surveys are your most important segment - Show them some love!

Send them the recordings of the speakers if you have them, and send them targeted follow up letting them know what to do next. Should they think about buying something from you, or should they contact or Tweet about their favourite speakers?

All this should happen automatically after the event. Your platform should know what all the segments are based on the rule sets you have created, and should be sending them targeted content with their next steps. 

We can set up an event follow up that could sell seats at a VIP event that is only for attendees using a simple setup in Infusionsoft, as below

Event attendance follow up emails and asking for the sale

What to do next - Let us help you plan and build your perfect Virtual Event

The success of your virtual event is dependent on good event planning. 

If you are the event planner, you need a good customer journey mapped out, and good marketing automation to deliver it. Start with your target audience, then define all the points in the journey that you want them to go through. Decide on what information they need to get them to that point, and what you are going to do if they don’t reach the next step. 

We are here to help you analyse your current customer journey, build an ideal customer journey and then automate it to save you time and increase conversions and engagement.