Few holidays pass without a seasonal event or festival to mark the occasion. Some are bigger than others, naturally, and they often are tied to the most popular of seasons. Others are relatively small and draw more modest crowds.
Most brands see traditional holidays as huge opportunities to market their business, grow brand awareness, and boost sales. The same holds true in the event space, but there are only so many people in any given community — and competition is fierce. That's why brands are beginning to break beyond the customary for their next event campaigns.
Make Your Seasonal Event Stand Out
Straying from the norm as far as seasonal events go can free you from the trappings of time-tested patterns and formulas. It allows you to explore something that’s maybe more whimsical, unusual, or inspirational. Pick any day on the calendar, and you’ll likely find one or more holidays with the potential for a new seasonal event.
Take Día de los Muertos — the Day of the Dead — which is celebrated throughout Latin America annually on Nov. 1. Dignity Memorial, a network of funeral homes and cemeteries that builds its brand through community involvement, decided to celebrate the holiday with an event marketing campaign. The two-day event did better than expected: It attracted more than 2,000 attendees, garnered 524 quality leads, and generated nearly $155,000 in sales.
It's hard to argue with those results. But exactly how can you create and market a seasonal event that’s worth the time and attention of consumers? Here are three great places to start:
1. Get selective with the occasion
With any seasonal event, you must consider whether your target audience will be in a celebratory mood — or even notice your event during saturated seasons like Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Independence Day. To appeal to the right audience, be discerning in your selection of both the event and the campaign's chosen holiday.
If you do take on a more traditional holiday, put your own spin on the occasion. REI did this in 2015 with the #OptOutside campaign, choosing to close its retail locations and distribution centers on Black Friday and inviting its customers to head outdoors rather than go shopping.
Why did #OptOutside work? First, it perfectly aligned with REI’s customer base and brand purpose to “awaken a lifelong love of the outdoors.” Furthermore, it helped REI stand out from other Black Friday campaigns by telling people to skip shopping, go outside, and share their #OptOutside stories across social channels.
In the campaign’s first year, REI saw a 7,000% increase in social media mentions, and the hashtag received 6.7 billion media impressions and 1.2 billion social impressions. The following year, REI ran the same campaign and saw a 35% increase in website traffic on Cyber Monday. REI is a larger brand, which means it was a little easier to stand out. It’s also the reason why many brands of all sizes choose to go niche with their holiday event selection.
In 2010, Dunkin’ Donuts created “The Ultimate Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee Fan Contest” for National Coffee Day. The rules were simple: Contestants needed to upload a 60-second video to the brand’s Facebook page explaining why they were the most loyal Dunkin’ Donuts coffee fan. The winner received a five-day trip for two to Costa Rica, a trip for two to Dunkin’ Donuts headquarters, and five years of free coffee. By choosing to highlight a lesser-known holiday that so directly connects with its products, Dunkin' Donuts gained plenty of brand recognition from consumers.
2. Focus digital on social, mobile, and SEO
Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram can all help you engage with a target audience. But you can’t just push out a message about an event and expect people to take notice. You must first determine what audience members are saying and where they’re saying it.
Billie, a direct-to-consumer razor company for women, heard its target audience talking about the Pink Tax that sees women pay up to 15% more than men for everyday products. The brand responded with its #ProjectBodyHair campaign on Instagram, rallying women to share real images of their body hair. It also priced its products in line with men’s razor subscriptions.
The two moves paid off. Billie’s Instagram following grew to 220,000 followers in two years, and the company secured $6 million in funding during its seed round. It wasn't an official event, but this example shows what tapping into the greater conversation about political awareness on social channels can do for a brand looking to grow its customer base.
Of course, you can't talk about social without mobile. After all, nearly 60% of all searches come from mobile devices. Make sure your event website is mobile-optimized and loads quickly on smartphones. If you’ve tapped a third-party ticketing company, confirm that it's using an Accelerated Mobile Page for the event page.
You can certainly drive ticket sales or registrations through SEO, but it takes a concerted effort to improve your ranking in search results — and the crux of this involves keywords and phrases. Include all the necessary information (e.g., dates, times, location, city, and state) about the event on your event page. Take it one step further by adding the city and state to the title of your event. You may also want to partner with another company with higher “domain authority” that might be able to improve the search rank of your event page.
Refinery29, a female-centric lifestyle brand, hosts an annual 29Rooms event that opens 29 individually branded rooms to attendees. Think of it like a funhouse, with each room offering different interactive experiences curated by partners such as Dyson, Cadillac, and GLAAD. That’s a lot of authority to help get the word out.
3. Refine your marketing timeline.
As with any marketing effort, not every channel will provide the right return on investment. Monitor and adjust your marketing calendar to ensure you’re focusing on only those channels that move the needle. Most events see a good return with email, paid social, organic social, paid search and display, event discovery sites, and retargeting.
It’s also important to note that you’ll be marketing to two different segments of people: past event-goers and potential attendees. Bringing past attendees back to an event can cost up to 25 times less than convincing new visitors to come, so focus your efforts on previous guests first.
Reach out early to engage them in your upcoming event. Target them with Facebook ads, event listings, and promotional emails. Provide an enjoyable digital user experience to inspire them to attend again. Content and experience are both priorities for businesses looking to deliver on customer expectations. If you can hook past attendees, chances are good they’ll tell their friends and colleagues.
But don’t rely on word of mouth alone to grow your event. Target people similar to previous event-goers, highlighting exactly what drew past attendees to the event. Take the time to craft a compelling story and make it a part of your marketing campaign.
Though the event itself never really came to be, Fyre Festival tapped into this sort of excitement with its announcement video, going so far as to make it seem as though the event was already in its second or third year. The video went viral and has notched more than 5 million views to date. Though there's a lot to learn from the festival's failure to deliver what it advertised, the buzz it created leading up was palpable.
There are plenty of days to celebrate beyond the 10 federal holidays in the U.S. It’s just a matter of aligning with the right season and targeting the right audience. Get to know your customers, find out what they're interested in, and then use your imagination to create an event that will become a tradition for years to come.
Ronnie Higgins works at Eventbrite, helping event planners level-up their registration game. Born and raised in New Orleans, he enjoys nothing more than helping people get together — whether it’s for a conference, a class, or a citywide party like Mardi Gras.