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  • Writer's pictureMary Anne Thornton

Event Marketing Ideas for Small Business Owners

Updated: Feb 24



Quote from Zig Ziglar "If people like you, they will listen to you, but if they trust you, they will do business with you."

There is a famous quote from the late motivational speaker Zig Ziglar, “If people like you, they’ll listen to you, but if they trust you, they’ll do business with you.” While Ziglar’s career primarily focused on motivational speaking to sales personnel, his famous adage certainly applies to marketing- especially relationship marketing.

If you would like a refresher on relationship marketing, you can find my blog on the concept of relationship marketing here.


Building relationships with your customers can take some time, but one of the most effective customer relationship-building methods is through events. While Covid-19 wreaked havoc on event marketing over the past few years, events are starting to come back again. Why? Because event marketing works. Chances are, you’ve attended a craft fair, home and garden show, work conference, or trade show, talked with vendors, perhaps purchased a product, or signed up for a service.

According to the 2022 State of Experiential Research Study by Agency EA, 75% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that, as a consumer, they felt more connected to a brand after an in-person B2C brand experience” (Agency EA, n.d.).


Think that event marketing is only for large, well-known companies? Guess again. While small to medium-sized businesses may not have a significant budget to plan and host extravagant, large events, they can easily host smaller-scale and more personalized events, albeit using a bit more creativity.


What type of events might work well for small businesses? Read further for seven event marketing ideas to implement with your marketing efforts.


Customer Appreciation Events



The first marketing event I’d like to introduce is Customer Appreciation Events. Some of the best times for these events are during New Year or the Holidays. Depending on your business type, you can host your customers at your facility, rent a local space, or partner up with another company to co-host.

While you can turn a customer appreciation event into a mini-trade show with vendors with goods or services your customer base would like, the onus should be on thanking your customers for their loyalty. Make sure to give customers a gift or a token of appreciation during the event.


Networking Groups



Networking is a great way to get to know other business owners in your area. Networking is a great place to develop relationships. While these groups may not necessarily get a sale from someone within the group, your network can provide referrals. As you continue to attend networking groups, you will get to know the other members, and you can begin to send referrals to one another. You do not have to join just any group if you want to start your own- do it, and watch it grow as your network gets to know each other and helps each other out.


Educational Events



There are two types of educational events that you could host for your small business: seminars or conferences and lunch and learns. Both events will have a slightly different target market, but both fall under the educational umbrella.


Are you known as an expert within your industry?- Hosting a seminar or a small conference on a topic relevant to people who work within your industry will be a great way to get to know others in your industry or an adjacent industry.


Do you have a product or service you can create and execute a presentation on and share with customers or clients? A lunch and learn is a great, low-pressure event for your base to learn more about a service you provide and can bring you top of mind when they’re ready to move forward.


Product/ Business launches



Hand insert plastic alphabets on advertising lightbox on the table, New Product Launch text for business concept


Getting your client base to come out to an event for a new product, service, or business line can be a fun way to generate some excitement. If you are nervous about hosting this event, you could do a soft launch or host a small event to get a select group of clients to test the product or service concept. A private event will give customers a feeling of exclusivity and also give you some valuable insight before a full launch.

The following two event ideas could be controversial, so tread carefully. You’ll want to ensure you do not alienate or offend your customer base in any event.


Charity Events & Fundraisers




If you have a cause near and dear to your heart that you would like to invite your customer base or networking group to, this could be a fun way to build a relationship. However, for most businesses, topics like animal adoption and certain illnesses (i.e., cancers, Alzheimer’s, heart disease) are safer bets. Also, unless your business is specifically political or religious — stay away from anything remotely political or religious. Even then, I recommend treading carefully and staying within your lane, lest your event becomes a PR catastrophe.


Holiday Events. 



Like the charity events and fundraisers example above, holiday events can be somewhat controversial, so tread carefully. Not all events are celebrated universally, and not all may be appropriate for a business to celebrate. Events that are primarily cultural or religious will need to be treated with the utmost respect to alienate or offend any customers. These can also be events where you can have partner vendors to market products and services for holiday events.


Festivals and Vendor Fairs



A spring, summer, fall, or winter festival event can do the trick if you want to draw a crowd to your business. These events are best for community-based companies like schools, daycares, and a local community bank or store. Community-based events are a great way to highlight other local companies besides your business. If you have a smaller budget than it would take to host such an event, consider bringing sponsors on board to help offset the cost.

There are also many ways to drum up interest in your event- there are many free options to help advertise- try posting the event on local event calendars, chamber of commerce websites, and more. If you have a local radio station that allows you to post events- try reaching out to see if they would be willing to do a live broadcast and post the event with them.

Hopefully, one of the above-listed event types resonated with you, and you are eager to implement a marketing event this year with your business. I have personally done most, if not all, of the marketing events listed above at one point or another throughout my career in marketing and sales. If you want to bounce off an idea for an event or need help getting an event plan started, you can contact me at mthornt2@stedwards.edu. Comment below- What event are you most excited about implementing into your business? If you have implemented any of them- how have they worked for you in the past? We can only get better if we learn from each other and grow.

Happy Event Marketing, and have some hustle! “75% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that, as a consumer, they felt more connected to a brand after an in-person B2C brand experience” (Agency EA, n.d.).

Think that event marketing is only for large, well-known companies? Guess again. While small to medium-sized businesses may not have a significant budget to plan and host extravagant, large events, they can easily host smaller-scale and more personalized events, albeit using a bit more creativity.

What type of events might work well for small businesses? Read further for seven event marketing ideas to implement with your marketing efforts.


Customer Appreciation Events

The first marketing event I’d like to introduce is Customer Appreciation Events. Some of the best times for these events are during New Year or the Holidays. Depending on your business type, you can host your customers at your facility, rent a local space, or partner up with another company to co-host.

While you can turn a customer appreciation event into a mini-trade show with vendors with goods or services your customer base would like, the onus should be on thanking your customers for their loyalty. Make sure to give customers a gift or a token of appreciation during the event.

Networking Groups

Networking is a great way to get to know other business owners in your area. Networking is a great place to develop relationships. While these groups may not necessarily get a sale from someone within the group, your network can provide referrals. As you continue to attend networking groups, you will get to know the other members, and you can begin to send referrals to one another. You do not have to join just any group if you want to start your own- do it, and watch it grow as your network gets to know each other and helps each other out.

Educational Events




There are two types of educational events that you could host for your small business: seminars or conferences and lunch and learns. Both events will have a slightly different target market, but both fall under the educational umbrella.


Are you known as an expert within your industry?- Hosting a seminar or a small conference on a topic relevant to people who work within your industry will be a great way to get to know others in your industry or an adjacent industry.


Do you have a product or service you can create and execute a presentation on and share with customers or clients? A lunch and learn is a great, low-pressure event for your base to learn more about a service you provide and can bring you top of mind when they’re ready to move forward.

Product/ Business launches

Hand insert plastic alphabets on advertising lightbox on the table, New Product Launch text for business concept


Getting your client base to come out to an event for a new product, service, or business line can be a fun way to generate some excitement. If you are nervous about hosting this event, you could do a soft launch or host a small event to get a select group of clients to test the product or service concept. A private event will give customers a feeling of exclusivity and also give you some valuable insight before a full launch.

The following two event ideas could be controversial, so tread carefully. You’ll want to ensure you do not alienate or offend your customer base in any event.


Charity Events & Fundraisers

fundraising event, red stamp on a grunge paper texture


If you have a cause near and dear to your heart that you would like to invite your customer base or networking group to, this could be a fun way to build a relationship. However, for most businesses, topics like animal adoption and certain illnesses (i.e., cancers, Alzheimer’s, heart disease) are safer bets. Also, unless your business is specifically political or religious — stay away from anything remotely political or religious. Even then, I recommend treading carefully and staying within your lane, lest your event becomes a PR catastrophe.

Holiday Events. 

Like the charity events and fundraisers example above, holiday events can be somewhat controversial, so tread carefully. Not all events are celebrated universally, and not all may be appropriate for a business to celebrate. Events that are primarily cultural or religious will need to be treated with the utmost respect to alienate or offend any customers. These can also be events where you can have partner vendors to market products and services for holiday events.

Festivals and Vendor Fairs

A spring, summer, fall, or winter festival event can do the trick if you want to draw a crowd to your business. These events are best for community-based companies like schools, daycares, and a local community bank or store. Community-based events are a great way to highlight other local companies besides your business. If you have a smaller budget than it would take to host such an event, consider bringing sponsors on board to help offset the cost.

There are also many ways to drum up interest in your event- there are many free options to help advertise- try posting the event on local event calendars, chamber of commerce websites, and more. If you have a local radio station that allows you to post events- try reaching out to see if they would be willing to do a live broadcast and post the event with them.

Hopefully, one of the above-listed event types resonated with you, and you are eager to implement a marketing event this year with your business. I have personally done most, if not all, of the marketing events listed above at one point or another throughout my career in marketing and sales. If you want to bounce off an idea for an event or need help getting an event plan started, you can contact me at mthornt2@stedwards.edu. Comment below- What event are you most excited about implementing into your business? If you have implemented any of them- how have they worked for you in the past? We can only get better if we learn from each other and grow.

Happy Event Marketing, and have some hustle!

References

Agency EA. (n.d.). The 2022 State of Experiential Research Study Findings. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from https://agencyea.com/insights/2022-ea-research-study-findings/

Brenner, M. (2020, February 18). Why Event Marketing Works and Then Some. Marketing Insider Group. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from https://marketinginsidergroup.com/content-marketing/event-marketing-works/

Major, L. (2022, January 6). 10 Experiential Marketing Statistics You Should Know in 2022. ATN Event Staffing. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from https://atneventstaffing.com/10-experiential-marketing-statistics-you-should-know-in-2022/

Messler, M. (2021, May 17). 8 Event Marketing Examples to Inspire Your Campaign. Constant Contact. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from https://blogs.constantcontact.com/8-event-marketing-examples-to-inspire-your-campaign/

WhyBuyFromYou. (2017, July 16). Zig Ziglar Video Sales Quote “If People Like You, They’ll Listen To You, But If They Trust You” [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWtWdG3oZFs

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