How to Leverage Email Marketing to Sell Out Your Events

How to Leverage Email Marketing to Sell Out Your Events

By the time you've finished this article, you will have learned:

  1. How to grow, manage and categorize your email list.
  2. How to structure your emails, what to include and when to send them.
  3. How to work like a professional marketeer.

But before we explore how to communicate with our audience via email, it is important to get a grasp of the landscape in which we are currently operating - particularly as we try to appeal to a new audience in a post-COVID world. To engage your readers, you need to demonstrate that you understand and can meet their needs, wants and demands.

Understanding the current market

At the time of writing, we urgently need to regain the trust of our market; this is going to take time to rebuild.

Record levels of event cancelations have left both organizers and participants out of pocket. In some cases, events that went ahead on a smaller scale offered a less valuable experience at a greater cost. Events are not “as they were” and we will not be able to increase the perceived value if we try to compete with this. We need to embrace that times have changed and find creative ways to use this to our advantage.

The latest data suggests that globally, mass participation events are still attracting (on average) -20% fewer entries than in 2019. For some organizers, this has a direct correlation with subsequent spending power. When budgets are cut, variable costs like your marketing budgets are usually among the first to go.

But at this critical time, decreased spend power presents some serious challenges. We need hot leads to snap up +20% more tickets - and those that do sell are selling later than ever before. But from the participant's perspective, their commitments have also been canceled last minute. It also wasn’t long ago that some organizers retreated into hibernation when they had no tickets to sell - leaving their community-centric market for dust and the “stoke” for mass participation events to fizzle out.

On a more positive note, the uncertainty of our industry's future has driven us to invest in it. We are addressing the lack of representation from younger generations at our events, we are making specific considerations for pregnant and breastfeeding participants and we are actively trying to attract more athletes from minority groups. These are all examples of significant steps that we are taking in the right direction to attract more participants to our start lines.

To continue along this road to recovery, some organizers need to widen the scope of what a “success metric” is. Whilst we have a very real need to balance the books, entry numbers are not the only measure of success that we should care about. This is because the action of registering for your event happens at the end of a carefully curated marketing funnel; several steps need to be achieved along the way to drive this sale. Emails need to be received, emails need to be opened. Buttons need to be clicked. Follow-up ads need to be seen. Unless you track several key success metrics such as “open rates”, “click rates”, “website views” etc, you will never learn at what stage of the decision process you lose your potential sale. What separates some of the more successful race organizers from the rest are those who appreciate that effective marketing is both a science and an art.

Now that you understand the market conditions in which we are currently operating, you can use this to your advantage. In this article, I’m about to show you how to leverage your data and create compelling content to drive the results you crave through email marketing...

Why you should invest in email marketing

As one of the highest-converting marketing tools available, email marketing is not only a worthy investment for race organizers but for most 21st-century businesses.

Despite the vast changes to the digital marketing landscape within the last decade, email marketing has proven to be:

  • Resistant. Having an email address is an essential and often required part of modern life. This is reflected in both the email user count (currently in excess of 4 billion) and the diversity of user demographics (Baby Boomers through to Gen Z).
  • Reliable. Your audience has control over what email content they choose to consume, so it's naturally less invasive than a paid ad. Although someone may not always read every email they receive, generally they don't “take a break” from email in the same way they might social media. Email is also more resistant than social media content to the "mindless scroll".
  • Effective. Most people can read, write and receive an email, but may not have the skills to craft a cost-effective Facebook ad. You can generate good results using free subscription options and pre-built templates. Free email plans enable you to contact circa 1000 subscribers for free, whereas only up to 1% of your Facebook followers will see your organic page posts. You could spend £50 per month sending unlimited emails to 10,000+ email subscribers or spend it as £10 a day for 5 days on a single Facebook ad.

How to grow your email list

Now that we've seen why you should be investing in your email marketing, let's discuss a bit how you'd do it. Starting with how you'd grow your email marketing audience: your email list.

1. Purchasing a database

Before you disregard this idea, it's good to understand why some businesses do this in the first place.

If you can attribute a customer lifetime value to your email subscribers, you may find that spending $100 on an email list that converts two subscribers - who typically spend $250 with you before moving on - is a sound return on investment. If you're willing to give it a go, your entry platform holds all of the answers you need to get started!

Analyze the data within your entry platform so that you can specify exactly who your target audience is. Then, secure your desired list from websites like Hunter.io, D7 Lead Finder and Zymplify. Send these subscribers a dedicated sequence that introduces your brand and follows up quickly with an irresistible offer. You can expect initial open rates of c.10-30% - which for total strangers is pretty good!

2. Building a database

First off, ensure that all of your entry platform data is segmented and tagged accordingly within your email marketing platform (I’ll explain how to do this shortly).

Next, you need to give people a reason to join your mailing list. “Sign up for exclusive discounts” only appeals to people who already know that they are likely to want discounts from you specifically. It’s also pretty vague, so try to be more specific and enticing.

To attract new audiences, you could launch a giveaway campaign via paid social ads asking people to enter their email to be in with a chance of winning [your clearly specified prize]. The more valuable the prize is perceived to be by your audience and the higher the perceived chance of winning, the more effective the campaign will be.

[lightbulb]As soon as you get a new subscriber, you have an opportunity to showcase who you are, who you’re for and how good you are at what you do. So welcome your new subscribers with an email telling them how often they can expect to hear from you and the focus of your upcoming content so that they can get excited.[\lightbulb]

How do I categorize my email subscribers?

Having a well-categorized list will help you to ensure that you consistently send the right information to relevant people.

The more information you know about your customers, the more creative you can get with how you categorize your subscribers.

Start by thinking about the types of campaigns that you would like to send, as this will help you decide what information you need to assign to your contacts. For example, you could categorize your subscribers by:

Event Type: Road Runners, Trail Runners, Mountain Bikers... Event: Guildford 10k, Manchester Marathon...
Location: Jersey, Guernsey...

Using groups, segments and tags

Most email platforms will give you a number of ways in which to categorize your email list. In this section, we'll take a look at some practical examples of how a race director might used groups, segments and tags to bring their email marketing campaigns to life.

Segments (for static lists)

When you upload data from your entry platform, you'll tend to save it as a segment. It's important to set yourself some guidelines or parameters to stick to when labeling your segments.

For example, try to avoid names like "FINAL Guildford 10k upload" or "Guildford 10k runners". Instead, use standardized naming conventions such as "01.09.22 - GU10K / Registered Participants" or "02.09.22 - GU10K / Finishers".

A practical example of how you would use these particular segments is to exclude everyone who didn't show up to your event from your post-race email. You may then wish to send these excluded participants a follow-up email designed to evoke FOMO (=fear of missing out) so they’re sure to show up for the next event. Because you have segmented your audience well, you have the option to specifically address those who actually participated in the event later on - or use this data to create lookalike audiences in Facebook ads.

Groups (for dynamic lists)

Unlike segments which are static lists, you have the ability to edit groups. Each time you upload a segment, you may also wish to add these subscribers to a group - such as "Road Runners" or "Guildford 10k".

Using groups to categorize participants by event ("Guildford 10k") gives you a quick way to contact everyone who has ever had some kind of interest in Guildford 10k so that you don't have to select multiple segments. Just remember to tailor your messaging accordingly!

Tags (for capturing additional information)

If you already have a good idea of who you would like to contact and what about, you can use tags to store extra information.

Some platforms will allow you to populate this data within your email by creating a custom tag field. For example:

Congrats {FNAME}, you completed the {EVENT} in {FINISHTIME}!
Hey
{FNAME}, can we tempt you to beat last year's PB of {FINISHTIME}?

You could also use the information stored in tags to send dedicated campaigns. For example, you could set up automated emails offering a discount code to everyone with an upcoming birthday.

[lightbulb]If you want to get REALLY clever, you could specifically target "9-enders" (people whose age ends in a 9, e.g. 29, 39, 49...) as these participants are usually looking for some kind of achievement to tick off before their next big birthday![\lightbulb]

How do I manage my email list?

If you're not sure what your subscribers want to hear about, you need to review your opt-in journey and how you segment your audiences. And maybe let your subscribers decide for themselves what lists they want to be part of.

Within your campaigns, you can give your subscribers the option to opt themselves in to various lists. Use a simple call to action like "reply to this email with YES PLEASE" and set up a Zapier integration to segment respondents accordingly.

And, speaking of managing a healthy email list, you need to make it easy for people to unsubscribe from emails they are not interested in, to help you avoid email list bloat.

To do that, set up a 3-5 part automated email sequence to go out to everyone who hasn't opened the last 5-10 campaigns that you have sent them. You could entice them back with an offer, give them the option to switch to a more relevant email list or, if none of this works, invite them to unsubscribe. Why pay to store email contacts that aren't converting?

Ok - now that you have an organized email list, it's time to create your emails.

What should I write about in my emails?

The size of the audience that you are sending can somewhat inform the scope of your content. There's bradly two types of emails you'd want to send:

  1. Newsletters - sent to large volumes of subscribers = broad scope
  2. Targeted campaigns - sent to segmented audience = niche content

In each case, try and phrase your copy in such a way that you do as much of the work as possible for the reader. In short, instead of talking about "what we're doing", try talking about "what you can be or are doing".

Here are some examples of potential subject lines that demonstrate the difference:

"August Newsletter" (bad...)
"Need something to get excited about this August?" (good!)

"Post Race Round Up" (bad...)
"Everything you LOVED about Surrey Half" "{FNAME}, I can't believe you missed this!" (good!)

The most compelling copy will guide your reader on a carefully curated decision-making journey. Consider asking a few questions that evoke the answer "YES" before presenting your reader with the choice of taking your call to action.

[lightbulb]Engaging copy can make or break your content - whether it's across email, your website or social media. So have a think whether hiring a professional copywriter might be a good option for you.[\lightbulb]

How should I structure my emails?

Creating the "perfect template" is a process. Because every database is unique, it is a case of trial and error to find a style that engages your audience. So long as you consider the following, you won't go too far wrong:

  • Personalization - To and From, and within your copy.
  • Subject - Hook
  • Image and/or Logo placements
  • Newsworthy Content*
  • Clear CTA (Call To Action)
  • Footer - Make use of your PS section!

Setting a structure for your emails will not only help you to consistently send professional, on-brand and visually appealing email campaigns, but it will also make your life easier. If you know that the optimum number of words for your text snippet is 150 words, you can better allocate the appropriate amount of time to achieve write your content - and keep it focused!

How do I know if my email design is engaging?

You probably already have a good idea of what content people engage with. Your post-race emails, for example, probably achieve your best open rates because people want the links for their results and photos. Knowing that your participants will scroll to find these links, you can confidently put any messages of thanks and/or Sponsored messaging towards the top of this campaign.

You can measure the effectiveness of your campaigns by looking at your campaign stats reports. Most platforms have a click map function (or similar) to give you an indication of how effective your email is at driving your desired call to action (what % of people are clicking each of your links).

[lightbulb]Ask your ambassadors or close-knit members of your community for feedback on your email designs, or publish a poll on your social media stories and ask your followers to cast their votes![\lightbulb]

How frequently should I send emails?

Think less about hitting a target number of emails per month and more about the cadence and frequency with which you want to touch base with your database. This is unique to every business, so having an overarching marketing strategy in place will help you figure this out.

For hot leads (=people who have expressed interest in your event), you can get away with sending multiple emails in quick succession.

For cold leads (=people just getting to know you) on the other hand, you may need to send several emails over a longer period to aid their decision-making process. Naturally, your emails may be longer as you remind them about all the reasons why your offer is irresistible.

How do I avoid spamming people with too many emails?

If your emails are incredibly entertaining, informative, and engaging, you can send as many as you want because you are essentially providing a service that your subscribers have specifically requested.

Your open and unsubscribe rates will tell you whether or not you are hitting the mark.

Now that you have your organized subscriber list and highly converting email templates, how do you make sure that you stay accountable and consistently deliver all of this?

How to work like a professional marketer

Now you may be wondering why you should be interested in working like a professional marketeer - you are a race organizer after all.

But there is a lot that we can learn from those who are responsible for managing numerous marketing channels and coordinating all of the content published across them.

The digital marketing industry is fast-paced and dynamic - you have to be bang on trend if you want to be visible in inboxes or on social media.
That is why a single piece of content produced by professionals is usually the product of an entire team of people (graphic designers, animators, copywriters, social media managers etc) who are all coordinated by a marketing strategist.

Whether you're pulling all of this together yourself, or coordinating your own team, you can benefit from knowing what software the professionals use to deliver engaging content and stay on schedule. Here’s my A - Z:

  • Asana. Create a content calendar to give you oversight of what content is going out on what day and across what channel. You can also use Asana to assign tasks and deadlines for all of the deliverables that need to be achieved for your content to go out on time. 
  • Canva is a free and easy graphic design platform that you can use to create graphics and animations. Creating and saving templates for your email banners and other graphics will save you lots of time and help to ensure that any content you create is always on brand. 
  • Grammarly. Add this free extension to your browser that acts as a second pair of eyes on your copy. The functionality offered goes well beyond what is usually offered by your standard “word doc” programs. Grammarly will suggest corrections to your grammar, spelling and punctuation. Paid plans will help you stick to your brand’s tone of voice. Innocent Smoothie is a great example of a brand that has built a very strong, authentic and recognizable tone of voice.
  • Zapier. Save time downloading and uploading reports from your online registration software by creating a Zapier integration.

That is it!

You now know how to:

  • Purchase subscribers and implement freebie funnels to grow your email database, and categorize your subscribers using segments, groups and tags.
  • Manage your subscribers with self-referral systems and automated email campaigns, and design and structure your emails.
  • Write engaging copy.
  • Measure the effectiveness of your email campaigns.
  • Pull it all together using the same software as the pros.

I hope you found this post helpful and am so excited to see your email marketing campaigns come to life!

Hollie Light

About Hollie Light

Hollie Light is the founder of Active8 Digital Marketing, a company specializing in helping race organizers attract more participants to their start lines. She has spoken at International Confex as a member of the “Future of Events” panel, and has been nominated as one of Mass Participation World’s 30 Under 30 Future Industry Leaders.

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