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Paula Carlson


Successful event marketing begins with asking, not guessing

By Paula Carlson | 03/15/2022

The most important part of an event marketing campaign—and often the most difficult—is getting your clients and prospects through the door. If you’re having trouble deciding what activity would yield the best response from your clientele—and the best return for you—there’s a simple answer: 

Just ask.

A special event can be a great opportunity to reward your clients and get acquainted with new prospects. But to be effective, your first step should be to decide on a compelling theme that would resonate with your best clients and prospects. The further you can boil that down—to the ideal time, location, content, activities, and reason for the event—the more successful your efforts may be.

The good news is that your clients and prospects are often more than willing to tell you exactly what their interests are and what they would like to see in a special event—if you simply ask. 

With a quick survey, you can take the guesswork out of your event decisions. In a world where people have so many demands on their time, it helps to learn precisely what would intrigue them enough to set aside an evening or a day to attend your activity.

Don’t guess

Misjudging your clients’ interests can be costly in more ways than one. Staging an event can be a very expensive and time-consuming undertaking, and hosting events that bring low attendance and poor conversion results can limit your ability to expand your business.

In other words, guessing wrong can cost you time, money and opportunity. So, don’t guess. Ask.

While many advisors I’ve worked with as a marketing specialist thought they already knew what their clients and prospects would want in a special event, our surveys told a different tale. We typically survey both the advisor (to see what they think their clients would want) and the clients—to see what they really want. As it turns out, the advisors only get it right about 23% of the time.

For example, one of the advisors I work with thought their clients would enjoy getting together for a nice dinner at a country club, but our surveys revealed that they would rather meet over lunch at a downtown location convenient to their office so they could fit it into their day without having to give up an evening with family. In fact, you might also consider hosting events that involve the families—such as a sporting event or a night of bowling.

Another advisor I worked with was convinced that most of his clients would be interested in a session on legacy planning, but the survey found that 82% of clients preferred a seminar on cybersecurity. 

One advisor believed his clients would enjoy an evening of entertainment by a comedian but found through the survey that they would be much more likely to attend a session on international travel by an expert in the field.

Another advisor was delighted to find that many of his clients enjoyed fishing, so he has made it a habit to take regular fishing outings with his clients and their high net worth friends. The outdoor setting and leisurely pace of the activity naturally allowed the advisor to learn more about the clients and prospects and glean some insight into how the advisor could enhance the relationship.

One of the biggest surprises for many of the advisors I’ve worked with has been their clients’ lack of interest in seminars on financial matters. Topics such as Social Security, Medicare, long-term care, or college planning might seem relevant, but can bring disappointing results. The standard response from clients is that “we don’t need this because you’re already handling these things for us.”

There are, of course, exceptions. Some clients may be interested in a session on socially-responsible investing, for instance. We also recently hosted a panel discussion featuring international market experts, and that session filled the room. Philanthropic events can also be popular, such as coat, toy or diaper drives. You should also consider including philanthropic opportunities at some of your other events.

Creating the survey

When you create your surveys, try to keep them short—five to 10 questions—with the purpose of zeroing in on the specific interests of the clients. 

Once the results come in, you may be surprised to see patterns emerge among your client base. For instance, one advisor found that most of his best clients owned a summer cabin. As a result, we booked a noted author of pictorial books on cabins for a presentation, and it was a huge hit with his clients. 

If your firm’s Compliance Department permits1, use an online tool such as Constant Contact or SurveyMonkey and send hardcopies to the handful of people who are unable to complete the survey online. Both tools offer sample surveys that you can easily customize with questions that will get you the data you want from your clients. 

It will be easiest to craft your questions if you write down what information you want to gather and why. Consider running your reason for doing the survey and survey questions by your team, a few key clients, and trusted peers to make certain you are asking the right questions in a way you’ll get the information you want.

Here are several things I’ve learned that should go into conducting a successful survey for you and your clients. 

  1. Frame the reason why you are requesting your client’s valuable time and interest to complete the survey in a manner that they feel will benefit them. Also consider offering a $5 or $10 gift to a nonprofit for every response you receive. (Be sure to check with your compliance department before offering any gifts or gratuities.)  You can ask your clients to write in the name of their nonprofit or give them four choices including nonprofits from your community.
  2. Send out the link to the survey from you but tell your clients that their individual responses will be confidential to an independent firm who will tally and summarize them for you. 
  3. Let them know that you will send out an aggregate summary of the results and what you will implement based on their feedback. This will increase their trust in knowing you will use the information to better serve them. Be certain to send out the results and ideas you will be implementing to all those invited to complete the survey, whether they did so or not. It will set the tone for the non-responders to want to respond next time around.
    Whether you use an online tool or paper copy, make certain you have both members of a household complete the survey by sending a link to both emails or by including two copies of the survey in the envelope. And be sure to have the return envelope stamped with enough postage for them to send back two copies. 
  4. Don’t survey all of your clients – just the ones that represent the type of client you’d like to build your business around (typically high net worth investors).
  5. Once you decide on an event, don’t send invitations out too soon. Your response is not likely to be very good if you send invitations several months in advance of the event. There’s more of a sense of urgency if you send them out four to five weeks in advance, with a reminder later.

By learning what would be of greatest interest to your clients, you should be able to begin offering more compelling events that will bring a better response from your clientele and a better return on the time, effort and money you put into your event marketing campaigns.

Paula Carlson is the president of Momentum, a financial services-focused marketing firm. 

1Compliance departments will often allow using an online tool if there is a way to store the responses for seven years in an acceptable location that can be accessed by Compliance as long as you do not upload any client information into it. Some survey sites, such as Constant Contact and SurveyMonkey allow you to generate a link to the survey and then use that link in an email from the advisor’s email address to invite their clients to complete the survey.