Why Events are Key to Building and Engaging an Owned Audience

Why Events are Key to Building and Engaging an Owned Audience


I’ve built somewhat of a reputation as an “event guy.”

I can understand why. At Gainsight, my team and I built an entire business on top of the Pulse Conference - an industry event for the Customer Success community that scaled to over 6,000 attendees in San Francisco, annual programs in the UK and Australia, and dozens of local chapters in cities across the globe.

That passion led to me to join Hopin as Chief Marketing Officer in 2021 with the intention of helping advance the interests of an industry that I care so deeply about.

But as a shocking admission of guilt, when starting AudiencePlus in 2022, I hadn’t considered just how important event marketing was to the owned media practice.

You can probably understand why.

Structurally, the traditional marketing org is grouped into functional silos with content marketing living on one side of the org chart and corporate events on the other. While there is collaborative overlap, the reality is that goals and incentives are wildly misaligned. The events team will often borrow resources from content marketing, that comes at a cost, to help prepare presentations, write email and landing page copy, and so on.

Since AudiencePlus is focused on sparking a movement for the future of Content (with a capital C), I didn’t immediately appreciate that events are one of the most powerful levers in building, engaging, and monetizing an owned audience.

While both functions play critical and complementary roles, there is something unique about events that no other tactic can unlock.

The Human Desire for Community and Belonging

In 2018, Cigna’s research showed nearly half of Americans reported sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent). One in four Americans (27 percent) rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them. Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent), and that they are isolated from others.

Tragically, this research was conducted before COVID-19.

Our work is a core part of our humanity. The average person will spend 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime — approximately ⅓ of their entire lives. Our careers have the potential to become one of the most important contributors to finding meaning and purpose, but also, can fan the flames of loneliness and isolation.

Several factors can create loneliness in the workplace:

  • A lack of mastery within our job function and industry.

  • Limited resources (budget, headcount, etc.) to be effective at work.

  • Not having a seat at the table where decisions are made.

  • No connections with peers who are facing similar challenges.

I’m sure there are many other contributing factors, but you get the point.

Businesses have a responsibility to help address the loneliness crisis within our industries. It’s not just a good and noble thing to do, but in a non-obvious way, it’s actually good for business as well. Companies develop products and services that contribute to employee mastery, bring about efficiencies in operations, and so on. However our products can only do so much — and that’s where marketing steps in.

One of the principal roles of marketing is to create content programs that educate, entertain, and inspire the audience — appealing to the loneliness dynamic described above. As your audience consumes and applies your thought leadership within their roles, the intention is that they will leverage that education to upskill and unlock more impact and success at work. That value exchange — often at little or no cost to the audience — starts crafting a relationship between brand and audience that has a higher propensity to “convert” into a commercial conversation.

Education is one input into the loneliness epidemic at work (and an important one), but limited as a cognitive value. Humans are emotional — and as such, marketers have a responsibility to build an emotional connection with their audience.

That’s where events come in.

No program within the marketing toolkit can facilitate a sense of community and belonging quite like events. Whether large scale corporate events, field marketing, or whatever format, there’s something uniquely powerful when humans get together. There’s this powerful and prevailing sense of believing and seeing the proof that despite what the voices in your head may tell you, no, you’re not alone.

Does event execution change under the refreshed banner of owned media? Not necessarily. But without them, you may struggle to authentically build and engage an audience.

How to Leverage Events in an Owned Media Strategy

The emotional impact of events can be profound for both brand and audience. Here are 5 ways to unlock that value by operationalizing event programs into your owned media strategy.

1. Events (and Other Exclusives) Convert Audience into Subscribers. While most content and media is “ungated” on your owned media platform, creating a compelling value proposition for subscription is key to building an owned audience of subscribers. Exclusive content and experiences — like events — are one of the best methods to convert visitors into subscribers. Whether it’s driving registrations to a massive industry conference or an exclusive stream that’s just for subscribers, you’re building conviction within your audience that can lead to subscription. As my friend Julius Solaris (Founder at BoldPush) recently shared on Twitter, media attracts the audience and events convert them.

2. Events Provide Cross-Promotional Exposure into Partner Audiences. Events are typically produced as part of a network of speakers, sponsors, and suppliers. Tapping into their audiences as a means of promoting the event and driving registrations will give your brand exposure into other audiences beyond your own. With careful coordination, events can become one of the best channels for building an owned audience.

3. Event Content Provides Value for Your Audience (Rather than an Algorithm). So much of our content strategy is focused on breaking through the noise pollution that is the Internet to drive qualified attention (and traffic) to our brand. The truth is that doing so requires diluting down the value of our content to appease rented algorithms like social media, content networks, and search engines. Events help build a content production muscle that’s more editorial in nature, focused on educating, entertaining, and inspiring your attendees. That’s where trust is developed and relationships are built — rather than the pillar pages that ChatGPT helped the team write (sorry, shots fired).

4. Repurposing Event Content Can Fuel Your Publishing Cadence. As described above, events are incredible content creation moments. Since cadence is one of the most important levers of a successful owned media strategy, event content can be repurposed for weeks (if not months) after the last truck loads-out of the convention center. Whether that’s repurposing stage footage from the event itself, building supplementary content, or using the topics discussed in the hallways and happy hours to fuel new content ideas — events can become 365-day owned media initiatives that continue to build and engage audiences using digital channels.

5. Events Create a Wealth of Engagement Data. The amount of first-party engagement data created at events — digital and in person — is kind of ridiculous. Brands can access deep context on which topics resonate with which cohorts of their audience, what conversations they are joining, and so much more. Understanding this data can help drive better content production decisions on which topics and formats resonate. And since audience engagement is the critical leading indicator to business outcomes, that data can be leveraged as an intent signal for pipeline creation and other revenue metrics.

However you spin it, events are core to a brand’s owned media strategy. If you study consumer media brands (trust me, I have), you’ll notice that nearly every consumer media company has an event strategy. No other marketing lever can create the emotional resonance between brand and audience in quite the same way.

…and as an “event guy,” I’m really happy to hear it.


Anthony Kennada | About the Author

Founder and CEO, AudiencePlus

Prior to founding AudiencePlus, Anthony served as the CMO of incredible companies like Hopin and Front. He was the founding CMO of Gainsight where he and his team are credited with creating the Customer Success category -- a novel business imperative, profession and software category that helps subscription companies grow sustainably by becoming customer obsessed. By focusing on human first community building, content marketing, live events and creative activations, they developed a new playbook for B2B marketing that built the Gainsight brand and fueled the company’s growth from $0 to $100M+ ARR, and eventual acquisition by Vista Equity at a $1.1B valuation. You can follow him here.


Why Events are Key to Building and Engaging an Owned Audience

However you spin it, events are core to a brand's owned media strategy. If you study consumer media brands, you'll notice that nearly every consumer media company has an event strategy. No other marketing lever can create the emotional resonance between brand and audience in quite the same way.

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