Pushing the Marketing Envelope Gives OPIS a Winning Event

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Yesterday, I came across an article in Ad Age by Traci Alford, president & CEO of Effie Worldwide, that said this: "Our data clearly show that campaigns whose approach to testing the boundaries is a little tepid perform considerably less-well than those aggressively pushing the envelope. If you want to stand out with consumers today, you simply can't skimp on bravery."

Just after, I started looking for a 2019 SIPAward winner to spotlight this week. I opened the 1st-place winning entry from Rick Wilkes, executive director of marketing for OPIS, for Best Conference Marketing for their Mexico Fuel Week 2018 event last October.

In one ad, a pushpin sits on the U.S.-Mexico border with the words, "We'll pinpoint the potential risks and rewards in cross-border fuel commerce." Another had the headline, "We all know how a new president can change everything" and showed the podium of the new Mexican president.

In explaining the success they had for this event, Wilkes echoed the advice delivered by Alford: "...we decided to break the messaging mold and created a promotional campaign composed of offbeat concepts that focused on tangible event deliverables as identified by our conference chairs. Several concepts push the envelope in tone and topic with the goal of gaining attention and making a vivid impression on recipients."

For OPIS, this marketing bravery increased total attendees by 77% (143 vs. 81), paid attendees by 76% (95 vs. 54) and registration revenue by 28%. They also succeeded in engaging potential new customers in Mexico—attendees located in Mexico comprised 76% of total attendees, up from 49% the previous year.

"This intensive, multi-channel campaign created a new template for OPIS event promotion going forward into 2019," Wilkes wrote, "and is now being applied with similar success to other conferences experiencing slumping registration."

Here are more reasons for the success of OPIS's Mexico Fuel Week 2018:

Marketing through many channels, in two languages. Previously, they had promoted the event primarily through email messages "that repeated name, date and location in a standard design template without highlighting unique themes, benefits and takeaways prominently." This time they used multiple marketing channels, ranging from print ads to social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and paid campaigns on Twitter and LinkedIn) to email signature graphics, all created in both English and Spanish versions. Wrote Alford: "...more channels equals more effectiveness."

Ads that pushed the envelope. In addition to the ones mentioned above, another ad announced that "Much has changed since the last time Mexico had a free fuel market" and showed a decades-old car. Another blared, "Viva la Evolucion!" and showed a Mexican flag atop an oil well. Wrote Alford: "Focusing on differentiation provided a campaign with a nearly exponential lift in effectiveness. The more your advertising seeks to differentiate your brand, the more effective it will be."

A postcard with a $200 discount and frank dialogue. This was mailed to prospects in U.S. border states: "No other event focused on the open refined fuel market gives you the complete story, positive and negative. Hear the real-world experiences of people doing business hands-on. Get regulatory updates. Learn what you need to know."

Emails with hard-hitting subject lines. "Top 5 questions about the impact of Mexico's election, answered." "Jump start your success in Mexico's fuel markets." "Don't let Mexico's energy reform leave you in the rear-view mirror."

Benefits offered. Wilkes described a previous marketing problem. "For interested prospects, we weren't addressing in a direct or memorable way the implicit question: 'Why should I invest significant $$ and time away from the office to attend this conference instead of the three others in the same market similarly seeking my attention?'" So for this campaign, their marketing hit on benefits over and over. Even an email sent three days before special savings ended focused on a new speaker just added. Another email gave five key questions and a link to see the answers from OPIS analysts.

A well-planned and relatively long marketing strategy. The rollout campaign spanned five months, from the microsite launch in June to the conference kick-off in October. There were 27 total blasts to an average recipient list of 36,000, including efforts sent by fuel industry partners (Oil & Gas Magazine, Onexpo, AEM) and paid efforts to subscribers to Mexican news publications El Economista and Energia Hoy. Wrote Alford: "Our data clearly shows that longer campaigns yield greater results."

"The truth is," Alford concluded, "if you want to create effective work, your safest bet is to take the biggest risk." OPIS did this with their winning Mexico Fuel Week campaign, turned an event around and won a SIPAward.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…