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Sustainable Marketing for the Meetings Industry

Last week I had the pleasure of moderating a roundtable discussion at the March luncheon of the Ottawa Chapter of Meeting Professionals International (MPI). The topic was "Growing Your Business with Green Marketing: Sustainable Practices to Make Your Business Memorable and Sales Driven". When I volunteered to lead this discussion my objective was to generate conversation about sustainable marketing, what works and what doesn't.

But what is "sustainable marketing" or "green marketing"? Many think it’s the marketing of green products. Others maintain it’s marketing that is more respectful of the environment.

Others say it’s what serves an organization’s triple bottom line of people, planet, and profitability. Peter Korchnak defines sustainable marketing as what aims to: “empower communities by enriching their social capital (people), protect and restore the environment (planet), and generate prosperity for the organization and its stakeholders (profitability).”

While the latter definition was in synch with MPI’s Corporate Social Responsibility objectives, I think we too often overlook the "sustainability factor" for the marketer himself or herself. Are your marketing practices working? Are they bringing in leads for your sales team? Do you have the time and energy to keep up what you're doing in a sustainable way?

At the lunch, after everyone introduced themselves and gave an overview of their current marketing activities, it became clear that we were all struggling with the same tug-of-war: how should meeting professionals "green" their marketing activities, keep within budget, and maintain their sanity in the process?

Much of the frustration seemed to focus on the role of social media in the marketing mix. How should a hotel or venue use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other sites? Does a presence on any of those sites bring in enough business to warrant the time required to manage them? The consensus at our table seemed to be that while some presence may be warranted, especially on the individual travel or leisure side, but that group leads were far from pouring in…

Rather than settle that debate, our conversation shifted to other activities. Sustainable marketing ideas included:
  1. With over 95% of all B2B transactions being researched on the web prior to a sale, make it easy for planners to do business with you. Put your sales materials online where they are easy to download.
  2. Consider “gating” your more detailed online resources (banquet menus, policies, theme ideas, etc.), asking prospects to enter their name and e-mail address so these resources are forwarded to them. This can be done automatically through many content management systems. You may lose some prospects who do not want to provide their information, but you quickly gather a list of interested prospects with whom you can continue the sales conversation.
  3. Invest in Search Engine Optimization to improve the volume or quality of traffic to your website via “natural” or un-paid search results.
  4. Direct mail: Junk mail is definitely out, but personalized direct mail is in! Make sure your piece is addressed to a qualified list of prospects. Choose Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified/post-consumer recycled paper and print with vegetable inks. Better yet, support a cause by using cards from non-profit organizations such as UNICEF.
  5. If you’re going to personalize any marketing campaign, make sure your list is accurate. Account management experts say the average salesperson can only manage about 250 accounts annually. If your list is larger, cull it back. Most salespeople cannot stay on top of more than that. For tips on how to clean up your list, see our blog post on Keeping on Top of Your Database.
  6. Make your direct mail piece a "keeper". Provide tips (“top 10 ways to save on your next banquet at…”), checklists, or other resources that planners will want to pin to their wall and remember you every time they see your logo.
  7. Send out handwritten cards. Again, make sure they are the greenest possible (Pistachio cards are great products, available at Chapters/Indigo).
  8. Get out of the office! Too much is done by email. Lasting, sustainable client relationships are fostered in person. Aren’t we in the meetings industry, afterall? So pick up the phone, make an appointment and make a sales call.
  9. If you choose a giveaway for a tradeshow or as a leave-behind gift for a sales call, consider items made by a local artisan, perhaps even using recycled materials. Think about potted plants or flowers (Cancer Society’s Daffodil Days). Edibles, such as cookies, chocolates or squares are always a hit, especially if you attach the recipe!
Isn’t it interesting to note that 6 of the 9 ideas listed above are actually “traditional” marketing practices, only with a greener mindset? Happy selling!