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The events industry is on the cusp of change. As we exit the pandemic era, companies are looking to understand how they can drive event-led growth and how events can, in turn, drive growth for their business; that’s why we’ve brought on a special guest for this episode of #EventIcons, Mark Kilens.

Mark is the CMO of Airmeet, a leading virtual and hybrid event platform. He previously worked at Drift as the VP of Content and Community and at HubSpot as the VP of Marketing. Mark comes to us today with no shortage of experience in event-led growth. Today, Will and Mark will discuss his accomplished background, what business and event-led growth mean to him, and what he thinks your event mindset should be. Let’s get right into it!

How Mark Came to Events

Before Will and Mark talk about event growth and event-led growth, Will asks Mark to share his story about how he came to the events industry. Here’s what he had to say. 

“My journey started pre-HubSpot when I was a HubSpot customer in 2008 or 2009. That’s how I conceived the idea for something like HubSpot Academy,” explains Mark. “I met Brian Whaley, former HubSpotter, at the first-ever HubSpot user group event. So events have profoundly impacted my life because I met Brian at that event. He became my reference referral, and a few months later, I joined HubSpot, and the rest is history.” 

He continues: “HubSpot Academy led me to understand that the academy was started for customer education, retention, and upselling. But then we realized we could use it for lead generation, pipeline creation, community building, and more. So as my journey at HubSpot unfolded, I realized more and more that creating demand not just through content but education sparks a community that gets people talking. That led me to Drift.”

“My experience at Drift gave me this idea that events should be something that a business uses to join people together and grow a business,” he says. “Events are this magical thing that can create bonds between people, between people and a business, people and a brand, and people and a community. I wanted to teach people how to use events in a new way that will create exponential growth.”

What Does Event-Led Growth Mean to Mark?

Will wants to know how Mark defines growth. “What does growth mean to you in terms of a business? Then, let’s talk about how you think events lead to growth.” 

“Growth in the traditional sense is growing your revenue or profit,” says Mark. “But I think the way you have to think about it now is engagement. How do you grow the engagement with your team, employees, buyers, or community? Brand exposure isn’t good enough anymore. You need to create deeper connections with people. When they need something like your solution, they should remember they had a great thing with this brand, and that’s the thing they should look at. It’s all about having these moments of engagement over time that build up to an affinity.” 

Will agrees with this perspective. It’s one of the reasons he wanted to host Mark on this #EventIcons episode. “One reason I wanted to bring you on the show is to talk about how this is such a critical moment for event professionals because everything is changing,” says Will. “I think we’re at this point where everyone’s looking for the next thing that will truly help drive revenue and brand loyalty. Events feel like everyone’s pushing out content, but if you can build an event that builds bonds, that’s next level, right?”

“You just nailed event-led growth,” says Mark. “It’s almost thinking about how we need to redefine what an event is. At the purest form of the definition, an event is a gathering. But companies aren’t thinking at this level. As a business, you can never not be adapting. As soon as you stop, you will be in sustain mode. What happens after sustaining? You’re just trying to survive. So how do you continue to think about your business as a startup or a scaleup?”

Mark categorizes business in 4 ways:

  1. Startup
  2. Scaleup
  3. Sustaining
  4. Surviving

“The best place to be is when you’re always trying to reinvent yourself and create new sparks. To create those sparks, you often need your customers or your community. How do you create those sparks? You come together, share ideas, and talk about things,” concludes Mark.

How to Drive In-Person Attendance

The next question for Mark comes from a live listener, Sean. Sean asked, “How do we use virtual platforms to encourage in-person attendance?”  

Mark points to smaller and more frequent events as a way to drive in-person attendance. “I have two great examples of this,” says Mark. “At Drift, when the pandemic started, we were only doing in-person events and some webinars. We did a series of 7 or 8 things called Rev Growth. Rev Growth created a brand within itself, and it created this wave. Then, when we did our first in-person event in March of 2022, we had a captivated audience. We then started to incorporate those themes into other smaller digital events.”

“So, I think 1) You have to think about your events. Can you put a brand to them? 2) Can you think of events as episodic content? Something we’re doing at Airmeet is interventions. This series is twelve parts. We’ve generated around 600 registrations. When Airmeet does an in-person event sometime in 2023, they’ll have built up this relationship with those people.”

Final Advice from Mark

Will wraps up this episode with a final request for tips and advice for event planners. Mark shares two things: his favorite resource for knowledge and his number 1 tip for planners. 

Paid Newsletters: Mark’s Favorite Resource

Will first asks about Mark’s top resources. “What are your favorite places to learn to be a better help, a better planner, or a better leader? What are your favorite resources?”

“Newsletters,” responds Mark. “I have 2 emails: personal and work. The right newsletter will do one if not two, things. They’ll either give you great content through curation, or they’ll give you great content through curation and original ideas. That’s where it all starts for me.”

For the most part, Mark subscribes to paid newsletters. “I pay for most of these, and I’m pretty religious in reading all of them; I try to stay on top of all these new ideas, current trends, and things going on in the world. I try to create connections in my mind and understand how they relate to something that might be beneficial, like development, growth, or marketing. I’m trying to stay educated about how people are behaving, thinking, working, traveling, eating, like all these different things,” explains Mark. “I think the best place to go to is premium newsletters. 

Mark’s #1 Tip for Event Planners

Finally, Will asks for Mark’s #1 tip for event planners. “If you had to pick one tip, what’s the one thing tip you would give to anyone out there planning events?”

Mark recommends a change in mindset. “Change your mindset from events to experiences. This goes for digital, in-person, and everything in between,” he says. “The event is the vehicle; it’s getting people to experience something. Where the magic happens is this live rawness that’s a shared experience. So how do you create shared experiences between attendees? Put your attendees at the center of the experience you create for them.”

We hope you’ve enjoyed another fantastic #EventIcons episode. We’ll catch you here next time for more insights from event industry icons!

Will Curran

Author Will Curran

Information junkie, energetic, and work-a-holic are just some of the words we can use to describe Will Curran. Aside from spending 20 out of 24 hours a day working as the Chief Event Einstein of Endless Events, you can catch Will ordering a chai latte or watching The Flash with his cats. He is also well known for his love of all things pretzels.

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