How to Plan a Client Appreciation Event for Maximum Marketing Impact

Aviation Marketing - customer appreciation eventsHow to Plan the Best Customer Appreciation Event Ever!

It’s important to know how to plan a customer appreciation event.
A company that invests in a great customer appreciation event sets itself apart from every competitor.
Companies that hold great events have better customer satisfaction, they are better able to retain their client base, they get more referrals, they get more testimonials and they even make more sales to new clients.
Done well, events have the following advantages:
  • Improve customer retention
  • Get more testimonials
  • Get good PR and visibility
  • Expand your client base
  • Make more sales!
So, what does “done correctly” mean for customer appreciation events?  How much should you spend on these things? (grumbles the accountant) and what activities should you plan?
The best customer appreciation events include three factors:
  • Food
  • A fun (or educational and fun) activity
  • Thoughtful opportunities to mingle with other customers, family, friends and fans.


Scheduling a Client Appreciation Event

Event Planning Checklist CoverAviation companies schedule their customer appreciation events around a NBAA, AOPA, EAA conventions. They know that many of their most important customers will be in town. 
Bell Helicopters held their customer loyalty event in conjunction with the HAI Heli-Expo last week in Orlando.  Many of the FBO, MRO and fuel companies plan their events in conjunction with NBAA events.  The downside is it can be very difficult to compete with the larger companies, so these might need to be scheduled carefully to build loyalty. It’s easier to schedule breakfasts, dinners, or events the day before or after a convention starts or ends.

How Much to Spend on Your Event

There are several factors to take into account – how many customers do you want or need to invite?  How much does each of them spend on your product or service per year? How long do they remain customers?  (There is a simple formula for customer lifetime value or CLV – transaction amount x average number of transactions over a customers’ “lifetime.”)
You may also have competitors to take into account. Ideally, you want to spend just a bit more than your competitors are spending on their events, if they have them.  You also want to take into account the demographics, expectations and sensitivities of your customers.  As an example, customers for luxury products expect to be treated like VIPs, so keep the event small but high-end. Customers for more practical products may not be inclined to dress up for a fancy dinner and would be more comfortable at a barbecue.
A good rule is to “spend time rather than money.”   Take the time to ask some of your best customers, or customers who have been in your loyalty program the longest for advice. Ask them how they feel about certain options.   Take their suggestions into account. Personalize the experience whenever you can.

Who to Invite

Ideally, you’ll want to invite about 75% current customers, 25% prospects.
Customers will be the overwhelming majority, so prospects will be “surrounded.” They will be rubbing elbows with people who can answer their questions and speak with experience about your product.
Consider inviting spouses, or even children.  Many businesspeople appreciate the opportunity to spend time with their families at a fun activity. They are more willing to attend an evening or weekend event if it’s also an opportunity to have fun with their family.
I’d you do plan an “adults only” event, make  it clear on the invitation. This makes it less likely that anyone will bring children to your event. But misunderstandings do happen, so think about a Plan B in case anyone shows up with children. You might have someone ensure activities planned for them.

Activities to Plan

All of these activities have been done successfully by aviation, high tech, and/or business to business companies. Of course you can’t make everyone happy, but pick something the majority of your customers will enjoy.  Many of these activities can be combined into a single event.
  • Sit-down dinners at a restaurant
  • Fly-in cookouts, picnics, pancake breakfasts
  • Fishing trips
  • Golf outings
  • Other games (croquet, darts, karaoke, you name it!)
  • A day at an amusement park, water park or other attraction (many will allow you to “rent” the whole venue)
  • Box seats or a group of seats at a ball game, concert or other event
  • Private screenings of a film at a theater
  • An appearance, talk, or photo opportunity with a celebrity
  • A photo opportunity with an airplane, classic car, or other “cool” thing.
  • New product announcements (watch how Steve Jobs used to do this for Apple.)
  • Technical workshops, user groups or training opportunities
  • Interviews with customers. Allow them to “plug” their business while mentioning how they use your product.
  • Business card drawings
  • Live music.
  • Gift cards or prizes for the winners of games.
Couple of pointers:
  • For ideas, look at what large companies are doing and scale down.  (Cisco does a great job of advertising and organizing their customer appreciation events here:

  • Your events may be “smaller,” but use personalization to make yours more private, exclusive and special. Dinner for 12 can be even more enjoyable than a party for thousands. The goal is to make loyal customers feel appreciated, not to dazzle with a big budget.
  • Invite and encourage participants to take pictures and post them to social media. Take pictures yourself, have on-site, red-carpet “photo booths” or hire roving photographers.

  • Consider partnering with other companies who share the same customers and host a joint event.

  • Encourage networking.  Introduce customers that might benefit from doing business together.   Make connections.
Bell’s Customer Appreciation Event at HAI Heli-Expo included many great features. They had live music, great food, networking opportunities, and photo opportunities. You’d be surprised how many grown-up, professional people will stand in line for a picture with Mickey Mouse or Goofy.  The invitation gave very specific details and instructions.
By contrast, ABCI’s own customer appreciation event at HAI was a budget friendly, relatively simple, quiet dinner. We had nine people at a nice restaurant near the convention, with lots of great food and great conversation.
Both were very enjoyable and successful events!

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  1. bryan flake August 14, 2015 at 6:30 pm - Reply

    My company has put me in charge of “whine and dine” a few of our current customers. We are planning to do a golfing day. How do we schedule a corporate golfing event for a small group? It would be great if we could get a golf facility to help us work this out.

    • ABCI Admin August 16, 2015 at 7:54 pm - Reply

      Good idea, Bryan! A golfing day could be a fantastic customer appreciation event. And many golf faciities, approached correctly, might welcome the opportunity to work with you to plan a memorable event.

      Schedule 30 minutes on my calendar at if you’d like to discuss this further.

  2. Darell Christensen April 25, 2016 at 6:08 am - Reply

    Once you start doing little things for free, it becomes expected that you won’t charge for other tasks to be completed. Then it comes down to what to charge for and what not to charge for. That may jeopardize your working relationship with the client in the long run!

    All your points are valid, and I feel you are correct. I am going to try and it your way and believe that not everyone is trying to rip us off. I appreciate what you said about your rates, because I feel the same way. In the long run if you provide great work, it will attract great clients.

    • Paula Williams April 26, 2016 at 1:41 am - Reply

      Excellent point, Darell! It’s incredibly important to “put a fence around” what you will do for free, that’s something we’ve struggled with in the past. Now, we make sure everyone understands WHY we’re doing something for free, and what the limitations are.

  3. February 6, 2017 at 1:26 pm - Reply

    Excellent website. A lot of useful information here. I am sending
    it to several friends ans also sharing in delicious.
    And obviously, thanks on your effort!

  4. […] at least once a quarter can set you apart from the competition. Bell Helicopter, for example, held a great customer appreciation event a few years ago that included live music, food and photo ops with Disney characters. You don’t […]

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  7. 19greekstreet January 11, 2019 at 9:01 am - Reply

    I’m working with a company name 19 Greek Street. They apply all these techniques to satisfy their customers.

  8. […] Another great way to get referrals is to invite existing customers and prospects to an annual customer appreciation event. […]

  9. mdnproductions February 10, 2020 at 9:56 am - Reply

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