It’s easy to be a cynic when it comes to industry trade shows and conferences, as the formula at most of them is pretty tired and familiar. You can waste both your time and your marketing budget at these events (and I have ended up doing both). But a conference also offers a rare opportunity to catch prospects and industry influencers when they are seeking new information, open to taking meetings, and likely interested in reviewing new solutions. These events can deliver a big bang for your marketing buck if you know how to really leverage them.I’ve seen the team at Social123 in action at conferences and it’s impressive to watch the engagement and visibility they create. I sat down recently with Aaron Biddar, CEO of Social123, to better understand how they approach industry events. Aaron broke down their formula into a series of pre-event, during-the-event, and post-event steps. Here are a few of the highlights from our conversation:
It’s pretty standard practice to acquire a company attendee list for an event, and then have your sales team call prospective customers on the list in the month or two prior to the event to set up meetings. For Aaron and his team, that’s just the table stakes, and they use their own Social123 contact data to get the jump on others in this regard (see below). Here’s a few pre-event tips from Aaron and his team:
Tip: Book Early & Color Outside the Lines
- Paying top dollar for the most premium booth location is beyond the budget of most growth stage companies. Instead, focus on securing the best location for your chosen category of sponsorship. All booths in a given price category are not equal, and the early bird gets the worm so to speak. This often means making an early commitment to the conference, but the extra traffic and visibility generated is worth it.
- Study the physical layout to determine other high traffic flows in the event space and just outside it. If you identify the right opportunities, don’t be afraid to propose to the event host additional banner or brand placement that may be outside of the preset sponsorship offerings. This might be an extra banner placement in a hallway leading into the event or even renting out some additional space in a high traffic area of the hotel or conference hall where the event is being hosted. Think outside the box and get creative in proposing ideas to the event sponsor and to the folks that control the space around the event.
Tip: Co-opt the Event Theme
- Conferences typically focus on one or more core themes and they release details on panels & presentations well in advance in hopes of attracting attendees. Comb through this detail to get a handle on the core theme(s) of the event. Determine what information you have or could easily research that relates to this theme. Armed with this, create a formal content plan for the event, and include the event theme and your related insights into your booth planning, your social media strategy, and your speaker/attendee outreach. More on this in a bit.
Tip: Reach out to More Than Just Prospects
- Review all the individuals that will be speaking at the event, and the topics they will be discussing. Reach out to as many of the speakers as possible to introduce your company, and offer commentary, data and additional content the speaker might find helpful to use in their presentation slides or on the panel. The goal is simple – get mentioned on stage and get your logo in the speaker’s presentation deck. To pull this off, you should start 4-6 months before the conference to ensure you catch the speakers when they are just starting to form ideas for their talk. You won’t influence every speaker, but when you do it can drive great traffic to your booth.
- Every industry has its rock stars. The media frequently seeks them out to get their opinions. Be proactive in seeking them out as well, whether or not they are speaking at this particular event. Share thoughts and content related to the conference, and invite them to any special events you are hosting at the conference. If can get top of mind with these individuals, they will help spread your message as they engage and interact with the media and other event attendees.
- Canvas your existing customer base to identify which clients will be in attendance. A conference is an inexpensive way to re-connect, show some love, and get back to top of mind with customers. You should assume your competition is trying to talk to your customers at the event, so make sure you stay front and center as well. Of course, re-connecting with customers is also a great way to tap their relationships for referrals to other prospects at the event.
- Last but certainly not least, work the attendee list to identify and set up meetings with prospective customers. Some events will release the individual names of attendees, but many will only release the companies attending. Social123’s 295 million contact database is a huge help in both cases, as it can help identify the appropriate contacts and/or fill in contact information for individuals you have already identified. It can also help you identify which competitive technologies a prospect is currently using. This type of information will help make your outreach more targeted and relevant and enable you to tailor your discussion at the event.
During the Event
Tip: Provide a ‘VIP’ Experience
- Seek out opportunities to create or co-sponsor invite-only events during the event. In your pre-event prep, this gives you a great reason to reach out and invite event speakers, the rock stars, your customers and prospects to join you. This experience could be a cocktail after party with a featured band or as simple as a private talk with one of the rock stars you’ve courted. Everyone loves the velvet rope experience, so make it a wristband only event. This type of event can get expensive, so look for existing invite-only events you can co-sponsor or create one with some of your industry partners.
Tip: Be Active on Social Media Throughout the Event
- Work your content plan and go live on social media from the moment the event starts. Find the individuals running the social media feeds for the event, and get to know them. Retweet their posts, and they will often start to follow and retweet yours. Your pre-event prep is key here, as you should have a steady stream of event-relevant content and insights prepared. If your suggested content didn’t end up in a given speaker’s presentation, then tweet it out right after his/her talk. Your goal should be to stay visible throughout the event.
Tip: Bring Your Extroverts & Meet Daily to Document and Plan
- Many companies will just focus on bringing individuals with certain titles to a conference. Social123 focuses on bringing their most extroverted employees, as they know these individuals will naturally seek out conversations and be comfortable engaging with others all day every day. Deck everyone out in company branding, and craft a specific plan of action for each team member each day to maximize exposure and engagement. Meet as a team at the end of each day and review the leads collected and connections made, and plan the next day. Be sure to take a few moments as a group and have each team member record specific notes on each lead, as memories will fade by the next day and the details matter when you go to follow up later.
Tip: Take the Time to Debrief as a Team
- Don’t just fall right back into the busy work of the day when you are back in the office. Pull your team together, and debrief on the event as a group. How well did your content plan work? Which speakers, customers or partners helped provide exposure? What more did you learn about the event themes and topics covered that could be leveraged in a follow on blog or social media post? How did your competition present themselves? Review the leads your team collected, and have individuals comment on their notes to allow others to share any additional information they might have.
Tip: Say Thank You
- Be deliberate in saying thank you to everyone that helped in any way at the conference – event hosts, speakers, industry rock stars, customers, or others. Include a thank you gift where possible (a simple gift card will suffice). This may seem obvious, but few companies are thorough in doing it. A small gesture is not only appreciated; it is also an opportunity to get top-of-mind again with key influencers.
Tip: Work Your Leads with Discipline
- This also may seem obvious, but many companies are lazy in their follow up. They spend a ton of time and money making new connections and collecting leads, and then they get sloppy in their follow up. Nothing is worse than having a specific, relevant conversation at an event and then following up with blanket off-target outreach from your sales team afterwards. This is where good note taking during the event is critical. The more context you have on when and why you connected at the event, the easier it is to stay relevant when you follow up. Take the time to do it right.
There are a lot of moving parts involved with executing a productive conference, which means the most diligent and organized teams are the ones that end up with the greatest return. So make sure to get a game plan in place early, be disciplined in your execution, and then continue iterate on your playbook based on key learnings. Good luck, and if these tips prove helpful to you make sure to say thank you to Aaron and the crew at Social123!
Great tips Mike!