Since joining the Payara Marketing Team I have had the pleasure of attending tech conferences and events all over the world. But the company doesn’t send me to these events just to fulfill my wanderlust. They are an extremely expensive form of field marketing, especially when compared to other digital options. However they have remained a staple marketing channel for decades. The key (like most marketing ventures) is to make sure you can measure your ROI (Return On Investment), otherwise you may be pouring money away or even missing out on opportunities by bottle necking yourself. In this blog, I will briefly cover some important aspects to consider and some helpful ideas if you hope to even have a sniff at positive ROI.
10 Good Reasons to Consider Exhibiting at a Conference
Before signing up for a conference, you need to cover your “why”. What do you hope to accomplish or get out of going to the conference? Here are 10 reasons or goals for attending conferences:
- Meet and connect with prospects
- Learn about new developments in your niche
- Meet other companies and individuals that can help you or collaborate with
- Strengthen and grow your brand
- Keep an eye on your competitors and what they do well
- Generate qualified leads for your sales team
- Meet and grow your relationship with existing fans and customers
- Close deals with new customers
- Communicate face to face with your target market
- Test and improve your sales strategy
Conference Exhibiting Tips
Once you’ve made the decision to attend a conference, you’ll need to start planning your “how”, and organize the details, including:
The cost of sponsorship can very from the hundreds to even the millions. Each level of sponsorship will come with increasing benefits. Typically this will include:
- Logo placements (banners, give aways, leaflets, magazine placements, social media shout outs, event website, etc).
- Exhibition booth (varying in size and strategic positioning).
- Options to include your collateral in goody-bags or have it handed out.
- Speaking slots (this could be a full session or a short lightning talk).
Either included in the various sponsorship levels or as potential add-on’s, there are usually some extra sponsorship opportunities that the organisers will almost certainly try up sell you. You may be asked to sponsor: meals, special themed days, themed tracks, after parties, special events, etc. In the past we once sponsored a movie night! As the event took place in a cinema.
Often there are opportunities for further engagement beyond your conference stand.
- Some events will have a meal or party just for sponsors and speakers. This is a good opportunity to get to know your competition, look for opportunities for partnerships and build up relationships with potentially influential individuals and groups in your niche.
- In a similar vein, most events will have social after parties for attendees which you can attend. These are good opportunities to catch up with people who have attended your booth or talks in a more relaxed and less rushed environment. You could also organise your own social event – A good example of this is the Oracle Code One Geek Bike Ride organised every year at the conference by a local Java User Group.
- Town Hall or Birds Of a Feather sessions are typically hosted open sessions for the community to discuss important topics to their niche. Presence and participation here can often get you noticed as an authority in this space. Ideally you can be invited to join a panel of experts, but even if not you can still join the session and ask questions to help build your profile.
- Interviews – Organise your own, or maybe you’ll be invited to interview with someone else. Conferences are often a great place to have face to face recorded interviews which can then used as marketing collateral on social channels.
- Raffles – Many conferences will have large giveaways to mark the end of the conference. Organisers will often reach out if you would like to contribute a prize in exchange for a shout out.
Your booth represents your company and your brand, it is important that it looks the part and is attractive to conference goers. It needs to communicate the message you are hoping to spread and work inline with your sales funnel. If your goals are to generate qualified leads, for example, then you will need to incentivise conference attendees to be interested in your offering and willing to give you their contact information and permission for a follow up. A booth that communicates who you are and what you offer can help attract that first contact, it’s then up to your booth staff to engage and start a dialogue with the aim to follow up after the conference.
Consider lighting at your booth, as many exhibition areas are dim. Either spot lights or perhaps a back lit display.
It is important to have some further information that attendees can take away with them. I’ve often noticed individuals grab a flyer to read and then return after learning a bit more.
Here are some booth activities to help generate engagement:
- Freebies. A popular way to help attract visitors to further engage and encourage them to want further contact from you are freebies. These range massively from: T-shirts, stickers, key chains, pens, food and drink, toys, etc.
- Raffles. Another method is to raffle off a large prestigious item, where booth attendees will have to give you their details to enter as well as possibly take part in a demonstration or other activity.
- Demos. Demonstrations of your product or service. You could have a short ad hoc demo to show to individuals, or a scheduled presentation for larger groups to visit in between conference talks.
- Games! – Arcade consoles, VR, Robotics, or any other fun activities are popular. But sometimes limit participation to a small number at a time.
- Social media marketing. Be active on social media! – Find out the event hashtag and involve yourself, the organisers will be looking for content to share.
- Creative hooks. Get creative – Having a “hook” to your booth that stands out can often bring a lot of interest to your booth. One example was a consultancy company that had a large Oxygen bar at their booth! Which would keep participants at their booth for up to ten minutes!
Ideally you want to try to involve yourself in all parts of the event. This may well include conference speaking by yourself or a member of the team. This could be a 5 min short introduction of your company, services or products as a perk of your sponsorship, or a full speaking slot by yourself or as a panel. If this is not part of your sponsorship package then you will have to submit your talk before the “call for papers” closes, or otherwise be invited to join another speaker to co host or as a panel. It can be worth the effort though as this can build your brand and highlight your expertise in the industry as well as taking “shelf space” away from competitors. However be aware that often direct selling is strictly prohibited or discouraged, you are better off making sure you are offering a valuable experience and information in your talk that will leave the participants wanting to further engage and learn more.
Not for the faint of heart. You will need to arrange travel and transport of all resources and personal, often to strict deadlines. Time management is key. Organisers will often provide a sponsor guide to help answer most questions and should generally be able to answer any other questions you might have. You may also have to consider purchasing further resources from the organisers such as: tables, chairs, wired internet (dont rely on the wifi), TV monitors, pull up stands or even a full booth built to your specs. Every conference and country will be different in this regard. If you have to ship overseas, you may need to research customs charges and delays.
Measure and Improve, Every Time
With all these activities , it is important to consider how you will measure the outcomes. Whether this is simply recording how many people your team spoke to, or number of contact details taken, participants who attended a talk or demo, took a flyer or freebie, etc. If possible, measure all engagement and track any leads you follow up on or that become Sales Qualified Leads. This will help determine ROI as well as which parts of your conference strategy are best performing and which need improving or dropping. Sometimes if you exhibit at the same conference for a number of years you may notice diminishing returns, in that case do not be afraid to try somewhere new!
Take Care of Yourself
My final advice is to consider your mental and physical wellbeing (and your staff). Conference days can stretch to 12hours + easy, with multiple activities to keep track of. Reducing stress will definitely help improve your disposition and performance.
Make sure your logistics are well planned in advance, you do not want to hunting for your equipment or collateral.
Make an effort to build good relationships with the organisers, they can be incredibly helpful when things do not go to plan. And may even give you a discount in the future.
Bring hand wash – You will potentially be shaking hands with hundreds of people!
Don’t go crazy at the evening events, you will regret it in the morning when you are looking at the wrong end of a 12hr shift on the booth.
Plan buffer time wherever possible – Public modes of transport can often be delayed, or hard to figure out in foreign countries. Make sure you leave plenty of extra time.