You walk into a marketing conference and what’s the first thing you notice? Well, if you’re like me, it’s the continental breakfast spread. Wait, wrong answer. What you should notice are the sponsors exhibiting within the space. It’s prime real estate, with companies paying a premium just for the opportunity to set up. If I’m spending that kind of cash, I want to make sure I put an equal investment into the activation. I want to be the one everyone notices and the first one attendees stop to speak with. No longer does a branded tablecloth make you stand out. You need something more; something captivating. If you don’t, your business card jar is going to be sadly empty by the end of the event.
Here are some tips on making the most of a marketing conference:
1. Make it an experience
Now this may sound harsh, but in truth, you aren’t special. You can’t just show up and expect people to be intrigued, engaged and excited about your brand or product. Companies often believe that being a sponsor immediately makes it viable, when it actually just gets some floor space. Whether you’re an industry leader or a startup, your job is the same—to excite attendees. It’s not about information dissemination, passing out brochures, or fancy giveaways; it’s about being able to engage and resonate with your audience. The most effective way to do this depends on your industry and product, but a simple yet effective approach is as easy as “show and tell.” Take it a step further and offer trials or personalized experiences featuring your best stuff. If you’re a tech company, bring something to try out. If you’re a food company, bring samples. If your company is difficult to explain, show them a video. Telling is great, but showing is better.
2. Make SWAG a reward
We’re only human, us conference attendees. So when we come into the hallway and see something shiny on an exhibitor’s table, we’re immediately going to gravitate there. Whether or not we’re interested, we’ll head in that direction and if possible, we’ll grab it and go. Moral of the story is not that giving things away is a poor idea—just the opposite in fact! Giving things away is a must-do for anyone setting up their own footprint. The point is to make the consumer earn their reward. Whether it’s answering a trivia question, signing up for your email list, or just having them sit through your spiel, you need to create an interaction. You’re there because you want people to know who you are and why you’d be valuable to them. Most of all, you want them to remember you. So unless you’re handing out branded Apple Watches or iPads, your interaction with them needs to be what sets you apart. The swag is a nice takeaway, but it should be a reminder of you, not the only thing they remember.
3. Make sure you’ve done your homework
When you haven’t exhibited before, it’s easy to get in over your head. I’ve been there before—showing up, only to realize there were no tablecloths, no extension cords, nothing. I was left with a small table and everything I could fit in my backpack. Granted, I was naïve in thinking I’d be provided everything I needed on a silver platter, but it completely underscored the need for preparation.
4. Bring the right people
It’s not just about the tangible items needed to put your space together, but the preparation regarding your audience. It should go without saying, know your audience before you go anywhere, because your strategy will not always be one-size-fits-all. Your goals, activities and everything in between will likely change depending on the type of audience you’re catering to. With that said, make sure you’re sending the right person or people to represent you. Your representatives should always have energy and speak fluently about your business, but they should also be able to relate to the audience.
5. Continue the conversation
You’ve been talking to people all day and have been selling your ass off, so grab a drink and relax. You deserve it! Once you’re done though, it’s back to work because the conversation between you and your contacts doesn’t take a break. Every relationship needs work, especially the ones in their infancy. It can all be done digitally which makes it that much simpler.
When you break it down, exhibiting is actually experiential marketing in its simplest form. You engage and educate consumers, creating a story between them and your brand. Like any story, it only goes so far as the conversation does. If they can’t remember you, there will be no new business as a result. Though exhibiting is simple on its surface, it’s not to be taken it for granted. If you do, you’ll find yourself talking to walls instead of people. Walls don’t pay the bills, people do.
Jay Selig is a marketing and PR manager at RedPeg Marketing, an independent experiential marketing shop headquartered in D.C., with an office in L.A.