Creative Ways to Improve Attendee Engagement at Marketing Conferences

February 14, 2017

engagement markting conference

There is no denying the educational and networking opportunities of attending marketing conferences. But, if you decide to take your financial commitment to the next level and exhibit, you want to get the most bang for your buck. The last thing you want to do is stand at your booth and be a poor man’s version of a carnival barker.

If you’re going to shell out big bucks to exhibit at a marketing conference, engagement should be your number one priority. So, rather than thinking about how to get the best ROI from a tradeshow, think in terms of generating ROE: Return on Engagement.

As a veteran conference attendee and exhibitor, here are some of my favorite examples for improving attendee engagement to inspire you to think beyond branded tote bags and blinking key chains.

Invite Prospects and Customers to Visit Your Booth

One way to drive traffic to your booth is to let your customers and prospects know that you’re exhibiting at the conference. You invite prospects for the obvious reason: you get to meet them face to face. Offer them an incentive to sign up for a demo prior to the show or schedule an appointment to meet key members of the leadership team.

You invite customers for two reasons: one is to solidify your relationship with them. The second is the possibility of a testimonial. It’s one thing for YOU to talk about your products and services; it’s another thing entirely for a happy customer to do so. Leverage your raving fans, especially those located in the same city/region as the conference.

Host an After-Hours Event that Involves Food and Booze

During the hustle and bustle of a marketing conference, attendees may not have the time to engage with you due to educational sessions and checking in with work. Take the engagement to the next level by hosting an after-hours networking event or cocktail hour.

At the 2014 edition of INBOUND, the HubSpot user conference, I attended a networking event hosted by WriterAccess, an online marketplace connecting customers directly with expert writers. In addition to speaking with customers and the CEO, I spent nearly an hour chatting with one of the employees about a wide variety of topics, including the WriterAccess service. This gave me a connection to the company I would not have made through receiving an online demo and, I’m now a customer.

This option isn’t cheap, but it is effective.

Give Away High-Quality Pens

Sometimes it seems like people attend conferences just to stock up on office supplies. They swoop by booths and grab pens, notepads, rulers and candy. They don’t even make eye contact with you on their way to the next yet. And yet, branded pens are a traditional way that vendors draw people into their booths.

Make your pens high quality. Not the cheap plastic crap that ends up in kitchen utility drawers. I found one vendor’s pen so comfortable that I used it every day at work got upset when the ink ran out. While I  was not a qualified prospect for that particular product, that vendor remained top of mind for several months while I used the pen.

Also, make your pens unique. Novelty pens with blinking lights never get used except when the power goes out, or when kids use it at school to impress their friend. But a pen with a unique color of ink could provide lasting value. For example, a former employer of mine used to give away elegant pens with orange ink. A disgruntled customer stopped by the booth to pick up some of the pens to restock her supply. A sales rep seized the moment, engaged the customer and, ultimately, turned the frown upside down to sell them $367,000 in additional products and services.

Appeal to Attendee’s Sense of Fun with Photo Ops

It seems like everybody is into selfies these days. The growing importance of visual content backs up that assertion. Why not take advantage of this vanity by offering fun ways for attendees to

One example that I experienced involved having your photo taken with a couple of ballroom dancers a la Dancing with the Stars (my last company used celebrity lookalikes to great success). You take your picture with the dancers against a custom and branded background, and then you’re given a (branded) business card with a URL and instructions for downloading your photo from the vendor’s website.

Photo booths and green screen backgrounds are also highly entertaining ways to engage with attendees.

Create Something that Creatively Tells Your Company’s Story

One of my favorite conference engagement tricks is to create giveaways that have a story behind them. While attending a multifamily trade show, I came across a booth with squishy pigs with wings wearing goggles. Clearly, these are flying pigs. But what sparked my curiosity was that the company’s logo is a pegasus, not a flying pig. Being a marketer, I had to ask.

The story behind the flying pig is a customer testimonial/case study that captures the work ethic the company bring to every client of theirs. A customer said to them, “I’ll believe you can meet those goals in 90 days when pigs fly.” The company exceeded the customer expectations, and the flying pig was born. The pig also ties into the company mission statement: “Creating referral worthy customer service experiences consistently.”

Can your marketing conference giveaway tell your company story?

Create Useful Custom Publications

Besides cheap pens and notepads, conference booths are filled to the brim with marketing materials. I’m talking sales sheets, post cards, white papers and branded flash drives filled with sales sheets, white papers, and product videos. Ugh.

While I will concede that marketing materials are necessary for the sales process, they are useless for engagement. Instead, create custom publications that can be used as a resource long after the conference is over.

Using my friends at WriterAccess again, CEO Byron White autographed copies of his content marketing books during INBOUND. Each book targets a separate sales prospect while avoiding the sales pitch altogether. Yes, The WriterAccess brand is present, but the book is about being useful, not salesy. When I was ready to contact WriterAccess, I used the business card the rep slipped between the pages for use as a bookmark when he gave it to me.

If you don’t have the time to write and publish a book, work with the For Dummies company and create a branded For Dummies book you can share at the show. One example is Webinars for Dummies by webinar-based marketing solution provider ON24. It’s another example of creating useful content that is useful first and a sales resource second.

Custom publications are excellent conversation starters in the exhibit hall but also make for great reading material on the plane ride home.

Engage with Customers After the Conference

There will be many businesses and marketing professionals who couldn’t attend the conference, but are still interested in learning about it. An excellent way to engage with attendees and non-attendees is to share insights from the conference.

Lee Oden and his team behind the Top Rank Online Marketing Blog use this tactic as an integral part of their content marketing. Here’s a sample recap from the recent Authority Rainmaker 2015 conference.

Whether through sharing video, blog articles, email marketing or podcasts, current and potential customers are going to want to get a hold of the additional material. Be the source of this information, and you help keep your name in the discussion.

Marketing Conferences Are All About Engagement

Exhibiting at trades shows and marketing conferences are fantastic opportunities to sell your products and services. One of the best ways to make that sale is to make a powerful impression. Use these ideas to engage attendees and create impressions that hopefully last well past the end of the conference.

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