With trade show season approaching, here are some tips for making the most of the digital marketing conferences.
- Walk the exhibit floor and talk to the vendors
You can get more out of a trade show by talking to the exhibitors than you can from the keynotes and content. Many booths are manned by senior staff who will readily provide thoughtful and educated responses to your most challenging business issues. That said, there will also be booths staffed primarily with sales people who may or may not be as knowledgeable. Some may be standing in the aisle eying attendee badges mentally sizing up how valuable a brand is. My advice is to turn the badge around if it’s from a large, desirable company or a small and/or unknown one to improve chances of getting an honest and fair representation of what the company offers. There will also be people manning booths with their heads buried in cellphones which is a shame considering the cost to exhibit.
With a lot of booths and limited time, there should be a strategy for walking the floor. Like the content, a list of exhibitors is posted in advance. Avoid jack-of-all-trades companies and focus more on specialized firms who do analytics, for example, or shipping, or attribution, or paid search, or email deployment. You will get more meaningful answers to your pressing business questions than you will by speaking with companies who offer multiple services and/or representing a myriad of channels under a single corporate umbrella.
Large, well-known brands win most of the contests on the floor, so get those business cards ready for the fishbowls. Just sayin’.
From an exhibitor perspective, I have noticed that the largest brands often walk the floor at odd times such as the last hour of the final day. For this reason, it’s best for exhibitors to stay focused, and for top booth duty people to stay put rather than getting an early jump out.
Lastly, vendors are people, too. Given their exposure to many different brands, they can be more knowledgeable about certain topics than the brands themselves. (Brands regularly tap top executives from digital vendors to lead their internal marketing efforts.) There can be an anti-vendor sentiment at some of the conferences which is not only disheartening but can be counter productive considering the talent and expertise of some of these individuals. They may also be paying for that drink or lunch or party that all attendees are invited to partake in.
- Which show to go to?
There is an abundance of shows. Narrow the decision by identifying a few key goals for attending:
- Researching new vendors
- Finding job opportunities or job candidates
- Getting educated in the field or discipline
You will find repetitive content at the competitive digital retail conferences – and often the same speakers and sessions. Because of this, you may want to qualify your decision based on timing: if it is more is more beneficial to get the info you are after earlier in the year, go to one of the shows in February or March. If Holiday is a main focus, perhaps one of the September shows is better.
Specialty shows may be more relevant, and at least one or two of these would be worthwhile to put in the budget.
Some shows livestream content, which is an inexpensive way to gain learning without spending a dime.
Once you decide which show to attend, book early to take advantage of early bird rates, which most offer. If South by Southwest is on the docket (a great show IMO), this one is expensive and logistically difficult but worth the effort if “Innovation” is a top driver in the conference decision.
Mix it up: try a different show each year rather than adding the same one into the budget year after year.
Junkets: I used to avoid any conference held in an exceptional location until I realized the quality of attendees they pull in. It is what it is: people do gravitate to these.
- Be prepared
Shows with multiple concurrent sessions post agendas in advance. Block out your schedule for the content you most want to see so you don’t book on top of it. The keynotes (usually held in the morning) is content that shouldn’t be missed. Also, it is counterintuitive to attend a conference but spend most of your time working in a hotel room. Ensure management is supporting you by providing coverage back at the office.
- Go to the show wrap-up session
Hopefully you’ve been able to see some of the content. If your focus has been more meeting-related, then try and attend the show wrap-up session which summarizes top takeaways from the conference. Usually this is one of the last sessions.
- Take notes for colleagues
Show write ups are valuable to colleagues and clients who couldn’t attend. Do these each night and/or on the plane home before key insights slip your mind. Often the softer things can be as valuable such as which booths were mobbed and what the most frequent topics of conversation among attendees were. Tweeting key tidbits is also helpful and can help build your Twitter following if you use the show hashtag.
If anyone would like more detail on specific shows and recommendations, please message me at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the contact form.