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How To Create a Conference Strategy

by ANNETTE MATTERN, on Oct 20, 2014 9:45:00 AM


4 Steps To Building a Successful Conference Strategy

What is the one thing you absolutely must have to successfully exhibit at a conference or trade show?


You have to get the attention of the audience. Until you have their attention, you can't build relationships or sell your product.

But this is nothing new. Trade shows have roots in the ancient souks of the cazbah, where traders brought caravans of the most enticing wares to bazaars to sell.

These were spectacular festivals, magical and mysterious blends of bartering and one-upmanship.

Much like today's exhibit halls, booth owners sought to stand out from the crowd. But each successful strategy spread like wildfire throughout the community, nullifying the innovator's competitive advantage.

Free Bonus: Discover proven strategies for standing out (and surviving) your next industry conference, with our free conference success infographic. Click here for instant access!

As our products have evolved over time, so too have our methods for captivating the audience.

That's why it's so important to have a strategy in place ahead of time.

One of the most innovative conference strategies I've ever seen was at the ICU TeleCom World conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

It was an unbelievable experience, with international IT/Telecom giants out-spending and out-doing each other in every imaginable way. From corporate cocktail lounges with paid celebrities to themed pavilions with exotic displays, the exhibit floor was surreal.

The deluge overloaded my senses, drowning out everyone's sales pitch.

Create an innovative conference marketing strategy

But on the first day, my colleagues and I noticed that people were suddenly pushing to fit into a tiny space at the far end of the colossal exhibit hall.

Amidst all this excess, we wondered what could all the commotion possibly be?

Then, out of the masses, a small hot air balloon launched into the air, as if by magic. With a now-captivated audience, a turn-of-the-century pitchman began singing the praises of his company’s miniscule satellite device.

What we saw that day felt like a feat of magic: the smallest exhibitor with the least interesting product had trumped the big boys. It is something I still remember vividly.

Of course, standing out at a conference does not need to be extreme. But it’s still critical. A good strategy will get you there. And, as with the satellite widget company, it doesn’t require the biggest budget, just a bit of planning and know-how.

With a conference strategy in place, you too can perform feats of magic.

In this post, I'm going to share with you some tips your organization can put in place to prepare a conference strategy that your audience will remember.

Step 1: Set Clear Goals Ahead of Time

First and foremost, you need to be able to articulate (and measure) the results you want from your exhibit.

Maybe you're trying to:

  • Generate leads for your sales team
  • Extend brand awareness
  • Demonstrate a new product line
  • Launch a campaign

Whatever you choose, make sure that it is in alignment with your overall business goals.

Once you've identified your organization's goals for the conference, you need to communicate it to your team. When all the parts are working together in harmony, that's when your strategy really comes together.

Step 2: Plan the Execution In Detail

Whether you have a team of professionals or you’re a one-person band, defining specific tasks is a no-brainer.

An execution plan is critical because there are so many moving parts to conferences that contingencies are inevitable. Taking the time to plan for them will reduce both stress and cost.

Be clear about roles and responsibilities. Make assignments, define deliverables and communicate your expectations.

It's better to over-communicate than leaving it to chance. Communicating effectively ensures that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goals.

And if there was ever a time to be detailed, this is it. Making adjustments from the exhibit floor can be complicated and expensive.

Or impossible...

I thought you brought the...

Step 3: Align Your Tactics to Support the Overall Strategy

While your strategy defines the broader goals, tactics are the means through which you achieve your goals. For example, if generating brand awareness is your strategic goal, one of your tactics may be live tweeting throughout the conference.

So when selecting your specific tactics, it's essential to be clear about how each tactic aligns with your overall conference strategy.

Here are some ways you can make an impact at the conference:

  1. Get the right customers to your booth
    1. Have Sales invite key customers and explain why they should attend
    2. Make a special offer for customers who visit you
  2. Involve your corporate execs
    1. Ask your executives to meet clients and make specific appointments around their schedules
    2. Ask corporate leaders to speak at the booth
  3. Use social media to create interest in your booth
    1. Use social media to build buzz around your exhibit. Many companies post after the event but posting before the conference can help you exploit the opportunity
    2. Live blog or tweet during the event and invite people to stop by to see your new widget
    3. Tease something you’re unveiling at the event
  4. Scoop the event with something new and innovative
    1. These days, video is hot! Use it in your booth to attract attention
    2. Interview speakers at the conference to share with people who couldn’t attend
    3. Create a highlight video to post on your website or social media

Step 4: Extend the Conversation After the Conference

After the event, always review the conference with your team so everyone can learn from the experience. Give feedback that can make the next function more successful and thank everyone for their role. Highlight specific, tangible contributions that contributed to the success of the event.

Conferences are fun and exciting. They can also be profitable sales and marketing events that highlight your company’s strengths and competitive differentiators.

The smart way to show your clients (and your competitors) that you are a serious player is by executing flawlessly and making the experience informative and memorable.

While it may not always call for a hot air balloon, a good conference strategy can only help to lift your business. Follow these steps and watch your results soar.

Still have questions about conference strategy? Leave us a comment below or download our free conference success infographic.


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