Look Alive People, Look Alive

On the show floor of Internet Retailer Conference 2016

It’s that time of year again when all the brightest minds in e-commerce and retail come together for the annual Internet Retailer Conference in Chicago. We’ve seen the show grow tremendously over the years and, as expected, this year was even bigger and better than the last.

We spent a day walking the show floor of the exhibitor hall to get a pulse on the latest trends in e-commerce and the activity happening behind the scenes. In the process, we noticed a few trends that we thought would be helpful to share for exhibitors on trade show dos and don’ts. Here are a few takeaways that topped our list of observations:

Do:

  • Spend money on booth design and décor: You are spending significant resources, including money, talent and time, to exhibit at a conference so make sure to milk it for all it’s worth. At IRCE, there were dozens of booths with lackluster signage, minimal staff and dreary backdrops and color schemes. It’s surprising considering that something as simple as using bright colors can catch one’s attention and compel a stop by, not just a walk by. Be serious about exhibiting. If you are investing tens of thousands of dollars going to a tradeshow, have an inventive and effective booth so the right people can find you.
  • Free food and drinks will never be passé: Who can say no to free food and drinks, especially after being on your feet for hours on end? One company this year offered Bloody Mary’s and they were the hit of the show. In fact, we found ourselves on a goose chase in search of the satiating cocktail. It might be the oldest trick in the book but this type of incentive is always sure to lure prospects to your booth. Another company, Meridian, offered truffles in a mock Tiffany’s blue box as a thank you for stopping by.

Truffles in a mock Tiffany’s blue box

  • Invest in trade show messaging and training: As communication professionals, we were surprised at how many sales people could not simply articulate what their company did or how it’s unique from competitors. Remember, that if you use industry jargon, your prospects may be quick to look for an emergency exit. Prospects want to know in a simple way how they can benefit from your product or service. Make sure you make the most of your tradeshow experience and go the extra mile to properly train your spokespeople so they can seal the deal.

Don’t:

  • No Catnaps Allowed: We get it. Tradeshows are exhausting, but boy did we pass a lot of tired looking folks. Just like having a beautiful booth attracts prospects, so does a big smile on your sales reps’ faces. You might not get concerned when you don’t see a prospect that’s a high- value target, but you never know when someone is scouting your company from afar.
  • Don’t push marketing flyers: Marketing flyers are out, or they should be.  Several times, sales reps referred us to their brochures when we asked a question they couldn’t answer. But prospects are there to learn face-to-face what makes your company stand out. If they wanted to look at your marketing sell sheet, they could do so just as easily from the comfort of their office. Ditch the marketing flyers and sell sheets altogether—focus on making a personal connection.
  • If your messaging doesn’t stand out, you need something more. While on the hunt for stand out companies, we started to notice that everyone’s messaging was one and the same. Do something more to stand out from the pack whether it be a unique booth display or a marketing gimmick. Selfies or Magicians anyone?

What other trade show do’s and don’ts come to mind from your experiences? Share your story!

Nikki Plati and Carolyn Adams pose for photobooth pictures

Nikki Plati and Carolyn Adams pose at the Pitney Bowes photobooth

Special thanks to Carolyn Adams for contributing to this piece

How to Create Buzz Around a User Conference Show

Prepping for a Big Event

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User conferences are a great way for technology companies to engage with their customers, partners and the broader IT ecosystem, as it provides a forum for exchanging ideas, sharing best practices and having fun together. They are also great venues for engaging with analysts, bloggers and journalists following a market. But all the activity means nothing without inciting the right kind of interest and maximizing its impact.

This spring we experienced this first hand as we worked with Confluent on the inaugural Kafka Summit and with Twilio on the fifth annual SIGNAL conference. Below are some of our key lessons learned and best practices around creating buzz before, during and after an event.

Before the Big Day

Planning and prepping for user conferences like Kafka Summit and SIGNAL should always begin with strategic thinking and an end goal in mind. Our approach typically begins by thinking about what we can do to track back to the business goals of our clients. For example, are we trying to help drive enterprise sales or downloads, strengthen and cultivate partnership relationships or raise awareness to help recruit top talent? Having a clear understanding of the team’s goals means that we can map out specific ways to support those desired outcomes.  

The Elements

In helping reach those goals, the following elements are crucial to the game plan:

1. Engagement: A conference brings together a unique community and it’s important that you communicate with all audiences. Here are a few ideas:

  • Capture Presentations, Insights and Interviews on Camera: Live streaming keynote presentations and other talks is a great way to broaden the reach for both your event and the experts on stage. If you can’t execute on that, at least capturing all the presentations on camera provides shareable content to use after the event. Further, we recommend hiring a separate video team (or two) in order to also record show floor interviews with customers, partners and other experts onsite. It’s an economical way to secure a large volume of interviews and also provides an interesting backdrop for B-roll footage you will need down the line. Don’t forget to bring video release waivers to get signed on the spot to help expedite approval for posting videos online.
  • Create an Event App: Offering participants an app to help them navigate your event and provide real-time feedback will keep them engaged. Solicit input on speakers, sessions, the food, the venue, registration process, and associated events like a hackathon or after party. Best of all you will receive immediate input on what resonated with your community and areas to improve on next time. The app also makes it simple to recap the event and share insights each day or at the close of the event.
  • Host a Party: Bringing everyone together after a day of sessions offers participants the opportunity to network in a casual environment. At Twilio’s SIGNAL, the two-day conference ended with a carnival-style bash where attendees could partake in coding challenges
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    Twilio SIGNAL $Bash attendees playing robot Jenga.

    turned into games. Winners collected points that could be turned in for a variety of prizes. Additionally, participants were playing for the opportunity to join an elite group of Twilio developers that would get the first opportunity at hacking the technology behind Magic Leap.

 

 

 

2. Social Media: Social media is one of the best ways to keep the buzz going during the event. Having dedicated staff scheduled to attend specific sessions and to live tweet during the presentations is a great wTweetay to share key insights with your broader community. To do so effectively, define a strategy for what you want to achieve through social media and establish rules of engagement to help orchestrate a nice conversation flow. Also assign other team members to retweet, respond to questions and engage in the conversation. This approach worked well during Kafka Summit and the show became a sustained trending topic on Twitter —impressive for an inaugural event!

3. Press and Analysts: Last but certainly not least, is the important role journalists play in making a conference a success. A conference is an opportunity to highlight the excitement around your company, from new partners to new products, and journalists play a crucial role in amplifying these messages. With press, the key is to start by building relationships months in advance to build familiarity. Once you get closer to the date, inviting press to attend the event, asking them to moderate sessions and sharing the news under embargo will help to drive awareness and give you the opportunity to highlight specific information. Another important element is to make sure your press collateral is in order—do you have spokespeople ready for impromptu conversations, have you connected with partners and customers about their interest in connecting with press and do you have images and stats ready to be shared? Finally, don’t forget about the visual stories and feel good stories you can tell both during and after. At Twilio SIGNAL, the children of employees using code to sell Lemonade was a huge attraction.

In all, by following our recommendations (and working with an awesome PR firm) you’ll be set up for success. To learn more about the success that comes through careful planning, you can read this InformationWeek article by Jessica Davis highlighting Kafka Summit’s success.

Share your story. What have you seen that’s worked well?

*This blog was written with help from Andrea Torres, senior account executive in Highwire’s San Francisco office.