According to Exhibit Surveys 46% of trade show attendees go to only one event per year. In a day and age when events compete for the same (and often shrinking) pool of attendee prospects, how can your event stand above others as THE ONE? We found answers to this question in an unlikely place: iCONIC 2017 in New York City. This conference provided a firsthand look at how leading entrepreneurs built their companies and how they introduced their concept to the world, created demand and sometimes shifted their product or service to meet the changing needs of consumers. Each session sought to challenge minds and revolutionize the way we conduct business, or in our case, the way we approach event marketing. Here are four entrepreneur-approved ways to reimagine your next event:
1. Think of yourself as the consumer (Attendee)
When attendance doesn’t quite meet expectations, who better to question than ourselves, asking why we would or wouldn’t attend our own event? Think of Sarah Kauss, Founder and CEO of S’well, who created the beautifully designed reusable water bottles after failing to find one that suited her fashion needs. Ponder not only your own event, but others you participate in as an attendee. What do you appreciate about them? What keeps you coming back, year after year? What improvements would you like to see? Like Kauss’s personal desire for a stylish bottle, your own experiences might provide insights that will help you perfect your next trade show or conference.
2. Play your specialist card
Sarah Robb O’Hagan, CEO of Flywheel Sports, an indoor cycling company that digitized the indoor cycling experience said, “Be spectacular for a few, not just average for many.” Rather than just opening a generic fitness brand open to all levels and fitness interests, O’Hagan focused her marketing strategy on attracting passionate and competitive athletes and created a cult following. If you are trying to be all things to all people with a one-size-fits-all approach to event promotions and actual content, challenge yourself to shake up that approach. Create more customized messages and experiences for your various target audiences. Take the time to refine your value proposition to be focused on the benefits that will resonate with specific audience subsegments. The more clear and customized your value messages are, the better they will resonate. Just make sure you can deliver on those customized benefits onsite.
3. Reinforce that your attendees are part of the right community
Once you’ve placed yourself in your attendees’ shoes and defined your event’s specialty, it’s time to do everything you can to reinforce that YOUR event is where your audience needs to be. Daymond John, Co-Star of “Shark Tank” and Founder of FUBU, says that he relied heavily on the community to market his brand. Not only did he offer his merchandise to celebrities, but also to their assistants and bodyguards, who became the real brand ambassadors. Similarly, when marketing your events, don’t limit yourself by only leveraging the influence of leaders in the industry, but also people just like us.
The 2017 BOMA International Annual Conference & Expo provides a great example of reinforcing the community. The “What’s Your Story?” campaign featured photos of attendees and testimonials of how they entered commercial real estate and how BOMA International affected their careers. These attendees, seldom ever in the spotlight, became the superstars of their industry. The real-life anecdotes provided a connection to the rest of the audience that reinforced that they were right where they needed to be.
4. Listen hard. Change fast.
What if what you thought was your specialty wasn’t your specialty at all? What if your attendees’ interests have changed? Many successful businesses reinvent themselves to meet the demands of their consumers. MailChimp, the leading marketing platform for small businesses, started as a web design agency that emerged right before the burst of the dot com bubble. When client requests for email design began to emerge, MailChimp CEO and Co-Founder Ben Chestnut transformed the company’s service offerings to meet the needs of their customers. Event organizers must ensure they are evolving their events to mirror the evolution in their industries. When asked how he keeps MailChimp ahead, Chestnut answered, “Never underestimate the importance of going out and talking to your customers.” It is important that we are talking not only to our attendees but also to our non-attending prospects. Event organizers should ask them what’s keeping them up at night, what motivates them to get out of bed in the morning, and about the changes that are offering the most potential for growth or posing the greatest threats to their businesses. This information can get you much farther than a simple post-show survey. Listen actively, and make the necessary changes to make your event THE ONE your attendees choose.