The Modern Conference Dilemma – It’s a problem of choice

23 02 2015

ChoiceI recently came across this great article from Chris Brogan that highlights the challenge facing many conference marketing teams. Call it a problem of choice, a proliferation of events, an abundance of information in a heavily connected world or whatever you like but either way the benchmark for success continues to rise.

As Chris points out, he can get most of what a conference offers online, with out the strip search at the airport, without dropping his business card in a raffle for a free iPad, and without spending a cent! He can search for presentations on, you tube or any number of other channels, he can network with people via any number of social networks, he can review any kind of technology solution and most importantly he can be inspired all from the comfort of his home office!

How can a conference compete?

Speaker curation – It’s no longer simply about the best brands. Your speakers must be the ones changing the way people work, defining the new industry standard, changing the rules and defining the future! It might even be a vendor, or a person working for a NGO or some other organization who through necessity has created some ground breaking work! Our speakers must include a combination of inspiration and information. We have to look deeper and further!

Speaker training – Some of these innovators may not be the best presenters, so we owe it to them and the delegates to help them become engaging presenters.

Networking – It’s more than a cocktail. Facilitated networking and one to one meetings should be for more than just sponsors. Networking sessions need to be facilitated and built into the agenda to ensure all attendees get the most out of the event.

Format – We must formulate new connections and debate. Less power points (More on that here).

Provide tools – Delegates should leave armed with new tools, and templates (that they can’t get online) that can help them solve their challenges. Those tools and templates need to be researched ahead of the event, curated and peer reviewed and made available to the delegates when they leave.

Chris also points out “You must attend live events if you want the full effect”, so there’s hope yet! Nothing can replicate the true magic and serendipity of a well curated, researched conference full of like minded individuals looking to the future of their industry or profession.

Good Marketing Manager / Bad Marketing Manager*

12 08 2014

good badGood Marketing Manager’s (MM’s) know they can influence results and they measure the impact. They measure everything, followers, traffic, social mentions, inbound leads and other metrics, but they know the only one that matters has a $.  They are disciplined with their time and use data to help make decisions. Bad MM’s have no time or data.

Good MM’s influence the product, they get involved. They work with producers to influence the agenda, topics, speakers, workshops and even the social events. They take the time to learn about the customer and the industry and use that knowledge to build powerful marketing strategies and deep buyer persona’s. Bad MM’s blame the product.

Good MM’s know the products benefits, but they craft a story. They create content that adds value to the community even if they don’t attend. They take the initiative to create communication pieces and work with producers to refine it.  Good MM’s understand the nuances of all communication channels and tailor the message accordingly. Bad MM’s focus on the speakers, the topics and a discount, then repeat again and again in a different order.

Good MM’s seek out win-win partnerships with difficult to get organizations. They pick up the phone and speak to the partners, if possible they go and shake their hand. They use empathy and industry understanding to create strategic alliances with associations, sponsors, speakers and the media. Good MM’s find the influencers and engage them. Bad MM’s send two emails and wait for a response.

Good MM’s work with sales to create powerful sales funnels that generate quality leads. Good MM’s understand the sales pipeline, they partner with the sales exec’s to understand the objections and then create highly relevant engaging content that can help convert prospects. Bad MM’s don’t know their sales exec’s name.

Good MM’s are passionate marketers, oracles of information and sage advice, colleagues from inside and outside marketing seek them out. People want them on their teams, they do more than marketing, they take ownership and pride.

Good MM’s are ideas people, but they also know how to execute. Good MM’s seek out inspiration from all forms of marketing, art, science and life. They are generous with their ideas and apply their inspiration to the communication strategy, constantly innovating and testing.  Good MM’s understand process and how it helps execution, but they also know when to follow it and when to adapt it.  Bad MM’s hide behind templates and processes.

Good MM’s are valuable members of any team and colleagues for life.

* This post was inspired by The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. One of the best business books I have ever read and recommended for any Marketing Director, General Manager, Managing Director or CEO. You can also read more about that inspiration here at Ben’s blog.

The Good, the bad, and the ugly of marketing conferences

7 05 2014

Marketing companionI came across this great Marketing Companion Podcast (Link to podcast) with Tom Webster and Mark W Shaefer a while ago, but have only just got around to sharing!

Apart from being a great marketing podcast and blog, this particular session is unique for conference marketers. It’s essentially first hand customer  insight into attending, sponsoring, and speaking at marketing conferences by a couple of marketing guys I follow (it’s basically an interesting customer insight in my opinion).

I think it gives some real insight into our customers and highlights some universal truths, in case you don’t have time here’s my take aways:

  • High level executives only go to conferences because they were invited to speak?
  • Attendees want to be inspired, made to think.
  • Pay to play (or sponsored) conferences are ok, but only if there is a beating heart behind it, someone curating the speaker content, vetting their material, coaching the speakers!
  • Big room / Small interactions – even at the biggest industry events true value comes from spending time with speakers and those tiny interactions that happen around the formal sessions.
  • Having smaller consultants (or solution providers) who can’t sponsor but have real cutting edge research can be a win win!
  • Scholarships can help change the perception of the event

Hope you find it interesting…you can also download it at itunes.


I share, therefore I am

9 10 2013

This is the strangest and one of the most interesting videos I’ve seen in a long time. Conceptually I think it has implications for the events business, good and bad. It’s not new that social media is revolutionizing many aspects of marketing and some of the social aspects of life, I’ve blogged about it a few times and a Google search will flood you with information. But this video does a great job of capturing some of the more unique customer level issues.

For the B2B conference marketer:

  • Interactivity at events is more important than ever, but it’s also probably going to become harder to get people to interact.  We must move beyond speed dating into formats that can create in-depth conversations and potential connections between buyers and sellers.
  • The ideal number of people in a break out session may be changing?
  • If you are using social media to promote your event, driving engagement may be linked to the your ability to provide social recognition amongst peers and a deeper role in facilitating peer to peer interaction.
  • B2B online communities around events must drive real long term value and interaction beyond the events. They also need to make sure they provide ways for people to validate their skills in the community.
  • Similarly for events, endorsements and accreditation will become key. Exhibitions should also gamify the experience!

Food for thought – Anyone feeling lonely?

The Future of Conference Video …Prepare for a Video Sprint!

15 10 2012

I’ve written about the emerging part I think video has to play in the future of B2B events many times (Here, here, and here amongst a few…).  



I believe it can help promote events, enhance the on-site experience, and extend learning beyond the conference room or exhibition hall into the wider community, all of which helps promote your event.

Through an excellent guest post on the excellent site Conference basics (and @gchicco) by Gabriel Shalom, founder of the KS12 Creative Studio I just had an insight into what that future might look like. You can read all about here:  (including some great examples) or better still visit this post on Conference Basics and here Gabriel tell you about his business model.

The most interesting aspects of Gabriels model is the image above (I also liked how there wasn’t any shots of a speaker podium or power points, or people entering and leaving the conference hall but I digress). Gabriel outlines how video can help extend the conversation, the sharing, the learning and the networking both at the event, into the hallways, the online back channels, and after the event into the wider business community by leveraging social media. The future of conference marketing involves video, but like all tools, it will be how you wield it that will make the difference.

Boring Boring Boring…

11 10 2012

That’s the knock on most business to business conferences… and certainly the main theme in this great piece “The Posh, Predictible World of Business Conferences” by Eric Garland (Thanks @whoisdarwin for sharing). Eric makes some fantastic points, and they are all true.

The challenge is for event organizers to break the “2 speaker/coffee/2 speaker/lunch/2 speaker/coffee/2 speaker /cocktail” mold, and never has the need to do so been so high. If we want our events to resonate with our audience and cut through all the noise, we have to deliver a different experience. Likely it will involve more work not less, including more speakers (talking less), professional moderators, more flexibile agendas, more interaction, less power point, and more immersive experiences that will require different venues and more site tours. 

With this in mind it was also refreshing to see this great concept from our very own IQPC team at Defence IQ: Live vehicle testing at The Internation Armored Vehicles Show. Anything that promises an experience that includes “sinusoidal waves” and “rough goings” is guaranteed to break the mold, you can’t exactly test drive an armored vehicle online.

I also love this: 20 slides, 20 seconds each. Then the PPT gets turned off!

I also think the unconference format holds great potential.

Giving delegates these type of immersive experiences is the future of B2B events!

The 4 P’s of B2B Conference Marketing

13 05 2012

I recently received this great image from Hugh MacLeod:

Hugh blogs at and has written multiple books (I recommend subscribing to the blog and reading the books). This one image struck a chord, which Hugh tends to do. I think like all marketers chasing the next big social media trend, we are guilty of sometimes forgetting the basics. So here’s my take on the basic 4P’s of marketing applied to B2B Conference Marketing:

Product – So many different factors combine to make up our product, speakers, topics, venue, location, lighting, staging, food the audience itself and the list could go on and on. Yet never before has the product been under so much pressure to change or adapt. The internet has changed the way we develop and deliver conferences, it has also dramatically changed one of the most basic benefits of a conference (but not often discussed), networking. The days of 16 speakers over 2 days committing murder by power point in a dark hotel banquet room are numbered… how will your product adapt? Beyond the basic product characteristics I think many organizations in the B2B conference game struggle to actually define the product (or is it a service?). All that said…. Great product solves 99% of all your marketing issues.

Price – The forgotten P, often set in advance without consideration for the competition, alternate sources of your information,  alternate sources of networking, costs of attending (beyond registration) and sometimes, basic considerations for the cost of delivery. Also worth considering your pricing strategy in context of your product life cycle. Developing a good pricing model that delivers the right number of delegates is also more than just setting discounts. How did you come up with your price?

Place – or the venue, is an essential part of the product in most events, it’s where the product comes alive. Selecting a location convenient for the audience, or the most effective for information exchange, or reflective of the brand, or for networking can all have a massive impact on the event.

Promotion – I think I have written enough about this one in the past.

I also think B2B conference marketing is more service marketing than product marketing so I would add the P’s of service marketing:

People – People typically define the service, but for B2B conferences people can sometimes define the product. This is not as simple as a good registration process, excellent customer service or just delivering on the day, all of which are hard enough on their own. Making sure our speakers are fully prepared and trained to lead an interactive and informative session is often overlooked. Being an expert on a given topic doesn’t always make for a great presenter, so we need to work harder with speakers, delegates and sponsors to make the event as effective as possible. For some very effective events a single person can literally be the event!

Process – The service process is how we help the delegates (& sponsors) meet their goals. How we deliver the customer experience is what will ultimately define the brand.

Physical Evidence – It would be easy to limit this to the physical venue for an event, but I think B2B conferences need to go beyond this to build stories of improvement that can provide physical evidence of how their event created changed or helped a sponsor meet their target. These are not simple testimonials, they must go beyond the quotation marks.

This is only a quick (light-hearted) review from my opinion, I think if you can use these as the foundations of your strategy or marketing mix you will be well on your way to success. Want a deeper refresher on the principles of marketing read this.