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Are you missing a big opportunity with your event experiences?

Your team has been preparing for this for months. The floor awaits. The double doors swing wide and sensory overload hits you as hundreds of tech booths compete for your eyes and attention.

How do you stand out in a world like that? Side by side competitors shout the same messages. Some you may recognize, but most are unfamiliar. And why is everything so blue? 

Whether it’s marquee events like AWS re:Invent and O’Reilly Strata, or more focused gatherings like Ansiblefest and DockerCon – you face the same series of challenges every event season. The familiar frenzy of excitement as your events team gathers materials, designs booths, orders swag, prints (and reprints, and reprints) signage—bracing themselves for the coming tidal wave of deadlines. 

New Kind has helped many tech marketers steal the show, across every aspect of the events planning process. From developing high-level themes that carry through and inspire each touchpoint, to fine-tuning the minute production details that deliver a cohesive and compelling booth experience. 

We know attending trade shows and traveling to global events is no small investment. Especially when budgets are tight and you maybe can’t afford that giant gumball machine or multisensory VR tour

How can you maximize your impact? To reach and engage as many prospects as possible? 

And get the most ROI from your investment? 

Luckily, a bigger budget doesn’t always mean a better event experience. 

Here are some big opportunities you don’t want to miss at your next event. 

 

Make small bets

Decide what success looks like far in advance of each event. Create KPIs with which you can measure your success. Base your marketing decisions on them. This should be the foundation of your entire strategy moving forward.

Make small bets. Especially if you plan to attend multiple events throughout the year. Not every conference has to be a home run. Smaller, consistent wins can often create more positive momentum than a single grand slam. 

Remember your events strategy is just one element of your marketing mix. Supporting efforts across social, your website, and SEO (to name a few) should be pulling their weight as well. Don’t put all of your eggs in your booth’s basket. A focused, small-bet strategy is the way to go. 

 

Don’t just know your audience – geek out with them

Every marketer knows a keen understanding of your ideal customer profile is one of the most important arrows in your quiver. What’s their mindset as they walk the floor? What pain points do they feel in their daily work? How can your company help alleviate that pain and make them successful? The answers to these questions should inform how you display your brand and voice your messaging. 

Come to your event armed with these insights, then think narrowcast instead of broadcast. Events give us a unique opportunity to target our communications to a smaller, more specific segment of your entire customer base. Don’t squander this opportunity by trying to appeal to everyone. Get specific. Speak to their struggles in your messaging. Elevate the event’s location in your visuals. Give them real reasons to relate to you. 

These are your people, after all.

 

Pass the push test

It bears repeating — don’t be afraid to nerd out! Not in a gimmicky way, please, but in a way that speaks some fundamental truth appreciated by your event attendees — be they data architects, sysadmins, developers, users or any other title.

One method we use for this is called The Push Test — a benchmark we follow that helps us push past the obvious. 

Targeting developers with a tagline stylized like the command line? Obvious. Borderline pandering. Targeting developers with hidden morse code messages in your branded swag? Playful. Engaging. Memorable.

Make a small bet by pushing past obvious options and you’ll discover surprising returns that let you connect with your audience on a deeper level.

 

Use the playing field to your advantage

This may be easier for the seasoned marketing veteran who knows their competitive landscape like the back of their hand, but it’s a good reminder for everyone. Find out what other companies will be competing with you for attention at an event. Then, hunt for contrast. In a field of blue booths (we’ve all seen it), explore other colors of your brand palette to stand out. When everyone else is going bright, go dark. 

Find out what the room looks like. Dark walls? Distracting carpet patterns? Harsh fluorescents?

Know what forces are working against you and consider ways to counteract them, or even use them to your advantage. In the dark room, consider adding a lighting element to your logo so it’s easy to spot from afar. Ugly carpet? Bring in hardwoods and transform your booth into a welcoming oasis. 

 

Don’t underestimate the power of simplicity

In the buzzing hive of activity that is the tech conference floor, how can you make your presence one of confident simplicity? A beacon of clarity in a hectic environment? 

Consider the 30/10/3 rule. What does your booth experience look and feel like from 30 feet away, when you’re hoping to catch an attendee’s eye? At 10 feet, when they’re deciding whether to take a step in your direction or a neighboring competitor’s? And at 3 feet, when contact has been made and it’s time to shine.

Use this two-step approach. First, you need a hook: an enticing element (visual, written, or both) that gives people a reason to walk up to your booth and engage. Your logo alone won’t draw most people in. Keep headlines short. Punchy. Memorable. Save the details for the in-person demo. Attendees want to interact, learn, and experience. Which leads us to the second step: provide value. Let visitors see, touch, and use your product. Staff your booth with brand champions from both sales and tech teams to deliver the one-two punch of value proposition and tech specs conversations. Reward them with some sweet, sweet swag that they can wear proudly to promote your brand long after they leave.

See? Simple.

P.S. — Speaking of swag, a quick note on t-shirts. Everybody does them, but very few do them right. All too often we see giveaway shirts that go straight into the pajama drawer or the mowing-the-lawn collection. Don’t give people a shirt they’re happy to ruin. If you wouldn’t be proud to wear it around on the street, chances are nobody else will be either. If you want somebody to be a walking billboard for your brand, make it relatable, make it cool, and please make it comfy.

 

Test and evolve

Events provide a testing ground for your brand. Unlike most of your marketing materials, printed or digital, events are ephemeral by definition. They give you a chance to fearlessly try new things that may never see the light of day again (unless they work really well). Let’s be clear – you still probably shouldn’t fly your freak flag at full mast – but don’t pass up the chance to A/B test your brand. 

Preserve what’s at the heart of your brand identity. Stimulate evolution around that.

You might test a new illustration style on your pop-up banners and gather data on reactions. Depending on how it goes, that illustration style might remain a one-off that never sees the light of day again. Or it could be absorbed into the rest of your brand for many months to come. Try out some new headlines that push your brand’s tone of voice in some interesting new directions. You just might discover your next product campaign theme. Or it may end up in the idea graveyard. Either result is okay – chances are you have more to gain by being bold and trying new things versus safely sticking with the status quo. 

 

Don’t lose sight of what makes events human

DockerCon made headlines recently when they announced the 2019 event was its final in-person incarnation. And that going forward, or at least in 2020, the conference would be a “virtual event.” This news received a mixed response from members of the Docker community, from the-sky-is-falling shock to disappointment and begrudged understanding. This is the ebb and flow of tech after all.

Regardless of your own reaction, one thing is certain. Dockercon will never be the same. With general improvements to video conferencing software and immersive VR/AR technology becoming more prevalent, a “virtual event” is certainly more feasible than ever before. 

But we can’t help but wonder what Dockercon attendees will miss out on. Even in today’s app- and technology-driven world, there’s no substitute for in-person interaction. It’s more personal and more authentic—an irreplaceable chance to connect on a human level. Events promote real connections and help put real faces and personalities behind your brand in a way no Zoom screen share ever could.  


We know how easy it can be for grand plans to fall apart once the event season gets rolling. The deadlines and deliverables have a way of snowballing, taking your strategy along with them. 

Just remember that events are a powerful and unique part of your marketing strategy, and as such they should get the same strategic attention as any other touchpoint. Keep these opportunities top of mind to align your event experiences with your growth plans. 

 

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