Four Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Conference Sponsorship

Four Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Conference Sponsorship

Simple Thread is one of the organizing sponsors of next month’s RVA JavaScript Conference; one of our region’s most successful annual software conferences. This has led us to some lessons learned in fostering sponsor-attendee engagement. 

How Storybrand Applies to Your Booth

At Simple Thread, we are big believers in the Storybrand framework. In short, it states that your business is not the hero of the story, but rather you are the wise guide in your target audience’s heroic journey.

In other words, Your Company is the Yoda to your target audience’s Luke Skywalker.

Applying the Storybrand framework appears straightforward for a product company (e.g. slay your software version control dragons with GitHub!) at a software conference, but what does Storybrand mean for a companies using conferences like RVAJavaScript 2019 as a community building and recruiting tool?

While it’s trite, the truth is that it depends.

It depends on what your company’s culture values most and what you’re trying to build community and attract talent around. Reaching and engaging a would-be audience require tapping into those shared values and using them as bridges.

Here’s some ideas to get you thinking about how you engage:

  • Slay your financial dragons by boosting your compensation!
  • Slay your boredom dragons on a dynamic team joyfully solving meaningful problems!
  • Slay your lack-of-time-to-search dragons by making us your Jerry-Maguire-Show-Me-The-Money agents!
  • Slay your experience dragons by working on a consulting team working on the nastiest and most challenging problems for multiple Fortune 500s!

Don’t tell your story, listen to theirs and tell them how you can provide help on their epic adventure.

But how do you get to the point where you are listening to their story and offering guidance on their odyssey at a conference?

Be Inviting!

When tending a tradeshow booth of course it is vital to be available, cheerful, and hospitable. But that is table stakes stuff so we’re not wasting time on it. What are other ways that teams can be inviting?

Killer Schwag — Great giveaways are in the eye of the beholder. There might not be a big demographic overlap between pop-socket aficionados and USB squid users. Unsure what will attract show attendees to your booth? May we suggest you talk to the fantastic team at Richmond’s own Brandito? They are experts in matching your target demographic to the sorts of items and rewards to yield the best results.

Captivating Design — Let’s face it, most booth designs are similar, anodyne, and staid. Design alone can be an invitation to a conversation. In a room of blue booths with backsplash images of compass points and deep-thinking-stock-photo-office-coworkers, casual or irreverent booths can disarm and intrigue folks. If conversations start from joyous exclamations like “I love this booth!”, solid sales and recruiting leads will follow. Recently, we were at an investment banking conference where Hirschler (a traditional regional law firm) stood out with this whimsically awesome purple booth.

We couldn’t help but stop to talk to the Hirschler team and admire their dedication. The purple-toned theme was distinct at a show of starched collar and penny loafer titans of finance. The color coordinated bowls full of candy encouraged us to bag up a few lollipops for the kids at home.

Yup … the lollipops were just for the kids … just for the kids …

Be Fun!

There’s nothing that says your booth can’t be fun. We know this is “Business” and all and we’ve got “Images” and “Brands” to protect, but even the biggest brands in the world use commercials that evoke playfulness and laughter. While it is important to retain the voice of your brand, what fun ways can you express that voice? Some ideas …

Bread & CircusGive the people what they want. One of the busiest booths we recall seeing at any trade show was on a Friday during NCAA Basketball March Madness. Some enterprising soul streamed the CBS live feed onto one or two small elevated flat panel displays at their booth. Not surprisingly, the audience was drawn in to watch powerhouse Auburn squeak out a win over New Mexico State. While people stood around and cheered on the underdog, they chatted about what they did and where they worked.

Could your booth stream funny videos about sleepy cats? What about a wheel folks can spin to win different prizes? Could you bring a vintage gaming console and host an impromptu Super Smash Brothers tournament?

Check out what Twilio did at All Things Open to promote themselves and their charity work:

This actually led to a whole clever series of posts engaging with the winners. Who knows? You might wind up with serious brand engagement out of the whole thing!

Oh and that guy in the “Launch Darkly” shirt? No big deal it’s just Simple Thread’s own Lead Engineer Alex Baldwin. HEY we take Mario Kart VERY seriously around here … and we might be stealing something like this idea ourselves for the RVA JavaScript Conference. Thanks Twilio!

Be Clever!

There’s always value in being memorable, different, or whimsical. What about creating a photo booth as a way to engage with attendees? What about turning your booth into some sort of cross between performance art and interactive stunt? What about bringing some RC cars? OK ok … I’m just spitballing here!

What about using cheat codes? How about triggering people’s limbic system by offering some targeted piece of childhood nostalgia? Take a look at Stranger Things’ demographic data which only underscores this point — the dropoff of viewers over age 45 is staggering.

Someone mentioned Ecto Cooler to me the other day and I about lost my mind. I don’t know about you, but spotting a bag of Big League Chew or some whistle Chupa Chups would release all kinds of positive emotions to our brain even though Big League Chew was horrible, HORRIBLE gum and the whistling lollipops were only fun for the whistler but no one else within earshot.

There’s lots of good ideas and content for clever trade show booths that we won’t bother repeating here, so here’s some links to articles on the subject:

5 Tips to Get the Most out of Event Sponsorships

7 Awesome Tradeshow Giveaways to Help Build Your Brand

How to Make the Most out of Being a Tradeshow Sponsor

Be a (Contact Information) Hoarder!

Not every trade show offer quick and easy way to scan attendees in order to glean their contact information. Check ahead of time if the show will provide attendee information or whether it is up to you to gather as much as you can while the conference is in session.

If sales is in fact a (rolls eyes) “contact sport,” then sponsors should do whatever they can to maximize the number of meetings AND be sure to retain a contact’s coordinates in order to follow up. A raffle and simple and sign up sheet, iPad registration tool, fishbowl for business cards, or the handy use of the LinkedIn QR scanning feature are all go-to moves to keep track of with whom you’ve chatted.

Be Proactive!

Be sure to tell your community where you will be! Whether through social media, Slack communities, your newsletters, or by telling any candidates you have in the pipeline to come visit with you.

While most sales people think of sales as a funnel, selling (including recruiting!) is less a funnel and more an elliptical orbit, according to research synthesized by Brian Solis and inspired by customer research of both McKinsey and Altimeter Group.

Prior communication to your followers leading up to the event might encourage them to know you’ll be there thumbs ready for a Smash Brothers tournament with your most schwagadelic items and an empathetic heart to encourage them on their epic quest.

Our good friends at Shockoe send regular newsletters to keep the folks in their orbit informed of the goings-on at the company. Hey look at what awesome Richmond-based JavaScript conference recently got some love in their newsletter?

Great work Shockoe! We appreciate Shockoe promoting the conference and know that seeding their partnership with it ahead of time will need to great opportunities through engaging with the community.

Any conference one partners with is a great way to let folks know what matters to you, how you are looking for ideas and inspiration, and demonstrates how you are giving back and fostering that community. It also doesn’t hurt to give them an invitation to talk with them at the event!

In Conclusion

There’s a lot of conferences and finding the ones that match your values, goals, and budget can be a challenge. But once you choose to invest your time, treasure, and talent into a particular event, giving oneself the highest chance at success will only help you and the organization you are representing.

Ultimately, engaging with attendees at conferences is about starting conversations.

The best way to encourage conversations is to give people as many opportunities as possible to connect. Through inviting people into your space, having fun, and being clever it gives you and your audience good starting points to connect, build rapport, and ultimately help you meet your event goals while helping them with theirs!

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