Be Memorable: How to Have an Effective Brand Presence at Industry Conferences

This weekend, quite a few of my favorite health and fitness bloggers made their way to Philadelphia for the 2011 Healthy Living Summit (#HLS). HLS features several networking opportunities as well as a full day of panels covering a variety of topics that further educate members of this extensive online community.

While I was browsing the HLS website, trying to decide if I could fit it into my budget this year, I noticed that Quaker Oats is a Gold Sponsor of the 2011 event. Several other health-focused brands are listed as sponsors – some well-known, others I’ve never heard of before.

Companies know the importance of getting their products and services in front of online influencers at conferences. In my day job, clients constantly ask for calendars of industry events where they should have an official presence. Unfortunately, the larger the conference, the more difficult it can be for brands to break through the noise.

I’ve worked with clients who have spent millions of dollars on booths, panels and marketing stunts at big conferences like CES and Comic-Con, only to see their messages get lost in the onslaught of media coverage that typically arises from these types of events. With Twitter users, bloggers and mainstream outlets producing content constantly throughout the conference, a fantastic client mention in an article or Tweet could get pushed down (and lost) within a few minutes.

At the conferences, hundreds of companies can be squeezed together into the ever-important exhibition hall – competing for the attention of attendees in the same space as their competitors.

So, how do companies ensure their efforts (especially the dollars spent) are worthwhile? Here are a few recommendations:

  1. If you’re giving away swag, make it memorable. People love free stuff so it’s not surprising to see conference attendees making their way through exhibition hall booths, grabbing up anything free left out on company tables. Unfortunately, this usually results in a bag filled with branded pens, jump drives, and notebooks that might get used but  won’t necessarily make a person go out and purchase your product (especially if the product you’re selling isn’t a pen, jump drive, or notebook…). Instead, try handing out a piece of swag that will spark memories about your company. At a fitness event, it makes more sense to hand out high-quality branded water bottles or subtly-branded yoga mats than pens and jump drives. Yes, it’s a more expensive swag, but it’s likely to be more effective since the consumer will most likely use it during an activity that relates back to your product or service.
  2. Provide an experience that is relevant to your product/service. While reading recaps of BlogHer 2011, I noticed quite a few fitness professionals offered free classes or demos that allowed attendees to fully experience what they are trying to sell. Many bloggers reviewed the classes on their websites, providing additional promotion for the companies after the conference ended. I also like the idea of food brands hosting live-cooking events at their exhibition booths, which can provide a great opportunity to connect with the conference community in a memorable, relevant way. I believe this is more effective than say, hiring male models dressed as construction workers to stand in your booth.
  3. Be strategic when planning panels. Some companies sponsor panels or have employees speak at conferences.  When executed well, this can provide great brand exposure.  Unfortunately, if poorly planned, this can also have a negative effect on corporate reputation. Though it might seem like common sense, it is imperative to put significant time into planning the panel, I’m always amazed at how many panels often seem thrown together at the last minute. To ensure attendees leave your session with a positive impression, make sure the panelist is  engaging with the audience, being open and honest about the presented topic (and not merely pushing the product!), has clearly thought about answers to tough questions, and is staying on message as much as possible (without sounding like a corporate robot).

What other recommendations do you have for brands planning to attend or sponsor a conference? If you are attending a conference, what would you like to see brands do to better engage with you?


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