There are lots of really great conferences in our business, loaded to the gills with information, insights and intelligence to help everyone become more effective in their day-to-day roles. That being said, it's easy for conference formats to become stale. The fact is, it's difficult to have a conference that offers relevant points of view in a way that's unique, and that you can repeat. With this week's column I wanted to throw out an idea for how I'd create a conference if I were to create it from scratch.
Programmers face two common challenges: how do you create interesting, relevant content, and how do you present that content in a way that is well received, and memorable? Those are the primary two areas where I'd focus attention.
First, you find a niche of content that's of interest to your target audience, and ensure your content has real-world applicability. As an example, there are many retailers using the web to influence customer behavior and bring the world of "shopper marketing" into the digital age. Using this idea, I'd develop three to four tiers of content that provide relevance at different stages of customer interaction. I'd suggest Awareness, Interest, Consideration and Action: the fundamentals of any good marketer's plan. The content would be clearly marked so attendees would understand what phase of the interaction they were going to learn about, and could align a list of their needs as it relates to that phase. In that way, when they attend, they come prepared understanding how their needs could be affected by this information.
To make a strong impression, I'd hold the conference in the real world so attendees could see these ideas in action (too many times attendees leave a conference saying "I like what so-and-so said, but how does that work in the real world?"). I've always wanted to do a roving-conference event where the attendees sit in lectures throughout a city, and are then transported to a real-world location to see these ideas in action. They would hear how mobile is applied to CPG marketing, and then be transported to a grocery store to see it be implemented with real consumers, and have the chance to interview those consumers.
The content is immediately applied to the environment for which it was intended, and that is where the value comes. The learning sinks in deeper when attendees can see the impact these ideas have on real customers. You could further support the lectures with real-time feedback, through social media or face-to-face customer interactions, thereby closing the loop between the hypothetical and applicable. Brand managers, agency marketers and publishers could see immediately the impact they have on the marketplace (for better or for worse).
A roving-conference concept is a logistical nightmare, which is probably why no one is doing it, but the marketing of such an event lends itself very well to the world of social media. To market a concept such as this you would likely take two paths: create buzz prior to the event, and drive perception for the scale of the event while it's taking place (to garner future attendees).
The first of these events would be small and invitation-only. You would identify influencers and key attendees who would be able to attend, add value and increase the strength of the event. These people would receive a fair-value exchange heavily weighted to them, in terms of not only content but also notoriety for being one of "the first" to undertake this kind of event. They would be tasked to help promote the event, generating buzz for a new kind of conference unlike anything else in the market today. This build-up would run parallel to a paid media effort targeting a secondary tier of attendees, all of whom would have to be approved to attend (creating a further sense of exclusivity). All this action would run tandem with a paid campaign in online and print to generate further awareness.
During the event, the goal would be to own the social ecosystem with hashtags, exclusive snippets of content and a Web presence enveloping the target market and creating the perception of a big, highly impactful event unlike anything else in the marketplace. If content is valued highly, and attendees are inspirational and influential to the marketplace, then the perception will be of a "must-attend" event in the future. Thus, you could continue to expand the event as revenue and content allow.
Think of the value in seeing the effects of mobile and geo-location-based marketing in the real world, with real consumers, as support for the content you were discussing. Think of the value of hearing directly from consumers to either support or dispute what you learned at a conference. The talking heads on stage would have to provide relevant value, and the attendees would have to commit to the experience, but you could create the "TED" of the new decade for marketers.
Of course it's just an idea, unless someone wants to give me a call!
What do you think? Tell me on the Spin Board!