I was lucky enough to attend the first day of the ITSMF conference in London yesterday. Having spent most of the day in the exhibitor lounge I can’t really comment on the speakers and content, but the whole event was very well organized and it seemed to have a great atmosphere, great networking and great people.
I have previously attended this event as a vendor so it was interesting to see the other side of the fence. Getting people to your stand is an age old problem but the disconnect between vendor booths and delegates seems to be getting worse, especially for tool vendors. This is not a criticism of the ITSMF conference per se, but conferences generally.
Exhibitor Booth – A Twenty-Year Old Concept?
The rest of vendor marketing seems to have moved along with the times with the introduction of email, web seminars and to a degree, social media. But with the exception of electronic swipers and polluting hashtag streams – has the conference vendor booth concept really progressed in twenty years?
The ITSMF team did a good job of delivering a compelling agenda with varied content and speakers. But most of the exhibitor lounge seemed to be disconnected from the delegates like awkward boys and girls at a teenage disco. We’re in the same room, we have shared interests but I’m not sure where to start…
In dating terms the current exhibitor booth model is like a nightclub – your luck in finding a suitable date is strongly dependent on serendipity; who is there at the time and who you happen to bump into. Whereas exhibitor booths should be closer to speed dating – aligning customers with problems with pain with solutions.
I don’t claim to have an answer for this issue, but one idea that springs to mind is breaking the traditional vendor hall into themes as chosen by delegates prior to the conference. So for example some key themes might be consumerization of IT, doing more with less / accountability and maturing your operation.
Exhibitors could populate ‘zones’ dedicated to certain subjects and delegates with an interest in that topic could immerse themselves in what the industry has to say, and offer. For exhibitors – If you don’t feel confident speaking about the key concerns of the industry – what are you doing at the conference?
I believe the disconnect can be boiled down to permission. The marketing guru Seth Godin refers to permission based marketing; the tectonic shift between outbound and inbound marketing. I strongly recommend Seth’s book for anyone trying to grapple with modern marketing, it is very readable and accessible (The much hyped clue-train manifesto remains half-read on my bookcase gathering dust next to ‘A brief history of time’).
Outbound marketing refers to ‘if you throw enough at the wall something will stick’; cold calls, leaflets, advertising. Inbound marketing refers to getting found by prospects and ‘earning their way in’ by providing value.
Let’s start a conversation based on something I know you are interested in, have a brief discussion, then we can both walk away from the show knowing we have something of interest to talk about in the future. I have your permission, a topic of conversation and a common interest. I don’t think swiping my badge in exchange for jelly beans whilst you tell me about your latest release constitutes value.
An intangible part of the conference process is networking, catching up with old colleague in the industry and having a bit of fun. Daft toys , in nothing else, are a bit of fun and good ice breaker. However if I were a marketing manager looking to justify my attendance at such a show it has to be based on hard economics.
These conference are important. Many people in the industry get great value from them. Exhibitor booths are an important part of the financial model of a conference – either the exhibitors need to up their game or the model has to change.