As the number of conferences and festivals skyrockets, use the following framework to determine if, how, why and when you will participate.  

This framework accompanies our Report, The Perfect Storm? How consumer brands can make the most of conferences, festivals and other events at the height of experiential retail, which looks at the evolution of conferences, trade shows, conventions and festivals to highlight their growing significance in shoppers’ lives as well as their advantages and disadvantages for participating brands and retailers.

Purpose

  • Define your reason(s) for participating in an event.
    • Is it to acquire customers or to strengthen loyalty among existing ones?
    • To build community and/or culture?
    • To launch a product or build your brand?
    • To prove your relevance in another industry (e.g. beauty brands flexing their technological capabilities)?
    • To promote your brand via influencer marketing?
    • To gain press coverage? To gather insights from consumers?
    • To network with professionals on the back end?
    • To network with other brands or retailers?
  • Events are diverse in terms of their audience, participants, purpose, frequency and location. Once you’ve defined your purpose, how will this event help you realize it?
    • How can participating in the event help solve a problem for your business? What services will the event organizer provide to accomplish this, whether it regards marketing, data-driven insights, networking opportunities, or something else?
    • How can it help attract your target demographic or a demographic with which you would like to build greater brand affinity?
  • Just as your participation in an event should be purposeful, events have purposes of their own, ranging from community-building to education, networking to entertainment. Consider the who, where and when regarding the prospective event.
    • How well does a given event’s broader purpose align with your own?
    • Is the event B2C or B2B?
    • Who or what institution runs the event and how well does that person or entity relate to your business’ values?
    • Is the event more about the attendees or about the organizer’s voice and/or institutional affiliation (e.g. compare In Goop Health to Beautycon)?
    • How does the frequency of the event (once or twice annually, once a month, etc.) meet your business goals? For example, the personal care company SheaMoisture, participates in 66 events annually, including pop-ins and larger conference-style experiences. Though Unilever’s acquisition of the brand in 2017 certainly helps with financing, this activity isn’t feasible for many consumer companies, nor is it necessarily useful for a company in the long run.
    • Where is the event located (major cities like NYC or LA, secondary cities like San Francisco, Austin and Miami or tertiary cities such as Philadelphia or New Orleans)?
      • How accessible is this location to consumers?
      • Can this location be considered a destination in and of itself?
  • Consider the cost. Above all, can your brand square the costs of participation with the benefits?
  • Finally, is it possible that you can create an event more aligned with your own needs than any one that currently exists on the market?
    • If so, how can you learn from other events about what to do and what to avoid?
    • How feasible is your event in terms of your budget and expertise?
    • Who should be involved in order to realize your vision most effectively?
  • Come up with a fully outlined plan about how you will approach and participate in the event. How will you represent your brand at the event and realize your purpose?
    • If a consumer-facing event, will you aim to interact, educate, sell products or market your brand to attendees?
    • If a B2B event, how do you plan to network with other industry professionals? Will you aim to showcase your own businesses, or will you attend in order to learn from other businesses?

Execution

Conferences and festivals take a variety of approaches to their events. From those listed below, determine which are most important for your brand and which best align with your purpose.

  • Exclusivity: While both can be experiential, events are much different from retail and are much more limited in both time and space. In this regard, an event’s mix of attendees, speakers, brand partners, activities and entertainment can inspire FOMO among consumers. At the same time, this means that events aren’t necessarily scalable business prospects.
    • How can you capitalize on FOMO at the event?
    • Will your participation remain limited to the event itself or will consumers who do not attend have the ability to partake in some way, whether digitally or through another event-related brand activation?
    • Will your participation exist offline-only, or also exist online?
    • How will your participation at the event differ from your company’s retail strategy?
  • Values: In building community, events can help to fortify the mission and value system behind consumer businesses in front of consumers and/or other companies. Conveying this message in person is a powerful reason to participate in an event, especially when so much marketing occurs online.
    • How will you promote your participation before, during and after the event?
    • How will your approach build on the values you tie to your business?
  • Accessibility: With the rise of consumer-facing events, the level of accessibility is key to the type of experience offered, as well as the ability for an event to promote its specific set of values.
    • How easily can a consumer attend the event?
    • Does he or she have to belong to a certain community in order to attend? Who will necessarily be restricted from attending?
    • How does the price of attendance affect your ability to realize your goals?
    • Is the location of the event accessible?
    • Will the attendee have multiple chances to attend an event or is it a one-time opportunity?
      • How do your answers to the above questions affect your brand image and/or ability to realize your purpose at the event?
    • What does a brand or retailer have to do to participate in this event?
    • Is the event industry-specific or industry-agnostic?
    • What sponsorship opportunities exist and how might sponsorship change a company’s experience at the event?
    • What other costs are associated with your participation?
    • Does participation in an event create an opportunity for a long-term partnership between your brand and the event?
  • Resonance: Will this event resonate with many types of people or is it specifically aimed at people of a certain community, gender, age or socioeconomic bracket?
    • Is the event accessible to walk-ins, or is it a gathering specifically for enthusiasts or industry professionals?
    • Is it aimed at consumers, businesses or both?
    • How can the event as a cultural touchstone influence your brand?
    • How can your participation contribute to this culture?
  • Scalability: How frequently can you host or participate in a given event? How large can these events grow? What are the tradeoffs of hosting or participating in a smaller event versus a larger one?
    • How will you fund the cost of participating in an event and/or throwing your own?
    • How can you establish a virtuous cycle within your business in which events play one part in the larger wheel driving your business forward?
    • How can you utilize an event to jumpstart other parts of your business?
    • How can you compliment your participation in an event with retailing?
    • How can you use your the event as an excuse to create other event-related products and services that extend the life of your participation?