By Dave McCaughan & Faiyaz Ahmed
Co-Founders, Marketing Futures
You know what 2023 has been really about? Real-life interactions. As COVID-19 stepped back, getting out and meeting real people has been the key theme to businesses all over the world; live meetings, visiting customers, suppliers, and partners again, those great casual coffee meetings where you start with a theme but get distracted and start going into unexpected areas and suddenly discover new opportunities. Business after all is about finding contacts and commonalities. And then converting them into new business. And what we have found has stood out has been the return to conferences.
Oh, how we missed them. Dave remembers in the few years before COVID-19 people telling him how they were wondering about their value, usually while talking to Dave at a break at a conference. Over COVID-19 we thought we had found the 21st century way: the virtual conference. It seemed so ‘sensible’, so ‘efficient’. Dave and I attended, spoke, and moderated many. But, it wasn’t the same, was it? Sure, many of us learnt how to use Zoom better, and learnt how to maybe change the way we presented. But if you were in the audience, it was easier to get distracted, to get bored, to ignore the screen. Worse still, despite some efforts, there was no or little interaction. And worst of all, there were no ‘coffee chats’.
And that gets to why we love conferences. You can learn new things and then use that learning to instigate new conversations with new contacts, usually over coffee, tea, or snacks. A warmer way to get to know people and ideas.
CONFERENCES = CONVERSATION BUILDING
A simple truth that businesspeople have always known is true. For example, what is the most effective B2B communication tool? Cold calls? Email invitations to connect? Creating relevant content (like this article)? Nope! The best way to make, consolidate, and leverage contacts remains good old-fashioned person-to-person interaction. And that remains the real value of going to conferences. Listen to the talks, wander around the exhibitor stands and approach strangers. The content of the event is all the ammunition you need to get a conversation started. Make sure you have a real business card to hand out to as many people as possible, but especially to those you interact with. And also make sure you have something unique about your card to make you memorable.
And please don’t kid yourself that swapping email or messenger links is the same. Again, nope! Good old paper business cards make a difference. Put it in the new contact’s hand. Make it a little ceremony. Make sure there is something outstanding about the design and comment on something about your card. Then take the card back and write something on it like an alternative phone number or a keyword you shared about the content of the conference – a date for a follow-up conversation. You will be amazed how many new contacts remember you.
CONFERENCES OPEN YOUR MIND AND YOUR BUSINESS TO NEW IDEAS
For example, each year we, at Marketing Futures help organise the IIeX Asia conference in Bangkok. It stands for Insights Innovations Exchange and involves two days of brand marketers and insights experts from across the region and around the globe sharing the latest innovation techniques and learning about marketing and the use of research to make a difference in businesses. So if you attend you will get a big step forward in understanding how AI, including Chat GPT, and other formats, is advancing the way smart businesses understand their market. How virtual reality is and can be used to simulate retail spaces for research and provide entertaining new POS options, how e-sports is the dominant medium for reaching and understanding anyone under 35, how the way we have thought of demographics and sampling and public opinion and so many other things have, and are, changing.
But, the big difference between attending versus reading a few articles or some online sessions is the discussion. All the people at a conference may say they are there to learn from the speakers. They probably are. In reality, they are there to learn from each other. To talk about what stood out, what they did learn, what their own and others’ experiences are and how the conference speakers, coffee break exchanges, and new contacts will make a difference to them.
GOOD MARKETERS ARE SPONGES
Well, that is what a great marketer we came to know in our early years once explained to us. We have always found the best marketers we know are also always inquisitive, looking for an edge, looking for ideas and people that can give them that edge. A coffee chat at a conference does all that. Come see us at IIeX Asia, 5 to 6 March in Bangkok, and let’s have a coffee and a chat and share some ideas.