Creative conference ideas: Eyes on the booth

How do you make your next conference sponsorship leave a lasting impression?

Imagine it’s time for your first large conference of the year and you’ve pulled out all the stops. A premium sponsorship tier, complete with turnkey booth and prominent logo placement on the conference website. A lightning talk all about your latest Tier 2 product launch. A branded offsite suite for 1:1 meetings. Months of promotions, design and planning.

You get to the Expo on Day 1 and everything is in place. Your backdrop design pops, your swag has arrived on time. Your booth looks great. As you turn to face your neighbors and the rest of the conference hall around you, you realize there’s only one problem – so does everyone else’s.

Your conference success will come from good pre-work, a focus on securing meetings, and a strong follow-up plan. However, you’re still competing for the attention of your prospects with all your fellow vendors in attendance. And at the end of the day, when those prospects have run a gauntlet of 55” monitors, 5’ roll-ups, 10×10’ backdrops and more branded socks than you could wear in a lifetime, it’s all going to blur together.

So how do you get your booth to stand out from the crowd, make a memorable splash at your next conference, and – most importantly – use your branded space to actually create meetings? See our tips.

We’ve written about how to maximize your conference impact with hacks and hustles focused on securing leads and making noise. Most of our tips boil down to laying a strong foundation for your conference participation:

  • Attend sessions and speak to attendees
  • Schedule meetings ahead of time with folks in your network
  • Discover any “side events” like dinners and happy hours, and finagle your way into them.
  • Noise. Noise. Noise. Post on LinkedIn, send out a newsletter, update your communities.

If you do all of these right, you’ll leave your next conference happy (and ROI-positive). That said, part of making the most of your conference investment is picking the right event; one full to the brim with folks you want to talk to, representing companies you want to sell to. In this case, the showfloor / expo hall is going to be full of organic foot-traffic that you want at your booth.

Moreover, when and if you do line up 1:1 meetings with your prospects, even ahead of time, you know those folks are going to be meeting with a dozen other competitors during their time at the event – especially at larger conferences. How do you make sure your meeting stands out in their mind?

All Eyes on Me (and our Booth)

When considering how to convert a booth flyby into a dedicated demo session with a prospect, it’s tempting to just say “spend more money.” Go for a bigger booth, a flashier display, a $3000 drone with 4K camera and built-in espresso machine (only half-kidding). But there are just as many great ways to fuel the booth experience ▶️ meeting booked pipeline without breaking the bank:

1) Do a raffle. Raffles are a great way to generate buzz at your booth and to attract prospects to return to collect their prize. The prize doesn’t need to be extravagant or branded, but it should be memorable.

There are a few ways to do a raffle –

  • Create a printable sign with a QR Code (a simple 8×11-sized design is fine) and stage it in an acrylic stand on your countertop / table. The QR code will lead people to a form they can fill out to enter your raffle (and provide their email).
    🤫 This is a great way to “rig” your raffle – you can choose to give the most interesting prospect the prize, instead of randomizing the outcome.
  • Get a fish bowl or other receptacle and ask folks to put their business cards inside. Do a random drawing at the end of the day. Low-tech but fun.
  • Encourage your raffle entrants to come back the next day (or ask for their best shipping info if it’s a 1-day event) to receive their prize. This keeps the conversation going and gives you more time to build rapport at crowded, busy events.

It’s important to consider conference demographics when planning your raffle prize. Is it a more exclusive event for buyers in leadership roles, i.e. folks who are further in their careers? Odds are they have families at home, and may appreciate a LEGO set or RC car to bring home to their kids. Is it a highly technical conference, e.g. an event for hands-on DevOps practitioners? These are younger, tech-y folks who may appreciate RGB keyboards, multi-purpose charging cables, AirTags, Steam gift cards, etc…

2) Craft creative collateral. Everyone is going to have a one-pager, a case study booklet, maybe even a few bound copies of their latest eBook. How do you make your conference must-haves unique and refreshing?

  • Order branded business card sleeves – these are often $$, but a great way to include more information on your business cards, without ruining their clean design. Consider adding a QR code linked to some of your best sales content.
    Pro tip: you can search for “coin envelopes” if you want something less obvious than a gift card holder.
  • Scannable phone backgrounds – good for the environment, good for your wallet, and good for your brand image! Have all your attending staff set their phone background to a custom-designed image with a QR code. Link that QR code to your latest / most relevant piece of collateral, and have prospects at your booth scan it to download. Saves you on printing costs, allows you to track who scans your device, and incentivizes you to actually speak to folks who visit your booth, rather than just watching them grab a one-pager and walk away.
    💡Hint: This same technique applies to getting folks to book a follow-up with you at the booth. Have the QR code link straight to your personal calendar or demo-scheduling page on your website.
    💡Double-Hint: If you have the budget to get custom t-shirts for your attending team, print a QR code on the sleeve. Brings a new meaning to “brand apparel.”
  • Functional wearables – Everyone loves socks. But ask yourself; is it really practical to spend $$$ on branded swag that your prospects are going to hide beneath their shoes? Consider branded wearables that can actually be seen.
    💡 One of our go-to’s is umbrellas. It sounds silly, but how many times have you been traveling and forgot your umbrella, only to get dunked on as you’re rushing back to your hotel? Stick your brand logo on an umbrella and you’ll be guaranteeing walking product placement as everyone braves the storm outside the event. You don’t even need to shell out for a custom-branded one; just order some small branded stickers that you can put on the handle.

3) Make the most of your demo screen. If your conference booth comes with a mounted monitor, or your table at an event has space for you to bring your own, odds are you’re planning to run a rolling product demo on the big screen. And this is certainly a great way to use this prime real estate; short rolling demos are often punchier than a slow, meandering 1:1 product walkthrough, and give you the opportunity to create a well-edited, engaging video. But there’s more you can do with your big screen:

  • Run a raffle, live! There are plenty of free websites that let you build your own picker wheel on the fly. Create your own game of Wheel of Fortune at the booth by encouraging folks walking by to give you their names for the wheel, and tell them to come back at a certain time for the drawing. You’ll end up with a crowd gathered in front of your booth at the time you choose (bonus points if it’s during a break between sessions), all waiting to see who wins the grand prize.
    🤔 This is obviously more effective if your “grand prize” is high-value enough to attract a whole lot of interest.
  • Run a leaderboard for your booth game. We’re middling on booth games; oftentimes a gimmick like this will draw prospects to play, but not to stay. But everyone loves some healthy competition. If you’re running a game at your booth, offer a grand prize and make it scorable – set up a simple leaderboard to display on the big screen. Feature the name / an image of the prize on the screen, and a time that the winner will be announced. Incentivize passers-by to stop and throw their hat in the ring (and make sure you stop them long enough to actually pitch them on your product!)
  • Feature your team on the big screen! If you have the lead time to do it, consider recording an explainer video starring your CEO or other brand evangelists. Having a talking head at your booth can make bigger waves than a simple product demo.

4) Controversial Conversation Starters. There’s more to a good giveaway than your logo plastered all over a notebook or pen. Consider the type of conference you’re attending, what the folks there might actually use, and what may draw them into a conversation further.

  • Something they’ll love. For tech conferences frequented by frequent-flyers, practical travel giveaways are great – multi-purpose charging cables or tracking tags can be easily branded with your startup’s logo, or even just a sticker tag that you loop around the device.
  • Something they’ll hate. Seriously. If you’re a cybersecurity startup at a “hacker” conference, give out single sign-on USBs. You’ll get a bunch of practitioners lining up at your booth to lecture you about how unsafe they are – which is a perfect opportunity to let those folks know how your actual product makes them more safe.

Bringing it Home

All these ideas are cute and fun, but at the end of the day, how do they actually help you convert those conference leads?

The main value-add here when you get to the follow-up stage is a conversation starter. Your prospects are going to be bombarded with 50 emails after the event all essentially saying the same thing: “Thanks for joining us at our booth at Conference X and learning more about our solution. Let’s schedule a follow-up to keep the conversation going.” If you can personalize that clutch follow-up with a “you may have remembered us as the bold folks with the SSO USBs at a hacker conference,” you’re more likely to trigger as memorable in your prospect’s mind. Same goes for hacks at the booth that get your audience to book a follow-up on site, right there at your booth – such as form links, QR codes to your Calendly, etc…

The bottom line

No flashy booth or branded happy hour is a substitute for generating high-quality meetings at your next conference. Everything you do at your booth – from swag to games to printed collateral – should be in service of securing as many meaningful follow-ups as possible. Look for routes to standing out – raffles, QR code follow-up / download links, leaderboards, functional wearables, and “hot-take” giveaways.

David is a Marketing Manager at Blue Seedling. You can usually catch him reading, writing, hiking, and tinkering with his old film camera.

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