How to Use Experiential Marketing to Make CES Worth Your Time and Money

Lauren Taylor on 8/14/17 10:36 AM

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The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is a launchpad of tech innovation, and it’s hosted annually in Vegas in early January. To make the most of CES as a marketing and sales opportunity, however, you should start planning for the event now—and we’re going to give you some actionable items to jumpstart your planning process.

Background info: A little bit about CES

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NPR described CES as the “place where consumers and the media get a glimpse of the future.” This year the conference housed over 4,000 exhibiting companies and welcomed more than 180,000 industry professionals, 36% of them with executive titles. Nearly 70% of the Fortune 500 companies sent representatives.

With attendance stats like that, it’s not surprising that the event is a hub to network with and learn from the most innovative companies spanning a wide range of industries. Whether you’re a small startup or an established company, organizations across the board invest in sending representatives to learn from and network with their peers.

Using experiential marketing to make the most of CES

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The cost of simply attending the conference, however, adds up. Ticket prices, transportation, and hotel rooms alone can easily cost thousands of dollars. Attendees undoubtedly extract a lot of value from the event—but at a certain point it makes sense to invest more to extract more.

The biggest brands have caught onto this idea. Companies like Facebook, Google, and Samsung (to name a few) always host their own ancillary events and experiential campaigns at CES—but you don’t have to be in the upper-echelons with Google to host an event at the conference. If you’re already spending time and money to attend CES, it makes sense to host your own experiential campaign, make an impression on the innovative brands you want to work with, and ultimately drive tangible business results.

Whether your budget allows for a small-scale dinner or a more involved large-scale event, keep reading to learn more about how you can use event and experiential marketing to make the most of your experience at CES and impress some of the world’s most innovative brands.

HOST A VIP DINNER

Small-scale VIP dinners are great if you have a targeted and strategic list of people you’d like to invite who you know will be at CES—think high-value prospects and current customers. These events should focus on building relationships. While your product may, of course, come up in conversation, the event should be less focused on product education than on networking and providing a memorable experience for your attendees.

Before you decide to host a VIP dinner, you should be confident that your targeted list of prospects and customers will be in attendance—then you can get started:

  1. Find a restaurant. Since you’re inviting your VIPs, aim to impress. The dinner should be an indulgent treat, and you should take your prospects and customers somewhere they wouldn’t normally take themselves. If it makes sense, try to find a restaurant with a private room that you can rent out. Make sure the restaurant is easily-accessible and centrally-located.

  2. Curate a list of invitees. Work with your sales reps and customer success managers to determine who you should invite. It’s best to invite a mix of prospects and customers—that way you keep your current customers happy, and also give them a platform to discuss your product with prospects.

    To learn more about how to target the right accounts, watch out webinar, Crushing Your Revenue Goals with Account-Based Event Marketing

  3. Send a formal email invitation. You’re inviting VIPs, so make them feel like it. Your formal email invitation should be well-designed and non-transferrable; you’ll not only want to set attendees up for a positive experience with your brand, but you’ll also want to ensure that their invitation is hard-coded so they can’t send someone else in their place.

    The email invitations should also link to a similarly well-designed registration page, which is where invitees will RSVP and you will give them any other information (time, location, etc.) that might be relevant and/or useful. Your email invitation and registration page are opportunities for you to stand out among the crowd when it comes to inviting conference attendees to one-off events—make sure you use it to your advantage.

  4. Personally reach out to invitees.  A formal, on-brand email invitation is important, but you’ll also want to add a human touch when inviting VIP guests to your event. Leverage the relationships your sales reps and customer success managers have with the invitees, and don’t be afraid to ask one of your executives who will attend the event to personally reach out to invitees as well.

    Related post: Make the Most of Industry Conferences—Host Microevents

HOST A HAPPY HOUR

Hosting a happy hour will not only enable you to build relationships with current prospects and and customers, but will also give you the opportunity to generate new leads. As with VIP dinners, the goal of cocktail hours should be to provide a memorable experience for attendees, not specifically to focus on your product (though it will hopefully come up in conversation).

Here’s what you’ll need to do to set up these events:

  1. Find a venue. Your best bet is to probably rent out a bar, but you might also be able to find a small venue that’ll allow you to set up your own bar. Focus on finding a space that is centrally-located and meets your budget.

  2. Invite prospects and customers. Once you’ve found your space, start inviting prospects and customers. Work with sales reps and customer success manager to identify invitees, and don’t take the step of actually inviting them for granted. This is your opportunity to stand out among a flood of other emails and invitations your prospects will receive. Send out a well-designed email invitation that links to a corresponding registration page with more information about the event.  

    You’ll also want to find a way to promote your event to new potential leads; working directly with those organizing CES is likely the best way to do this. Once on-site, using a check-in app like Event Farm’s will enable you to quickly and seamlessly capture the information of the new leads to show up at the door.

  3. Enable your sales team. It’s not very often that sales reps are able to connect with prospects in person, but it can be a powerful way to build relationships and potentially accelerate deals. Your sales reps should not only help drive prospects to the event, but should also be at the event to actively engage with them.

    Event Farm’s check-in app helps ensure that the right conversations happen with the right people. Sales reps can set up specific check-in notifications through to the app—so when one of their prospects arrives, your reps know they’re at the event and can make a point of engaging with them.

  4. Consider other in-event activations. Even basic experiential activations can do a lot to not only enhance the attendee experience, but also help you learn more about your target audience. With NFC activations, for example, you can capture a lot of in-event data that would otherwise go unnoticed—and that data will help you market to your audience better in the future.

HOST AN EDUCATIONAL EVENT

Unlike happy hours and VIP dinners, educational events should focus on industry thought leadership and/or product education. If you host an educational event as an offshoot of a larger conference like CES, it might be a good idea to build a roadshow series with CES as one of your stops.Whether or not you build an entire roadshow series, however, these events should follow the format of field marketing events. You can find more in-depth information about hosting a roadshow series (or one-off event) in our roadshow guide, but we’ll also give a brief overview of how to plan one here:

  1. Find a venue. For an educational event, it’ll be best to find a venue that allows space for both a keynote presentation and a networking hour. Roadshow events are typically small-to-medium in size with around 50-100 attendees, so be sure to find a venue that will accommodate the number of attendees you anticipate.

  2. Invite prospects and customers. Though the format and focus of an educational event is different than that of a happy hour, the process for inviting prospects and customers is similar: work with sales and customer support to identify invitees, send out well-designed invitations, and direct them to a corresponding registration page.

  3. Enable your sales team. Making sure your sales team is on-site and engaged is important for any marketing event, but it’s especially true for one that’s focused on industry and product education.

    Whether your team is engaging with new leads or current prospects, most of the conversations your reps have at these events will likely be product-focused. Enabling them with tools to help them engage with those prospects (both during and after the event) might be the difference between reaching a deal and not.

    Event Farm’s check-in app not only makes it simple to record the information of walk-ins (new leads), but it also sends notifications to sales reps when their prospects arrive and allows them to take notes on in-event conversations.

  4. Consider other activations. Experiential activations aren’t just for the cool kids’ parties. Many organizations have used Event Farm’s experiential tech (EFx) in B2B settings as a content delivery system. This allows you to take the educational content you’ve already produced online and leverage it in an offline setting—all while tracking which of your leads, prospects and customers are engaging with different pieces of content. To learn more about EFx’s content delivery system, check out this case study.

    Related: Take Your Event On the Road—Engage Your Target Accounts with Roadshow Events

SET UP A MULTI-DAY HOSPITALITY TENT

If you’ve got the resources to build an extensive experiential campaign around CES (or any other industry conference), hosting a hospitality tent that spans the length of the conference will help you generate leads, raise brand awareness, meaningfully engage with prospects and customers, and learn more about your audience through experiential tech activations.

An experiential campaign this involved will require extensive planning and resources, but you’ll ultimately get the most out of it. Everything we’ve already mentioned is applicable to setting up a multi-day hospitality tent, but here are some additional things consider:

  1. You’ll need an event microsite. For smaller events, a registration site with basic event info is enough. For a campaign of this scale, however, you’ll want to make sure you have an entire microsite (with multiple pages) dedicated to housing all of the information that might be valuable to your invitees and attendees.

  2. The more experiential activations, the more you'll get out of the event.  Using experiential tech for a campaign of this size is almost a must. It will not only streamline event logsitics, but will also create a better experience—for both you and your attendees.  Here’s how:

    • Streamline check-in and access control: If you’re going to control who comes in and out of your hospitality tent—or at least want to track who comes and how long they stay—you’ll want to provide attendees with NFC-activated badges or wristbands. This will eliminate the need for team members to manually check people in with an app and will also help prevent entrance lines from forming.

    • Learn more about your attendees: The true power of experiential activations is the data that they help you collect. If you’re hosting a large event, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to incorporate activations that are powered by tech. Some might be aimed at entertaining and creating a positive, branded experience, and others might be focused on educating attendees about your industry and product.

      Both will help you learn more about your attendees and overall target market. If you have multiple booths or stations within your event, for example, being able to track which ones your attendees visit the most and spend the most time interacting with will help you better understand their preferences. This will not only help you learn how to host more successful events in the future, but will also help you understand how to better market to your audience in general, regardless of the channel.

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