I’ve attended a lot of digital marketing conferences recently, and noticed that a type of fatigue sets in to the hard core road warriors who fly from city to city, and conference to conference. While the topics change and conference organizers work hard to bring interesting and useful content to their attendees, inevitably an example used in one presentation on brands doing it right (think: Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty) pops up in another, or a deep dive on one topic (It’s all about moment marketing! It’s all about micro-moment marketing!) is unfortunately only a buzzword apart from another session they’ve just attended. Attention sags with heads at tables as the attendee half pays attention to what’s being said while Snapchatting with one hand and answering a deluge of work emails with the other.
Even those paid to attend and be attentive can only stretch their minds so far around another insight into the benefits of programmatic media buying, a topic they’ve heard discussed ad nauseum (particularly if it happens to be an early morning session) even if opinions diverge on how best to deploy it.
And yet, I see the same faces from one event to the next, and hear tales of other events people don’t think they’ll ever return to. So what keeps them coming back? What makes an event so memorable and worthwhile it engenders a kind of tribal loyalty that other events fail to elicit, though marketed to the same core group?
In my observation as a photographer and someone professionally required to look at people and intuit their emotional states, I think the “secret sauce” of a conference that wins people’s hearts and minds is how it makes them feel.
While content is still the reigning monarch of the internet and a central theme at gatherings of marketing people discussing it, just getting content right is not going to win over the road weary, besieged brand manager with more money to spend than energy for another vendor’s kick at the can. Buyers, people with budget and the decision making power to pull the trigger on test spends and innovative new technologies, are always going to be high in demand wherever they are. Winning them over takes more than delivering a slick presentation, and beautiful infographics showing massive growth and uplift achieved on campaigns – even if it comes served with a mimosa.
What keeps people coming and makes them feel a little sad to leave behind, is the feeling they get when they are there. A feeling that you are with your people. You have found your tribe. You will get into conversations that stimulate your mind, and motivate you to do and be more. You’ll stay up too late and experience life illuminated only by outdoor firepits and empty glasses and you won’t be tired. You may even learn to walk on fire if you’re really, ahem, fired up.
Being with like-minded people, who want to talk together, drink together, laugh, joke and create something together around a fire is really about as primal as it gets. And it works. Yes a beautiful resort location helps, and yes, balmy eternal-summer evenings don’t hurt. Yes, the agenda has to be well structured and yes the presenters have to be engaging and smart, but in the end, what keeps people coming long after their biology suggests they should still be on their feet, is that warm feeling inside when you realize you are right where you belong.
Achieve that with your next conference and you’ll soon find you need a bigger venue.