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If I’ve learned anything in product marketing, it’s to be ready for anything

“Our original speaker can’t go, so we were wondering if you can speak instead?” my PR Director inquired at my desk, “You know the product better than anyone and the marketing messages behind it. Web Summit in Dublin is regarded as the world’s largest and best tech fest, so the optics opportunity for Infusionsoft is huge.”

I blinked in disbelief. My company was flying me to Dublin to speak about marketing automation and Infusionsoft in front of 45,000 people.

“I’d love to, when do I leave?”

This is a perfect example of why it’s critical for product marketers to know our company’s messaging inside and out, have full understanding of how our products function and be able to marry the two into a story (bonus points if you tell this story through the lens of customer success examples).

Take a moment and ask yourself:

  • How good are my talk tracks, pitches and stories? Am I able to explain what my company does? Am I able to explain how our products enable our customers to succeed? Do I have customer stories prepped that I can point to and use to quantify my claims and speak in my buyer’s language? Are my messaging and stories out of date?
  • If I’m not attending a conference and we’re sending someone else, have I equipped them? Have I trained the rest of my company on messaging? Do they know what to say? What not to say? Do they have collateral, take-aways or landing pages they can use to capture leads?
  • If ‘no’ to any of the above, what do I need to fix first? How am I going to fix it? At what cadence do I need to retrain, revise, etc.?

Okay, back to Web Summit and conferences in general…

The argument against conferences is misplaced

While the ROI for attending, speaking or sponsoring conferences is widely debated, I view the argument itself often misplaced. While most things in today’s digital age can be measured, some things can’t. And just because they can’t be measured, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do them.

For product marketers, attending another company’s conference is a(n):

  • Opportunity to learn and broaden your product marketing skills from seeing what’s done right
  • Opportunity to meet and network with other product marketers to learn from them
  • Great place to conduct market, competitive and customer research en masse (on attendees, exhibitors, sponsors, etc.)

…without having to lift a finger. All of that opportunity is organized for you and presented on a silver platter. $1,000 registration fee? Much cheaper than the time it would take me to dive that deep into organizing my own research. Not to mention, I’ve discovered competitive intel from employees manning my competitors’ booths that I would never come across otherwise.

 

We product marketers must also remember that conferences are an essential part of the marketing mix for our own company and its products or services. Aside from rounding out your marketing mix, there are trickle-down benefits to the rest of the organization. Putting on your own conference is great fuel for user engagement and retention, a venue for product launches and an opportunity to demonstrate thought leadership to the market. If your conference is not exclusive to your users and open to prospects, even better! What better place to map the buyer’s journey, generate some leads and sell them into your family?

There’s a lot of value to be had in conferences, whether attending, exhibiting, speaking, sponsoring or organizing. Before you pull out the credit card, strategize. What are you looking to get out of it? If it makes sense, go. Stop worrying so much about calculating specific ROI.

Conferences can be a gold mine when it comes to product marketing…if you do it right

The problem most product marketers get themselves into is stopping their thinking at attendance. Yes, attending is great but solely attending is what results in the ROI argument from employers as discussed above. As discussed in the section above, it’s imperative to have a strategy that extracts value from every hour (and dollar) you spend at the conference.

When Infusionsoft went to Web Summit, none of us had a free moment the entire four days we were there. My team included another Product Marketing Manager, our Director of Public Relations, our Director of International and members from our PR firm. We all worked together beforehand to merge objectives and leverage each others’ expertise to get maximum impact from our time there. The outcomes were:

  • Me speaking on the 2nd largest stage about marketing automation trends (thought leadership) and weaving Infusionsoft and our product into my responses (product promotion)
  • 3 media interviews with Ireland’s top tech publications, including the Silicon Republic and Hot Topics Magazine 
  • A site visit with Intercom, a software we use for in-app communication to users
  • Competitive landscape research on established companies in the expo halls, leading us to find two new competitors we were not aware of previously
  • Intel on new marketing automation startups and technology trends from startups exhibiting and demo-ing in the funding expo halls
  • Time spent with Irish prospects and customers, giving us a better idea of how to acquire more of the Irish market

All of the above netted us awareness in a country where we don’t have a lot of customers (yet), more authority from positioning ourselves as a thought leader and a decent amount of social and web impressions thanks to coordinating with those teams back home to give us some extra juice. Furthermore, it opened a relationship with Web Summit and their sister conferences for us to return as a repeat speaker/sponsor.

The bottom line

  • As product marketers, we have to be ready for anything. The best way to satisfy this is being the person who knows your company’s and products’ message and story the best, so you can talk about them anytime, anywhere.
  • It’s also our responsibility to evangelize the message and train those around us so they are equally prepared, the message is consistent and its integrity is not compromised.
  • Conferences are valuable when you take the time to develop a strategy that goes beyond merely attending
  • How can you take advantage of an upcoming tech conference to position your company as an authority, put your product in the spotlight or plow through some competitive research?
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