13 Marketing Strategies to Maximize Your Potential at Conferences, Festivals or Events

When I was running Hot Band Boys and HBB Clothing, I often paid a lot of money to set up a booth at local and national music festivals (South By So What, and Skate & Surf to name a few).


Festivals, summits, and conferences are a great way to tap into new markets, build new leads and get some face time with existing clients. These events can be stressful because of crowds and competitors, but most of all because you want the best possible return on investment. So how do you stand out from the other vendors?  


The following are are tried and true strategies that myself and other vendors used to attract customers to the booth, create sales leads, and meet the maximum potential for brand awareness.


Before the event:


Promote on social media: If you have a budget, create targeted ads on social media outlets to let people know you’ll be in the area. If you don’t have a budget, just simply create a post with all the necessary information about the event you’ll be attending to let your existing fans know.


Use the event hashtag or coordinate with the event staff: Set up special promotions with the event staff, or ask them politely to help with spreading the knowledge about your promotions. For example: Before doors open, letting people know you have a limited amount of free (whatever) for the first 20 people who show up to the booth.


Promote locally: If you can arrive at your destination a day or two early, then go around to the local establishments to see if they’ll let you leave some promo materials. People will most likely (if it’s a multi-day festival) be staying in a hotel, or eating at local restaurants. You might just catch their attention on the way in/out of those places. The best promotional materials for this would have incentives or discounts attached.


At your booth:


Have promo materials ready to go: Festival attendees naturally like to take free things from booths while walking around. Promotional materials that worked best for me were promo cards with pictures of my  products, stickers, and even small business cards that gave people an incentive or discount. Even non-brand related items like an event map (you could even sell these for $1 at Warped) will attract people to your tent. One thing that I was missing was branded plastic or paper bags. People often asked if we had a bag for their merchandise.


Have an email list sign-up ready to go: Nowadays there is probably an app for this, but I used the old fashion way. When people were in the middle of a purchase, before I gave them change, I had an email list on the table where they could sign up for discounts, or I would phrase it as “we’re giving away $20 to use at our store, or a free t-shirt each day if you sign up here.” If you ask, most people will write down the email. You’ll also be amazed at the amount of people who voluntarily write their email or contact information down while waiting for their change or transaction to complete. The only downfall of this is illegible handwriting. 


Give promo materials with purchase: When you hand the product over, give them a business card with an extra 20% off their next purchase and/or give them a free sticker or promo card. The customer is more likely to either go home and look at your product (which if you include a specific link on your marketing materials you can track) or pass the card to a friend.


Special Events/Celebrities/People of Interest: If you know any local celebs, see if they’ll stop by your tent for a ‘signing’ or some press pictures.Coordinate with them to publicize they are stopping at your tent in advance. Example


Celebrity endorsements: Piggybacking off the previous idea, have these “celebs” sport your product. For example: I would get tons of band members to either wear the stickers or the t-shirts on stage, around the venue, or around the festival. Sometimes you can even convince them to give you a shoutout. This undoubtedly attracts people to your booth. Example


A crowd, attracts more of a crowd: I found that whenever I naturally had a group of people surrounding my tent buying things, more people would start buying things. People are naturally curious and want to check out what everyone is looking at (FOMO). If you can’t naturally get a crowd, have a bunch of your friends just stand in front of your tent during a busy time. Before you know it, more people will be in line to see your products, and you’ll end up making sales.


Megaphone: I personally did not use this (I opted to shout at people), but many vendors at festivals like Warped Tour use megaphones to blast music, or to get people’s attention. This method would be most appropriate for outdoor festivals.  


Outside of your tent:


Utilize your street team: I’ll have more blog posts coming on how to create a healthy community of street team members, but in the meantime, if you have a street team in the area or even a small support system for your business, recruit those people to come help (paid or unpaid), and hand out promotional items such as business cards, promo cards, stickers, postcards, gather emails, etc. You can send these people out into the crowds while you stay behind the booth taking care of orders (or vice versa). For example: During Skate n Surf in NJ, I had my friend who helped me that weekend, go out walking up and down handing out HBB stickers. People naturally like the stickers because of the words “hot band boys” and started a phenomenon of sticking them to people’s bottoms. It was effective (and hilarious) organic viral marketing at its best.


Give stuff to people standing in lines: This worked WONDERS at all shows and festivals. People usually will show up early and start long lines outside the venue to get in. Festival attendees stand around outside way in advance for a show because they want to get barricade. People are bored waiting. Why not give them a promo card to look at? Why not give them a sticker to play with? These people all have their phones. You just handed them info about your store with a link, and now they are already SHOPPING while waiting in line. People are standing in line for food….give them some info too!


Walk around the venue. People are always just standing around, tweeting or looking for something to do. Maybe they are saving battery on their phone – hand them a card, or talk to them and have them come over to your booth and make friends. Don’t try to sell them, just have them look at your product and get a sense of your brand from your personality. For non-music festivals, find people just sitting around on the green, waiting on a bench, standing in a hall.



^^ our booth neighbors, James and Nico from Kill Brand


Bonus: Make Friends With Other Vendors. My mother actually gets credit for this one. She bought me a big container of dum-dum lollipops for South By So What (we drove from CT to Texas and she wanted us to have snacks). My friend and I vending weren’t going to eat this huge container of candy, so once we were done setting up every day, or during a break, I would go around to the other vendors and simply offer a lollipop. It’s a great icebreaker to introduce yourself and start a networking conversation. I made so many friends and business connections this way. Most people remembered me a few months later at Skate & Surf because of this, where I carried on the tradition. These connections turned into business partnerships and even small amounts of friendly advice from more experienced vendors.


Remember: An attractive and interactive display or booth will also definitely help in this situation.


Do you have any strategies you think might be worth mentioning? Let me know in the comments below.


Until the next adventure,

Lauren

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