At the end of last year, we put aside some of our marketing budget to attend events. Full disclosure: we’d never done anything event-related before, and we had no idea how we were going to use the money.
So where did we start? Texas.
In March, five of us packed our bags for the US to check out the notorious South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin. We also brought along a few goals: find out what other startups are doing at events, connect with peers, and get inspired to do something special. And when we saw 70,000 people there, we knew something was obviously working.
We came home with the inspiration to give event sponsorship a try. And a couple months later, we filled our suitcases with a few ideas to test at The Next Web (TNW) conference in Amsterdam.
Maybe it was beginner’s luck, but the whole thing was a hit. We had people lining up across the floor, wearing Typeform t-shirts in the street, and asking us to partner up for future gigs.
So we wanted to share the six steps that helped us get our events strategy off the ground.
Step 1: be selective about what you attend
How do you decide which events to attend? We started with the same focus as when we produce content for our blog, or select the voice and tone for our social media messages—with the audience.
We’re keen on getting our brand and product in front of Marketers and CEOs of SMEs. So we wanted to make sure that these were the people behind those big conference name badges.
Of course there are lots of events aimed at this audience, so we also considered location and reputation. This left us with a list of about 10 key events for the year—with The Next Web (TNW) Conference sitting right on top.
TNW is Europe’s leading tech festival. It pulls in nearly 15,000 people, and a large majority of these are the entrepreneurs, marketers, technology makers, and CEOs. A perfect fit.
And when we saw that we could set up a massive 21m2 booth with a coffee bar add-on, we knew we could make the place feel just like our Barception back home. More on that in a minute.
Step 2: define the objective
Let’s take a step back and look at why we wanted to show our faces at events in the first place. What were our main objectives?
- Presence. We wanted to strengthen our position in the market by sharing our brand and product message: conversational data collection.
- Personas. We wanted our target audience to experience our product directly, so we’d be top-of-mind when a typeform could solve one of their future jobs-to-be-done.
- People. We wanted to create opportunities to have real conversations with people, in line with our company vision: make things a little more human.
For some companies, attending events is solely about sales and ROI. For us, this wasn’t the case. Our main objective was awareness: sharing our brand and product message with key personas.
“Clear communication is the only way to manage people’s expectations.”
So we made sure that all stakeholders understood our why.
Step 3: collaborate across teams
Technically this was a Marketing project. But to make it work, we knew we needed a little help from our friends over in the Creative Team—okay, a lot of help.
We had a kick-off meeting to agree on objectives and outline everyone’s responsibilities. Then we jumped right into the fun stuff—the creative crew started working on original concepts, while our marketing folks established the sponsorship details.
Step 4: provide an experience
Earlier we mentioned SXSW, and there was a reason for this. For us, SXSW wasn’t about the talks and the official program—it was about the experiences we had throughout the conference.
If you’ve been to SXSW, you already understand. For those who haven’t, picture this: the entire Austin downtown is completely engulfed in the latest innovations in tech, music, and film. This is where we decided that we had to do something special at our next event.
And how did we do it? T-shirts and coffee. No really, hear me out.
First of all, we wanted to enable people to create something of their own, something they could take home that would be more meaningful than a conference notebook and a handful of stickers.
So we made t-shirts that had “I make __________ a little more human” printed across the front. We wanted to encourage people to think about the things they make, and how their work helps make this world a little more human.
We partnered with Wallnuts Murals—two local Amsterdam artists—to fill in the blank with a custom, hand-lettered word or phrase chosen by the booth visitors.
Honestly, we had no idea what to expect. Would anyone care about a personal hand-crafted t-shirt? Had we brought enough shirts? How long would people stick around with only two artists at work?
An hour and a half. For nearly two straight days, that’s how long people queued to express the numerous ways they work to make things more human.
Of course we made it easy for them to wait by serving coffees, lattes, and macchiatos made right there on spot. We also took the opportunity to have conversations with people waiting in line as they sipped their brew—just how we’d do it back at our office. 😉
We learned that providing custom take-aways delivered with authentic conversations really made a difference. It also created quite a bit of buzz around our space. When you walk into an exhibition hall and see a never-ending line of people waiting to visit a booth, it naturally sparks a bit of curiosity.
Step 5: maximize your presence
If you’re going to invest resources into an event, make sure you get the most out of it—this is exactly what we aimed for.
We started with the t-shirts and coffee booth, and we eventually landed in the inboxes of every conference attendee. How?
We were officially announced as the post-event survey partner. After the event, TNW sent out an email to all attendees with a link to this feedback survey:
This gave us the opportunity to get thousands of conference attendees to experience our product first-hand, even if they hadn’t visited out booth.
In addition, our cofounder David hosted one of TNW’s roundtable discussions. This let people interested in design and entrepreneurship have a casual chat with David—right in line with one of our main goals of having real conversations with people.
Step 6: assess success
The universal feeling was that TNW was a huge hit for us. But how did we actually know we’d invested in the right place? Here’s how we assessed our success:
1. We revisited our key objectives:
- Presence + spread brand message
- Product experience
- Face-to-face conversations
2. We collected feedback from the Typeform team that attended.
3. We checked in on other stats, like social media engagement.
4. We reached out to booth visitors after the event, and got tons of feedback like this:
When it was all said and done, we put everything together in a post-event report and shared it with the team and other stakeholders. Overall, the results we positive and we were happy with how it turned out.
But of course, there were some key learning and things to improve. That’s always the case, right?
Here are two big things we learned:
- Leverage social media: we initially intended to have a social media competition to encourage people to share their t-shirt online. Unfortunately, we didn’t communicate this very well with the team or booth visitors, and it ended up being a lost opportunity.
- Over-communicate: when you’re coordinating around 15 people, there can be never be too much communication. We found out the hard way that some things weren’t clearly communicated to our own people—things like staff shifts, product demo details, and even the most obvious things like how to pitch Typeform. Oops, but we’re learning.
So, what’s next in the Typeform event world?
We just got back from SaaStock in Dublin, and our next stop will be WebSummit in Lisbon for The House of Beautiful Business. We’d love to see you there! 🙂