The best marketing conferences are…

By Chuck Kent, Director of Brand Content, Avenue

So, what are the qualities of the best marketing conferences — or any conference? What makes it worthwhile for those 225 million US attendees to spend of $115 billion annually to attend 1.83 million industry confabs (as of 2012, according to PwC; those figures, of course, including far more than just marketing conferences).

Conference-choosing criteria will obviously vary according to attendee, but allow me to offer a basic five-point guide that should apply to almost any conference. And, this being the Chicago AMA blog, I’ll use one example close to my brand marketers heart (yes, we do have hearts) to illustrate my points:  BrandSmart 2016, coming up April 28 in Chicago.

Five keys to choosing a great marketing conference

  1. Is it relevant?

Relevance should be judged on two dimensions, and the first is content.  Is the theme of the content relevant to you, specifically, and not just on trend with the industry at large? Are there enough streams within the theme to hit your individual needs?

Consider how BrandSmart 2016 is being structured. The overall theme is “Creativity: Connecting Ideas to Drive Results.” OK, so far so good: creativity is fairly well the heart of our business, from developing brand strategies (don’t get me going on how the strategy is really the big idea) to creating communications capable of breaking through to customers.

And that notion of connecting is huge; in a marketing world that still struggles with breaking down organizational silos and and bridging ever-expanding customer touchpoints, learning to connect internally and externally is more important than ever.

The conference also takes the big theme and channels it into three main content streams:

  • Built to win – for those in, or aspiring to leadership, looking for insights for succeeding in an uncertain future
  • Think differently —for those looking to inspire employees and the brand experiences they drive
  • Secrets of success — for those who need to turn data and the hardcore nitty gritty of marketing into actionable insights and bottom line results
  1. Is it challenging?

You don’t need predictive analytics to know that the typically predictable conference presentations get you nowhere.   Are the thoughts truly provoking?
Do they shake up your preconceived notions?  BrandSmart aims to do exactly that with, for instance, a session on how to take one of the deadliest-dull categories and inspire it to life in sometimes wild, always very human ways.

  1. Is it involving?
    Brand marketing is a business that loves to blather on about engagement—so make sure the conference you’re going to offers real engagement, not just “you sit, we talk” presentations. Two elements are critical here: scope and the quality of Q&A.  Some conferences have multiple thousands of attendees; there’s no way you’re going to get up close and personal.  They can even get too large to accommodate any audience questions at all.

BrandSmart limits itself to a few hundred attendees, and builds in plenty of Q&A time for each session. For instance, two sessions will feature agency/client teams detailing how they’re successfully bridging the divide between traditional yesterday and forever-changing tomorrow… and as much as a third of each session will be devoted to discussion with the audience, giving you the opportunity to both explore what’s worked for them and ask how they would handle challenges you’re facing in the client-agency relationship.

Networking, of course, is it’s own kind of involvement, and the most common benefit to attending any conference. Again, unless you’re all about passing out the greatest quantity of cards possible, a smaller conference gives you a better shot at making quality connections.

  1. Is it teaching rather than selling?
    Then there’s the sales-meeting-disguised-as-an-industry-conference syndrome. BrandSmart, for one, is a conference “built on a foundation of takeaways,” that is, all sessions are selected based first on their ability to deliver useful learning.
  2. Is it a good value?
    Believe it or not, expense isn’t the main issue here (although some conferences are entering the cost stratosphere). The question is, will the combination of time spent, plus money laid out, multiplied by the people you meet tally as a net plus… one you couldn’t get just staying home and, say, reading the presenters books or blog posts? With its more-affordable-than-most pricing and more-interesting-than-most content, BrandSmart is a great example of a good value.

So those are my top five criteria for choosing a conference… and I hope you’ll use them to choose  BrandSmart 2016, which delivers on all key points of what “The best marketing conferences are…”

About the author
Chuck Kent is a volunteer member of the Chicago AMA Programming Committee, and the Director of Brand Content for Avenue, the B2B marketing strategy and activation firm.




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