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How to generate buzz at big events (without official sponsorship) 🥁
28 unconventional ways to make noise at conferences
Last week, Zendesk pulled off a genius marketing stunt:
🌃 They flew an army of drones over the venue of a Foo Fighters concert, right when the show ended (and everyone walked outside). If you scanned the QR code they displayed in the sky, you got free food from nearby food trucks.
Now, here's the twist: At the same time, in the same city – San Francisco, there was a Dreamforce conference in motion, organized by Zendesk's biggest competitor, Salesforce. That message in the sky wasn't meant for the Foo Fighters fans; it was a clever jab at their competition.
A few years ago, Brex, a credit card startup, faced a similar situation: They couldn't secure official sponsorship at SXSW (South by Southwest).
So what did they do?
🛎️ They teamed up with the hotel where attendees were staying — and made the hotel room key cards look like Brex cards. This simple key card ad became a huge growth engine for them.
These 2 stories show a powerful marketing idea: Instead of sponsoring the event, create branded experiences around it. Zendesk stole the moment right after the concert, while Brex got their brand into the pocket of every single attendee with room keys.
💥 How to create event buzz without official sponsorship?
Step 1: Map out the entire "Attendee Journey” (it’s like a customer journey, but at conferences).
Step 2: Participate in as many parts of the journey as we can. Bonus points if our involvement connects with our brand or product (e.g. Brex and cards).
💎 My cheat sheet of 28 ‘attendee journey’ hacks
Here's a typical attendee journey for an event — along with my favorite strategies for seizing each opportunity:
🛫 Flying into the city:
Buy airport billboards.
Collaborate with airlines to display ads on in-seat media screens.
Send out free travel kits with a pre-event social media campaign.
Cover seat upgrades for attendees who schedule meetings with your reps during the conference.
🚕 Driving into the city:
Activate Uber ads during the conference period and in the city (not known to many marketers, Uber offers advertisers in-app rider screen ads).
Provide complimentary deluxe airport transfers with your SDRs onboard for conversations during the ride.
🛌 Arriving at the hotel:
Sponsor the hotel’s key cards.
Partner with local Airbnb hosts or hoteliers to provide branded welcome baskets or gifts in attendee rooms.
Host a dinner or an afternoon tea at the hotel
Set up a branded in-room TV streaming channel with curated content.
📱 Personal downtime (phone usage):
Offer a branded event or city-related playlist, and advertise through Spotify Ads.
Create geofenced Snapchat filters or Instagram AR filters specific to the event's location.
Launch targeted social media ads or PPC ads based on the event's location and date.
🍔 Eating around the city:
Partner with popular local restaurants for exclusive discounts and rename dishes to align with your brand. Hand out vouchers to those restaurants.
Offer free morning coffee.
Place a free food truck outside the venue.
🏃 Arriving at the conference venue:
Buy out the billboards next to the venue
Distribute free wearable items and promise rewards for those spotted wearing them inside the venue (Beats in the Olympics is an extreme example of this).
Put stickers on the sidewalk and traffic signs/poles (get a permit).
Drone show at night (get a permit).
🍸 Night activities:
Rent out a local bar or venue for a night and host a free after-party. Use an RSVP system to control attendance and gather leads.
Sponsor or host themed dinner nights (like a taco Tuesday or BBQ night).
Offer free morning yoga or fitness sessions for attendees.
Create a relaxation or meditation space near the event venue for attendees to recharge.
Provide massage chairs or stations with branded masseuses.
🛍 Shopping & local attractions:
Collaborate with local shops for special deals or discounts for attendees.
Design scavenger hunts leading to local attractions, rewarding successful participants.
Deploy field agents for city tours during off-conference hours, integrating occasional pitches.
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I love this marketing idea because it eliminates the need for direct event participation in the event, such as setting up a booth or buying tickets. Instead, all these hacks are meant to happen outside the event venue.
See you next Friday! ✌️