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How to use influencer marketing at conferences and trade shows



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March 4, 2024 | 6 min read

Influencer marketing is not solely relegated to digital formats such as Facebook

Influencer marketing is not solely relegated to digital formats such as Facebook. Within the broader public relations world, several offline channels can make use of influencers to further their goals. For example, conferences and industry trade shows are obvious-in-hindsight channels for influence that are often overlooked.

Here we look at how influencer marketing can be utilized at conferences and trade shows. For the purpose of this article, we can consider trade shows, expos, industry specific fairs and conferences as being the same general concept. While there are differences as to whether the marketing is strictly B2B or B2C (due to the public versus private nature of such events), and despite virtual events growing in popularity in recent years, we're strictly considering in-person events here.

How does sponsorship marketing work at trade shows?

Having run events for the Digital Marketers Organization, I find there are multiple sponsor marketing avenues companies can employ to get in front of their target audience:

1.) Giveaway swag items

Branded merchandise such as cups, pens, water bottles, notebooks, and other bulk items which may be used by the target audience on a daily basis earn a company some degree of mindshare via passive branding. Giveaway swag can occur both directly from table or booth space and indirectly in the form of the welcome bag.

2.) Wearable swag items

The idea behind wearable swag items is that the elevated cost results in a better ROI by having attendees use when interacting with other attendees. This includes t-shirts, hoodies, hats, shoes, backpacks, and much more.

3.) Lanyards

Lanyards are somewhat unique in that they are not swag items, but are religiously worn through the event timeframe, acting as consistent branding.

4.) Event and section sponsorships

While it varies by conference, these types of sponsorships usually come coupled with a variety of branding opportunities splashed around the conference venue in the form of hang clean stickers, thank you messaging on slides, and a variety of other logo rich branding designed to be seen by attendees.

5.) Paid speaker

Not every conference offers this as a sponsorship opportunity, but some will offer a speaking slot as part of a sponsorship package, which enables a company to establish itself as a thought leader in the space.

6.) Booth and table space

The most commonly thought of sponsorship at trade expos is the booth space, which allows a company to highlight their product or service in-person to potential buyers.

Which influence types exist for these sponsorship types?

Recall that the three most common types of influencers are aspirational, authoritative and peer. Aspirational is viewed often through the lens of celebrity influence, authoritative is the appeal to authoritative expertise, and peer influence is that which we encountered on a daily basis from our friends, family, neighbors, and others within our peer group.

The influence type best suited for each sponsorship type will depend on how we calculate using the usefulness matrix. I use a 1, 2 or 3 (with 3 being the highest score) to explain the power a type possesses for each attribute:

Within giveaway swag, the most logical choice is peer influence. Everyone in attendance will hopefully receive the swag and thus the it can be exclusionary in the sense of having shown one has attended a particular conference by virtue of receiving the swag. Several years later, I might use a pen from a SEO conference in front of someone else who was also there, rekindling the shared connection.

Wearable swag is an even deeper connection than giveaway swag. In some cases it may appear to be peer influence, but over time acts as an authoritative signal. Showing up at a conference wearing the swag from 10 years past establishes that individual as someone with deeper experience. Further, consider the power of having the wearable swag being provided to a select group of industry experts at the event, paying them to wear the swag all on the same day. Co-opting that authoritative influence in numbers could be perceived by new industry entrants as a de facto product or service endorsement.

Lanyards are worn not just at the event, but the after parties. Possession of the badge dangling from the lanyard is a pass to all event activities. Asking to see an attendee's badge is to check to see if they are part of the group, a peer influence signal.

Event and section level sponsorships are a mix of influencer types. On one hand, it's a method of establishing a peer rapport among event attendees, but it often also allows the sponsor to act as a host for certain aspects of the conference, which provides for an appeal to authority among attendees. As an example, the host sponsor of cocktail hour is perceived to be providing benefits to attendees, and in conversations may be deferred to.

Speakers at a conference are very obviously seen as authoritative; in some cases, such as very large shows, they may also carry a minor celebrity-like influence for those that one day want to also share the stage. Attendees can both be informed by speakers and want to be the speakers.

For the most part, the physical sponsor space is used in conjunction with other sponsor types such as swag, so it becomes an amplifier of peer influence. Depending on the other services provided at the booth, such as offering real-time value proposition in the form of demoing the product or service directly for an attendee's specific needs, the expert level information can skew towards authoritative influence.

Hopefully this convinces you that influencers aren't just a construct of digital marketers. For your company's next event, consider how sponsorships might be utilized to increase influence to further your own goals.

Conferences Influencer Marketing Digital Marketing


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