Face-to-Face? Digital? Building Brand Engagement Consistently


I’ve had many colleagues and friends remark on how different the two worlds are: One “live,” the other “digital.” One bound by scheduling and logistics, the other ever-present and ever-connected. One using human language, the other using language only computers can understand. But both personal. One is the “make a human connection” kind of personal; the other is the “I can do it in my PJs” kind of personal.

So how is it possible to use both to build brand engagement? Face-to-face guys and gals are always gonna be face-to-face guys and gals, right? And you can’t teach a digital UX/UI/IA/SEO/PPC wizard or ninja – because it’s magic!

While some may say that it would take a Renaissance man, a marketing Michelangelo, to harness the power of both, that’s far from the truth (just don’t tell my mom). Think about it.

Is it live or is it digital?

Let’s imagine a huge crowd of people in an undetermined location. Some of them are motivated buyers who know what they’re looking for, perhaps dedicated brand loyalists. Others are tire kickers, interested in learning more because of a conversation with a coworker at the coffeemaker. Still, some people show up because they’re avoiding doing any real work.

On top of that, a different segment of each group is interested in education, while others want an in-and-out transaction. Still others are just plain bored. How do you get their attention? Get them interested? Start a conversation? Move them? Engage them? Get them to come back?

Now, whether you read the above description from the perspective of a convention floor or a search engine, the point is made. Both digital and event marketers are asking themselves the same questions. How can we deliver to the expectations of this fairly diverse crowd, regardless of the market channel? (Hint: Stop talking about different channels.)

Here are four things that we can all do, no matter what language we speak.

1. Define a conversion.

A client once asked me, “How do you measure conversions?” I  asked the client, “How do you define a conversion? are your objectives?” Much of the confusion around marketing measurement is the lack of definition for “conversion.”

At a healthcare convention, a conversion may be defined as a badge scan. For a convention manager in the print industry, a conversion might be moving a prospect to a customer with an on-the-floor sale. A web-based conversation could mean a download or a newsletter sign-up. Define what a conversion means early in the process, and make sure your agency (digital or face-to-face) builds deliverables around it.

2. Think user experience, not traffic.

Once we have defined conversion, we need to stop thinking about “shepherding” visitors to our exhibit or to our website, and begin thinking about enabling them. The event or online experience should align equally between what the visitor wants and our corporate goals. Learn as much as you can about your visitors, live or virtual, and their goals and interests. Then find the middle ground between those interests and what you, as a marketer, are charged to do by your managers. Your goal is convergence.

3. Drive to the “hub” and deliver on the promise.

It’s possible to do all of the right things, but not develop any new business. Do your communications contain a call-to-action? Does your trade show staff know how to propose the next step? We invest in websites to be the digital doorstep of our businesses, but sometimes we forget to supply the directions on how to get there. When we participate in trade shows or other face-to-face initiatives, our floor space needs to become the hub of all the different efforts geared to get visitors’ attention and participation. Advertising, social, video, ancillary events, or sponsorships need to meet corporate goals and objectives while satisfying attendees’ interests. It’s no longer “build it, and they will come.” Tell them where, how, and most importantly, why they need to show up.

4. Learn, evolve and prosper.

Event marketers need to have the same mindset towards their convention or event programs. If you are not satisfied with how your program is evolving through trends in technology and the fluctuating interests of your attendees, it’s time to breathe new life into it. Your event agency needs to know that you feel it’s time to ramp up the effort.

No one should be stuck with an experience for 3-5 years just because it’s a trade show exhibit. Marketing, at its core, is about meeting the needs and expectations of the market. How we do that is mutable.