How do you get people to visit your booth at one of the most crowded marketing conferences of the year?

By creating buzz – but not the kind of buzz that translates into empty social shares. You need to generate authentic conversation.

This is not your typical event marketing case study

This isn’t a typical case study because I’m not a typical marketer. My name is Rachel, and I’m Influitive’s 19-year-old marketing co-op student. I’m a second-year Joint Honors Rhetoric and Economics student at the University of Waterloo, and this was my first work term.

Leading up to the Marketo Marketing Nation Summit, Alex Shipillo, Influitive’s Senior Marketing Manager, asked me to help generate buzz for the Customer Engagement Zone: a collection of webinars, events and other activities run by six partners (Gainsight, Demandbase, Vidyard, Certain, ReadyTalk and, of course, Influitive).

I knew I’d have to engage people on the typical social channels, but I didn’t want our messaging to get lost in the flurry of #MTKGNATION14 tweets surrounding the 110 other vendors and high-profile keynote speaker, Hillary Clinton.

I needed a way to:

  • Promote specific pieces of Customer Engagement Zone partner content
  • Interact with conference attendees
  • Drive Influitive’s booth traffic at the Summit
  • Boost our visibility as a vendor; and
  • Track key results and metrics

Event marketing 2.0: Mobilizing conference attendee advocates

Event marketing with the AdvocateHubUsing Influitive’s advocate marketing software, I built an AdvocateHub for the Customer Engagement Zone.

Throughout my internship, I’d seen how the platform could create a network of customer advocates, and I wanted to create my own network of conference attendees to boost the signal about Influitive and our partners.

This is how I did it:

1. Driving adoption

My biggest fear as I created the Customer Engagement Zone hub was that no one would want to join. What I discovered, though, is that advocate growth is naturally exponential. All you need is a small group of advocates to model healthy participation and establish social proof. As these people invite their friends and colleagues, network effects take over and the advocate marketer’s job gets much, much easier.

I started the Customer Engagement Zone by sending an email invitation to everyone who had attended one of the earliest partner webinars. A few self-selected early adopters joined – the kind of people who want to tell their friends about the hot new thing they’ve discovered.

Those earliest advocates played a crucial role in creating social proof for the hub. They populated the leaderboards and publicly responded to activities, which boosted our visibility. At first I was worried that the earliest members of the Customer Engagement Zone would churn well before the beginning of the Summit, but then I realized they had already played their role.

According to communication theorist Everett Rogers, a normal adoption curve takes the form shown below:

Normal technology adoption curve

Seth Godin argues that, in reality, many forms of technology don’t follow this. In my experience, the adoption pattern for an AdvocateHub looks a lot more like a “snowball effect,” with every type of adopter playing an important role in growing the advocate community:

Adoption curve for event advocatehub

Innovators and Early Adopters: They spread the word about our community and created social proof for the hub.

Early Majority and Late Majority: Their sheer numbers colonized social media, allowing us to become visible under #MTNGNATION14. They ended up being the most active advocates.

Laggards: These people joined the Customer Engagement Zone at the Marketo Summit, or just before. Although they didn’t have time to complete many activities in the hub, they were responsible for most of our promotion at the Summit because they were still buzzing about their new discovery.

Customer Engagement Zone tech rainbow

2. The hook: competition

In addition to creating interesting activities for attendees to complete, the Customer Engagement Zone needed a solid hook to keep people coming back.

AdvocateHub’s infrastructure supports this with points, badges and leaderboards, but I wanted a better sticking point to prevent participants from leaving – something that would motivate them to complete as many activities as possible.

I settled on a tech bundle as the grand prize, and three Nike+ Fuelbands for the runners up.

I periodically issued surveys with questions like, “What color iPad mini would you want to get?” This way, the prizes were always top of mind and participants felt more motivated.

One advocate commented, “As soon as I got in, I wanted to be at the top.”

Although the prizes were a good hook to attract initial sign-ups, competition among peers was what kept people engaged long-term. The top advocates were neck and neck leading up to the Marketo Marketing Nation Summit, and once the conference started their competitiveness got even more intense because it was their last chance to win the prize.

This was powerful because it created authentic buzz about the Customer Engagement Zone and, even more importantly, the energy ramped up at the perfect time.

3. The bread and butter of the advocate experience: Challenges

From the outset I decided to segment all advocates into two basic groups. That way I wouldn’t overwhelm new registrants who might not have seen the AdvocateHub interface before.

Customer Engagement Zone intro challengeIntro Group: This is the group that all new advocates joined automatically. They started with a few challenges, all of which were geared towards teaching them about the anatomy of the program.

I also included an introductory challenge with mandatory public answers so new advocates could see that other people were actively participating.

Main Group: After they completed the introductory activities, participants were automatically placed into the main group, which allowed them to see all challenges.

I started out with around 10 challenges that got advocates to complete a wide range of activities including:

  • Attending and promoting Customer Engagement Zone webinars
  • Completing surveys
  • Reading white papers
  • Inviting friends

But after some of the early adopters churned, I discovered that 10 challenges weren’t enough. Rather, it was important for the most active advocates to have 10 uncompleted challenges available to them at all times so they would stay engaged. If they logged in and saw only a couple of available challenges, they might decide to come back later and never follow through.

Through trial and error, I found a sweet spot: At least 5 new challenges per week leading up to the conference, and 20 when the conference was about to start. This kept participants engaged but not overwhelmed.

In addition to activities that were more work-intensive, like explaining why customer engagement is important, I made sure to have fun and casual challenges.

One of the most popular challenges (completed by 24 participants) was a simple question asking “How do you feel about Hillary Clinton?” Answering an easy question like that got advocates warmed up, and ready to complete some of the bigger tasks, such as downloading a white paper (which also got 24 challenge completions).

Point-value incentives played an important role in challenge planning. Because I could assign higher point values to more important challenges, I created a strong incentive for people to promote the Customer Engagement Zone socially. Additionally, the only repeatable challenge (therefore an endless source of points) was one asking advocates to recruit a colleague to the Customer Engagement Zone. 

Participants could submit the contact information of as many people as they wanted, but they would only be given the points after I ensured that it was a good referral. This allowed me to continuously add high-quality advocates from companies who were engaged with our message and motivated because they already knew people competing for the prizes.

4. Going mobile at the Summit

I knew it was unrealistic to expect our advocates to spend a lot of time on a web portal while they were at the Summit, but I also had to make sure that they linked the content leading up to the Summit with our presence there. That’s where Maven (Influitive’s mobile application) came in.

The app enabled challenge completion from the event itself, which unlocked a huge amount of engagement opportunities. I created many mobile-specific activities, including checking in at the partners’ booths and sessions, taking photos with us at the conference and sharing insights on the go. Here are some of the photos attendees took and uploaded to the Zone:

To get people to use the app at the Marketo Summit, I wanted to make sure they had formed a habit of using it before the conference started.

From the beginning there was always a challenge directing advocates to download Maven, but two weeks before the conference started I created challenges segmented by activity level. Participants who were falling behind were reminded about the prizes, and that downloading Maven would be a chance to catch up. Over-achieving advocates were notified that if they didn’t get Maven, they could fall behind.

Because advocates had experience with Maven before the conference started, they knew what to expect when using the app. I knew that attendees were going to be in an environment full of new information, so it was important for their Maven experience to enhance, not complicate, the Summit.


Event marketing stats

Influitive will continue to see the impact of The Customer Engagement Zone in the coming quarters. At a most basic level, it put our product in the hands of over 150 people – a captive audience made up of our target market, many of whom were director-level or above.

The contest element inspired urgency to use our software, which made for the most natural type of product demo.

Advocates could explore the software independently, but while being part of a bigger movement that was focused on generating enthusiasm for a great use case for advocacy: event marketing.

In addition to pushing the needle for our goals as a company, the Customer Engagement Zone helped us to increase the return on our sponsorship of the Marketing Nation Summit both by driving booth traffic and pre-qualifying that traffic. Many attendees had heard of the Customer Engagement Zone and knew that Influitive was behind it, whether they were part of it or not.

By increasing our brand awareness at the event, we were a higher-profile sponsor than we otherwise would have been, and we attracted people to our booth who were genuinely interested in our product.