Who doesn’t love a good conference? The bad coffee, the lanyard, the goodie bag, and the awkward conversations under the guise of “networking”…love it. Joking aside, there are great reasons to get to a conference when you can. Google comes up with 197 million articles giving you any number of reasons why you should go.
But what about the benefits of not attending?
I’m not talking about ignoring conferences all together (though that’s a tactic) but how to use a conference to come up with content ideas, to drive coverage of your business and to meet new people. All that without the bad lunch. Here’s how.
What’s on the agenda?
This is your starting point, and I’m going to use the programme for The Innovative Food & Drink Science, Tech & Formulation Conference. Taking place next Tuesday in London, it’ll cost you £649+VAT to get through the door. When you factor in travel, and the time investment, then you’re probably looking at close to £1000.
But it’s a packed agenda, with 19 innovators due to speak on a variety of topics.
Here’s the first point. These are the topics that influencers, innovators, journalists and your peers in your industry are keen to find out more about, the things that are shaping your industry. So where does your business have something to say on those things? Where are those things an opportunity, or a threat, for your business?
Here’s an example
Monetise The Growing Natural Trend: Overcoming Formulation Barriers For Products Which Satisfy ‘Natural’ Criteria & Don’t Compromise On Product Function, Shelf- Life, Taste Or Appearance
Not the snappiest title, but there’s lots in there to unpick, and make the most of.
Are you on-trend?
Simple one. Is what you do something that more people are going to want to try? If you are part of the trend, do all your marketing materials, website and social media posts make it clear that this is what you do?
If you’re not part of this trend, then is it something that you want to be in on, or can be?
Take Greggs as a great example. You would not have thought even 2 years ago that Greggs would become famous for a vegan sausage roll. But they obviously saw the trends around veganism and thought about how they could make the most of it. While it might not have been a big threat to their core business, by taking it on it’s driven like for like sales by 9.2% and generated a bonus for staff.
Decide whether you’re already in on it and need to shout about your expertise, or get on it and work out how to make the most of it.
What are the criteria?
With any new development in a market, there tends to be a variety of views on what it means to have that kind of product. Consider the debates about natural or free-from. In the beauty world, the debate is about what is clean beauty.
When there’s no legislation, then you can only state what it means for your business and why. It’s a key part of your story, part of the why of your business.
When there is legislation, then everyone becomes the same, in theory. Unless you go above and beyond the criteria, seeing them only as a minimum. It’s even more important at that point to tell your story, and why you’ve chosen this route. As the big players get on board with a trend, then you still can have an advantage. That’s why your story is so important.
Where are the concerns?
What’s fascinating in this title is the areas that big manufacturers are going to need to overcome in their highly automated processes to make the most of the trend. Now, you could say that these things apply any time you’re creating a food product. But if the trend throws up particular challenges in these areas, and your product has overcome them already, then you want to be shouting about that.
For example, and only from personal experience, gluten-free bread used to be either dry and crumbly, or spongy and sort of sweet. Or hot sausage rolls were only for meat-eaters and vegetarians because no one had cracked a decent sausage replacement.
If these are the concerns of the industry, then you can guarantee your potential customers probably have the same ones. This allows you to tell them why and how your product gets around those things.
Where’s the money?
So, the first focus of this item is “monetise”. If you’re already in this area, then it’s a fair warning that more businesses are after a slice of your pie. If nothing else it gives you a heads up that you’re going to have more competition. Time to review all your activity, before they start crowding onto the pitch.
Review all the sessions
That’s just one of the sessions, and it can have given you content ideas as well as things to review within your business. At this particular conference, there are sessions on CBD, functional ingredients, trends in ingredients and the packaging and sustainability challenges.
That should generate plenty of ideas on the things that customers, journalists and buyers might be interested to hear your perspective on. All for some time investment in front of your laptop, rather than a day away from the business.
It’s difficult to replicate the people element of a conference without being there. It doesn’t mean that you can’t get any of this though. Here’s two ways you can make at least some new connections:
Look at the speaker list
Speaker lists are a mine of information. There might be a buyer listed that you’d be interested in talking to or a journalist with a specific focus on stories about your field of expertise. Perhaps it’s a fellow business owner you’d be interested in chatting to, or just hearing what they’re up to.
You can then find ways to connect. You can just stalk them on Twitter or Instagram, or make a more individual approach on Linkedin.
Follow the hashtag
Most events have a hashtag that you could follow on Twitter or Instagram. There might be appropriate ways to join in the conversation at the time, or just to see how topics develop. You’ll also get to see who’s talking about topics of interest, and you might want to connect with them.
The hashtag will be more likely to connect you with people attending, not just speakers. You might spot someone you already know, so you can get their thoughts on both the event and the discussion.
When it’s a good conference or event, then it’s worth the investment. And not all of them have terrible lunches (the Food & Drink Forum event I went to had one of the best lunches ever). Not all of them are expensive. The Nottingham Digital Summit was £50 and all of that went to the Samaritans.
So, if there’s an event you would have loved to get to but you just can’t justify it at this point, then there are still good ways to get at least some value out of it. It might help you decide that it wasn’t the event for you, or that you were going to prioritise attending next year.
What’s the most useful conference or event you’ve been to?