The CTA Conference, held in June by Vancouver-based landing page geniuses Unbounce, was a very cleverly managed conference. Our whole marketing team attended this year, and everyone agreed that it was one of the best conferences we had attended. In a word, we were impressed.
From the name (“Call to Action” is catchy AND a great attention grab for marketers, the intended audience) to the venue, to the way the entire event was conducted, CTA managed to leave our entire team with the holy grail of post-event feelings: that we were glad to have attended.
We’ve written before about how marketing conferences can have great takeaways for a meeting planner. While the CTA formula won’t be effective for all conferences, we’ve come up with 5 lessons that any meeting planner can take away to improve future events:
Lesson 1: Your venue should fit the conference
Like any other Vancouverite in their right mind, I initially assumed that the CTA conference would take place at the Vancouver Convention Centre—essentially Vancouver’s default venue for corporate or business events. Instead, Unbounce had booked the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, typically a performing arts space.
Although it seemed strange at first, once I was on-site, Unbounce’s decision made a lot of sense. The conference was one-track, with only one session running at any particular time. The theatre seating was perfect for this format, with elevated seats surrounding the main stage. There were no bad seats in the house. Even the bathrooms seemed well suited to the conference, as they were essentially one long corridor that made it convenient to go in and out and back into the fray.
By choosing to host their one-track conference at a theatre, Unbounce was able to optimize the venue to support large groups of people operating on the same schedule.
Takeaway: Plan the event before choosing the venue. This makes it easier for the meeting planner to take logistics into consideration and streamline the experience for attendees.
Lesson 2: Your staff and your topics of choice set the mood
The atmosphere at the CTA conference stayed upbeat and welcoming throughout—and a major part of that was because of the cheerful and helpful staff. All of the staffers at CTA were actually Unbounce employees. This was a great way to showcase the workplace culture of the company, and also made a big difference because attendees could see how dedicated the staff and organizers were to the success of the event.
Despite the cheerful atmosphere, the CTA conference was also unafraid to delve into more serious topics in between sessions. They introduced their PresentHER and CentHER Stage initiatives, dedicated towards growing gender diversity in conference speakers. This was warmly received by the attendees, and also helped to turn conversation to a topic that was both important to Unbounce’s brand identity.
By engaging with their own staff and meaningful topics, Unbounce made the conference at once relevant to their brand and to a wider range of discussion.
Takeaway: The meeting planner can use the event to showcase the company’s initiatives, whether that’s company culture, corporate social responsibility, or other meaningful topics.
Lesson 3: Gamification can be your most effective engagement tool
Of course, the CTA conference was also an opportunity for Unbounce to showcase their upcoming projects, something that they did with subtlety and relevance.
One of my favorites was the stamp system, where attendees played different games to collect stamps, which they could then exchange for conference swag. The games themselves were fun, including a landing page building race, giant connect-four, and others, and were all linked with Unbounce in some way. This encouraged attendees to learn about Unbounce—and about marketing trends or skills—without coming across too product-focused.
And because machine learning is a big marketing topic nowadays, Unbounce created an in-app game that pitted human marketers against a predictive AI, and urged attendees to prove themselves. The results would be collected into a downloadable study. This egged attendees on to play the game multiple times, showcased Unbounce’s ability to create predictive technology, and gave them material to create future content and lead generation.
Takeaway: Think about how gamification can do more than entertain attendees. Use it to promote products, gather intelligence, and generate buzz.
Lesson 4: A great meeting planner also participates
On the first day of the conference, Unbounce staffers sent out a survey asking what attendees would like to do on the giant screen on stage. The winning answer: play Mario Cart. And, unexpectedly, on day two of the conference, attendees were actually able to join in on an impromptu Mario Cart tournament that had been set up during a break in sessions.
Unbounce was excellent throughout the conference at responding to attendees and making sure that engagement—responding to surveys, Tweeting, and interacting with presenters, staff, and each other—was acknowledged. A Twitter influencer jokingly asked if he could get some swag in exchange for his hard work—and a staffer responded that he should go to the merch booth and “tell them Hayley sent you”.
Participation shouldn’t happen in a vacuum. Staff or organizer participation is just as important as attendee participation because it can provide an example to attendees as well as make their efforts to engage feel worthwhile.
Takeaway: When attendees engage with the event, be sure to engage back, whether this means responding to attendees or implementing their suggestions where possible.
Lesson 5: Don’t take yourself too seriously
It goes without saying that conferences are one of the best time for a meeting planner to showcase the organizer; and sometimes one of the best ways to do that is to give attendees a glimpse of the people behind the curtain.
The CTA conference did this through fun, irrelevant activities like an impromptu Mario Cart tournament, a surprise Donut Wall, and consistent social media interaction with attendees. Of course it’s important to be professional and courteous, but it’s also important to loosen the reins, so to speak, and allow a more human side of the event to show through.
Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to let attendees (and yourself!) have fun.
What’s your favorite conference takeaway? Share your thoughts in the comments or Tweet us at @QuickMobile!