Conferences: The Most Underrated Way to Practice Face-to-Face Marketing

Eighty-eight percent of global marketing leaders rely on their websites as a primary marketing channel. Many of them are over-reliant on this method.

Worse: It’s a one-way form of communication. Only 55% of people are likely to leave comments on published content, meaning these businesses are publishing in an echo chamber. This lack of feedback can undermine marketing effectiveness. 

Sure, you do your target audience research. You tap into critical pain points and pick up language to incorporate into marketing materials.

But how authentic and fleshed out are those data points, really?

Tapping into your target audience by researching their online behaviors or studying forums and review sections is fine. But meeting them in-person or via live virtual events is a whole ‘nother ball game.

Attending industry conferences or in-person workshops is an excellent way to better understand your industry and prospects. Plus, they’re the perfect opportunity to step out from behind the curtain of online anonymity. Here’s everything in-person or virtual conferences can do for your professional growth and personal brand.


Eliminate over-reliance on one-way digital communications

Blogs, whitepapers, newsletters—they’re all great. But they’re mostly one-way communications. Rarely do you get actual feedback that isn’t in the form of hard data points like click-throughs or conversions.

And it’s a toss-up whether those that click through—who are already few and far between—will comment on your online articles or respond to your newsletters. The chances of receiving that type of feedback decline as you get into more specific niches.

For example, almost 78% of people mingle in social media comment sections. But the odds of a reader commenting on a particular article on a news site or entertainment platform is about 15% or 7%, respectively.

With minimal feedback, your outreach will only be tailored to vague market demographics, leaving you guessing on the ROI. Over time, this can damage your marketing quality and effectiveness.

“Consumer knowledge involves more than the use of socio-economic descriptors. It is the ability of marketers to ‘step into customers’ shoes to create an intimate familiarity with them, the kind of intimacy that is a product only of repeated and meaningful interactions.” —Catherine Grandclemént, Gérald Gaglio


Get out of your digital marketing bubble with FTF marketing

When businesses shift away from in-person marketing, their offer value and positioning often suffer. The cultivation of trustworthiness takes a back seat, too.

Attending live events like online or in-person conferences can break you out of marketing in a bubble of carefully curated data. It helps to realize your prospects are more than a “constructed consumer.” This term refers to a depiction of a faceless buyer who feels more than they think.

Such humanization leads to greater respect for your prospects. Plus, it can prevent you from prioritizing the Almighty Algorithm over human value and experience.

It’s easy to optimize the customer journey into a condensed set of clicks instead of a multifaceted brand experience. But comitting to the latter can take you from mere marketing to transformational community leadership. 

FTF marketing helps to improve the humanity of your brand.
The lower level of this “humanity framework” shows where target audience behaviors are closely tied with consumption, while the upper level illustrates behaviors tied to creation of marketing materials, which influence consumption. When companies act as transformational leaders, knowledge creators, and social change agents, their audiences seek and receive information through watching and seeing, and ultimately, consume the product once the company has proved themselves trustworthy. All this should take place both in in-person marketing communications and via digital channels.


Experts say that adding face-to-face marketing to your strategy can strengthen your brand’s humanity and influence. As you supply knowledge and social leadership to your target audience, you empower them as they seek and consume information. 

Keep reading to break out of digital over-reliance and return to face-to-face marketing.


The value of conferences for in-person marketing research 

Face-to-face or live virtual interactions are an excellent way to gather “on the ground” insights. In other words, you can get a sense of your target audience’s authentic perspectives when you share time and space with them.

This is why so many businesses want content writers and marketers who operate like journalists. Increasingly, marketers believe that the best way to target your marketing campaigns is to interview your ideal consumer and business leaders. Approach your projects as living, developing stories rather than sterile, fixed corporate objectives.

For example, I recently spoke for a webinar covering decolonization in conservation. I anticipated some social resistance to the discussion. But the live experience allowed me to observe that resistance in real-time with all its pluralities.

Now, I can consider these viewpoints and use them to guide future social impact projects. Had I avoided hard topics during our live discussion, these sentiments may never have been evoked, and I’d have lost out on a learning opportunity.

An image displaying the three divisions of interpersonal communication

The subtleties of interpersonal communication

Another subtle advantage to in-person or live virtual conferences is the chance to pick up on verbal and non-verbal cues in formal and informal scenarios. This includes body language, facial expressions, social cues, and intonations during conversation. These elements of communication can richly inform the language you use in a pathos (emotional appeal) or ethos (ethical appeal) marketing campaign.

This allows you to “[target] specific consumers based on their circumstances and what is most relevant to them… county by county, state by state, zip code by zip code.”

For example, a recent workshop I attended provided opportunities to talk and spend time with natural resource managers. Our in-person conversations allowed me to pick up on sensitivities related to controversial hunting and fishing issues, and complex matters related to Indigenous culture. Now, I’m in a much better position to write on inclusive conservation practices. 

In such spaces, I can better detect people’s raw, authentic feelings than I could in an edited comment. Later, I can incorporate these nuances into digital and face-to-face communications, strengthening my content’s power and influence. 

This graphic illustrates the many nuances that allow in-person marketing and branding to be, at times, more effective than digital marketing communications.

Conference settings often offer this very advantage across a broad spectrum. You can chat with everyone from industry experts to casual enthusiasts. In all, you get a real sense of who your community is. And nothing beats the awkwardness of standing together, trying to make conversation between keynote speakers and workshops.


Continuing your education

“[L]earning should be a lifelong process, and devoting time to continuing education can be a journey of personal development.” —Western Governers University 

We all reach a point in our careers when we feel like we’ve used up all our tricks. Our knowledge is out-of-date. The newbies are rolling in with flashy technologies and tactics that inspire feelings of imposter syndrome.

And then you attend a conference. Suddenly, you feel validated by hearing from colleagues whose work aligns with yours. Your exchanges answer questions you never knew you had. Chatting them up inspires new questions and solutions that your business would not have otherwise explored.

Plus, conferences are excellent venues for “deep learning.” There are plenty of opportunities to mull over ideas with other minds in group activities. This challenges your soft skills, thought processes, and perspectives to sharpen your innovative potential.

Industry workshops are highly valuable for the same reason. For instance, the workshop I mentioned offered rich opportunities to engage with colleagues with more advanced, varied professional experience than me. 

The quality time, especially in the form of real-time exercises, is conducive to asking questions and learning from observation in a way that a virtual event could never offer. Plus, I now have many more professional contacts that may help advance my work in the years to come. 

Even if you don’t “generate leads” or leave with new clients, the chance to gain knowledge value lies at the heart of the conference experience. At the same time, your network will grow—and thus, your market reach—for the future.


How conferences can diversify and enrich your customer journey

There’s no doubt that digital marketing has been a godsend for many businesses. It freed us from the limitations of geographic location to reach a worldwide market.

Still, not many things can beat the power and charm of a good old handshake (or hug) and some eye contact.

And these exchanges in the context of an industry or academic conference can benefit your business tremendously. Here’s how.


Onboarding prospects into your ideology

Few books have influenced my career to the same extent as  Ray Edwards’s “How to Write Copy that Sells: The Step-by-Step System for More Sales, to More Customers, More Often.” He gets at the structural and psychological facets of effective marketing through the written word. I’ve found it useful for guiding direct, in-person interactions, too.

One of my greatest takeaways has been the concept of “onboarding” your target audience into a way of thinking that aligns with your brand’s values and objectives.

Edwards defines an “onboarding sequence” like this:

[A] series of emails that you write that introduces people into your way of thinking, into your worldview, and helps them get to know, like, and trust you. 

Although this term relates to email campaigns, I find it to be true of in-person marketing, too. Attending—and better yet, speaking at—conferences is one of the best ways to “walk the talk” as a business owner or entrepreneur. 

According to data from the EY Future Consumer Index, 16% of consumers “prefer to buy from organizations that are honest and transparent about what they do.” They appreciate brands that support the good of society. This means that walking the talk makes your colleagues and prospects more likely to hop on board with your brand and form a thriving community

By meeting your community where it is, you can wholly demonstrate your dedication to your way of thinking. At the same time, you can show how it plays into your business operations. Putting yourself out there like this helps put you on the radars of like-minded people and paves the way for fruitful partnerships.


Educate your community to maximize value

“The reality of customer-brand relationships today is that they have evolved from single-interspersed interactions to always-on, symbiotic, and immersive relationships.”- Ann Lewnes, Kevin Lane Keller 

Recall that conferences are the ideal avenue for continued education. They’re spaces for industry leaders to share their latest findings and trade experiences to help build upon each other’s knowledge.

Conferences are excellent tools for prospect and customer education, too. Emphasizing the latter ensures that your customers take full advantage of your product or service. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan Management Review presents the example of Adobe. They say it’s the company that “has found that even though we all live in a digital-dominant world, live events are far from dead.”

These events are some of Adobe’s many tools used on-and-offline to build and sustain a community around its brand. Plus, proactive, multi-channel customer support helps users troubleshoot and navigate the ins and outs of each software program in the suite. They’re empowered to facilitate their own positive brand experience.

In-person events help supplement the many avenues of communication available to the customer base. This can build the trust and presence of the brand at all times in many mediums.


Bolster your sales funnel

The American Bar Association states, “A marketing rule of thumb says that it takes eight to 12 connections during a year to move from the initial introduction to a relationship.”

Of course, the more channels you add to your sales funnel, the more connection points you introduce. This could expedite your customer journey. Conferences can grow these connection points exponentially. Here’s what I mean.

I spoke at a conference earlier this year. A colleague referred me to another organization to give a different version of the talk for their platform. Then, a second person asked me to address their network, too. Since then, I’ve been contacted by multiple individuals for future work.

Lionel Ritchie meme: Hello. Is it leads you're looking for?

Each of these invitations helps to distribute my work and name. Ultimately, this increases my funnel’s connection points for potential partners and prospects. 

This works particularly well if you’ve positioned yourself wisely in online networks. For instance, I want to work with conservation organizations. Showing up at conservation-related events increases the likelihood that I’ll pop up on their radar many times a year. Theoretically, this moves them along in the initial-introduction-to-relationship progression.

Whether or not these connections result in contracted partnerships, the rising recognition that comes with multiple public appearances can further validate your work. Plus, it can lend you more authority when negotiating project terms and developing an offer that you can really back up.


Capitalizing on the human connection

Even if it’s not in-person, showing your face and sharing your voice can help to “realize” your brand. It humanizes you and removes the corporate veil. “Walking the talk” shows prospects that you’re not just a business looking to take their money. Instead, you’re a genuine person who’s passionate about and active in their industry.

Conferences are your chance to be your most authentic self—you don’t have to be salesy. Hiding behind a keyboard for too long can lead you to buy into a fake online persona, leading to a slippery slope of self-misrepresentation. But stepping out of your comfort zone to speak publicly challenges you to bring your whole self to interpersonal interactions, growing your brand personality and confidence as an entrepreneur.