Startup Marketing at NAB - Post Mortem

The last five weeks have been a sprint. Two weeks of hectic preparation for NAB, a week for the event, and 2 weeks of personally following up with everyone I met. While I've still got a lot of action items, I have finally had a chance to reflect on how NAB went for ScreenLight.

ScreenLight at NAB
ScreenLight at NAB 2012
Team members were equipped with a personal mobility device (new shoes), a branded mobile backdrop (ScreenLight t-shirt), and several personal cloud access devices (iPhone, iPad, MacBook Pro).

Overall it was a really positive experience. Yes, it was tiring, and yes, there was less sleep than I am used to, but it was great to connect with the production community, meet new people and connect with many of the people that I've been interacting with virtually over the last year.

While it's still early (and always difficult) to quantify the ROI for the five weeks of time that I invested in the event, I would say that we met our objectives of building awareness for ScreenLight and filling the marketing funnel with sales prospects.

Our Performance on Key Objectives at NAB 2012

I believe that our initial hypothesis that meeting on the floor can provide similar benefits to a booth, without the high cost held true. To meet our objectives of increasing awareness and filling the marketing funnel, we allocated our time to meeting with four key groups of people. Here is how we did.

Meeting Potential Clients

This aspect of the event went well for us. I had a number of meetings scheduled in advance, and in spite of some scheduling hiccups, I met with a bunch of really good people. Aside from educating them about our service, these meetings were a great source of feedback on where we should go in terms of product development.

Meeting Press

This was the area where we didn't meet our objectives. I knew it would be hard to generate coverage from major publications. There is too much noise to cut through unless you have a really newsworthy story and can package it up in a way that it can easily be told. Without a major product announcement or milestone attached to the event, I was left in the cold. There is probably more competition for media attention than anything else (except for morning latte's at Starbucks). Relationships built over time really count, and we will be devoting more time to this before next year's event.

Engaging with Bloggers

My experience here was the flip side of connecting with the major press. I found it easy to connect with independent bloggers who are interested in telling stories that are a bit off the beaten track. Like ScreenLight, many of these people are trying to build their names and reputations, so our interests were fairly well aligned. There should be more stories and reviews of ScreenLight coming from our blogger friends.

Partners, Vendors, and Distributors

With the entire industry in one place, events like NAB are great for meeting with potential partners and finding new ones. I have ideas on what companies we would like to work with to either extend our capabilities or reach new audiences. Time devoted to meetings in this area was well spent, even though developments may take some time to play out.

Will ScreenLight Get a Booth at NAB Next Year?

It's still a bit too early to decide on this. I spoke to some exhibitors and they spoke fairly positively about having a booth at NAB. I suspect that there may be some element of bias here, where people that have sunk the money see it as a positive experience. Nevertheless, I have to take them at face value. On the other hand, I did notice that a couple of exhibitors that I spoke with last year were not on the floor, so I can only assume that they didn't see the return they hoped for.

Over the next year, as we get a better understanding of our marketing costs through different channels, our customer churn rates, and ultimately the lifetime value of our customers, I'll be doing the math to figure out how the ROI of a booth compares to other marketing tactics. As I discuss in more detail below, RJMetrics did a good breakdown on a metrics driven approach to participating in a trade show.

If we do exhibit at NAB in 2013, here are some of the main things that I'll be looking to do.

Build Awareness By Exhibiting in a Pavilion

As I said in my previous article about NAB, it would have been really difficult to attract a significant amount of traffic as a stand-alone booth on the convention center floor. To maximize traffic, I think it makes sense to join a cluster of companies in a related area.

If we do participate next year, I think it will be as part of something like the Cloud Computing Pavilion. Cloud was a big buzzword of 2012, and I don't expect that to change in 2013.

Look for Speaking Engagements

There are a ton of different sessions at NAB. One high value way in which I would like to participate next year is as a panelist. I will be looking at next year's equivalent of the Cloud Computing Conference and the Post Production Pit. This means pitching event organizers well in advance and trying to line up fellow panelists. I am very keen to speak, as it helps build our credentials as thought leaders (something we are also trying to do with this blog), and because I find it much easier to engage in conversations when people come up to me looking for additional information. This is something that I touched on in my Introvert's Guide to NAB.

Plan Our Strategy Well in Advance

The companies who had the most effective presence were those who treated NAB like a well orchestrated campaign. They linked participation in the event with things like shipping new products, revealing significant partnerships, announcing customer wins and speaking at different events. These things help attract press attention and create buzz on the trade show floor, all of which is amplified through social media. This in turn leads to more traffic.

This can be a high reward strategy if it's executed well (I'm looking at you AutoDesk and BlackMagic), but it carries significant risk. Your product development cycles become tied to the event, the direct costs of participating in the event increase, and the opportunity costs increase due to the time commitments. Suddenly, your business is oriented around the show.

Actively Reach Out to People

I was amazed at the number of booths manned by relatively small companies, where there was no activity and the people at the booth were sitting down, gazing at smartphones or reading the paper. The thing that really stunned me about this is that these tended to be the kinds of companies, like ours, where the event is a relatively large part of the annual marketing budget.

Even if things are slow, sitting down and looking uninterested sends out the wrong messages. If you are doing this for a prolonged period of time, then you simply shouldn't be spending the money to attend the show. It pays to approach people and initiate conversation, because the metrics of a trade show can be broken down in a simple way:

Total cost of booth / number of conversations initiated = cost per lead

Over four ten hour days, an individual that has an average of 5 conversations per hour generates approximately 200 leads (discounting any brand awareness from people walking by). At $20,000 to participate (plus any opportunity cost), this works out to $100 per lead, of which, only a percentage will convert to customers.

While the actual ROI of the event depends on the conversion of leads to customers and the lifetime revenue generated by new customers, it's quite obvious that increasing the number of quality conversations can change the economics greatly. For more on this check out RJMetrics.

Make What We Do Extremely Clear

There were too many booths where it was not completely clear what they did. Your backdrop must lure people in, and the clearest way to do that is to let them know what problem you solve. People that are just walking by a booth don't have time to decipher what it is you do. A number of people that I spoke with who were much more well versed in the industry than I am mentioned how surprised they were about how unclear many of the backdrops were.

One strategy that I would like to do to prevent this, and there is some lag time, is to A/B test the tag lines and material. This can be done on our website and by asking people who are relatively unfamiliar with what we do to review our material before the event.

Notes to Future Self (miscellaneous tips for NAB 2013)

  • Don't count on convention center WiFi. Coming from Canada, I balked at the price of data roaming - $100 for 250 MB - and tried to use the paid Wi-Fi in the convention center. Big mistake. After a day of missed messages about meeting up, I decided to stomach the usurious roaming rates. Next year, I will either rent a mobile hotspot, or just buy a 4G one from Verizon and sign-up for pay per use data.

  • Be ready for schedule changes. Schedules are fluid at the massive event, especially on Monday & Tuesday when people are trying to get their bearings. Running from one hall to the next only to find meetings had been pushed back was the biggest downside of being a mobile booth.

  • Schedule meetings in a few key places. To be honest, I tend to forget the scale of the event from one year to the next. It's along way from the back of the South Hall to the North Hall. Will try to plan my meetings to minimize the transit time.

  • Stick around for the last day. The pace on the final day was much slower. I found that it was relatively easy to schedule meetings with people whose schedules were jam packed on the other days. The last day also leaves time for wrap up events like the #PostChat meetup (which I sadly missed), and the Media Motion Ball meetup.

  • Pack food along the way. My wife will make fun of me for this one because she has seen my strategy of pre-eating before boarding a flight (I have a fear of being stuck in the air without ready access to good food). The lineups are long and the food is pretty bad at the convention center, so this one just makes sense.

  • You can't have enough t-shirts. I was easily recognizable in my ScreenLight shirt. I have to say that it was nice (and a new experience) to have people come up and mention that they had read our blog. Next year, I would like to outfit the great people we meet with their own ScreenLight shirts.