1. Differentiation is Value
The best way to stand out from a crowded market is to be different and tap into a smaller, unstructured segment of the market.
Conferences are like the Internet in the way they can tap into a specific niche and address customers who are looking for a community, a place and a message that resonate with their own life or business.
An important way for tech events to differentiate themselves is to cover a new topic or an emerging trend. Anybody starting a conference on Drones or Artificial Intelligence will be able to serve several industries at the same time and bring value to a community that still needs guidance on what its weirdness is about.
This is the role of Field Configuring Events as defined by Lampel and Meyer:
Field-Configuring Events (FCEs) are temporary social organizations such as tradeshows, professional gatherings, technology contests, and business ceremonies that encapsulate and shape the development of professions, technologies, markets, and industries. They are settings in which people from diverse organizations and with diverse purposes assemble periodically, or on a one-time basis, to announce new products, develop industry standards, construct social networks, recognize accomplishments, share and interpret information, and transact business.
2. Support your Ecosystem
Highlighting a local ecosystem is the most efficient way to help startups grow. As a matter of fact, this is the starting point of any important conference and one of the key drivers to success of accelerators and meetups. Making their own ecosystem thrive and grow.
Think of Web Summit igniting the Dublin scene with its Spark of Genius program or the way Daniel Ek and Ash Pournouri are promoting Stockholm’s upcoming unicorns to the world with Symposium. All major cities will soon have their own startup conference, it’s just a matter of time.
Tech Open Air is a compelling exemple of an event fully integrated within the local ecosystem promotion. Founders have been involved in strengthening the fabric of entrepreneurship through several initiatives and they are now presenting their own curated version of Berlin to international media, investors and corporates during their marquee event. The promise? Get acquainted with the blooming startup city while having a Club Mate.
Another fascinating achievement is Slush in Helsinki. Starting as a community-driven event in 2008, the conference is now bridging the Nordics with Asia and gathering over 15,000 attendees.
Rude Baguette has recently pointed out that peripheral cities like Helsinki or Dublin consolidated their startup conferences in ways that the main capitals of Europe have not been able to, according to Liam Boogar:
What’s interesting is that, even including Mobile World Congress, Europe’s biggest tech events are all happening in ‘secondary’ cities — Helsinki, Vienna, Dublin (& potentially, in the future, Lisbon), Amsterdam & Barcelona — meanwhile, London, Paris, Stockholm, & even Berlin lack their signature conference.
I’ve just arrived in Istanbul to discover how Webrazzi Summit21156 is showcasing the local ecosystem and I expect nothing less but what DLD Tel Aviv20166 or The August Fest21314 in India are offering: a smart way to connect the best startups from the country with international investors and influencers. Ecosystem-centric.
3. Connect Beyond Expectations
Startups are attending events mainly for two reasons: clients and investors. While the number of clients and investors attending events is probably growing, the fierce competition between entrepreneurs for their attention is growing as conferences are limited in space and time to a reduced number of days and exhibition halls.
The networking function of events is increasingly important and matchmaking is the main ROI expected by startups.
We are praising along with many conference organizers for a stronger investment in networking solutions and we are thrilled to witness how some events are dedicating more time and resources to solve this pressing need.
The Human Matchmaker and the Deal Room developed by Arctic15 are worth mentioning, as well as the online database provided by Slush. Pioneers has also spent a lot of energy in their networking solution and offered a fantastic space for meeting in their latest editions. It was always crowded.
And now Forbes is partnering with Tinder.
Forbes teams up with Tinder for ‘speed networking’ app, debuting in Philly for Under 30 Summit
Tech conferences are embracing full stack networking.
To bring value to the diverse crowd that makes up their audience, tech conferences must embrace an integrated approach to networking. Dinners, parties and cocktails are as important as the conference itself.
It also attracts corporate sponsorship, but that’s another story.
Organizers can help startups attend their events by different means.
First of all, they’re expected to bring sponsors to the show to offset the ticket costs for founders and innovators alike. The most promising entrepreneurs even deserve more than cheap tickets. Passionate founders crave praise and recognition.
Monetary and symbolic rewards are an important contribution to this virtuous circle and it’s hard to imagine a startup competition in 2015 without some sort of social incentive.
However, you will still find some organizers who are reluctant to give away monetary prizes. Some will even ask finalists to pay for their tickets! Well, this is exactly the opposite of what those formats should provide to contestants.
Startup competitions are a rite of passage where community leaders pick the kids who are ready to join adults. A form of contemporary potlatch ruled by unicorns, global brands and legendary pioneers. Circular institutions.
If your event is not welcoming a competition or an award ceremony (or both), you should be worried. You’re sending the message to your ecosystem that you’re not part of a community and that you don’t feel that you should be giving back. Press coverage and prestige have never been enough. You must give back cash. Investments. Deals. No bullshit.
There is a growing list of tech conferences that have been focusing on their active role as circulation catalysts, organisations that lubricate the system and the flow of value within it. Some are even going nuts such as Mass Challenge or XPrize, with dotations well over 1M€.
The difference between fictional and ritual ceremonies is the cast. Choose your startup judges wisely.
Disrupt, Demo and Launch in the US have all been offering a monetary prize for years within their competitions and they promote the picture of the check heavily. The selection process, the pitches, the questions from judges, and the climax of the winners holding a big cardboard check, all of those cultural memes are part of this ritual.
Some events are even going further, expanding their annual startup competition into an investment program. Pioneers is a major stakeholder and partner of a fund leaded by Speedinvest with already EUR58 millioncommitted in investments. Others like 4YFN will start in 2016. Giving back, all year long.
TechCrunch, The Next Web or Web Summit are dominating the event space with a sophisticated content marketing strategy that hook readers and potential attendees everyday, everywhere.
Every conference is a medium for communication and social interaction. But not all event organizers are born equal and only a few are seriously building the right media properties around the event itself.
It’s easier if you’re an online media getting into the event business. But it takes a vision to turn this audience into attendees. You will need to align everyone within your organization to make that giant leap forward.
On the other hand, traditional media getting into this industry will face immense challenges if they want to build a lasting brand and remain relevant for an audience that is usually new to them.