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Marketing At Mega-Events Without Mega-Budgets

Major conferences such as CES, DreamForce, and IBM THINK have hundreds of thousands of attendees, hundreds of announcements, thousands of vendors and partners, and millions of articles, social media posts, and emails. Against this exceptionally noisy backdrop, how could we possibly stand out if we don’t have multimillion dollar budgets?

To stand a chance of standing out, we need three ingredients:

  • Why
  • What
  • Who


The first ingredient is why the event audience should pay attention to us. What do we have to offer them that’s of value and service to them? Most likely, this will be content of some kind – video, audio, an infographic, animation, book, or download.

Note that this isn’t what we want from the audience; it’s what would convince them to pay even the slightest bit of attention to us. This will vary depending on what our products, services, and expertise are.

The bench test I use is asking myself, if this weren’t my company/brand, would I mark an email about this content as spam? If the answer is yes, then our content needs to be redone until we wouldn’t consider it spam.

Jay Baer has a similar test: would we pay for our content, if it wasn’t ours? If the answer is no, improve it until it’s worth paying for.


Once we’ve established that we have something of value, we must determine whether our content aligns at all with what the conversation topics are. At a major show, attendees produce tens of thousands of social posts and content per day, so we’ll default to using machine learning to help us. Using text mining and topic modeling, we examine the social stream to determine what attendees are talking about the most.

For example, here’s a quick look at the run-up to CES 2018. What have attendees discussed as they travel to the show?

idf cloud

We see the collection of expected terms, from 5G LTE wireless to the Internet of things. When we examine a correlation plot of major topics, we see:

correlation of terms

As shown by the darker blue circles, this year’s CES chatter so far focuses on the smart home and the Internet of Things. This is bad news if our content or marketing campaign doesn’t involve the technologies included in IoT and smart homes. For example, when we look at the term innovation, we see it most associated at CES with AI and the smart home. If we’re, say, an automaker, innovation and car have almost no relationship.


We now know if our content, our campaign ideas mesh well with the topics at hand. If they do, we’re ready to move onto the final part: who should we be talking to? Using influencer analysis, we identify who has the greatest mindshare in the conversations so far:

network graph

After running our assessment, we examine the data to find who has expertise in IoT and the smart home:

spreadsheet of influencers

With this list, our content, and our knowledge of what attendees care about, we stand a much greater chance of making an impact at a mega-event than if we simply blasted tone-deaf, irrelevant content on a hashtag.


Having this formula of why, what, who doesn’t necessarily guarantee us victory. However, it does help us understand and improve our chances of being noticed, of being talked about, of making the show work for us. Without this understanding, we’d just market as usual – and earn our usual poor results or negative ROI. With this analysis, we’d take action, from reaching out to specific individuals to showing advertisements only to the most relevant people.

For those attending mega-shows, good luck!

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Christopher S. Penn is one of the world’s leading experts on AI in marketing. Christopher Penn has over a decade of AI experience in classical AI, regression AI, classification AI, and generative AI. Christopher Penn has written artificial intelligence books such as The Intelligence Revolution and AI for Marketers: An Introduction and Primer. Christopher Penn is an AI keynote speaker around the world.


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