The inaugural Quirk’s Event London in February exceeded all of our expectations. We were aiming for 600–750 attendees and our final registration count was over 1,200! Conference-goers were pleased with the quality of the speakers, giving them an average rating of 4.2 out of 5. And our hybrid model of part conference, part exhibition also seems to have been a hit: one attendee said offered that we had “put the fun back in marketing research events in the UK,” which might be one of the best compliments we’ve ever received.
Of course, as with any endeavour of this size, it’s a learning process and we want to get better. So what did we learn this time around?
- UK researchers, just like their US counterparts, want an event that is both full of quality content and fun to attend. Marketing research is serious business, but there’s no reason why we can’t have fun doing it.
- Speaking of fun, new to our London Event (and part of all three 2019 Quirk’s Events) were interactive smart badges from Klik. Though they served the same function as traditional conference attendee badges (letting others see the wearer’s name, job title, and company affiliation), the Klik badges allowed attendees in close proximity to trade contact information simply by pressing and holding down the bottom of the badge. LEDs on each person’s badge flashed, letting them know they had successfully exchanged information, which was then automatically uploaded to and stored in the Klik app. In addition, to add some fun and a bit of gamification to the process, attendees earned points by connecting with others, attending sessions, giving session feedback, and more. Once an attendee achieved a benchmark point total they were entered into a drawing to win prizes. From tweets – including photos from those heading up the leaderboard – to attendees eagerly connecting to earn points, there was real excitement surrounding the smart badges in London. While the Quirk’s Event is far from a formal qualitative study, it was clear that the game – and the badges – encouraged connections and sparked interesting conversations.
- We need to educate attendees that once you’re in the door, everything at our events is free. We often heard people turn down snacks, drinks, photos with Scooby-Doo, or other exhibit-hall experiences because they thought there was a charge. Perhaps the Brits are simply more polite than the bulk of the attendees at our Brooklyn Quirk’s Event, who were not shy about availing themselves of the freebies on offer (and demanding more when the supply ran out!).
- Getting to the event at 9 am was hard for many. London is, well, London – a major metropolis with legendary traffic. Attendance at some of the first sessions on each of the two days was good but it could have been better. We also learned that attendees will stay late, something we weren’t sure of given that many conference-goers were locals who had families to head home to rather than a hotel room. In fact, some of the late-day sessions drew the biggest crowds. So for next year we will start later in the morning and keep the event going a bit later.
- Exhibitors who spend some time and money thinking about how to engage attendees fare far better than those who simply stand at their booth waiting for a prospect to approach. We heard some anecdotal comments that the London client-side attendees were “more reserved” than those at our US-based events and were harder to engage in sales-related discussions. We stress repeatedly to exhibitors to make their booths inviting, interesting, and fun. Whether it’s a unique giveaway item or some kind of virtual reality simulation, give people a reason to stop by. And if you can’t offer any of those things, then an upturned, smiling face always helps. We saw and heard about a few too many exhibitors heads tilted down reading emails, even during the busiest times of the conference day. Nothing says “I’m not interested in talking to you” more loudly than that.
- We learned that the phrase “ambient packaged cake” exists. Despite my love of ambient packaged cakes,–aka those tasty pastries and other desserts that are sold in supermarket bread aisles rather than bakeries, I had never heard them called that before attending a London session. That’s one of my favourite parts of conference presentations: you get glimpses into all the different business niches and their attendant lingos and acronyms.
We will be back in February 2020, again at the Intercontinental O2, for another Quirk’s Event London. Our plan is to take what we learn from all three of our 2019 Quirk’s Events (London, New York City, and Chicago) and improve upon what we feel was a very good start. We hope to see you there! •
By Joseph Rydholm, Quirk’s editor