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Six Takeaways From a TEDx Event: Experiential Marketing Done Right

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Those of us who spend any significant amount of time watching online video are likely smitten with the inspirational TED talks. But what do we know about the local TEDx events? I am glad to report that they are equally enchanting and offer great lessons in experiential marketing.

If I had to use one word to describe the TEDxSomerville event I attended in early March, it would be "purposeful."

Everything there was intentional—from the event logo, stage design, and curated art to the bands playing, sponsors, and the organic soy milk offered along with the coffee and tea. Those elements came together to build a holistic experience that helped attendees truly connect with the content and people around us.

Such sense of purpose is what transforms an OK event into a fantastic performance. It conveys a strong message that lingers even after one leaves the event. Here, I will point out six elements of the TEDxSomerville (TEDxVille) event and present how they came together to build a memorable experience.

1. Content


First, let's look at the event's mission: to celebrate sustainable community and creative economy. The talks reflected that theme as speakers shared stories of social change and engaged citizenship in the form of developing local rooftop agriculture, contextualizing behavior, de-paving roads, exploring music, and more.

In preparation for the event, presenters were asked to simplify their presentation slides to the maximum and use images and graphics that can help the audience better understand the presentation's core message.

Marketing takeaway: Create a theme for your event and ask presenters to adapt their speeches to that vision. Doing so would be your first step toward uniting attendees by providing them a holistic experience.

2. Nametags

Saving paper is an integral part of being actively engaged in eco-friendly behavior, so TEDxVille created nametags that also served as an agenda.

One side of the elegantly designed nametags featured the name of the attendee and a random fill-in-the-blank statement about oneself, such as "When I was a kid I..." Mine was "If I had to live my life as a cartoon or children's book character I would be..." (I chose Jerry from "Tom & Jerry.") The fill-in-the-blank statements served as an icebreaker and a conversation starter for attendees.

The back of the nametag revealed the event's agenda, featuring the speech titles and speakers' names. Oh and, naturally, the hashtag for the event: #TedXVille.

Marketing takeaway: The nametag is one of the first things an attendee will interact with after arriving at the event's physical space. Brainstorm ways to make that experience unique and also reflective of your brand identity. As you do that, ask yourself whether your design ideas are bringing convenience to your guests by saving them time or helping them locate information faster.

3. Setup and Decoration

The TEDxVille setup and decoration, following its mission, created a sense of community. The stage was set up as a cozy backyard with a wooden fence placed in front of three houseplants, a white vintage mailbox, and two reclining chairs with red pillows. The stage design colors matched the red and white of the event logo that was also placed on stage.

TEDxSomerville stageOffstage, attendees could browse through the curated art pieces. The event's art curator told us that the displayed art was meant to make us think about physical space. "We need to think about how thought takes form and how form affects thinking," she said.

That made sense. The colorful bicycles, the artsy chairs, and paintings of houses and neighborhoods all reinforced that message of space and community.

Marketing takeaway: Pay attention to your stage design and the surrounding atmosphere. Can you change it to reflect your theme? As TED advises, http://www.ted.com/pages/tedx_stage_design "An interesting art piece, technological artifact or intriguing piece of furniture on stage (consider an object that speaks to your event's theme) will give your event a distinct personality, and accent the talks on stage."

4. Music

Before the start of the event's program, a band wearing outfits that matched the TEDxVille logo played songs customized to the event's content and speakers. That coherence contributed to the comfort created by the stage design and decoration.

Three more performers were invited on stage before each break. Their diverse styles, which nevertheless contributed to the event's theme, engaged the audience on a different level.

Marketing takeaway: Can you feature a performer before your program or during breaks? If there is an opportunity to present musical entertainment at your event, do so. Naturally, make sure it is somehow connected to your brand or event theme. Otherwise, it might seem disconnected and it won't contribute value.

5. Sponsors

To grab coffee and to chit-chat, attendees and speakers had to pass through the sponsors' section. The funny thing is... that configuration didn't feel annoying or obtrusive at all.

Why? Because of the great alignment between sponsors and the content presented at the event. In fact, the sponsors, with their mission, appearance, and behavior, became part of the content.

Marketing takeaway: Choose your sponsors carefully and ensure that their messaging is aligned with your perspective. That way, attendees will enjoy hanging out in the sponsors' section.

6. Food

Food is perhaps the second most important element at a marketing event (the first is an Internet connection, of course). TEDxSomerville worked with local coffee shops and restaurants to provide refreshments and lunch—another statement of support for the development of small business in the local community.

Marketing takeaway: Spend time thinking about the types of food you're ordering for your event. Do you have options that will satisfy a mixed audience? Is there anything you can potentially customize to make the consumption more memorable?

* * *

Studies show that people remember much more when you engage their senses. Event marketing offers a stellar opportunity to do just that--and ensure people remember your brand, content, and event.

Take advantage of people's love of visuals, sounds, and smells. Make your event a true experience.


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Magdalena Georgieva is an inbound marketing manager at HubSpot, a marketing software company based in Cambridge, MA, that makes inbound marketing and lead management software. Reach her via mgeorgieva@hubspot.com

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  • by Cathy Burrell Wed Mar 14, 2012 via web

    Thanks for this inspiring article! I don't attend many of these events, probably because I find them so corporate...but your article gives me hope that in the future creativity and sensitivity may transform them completely. The points you make about using local art,musicians and suppliers make so much sense. I guess it's like the old saying:"If you're going to talk the talk, you had better walk the walk!"

  • by jose Lezama Wed Mar 14, 2012 via web

    Event Marketing is getting subliminal.
    Is TED following the "Enchantment principle", if they do they are right on track.
    Well structured post congratulations

  • by Laure Godfrin Thu Mar 15, 2012 via web

    Thanks Magdalena for the inspiring post :) I would looove to attend one of the TEDx events... In the meantime, your post gave me nice ideas to test for my next conference!

  • by Dustin Day Thu Apr 12, 2012 via web

    very good post, thank you!

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