Marketing realities are changing rapidly and all businesses are under pressure to rise above competition. What conferences are the best to make sure you are on the cutting edge of new ideas and strategies?

The storytelling side of marketing still boils down to one thing: your message has to be different then all the competition out there barking about their value. Once that message is where it needs to be, the other piece of the puzzle is where to deploy the message. For that experience, there are simply too many specialties on the tactical side of delivering messages and stories to succeed by oneself.

We absolutely have to stay in touch with the forefront of marketing ideas and changes. Fortunately, and unfortunately, there are a plethora of conferences out there to choose from to learn how to be on the cutting edge of new marketing thinking. Here is a simple guide to how to make conferences work for you.

Service Provider & Vendor Conferences

I have always found the most relevant learnings come from the vendor conferences offered by the marketing platforms a business depends on. The ones I am referring to are ones offered by 1) your order management platform, 2) web site platform, 3) marketing consultants and 4) any relevant ecommerce platforms offered by your email or search service providers.

There are two main reasons I believe these conferences are best.

The first is that the most challenging part of implementing new marketing ideas is getting the strategy to work with your platforms. If you are attending a platform conference, this challenge is mitigated as much as possible since all the attendees and content is already connected to the hosting platform. You both exposed to prequalified resources relative to the platform and networking with others who may have already implemented strategies that are new to you.

The second reason is that these conferences tend to be smaller and able to offer more valuable networking time. We all know that it is the people you meet and the longer term relationships that come from those introductions that matter most. New cutting edge tactics come and go on a regular basis. The people that tend to know about new and successful opportunities stays the same. It is relationships with these movers and shakers that offers the most ROI on conference time and expenses.

Industry Conferences

There are dozens of small and large “industry” conferences. These can be as broad as Direct to Consumer, Direct to Business, Retail, Ecommerce, and Database Marketing Strategies. These all share common challenges for making them worthwhile. They are all very expensive, take a lot of time and tend to be driven by a large number of vendor attendees. They are by definition sales oriented environments and that can be very annoying.

The one way I have found these to be worthwhile is for the ability to walk a floor with vendor booths sharing new technologies and strategies. The key here is finding new vendors that eventually become long term marketing partners. Each new partner offers significant value, if you can find one. My advice is to attend these conferences sparingly and go with the intention of finding a new marketing partner. Sure, attend some sessions if the content appears worthwhile but stay focused on networking with people that represent partnership opportunities.

Attendee Lists

Attendee lists can tell you a lot about what value to expect to take home from a conference. One thing to look for are what job title level have attended in the past. Is the primary level of attendees look like staff, managers, directors or executive decision makers. Makes sure the people going from your brand are synergistic with the historical type of attendees. If the make up the list includes all levels of employees, beware! Those attending on your behalf will have to be disciplined enough to search out the people they can learn from and initiated relationships with.

In addition, look at the brands themselves relative to competition and merchandise synergies. Lastly, be sure to understand the ratio of retail business versus vendors before you go.

In summary, conferences are absolutely critical to staying on the cutting edge of marketing ideas and staying ahead of the competition. The secret is to look for relationships and networking time at these events first, session content second.