With the tech conference season upon us, Found|READ thought some tips for how to master conference marketing on the cheap would be useful. Today’s tips are courtesy of serial entrepreneur Pete Grillo, currently founder of iterasi, a one-and a-half-year-old startup in Portland, Ore., that has built a hosted storage service to capture and archive web pages. It’s a seemingly simple tool, but it allows you to save web pages in perpetuity — personal archives for individuals and businesses!
Iterasi had been living off angel funds since 2006, so even though Grillo’s investors might have been fine with a marketing blitz, Grillo didn’t feel like he could spend the $10,000 needed to get an iterasi booth at TechCrunch50 or sponsor a $5,000 dinner at last month’s Gnomedex. But iterasi was about to launch a new release, and Grillo recognized that an impactful marketing play would be necessary if it was to get noticed in a very noisy market.
So Grillo and his team came up with a non-traditional marketing tactic. They found an old yellow school bus with a dubious battery and an owner/driver who wanted to get to Gnomedex, too. Then they invited several bloggers, a dozen programmers and tech folks from the Portland area to ride along with them to Seattle.
They borrowed equipment from their office to provide Wi-Fi on the bus and then Twittered and texted their way north. When iterasi arrived, Gnomedex organizer Chris Pirillo greeted them. They drew conference-goers to the bus by keeping it conveniently stocked with drinks and snacks, and they parked it a short walk from the conference entrance.
Word about the bus spread. Iterasi hosted a day trip to Bherd Studios, a local art gallery that became “a favorite non-conference moment.” Everyone who went received a commemorative T-shirt, emblazoned with “iterasi bus tour, Gnomedex 8.0.” Soon, they were worn like conference talismans.
In the end, Grillo says, iterasi attracted more attention from its bus program than if the company had sponsored Gnomedex. Better still, iterasi paid far less and had more fun: Total cost for the bus was less than $700 and T-shirts were another $900.
You, too, can get edge on the cheap. Here are Grillo’s 5 Guerilla Tactics for Good Marketing:
1) Host an non-conformist event. The Magic Bus Tour has been done. Host a massive tailgate outside the venue in a Airstream draped in your logo. Or an off-site BBQ at SXSW (I know a company that did this.)
2) Not all schwag is equal. T-shirts are a cheap, but surprisingly powerful tool. Everyone needs them. Coupled with the successful Magic Bus to Gnomedex, they became a conference currency.
3) Ask for a discount. It is not a sign of weakness to say: “Look, we are and under-capitalized startup but we’d like to attend your event to showcase our new release.” People do want to help you. By offering something like a fresh look at something cool, you give them a reason to say “yes.”
4) Enter contests. We created a video to get free passes into Supernova 2008. We did it in less than a day and won.
5) Blog. Blog. Twitter. Flickr. Create a Facebook page. We all know this. Be active in these conversations, but judicious. Monitor sites that cover you, but only add comments where you add value. Respond quickly when you do respond. Ignore trolls.
Photo credit: Kris Krug