AI Expo Europe: experiences and preparation

Imagine you’re at work and all is going well. You’re working towards your goal and are making progress. All you want is to focus and get things done. Then out of the blue you get an email that offers you something for free. Yeah, right… When did that ever happen?

I still remember when it did happen to us. We got an email from Anna Fry, who was one of the organizers of the AI Expo Europe 2018 that took place at the RAI convention centre in Amsterdam.

They had a startup area and she offered us a startup stand, free of charge. I have been offered free things before, which shortly turned out not to be free at all (more on this in later posts). I was sceptical to put it mildly. But in the end it was not a joke or a sell. She genuinely wanted us to be part of the AI Expo 2018. We didn’t think twice about this opportunity and agreed.

I didn’t want to let this opportunity go to waste. It very often happens that people simply don’t value things that they get for free. Behavioural economics backs me up on this. I didn’t want us to fall into this trap. How could we avoid it? Preparation!

Preparation

We’ve been to conferences before, that was nothing new. But at those conferences it was pretty clear what you should do and what you should get out of them. This was a business convention. What do you get out of this one?

That was the first question we needed to answer for ourselves. There are many aspects you can get out of an expo/convention. You most likely hear these standard phrases:

  • Exposure – often also called Brand Awareness
  • Recognition – often also called Brand Recognition
  • Feedback
  • Customers – acquisition/retention
  • Close look at the competition
  • Networking

The biggest focus for us was feedback and customer acquisition. Now that we have that clear, we don’t want to leave that up to chance. You can always go two distinct routes when it comes to customers or feedback:

  1. get a lot of people and have superficial interaction
  2. fewer people and deeper conversations.

Our goal was not to get a pad on the back and hear the ‘wow, that’s great’. We wanted input and new ideas from within the industry, which then means route 2. But who from within the industry?

The good thing is that all speakers are listed on the Expo website. That provides you with a good idea of who will be there, what they do and if their input could be useful.

No place for shame – you gotta go for it.

After filtering through all the speakers, we simply wrote an email to each to ask if they’d have time to drop by our stand. We could of course also meet anywhere else but people preferred to come to us.

Make sure that you are genuine in your email and it is not an obviously mass send email. People are generally very willing to help you, but not if they notice that you’re playing a numbers game.

Show and tell

Now that we took care of some of the traffic, we need to make sure that we have things to show and to give to visitors. I’d say this part falls into 4 categories:

  1. traffic magnet – getting attention
  2. interaction/engagement
  3. retention – make sure to be remembered
  4. tracking – keep track of actions taken

Traffic magnet

We have already some visitors that will come to us for a chat. But what about all the attendees that will come? To attract them, we need a traffic magnet. We simply took our laptops and had videos of cases we ran before on loop. The eye tracking heat map overlay onto a video is still super interesting and most people have not seen something like this before.

Interaction / Engagement

The good thing about the traffic magnet we chose was that you can use it immediately to start a conversation. Most people ask ‘what is that?’ and off you go!

To have even more engagement, we had a demo of our analysis service in combination with the ultimatum game prepared. The ultimatum game is a simple game where you have to interact with someone else. The crucial aspect is that you can predict the behaviour based on facial expressions. More on the game will follow in later posts.

If people wanted their results, they’d have to also give us their email address. This is a nice way to collect email addresses and have it part of a regular conversation that doesn’t feel like a standard sales pitch.

Retention / tracking

At the end of an interaction people generally exchange business cards. We prepared special business cards just for this event. It made that clear in the text we used. At the same time, we added a dedicated link on the card that you’d only know if you had the card. That allows us to track the performance online.

We also asked to take a picture of them holding our face analysis board. This also had to be prepared and took a lot of time. But keep in mind, you do it once well and you can use it more often.

At the expo

We were so lucky that we got upgraded to a real size stand. But the problem was now that it might look quite empty, as we were preparing for a startup size stand (half the size). We were promised 2 chairs and a table, when we got there we found a very flimsy table and no chairs. The booth looked very very empty. What do you do?

First, try the official route. There was a help desk to deal with issues like these. I went there, but guess what, it was super crowded there already. You have to ask yourself “where on the priority list will we be?”. Most likely not that high and it also has to go through so many ‘people in charge’ that it’s easy to be forgotten.

Steal a bench. Well, I mean borrow a bench.

Second, take matters into your own hands. Right around the corner of our booth were a few wooden benches. Nobody was sitting there, so we took one and placed it on the side of our booth. Looks cosy, doesn’t it?

Now is the time to shine. All the preparation work will pay off, but only if your behaviour and attitude are right. What do I mean by that?

There are plenty of subtle signals we send that turn people off, even before we had a chance to exchange words. Would you approach a stand where the person from the company is looking at the phone? NO!

Here are a few parts that we focused on to make sure we look easily approachable:

  1. Keep your phone in your pocket.
  2. Don’t sit down!
  3. You see someone looking, approach them and introduce yourself.
  4. Don’t stand behind a desk, be next to the desk.
  5. Put a smile on your face and mean it.
  6. You are already in a conversation and other people come by? Simply ask your current visitor if he/she would mind if you involved the new visitors. So far no one has ever said no to this.

The result

We had a lot of visitors coming to our stand, so many, that we periodically caused ‘traffic’. We have fully reached our goal and ended up with a lot of very valuable feedback and new customers. The greatest thing was that some visitors enjoyed the experience with us so much that they started advocating for us and brought new people to our stand.

Post expo & lessons learned

After the expo ended, we took the weekend to rest. It was a lot of work but it did pay off as we reached the goals we’ve set for ourselves. Now it is time to process all the collected emails, phone numbers, contact information and make sure to act on it!

Also here is no place for shame. People gave you their card, that means they won’t be too surprised if you reached out. They might have had a great experience at our stand but make no mistake, you need to be the one to keep the connection. That goes for new customers that expressed strong interest during the expo but also for visitors you got a lot of good feedback from.

Saying ‘thank you’ matters.

The biggest lesson for us was that the demo needs to be better. Some people really enjoyed playing it, but because we had so many visitors we didn’t have the time to show it to more people. For next time we need to have a demo prepared that is part of the traffic magnet itself!

Oh and if you were wondering how other stands looked like, you can check them out here.

Other stands

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