For the recent #SwimBiz conference hosted by USA Swimming, we wanted to put on a great conference first. Then, we wanted to give attendees some surprises along the way, known as “surprise and delight” or even “Easter Eggs” in the marketing and customer service business. Our goal was to show creativity in small ways throughout the event in unexpected ways. Many of these surprises weren’t on the official program and a summary is below:
1. Food Trucks
Instead of the traditional catered meal, we held a food truck tasting event with some of our staff’s local favorite trucks. It was great ethnic and American food, and the event also had the unintended consequence of being a great ice breaker for attendees. People put down their phones and introduced themselves to others to ask about what food they were sampling.
2. Letter to Speakers
Our panel of speakers came from a variety of organizations and we had a specific direction we wanted them to take. Communicating with ambitious, talented and busy people can be a challenge. So, we had to get their attention and get them to actually read the pre-event instructions so we added a bit of flare to what appeared to be a typical pre-event letter.
3. SwimToday Campaign Sneak Peek
Entering our second year of the SwimToday campaign we wanted feedback on some early creative direction so we presented 12 draft advertising tag lines mock ups and allowed attendees to vote on their favorites. We will unveil their choices in May. (Sorry, no sneak peeks for the blog readers!)
4. New Program Sneak Peek
In addition to SwimToday, we wanted an informal focus group on a new program, so we gave a sneak peek of Swimjitsu to get feedback. It wasn’t on the schedule and was a surprise element. (More details coming soon on this exciting new program.)
Everyone likes an afternoon cookie break, but many had trouble deciding whether to eat the #SwimBiz cookies or take pictures and share. The goal was for them to do both.
6. Charging Station
Batteries are no match for digitally-connected conference attendees so AT&T solved that by providing charging stations on-site.
Instead of giving guests a tchotchke gift, one of our conference sponsors – the Fitter & Faster Tour – gave everyone some bags of fresh Colorado coffee to take home.
8. Short and Tweet
Every session opened with a (hopefully) social media-worthy fact to give each topic some perspective.
9. Katie Ledecky
Following our “boot camp” of learning the basics of Instagram, Facebook for business and Twitter we invited National Teamer and Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky to answer questions and then take selfies with the audience. We didn’t expect a room for adults to take selfies, but we were wrong.
10. Session Titles
As our first marketing conference we felt we had to make the sessions feature great content but every session title was written to attract interest. A little-known fact is that the “Where’s the Beef: How Much are My Sponsorship Assets Worth?” session was originally called “99 Problems But a Pitch Ain’t One” but discretion won out and we didn’t use that one. It sure made us laugh for a few hours in the office though.
11. Session Length
We took the “less is more” approach and asked speakers to go for 15-20 minutes plus a few minutes of Q&A versus the traditional 1-hour presentations. The result was a fast-paced conference and the time restraint forced speakers to on share their best stuff instead of feeling the pressure to fill a full hour. To do that, we had to be a bit of schoolmarm on time limits.
Three sessions were webcast live by the trendy, new social video sharing app Meerkat. (We announced this feature before Periscope became live.) Followers were extremely low, however it was it was another way to subtly show attempts at innovation as part of a mindset. Not all tests are winners, but we have to try!
13. T-Shirt Exchange
We asked everyone to bring an extra T-shirt from their swim team or NGB for an exchange with their peers. It’s always nice to mix up the T-shirt wardrobe with other clubs from across the country.
14. Acceptance Speeches
For the #SwimBiz Club Marketing Awards we replaced the traditional chicken dinner with a build-your-own taco bar and replaced the long acceptance speech with “speeches” that could only be 140 characters in the spirit of Twitter’s character limit. Really. Not one person had to have the music play them of stage.
15. Social Board
The only thing better than likes, RTs and shares is seeing them happen on a big board in real time thanks to Spredfast.
16. Logo Makeover
Inspired by Oprah and her personal makeovers, our art team of Matt Lupton and Natalie Elzinga did the same with unveiling a swim club logo makeover. Our subject was Cheyenne Aquatics in Wyoming. Yes, they volunteered and were tremendous sports. Check out the before/after!
17. #Narwhal Swim Cap
The last day of the conference was March 31, so we let attendees in on the #NarwhalSwimCap April Fool’s Day joke and asked them to be part of the gag and help get it started.
18. Setting Marketing “Time Standards”
In the sport of swimming we are used to time standards to know what the goal is to achieve, whether it be making Junior Nationals or the U.S. Olympic Trials. For marketing and sponsorship that is less clear from one club to another so we shared mini case studies to start sharing what others are achieving and giving more clarity on standards of excellence.
We hope the program, speakers and topics stand on their own to attract folks to next year’s version of #SwimBiz but if it’s the cookies and food trucks, then that’s OK too.