The alternative event: Restructuring the user conference

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One of the many casualties of this market has been the conference and trade show industry. With companies cutting travel budgets and putting tighter restrictions on would-be business travelers, this industry had better get creative quickly.

While there has been a flurry of industry conference cancellations this year, don’t immediately assume that your customer event needs to be removed from the calendar. Despite the tightening of overall budgets and cutbacks in travel, ensuring customers and industry players are current on your offerings and well-trained on your products is of paramount importance regardless of an up or down economy.

What are some alternative ways to keep customers educated?

Taking your event on the road or incorporating social media are just two methods you can pursue in lieu of a large scale customer meeting.

For example, one alternative to holding a single user conference is to develop localized or regional user events. By taking events on the road on a smaller scale, you can bring the same value as you have in the past, only this time directly to your users. Localized events can be held at such venues as a breakfast meeting; a one-day event; or a multiday, regionally focused one.

Likewise, virtual events are on the rise, with many companies turning to video conferencing and Web tools to allow participants to discuss and share information in a virtual trade show style.

To survive this recession, smart businesses learn to think creatively and keep engaging with customers. Here are a few ways to stay in touch with your customers in 2009 and beyond:
•Virtual meetings

  1. One-to-one: Video conferencing
  2. One-to-a-few: Webcast
  3. One-to-many: Virtual conference

•In-person meetings
  1. One-to-one: Face-to-face meeting
  2. One-to-a-few: Breakfast series
  3. One-to-many: Regional, localized conference
Mark Wilson is VP-corporate marketing at Sybase. He can be reached at
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