“All I really need to know about my market influencers I learned in kindergarten.” Wait, did I say kindergarten? I meant conferences.

Want a snapshot of the influencers in your market: the press, bloggers, analysts, competitors, associations and customers? (Yes, customers belong in the influencer category. Word of Mouth marketing anyone?). Pick a healthy trade show, study its website, mailers and marketing, and learn a lot about your market influencers and what influences them — all without flashing an attendee badge even once.

More Than You Would Expect

If you’ve never mined a conference web site for research, you’re missing out on useful, free and available fountain of background information and contacts. You’ll find out more than you might expect. Even if it’s just finding a URL that points your media research in the right direction. Having the right URLs avoids hours of false starts and research rat holes.

What’s There? Who’s There?

What else can you learn from a conference website? You can find and use background about people in the industry, such as:

  • Speaker bios – learn about industry pundits, luminaries and rock stars
  • Their Twitter feeds – If you Tweet, you’ll understand
  • Bloggers covering the industry – get insights into their interests
  • Reasons to reach out to all the above, that is, what interests overlap with yours?

An Example: SPTechCon 2012

Let’s go back to SPTechCon 2012, that SharePoint conference example I talked about in the last blog post. From this website, you can quickly discerned that a target audience for SharePoint-related products includes IT pros, business managers, analysts, and developers. That’s not an earthshaking discovery, given that this is an enterprise technology show.

The takeaways here are the job titles. Look at the job descriptions and departments used to sell the conference to you as the exhibitor or to you as an attendee. (Of course, the “decision makers” go to every show. That’s a given.)

Use these descriptors:

  • To target your search and social marketing, such as “SharePoint developer” or “SharePoint manager”
  • To find LinkedIn groups communities that are relevant to this market
  • In your marketing content to connect with the reader or their audience or customers, if you’re looking for media contacts

The Influencer in the Exhibitor Guide

Use the conference guide to scope out the competition and identify potential partners who are influencers (or who consider themselves so.) Look at the product categories in the online exhibit guide. What categories do competitors choose for their listings? Are they giving any presentations? On what topics? Perhaps you can build a “competitive persona” based on this information. Study their marketing, releases and messages and get a sense of how to approach this market, or how to stand apart from the competition.

Get Social with Your Influencers

Immerse yourself in the conference’s social media marketing, even if just temporarily. You can always turn the hose off after your research is done. Get on the conference RSS feed, Twitter account, LinkedIn group, and Facebook page. What ideas bubble to the top of the stream in the month or week before the event? The messages that flow through, however hyped up on marketing juice, still represent topics people are paying attention to and paying to learn more about. Note who participates in the social media dialogues. Reach out, respond, participate — you never know where it will lead.

(I’m not sure how many blogs will end up in this series on conferences as market research. I can tell you I have at least a couple more in mind. I know, obsessed marketing geek. See all you other marketing geeks back here next time.)