A Better Conference Experience

*A Better Conference Experience*
**By Molly Dowdy**

MollyD***I just returned from the Ellie Mae Encompass Experience, Ellie’s LOS user’s conference. I had never been to it, but I’ve always heard great things. We’ve just completed an integration between Encompass360 and Mercury Network, so we were a sponsor this year and took several people. From a marketing perspective, they did some innovative things that I think we could all consider for our own meetings and events.

****Unequivocally, it was one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended. The sessions were informative and energetic, the Wynn Las Vegas was really beautiful, and the service was amazing. The crowd was engaged and a lot of fun. It was an excellent event overall, but two of the tangential things they did really made an impression on me, and I think we could all use the ideas for smaller meetings or events you may host for your own customers.

****For the second year, they teamed with the Patrick Kelley Youth Foundation and held a “Build-a-Bike” challenge so attendees could take a quick break and help assemble bicycles for underprivileged and at-risk Las Vegas children. Last year, they built 90 bikes. This year, they did 150. The bike building station was set up for the entirety of the conference so attendees could take a few minutes during breaks to roll up their sleeves and give back. It was a really popular activity for a great cause, and the marketing benefit is seriously substantial. Those types of experiences mean a lot to people, and it’s a great way to really connect on a human level with your customers. A human connection is what makes life-long, loyal customers so it’s well worth the effort.

****Even for smaller meetings, I hope everyone will consider choosing a charity to support. Whether it’s a canned food drive at an MBA chapter meeting, or a Toys for Tots donation drive at your branch, it’s a win-win for everyone involved – your customers, your employees, and ultimately your bottom line.

****Another interesting activity from a marketing perspective was their User Experience Board and their Big Idea Board. The boards are huge interactive walls set up in the Expo Hall, designed to get customer feedback. User Experience (UI) designers and product managers staffed the area and encouraged attendees to answer quick questions about their biggest challenges and their technology ideas. People were eager to participate since all those colored Post-its looked intriguing, and reading the notes on the walls was interesting for everyone. Those boards were a great way to get feedback and learn more about their customers, and provide vital information for product development and marketing.

****We all need to think of creative ways like Ellie Mae’s idea boards to engage our customers. The best ideas come from your customers when you’re really listening. Find creative ways to ask for their ideas, and you’re proving that you care about their problems and their opinions. Trust me, people want to feel that connection from their technology providers. Mercury Network’s customer-driven reputation has served us very well in the market, and we hear from new customers every day that they switched from other platforms because we listen and build what they really want. Engaged, open communication with your customers is a critical component of any successful company.

****Every event has the potential to be memorable for all the right reasons. Planning an event that includes customer engagement in an unique way, along with a project that continues to positively impact the community long after the conference attendees have left town really made this experience stand out.

****Have you seen creative ideas like these at conferences and meetings? I’d love to hear what you’ve seen or tried, so drop me an e-mail at molly@alamode.com.