Sponsoring a Tech Conference – Our Experiments

We recently sponsored the Meta Refresh 2014 conference in Bangalore. The primary audience of the conference were front end geeks and business decision makers with a stake on the success of front end engineering.

We had already completed a workshop on test-driven-development in Angular.js in the Angular.JS Miniconf and were keen to carry the same momentum into MetaRefresh, which followed a couple of days later. Our goal was to enhance our engagement with the community and build a consistent brand image.

Meta Refresh 2014 Meta Refresh 2014

Why Sponsor a Conference?

We sponsored the conference to continue our interaction with the community and strengthen our brand by building awareness about the company, about our strong engineering culture and about continuous delivery, our core differentiator.

We wanted to connect with our customers and communicate our core values and differentiators. Our customer group included potential customers, potential partners and potential hires were identified.

Our Campaign

Rather than wax eloquent about ourselves in posters and pamphlet inserts, we chose instead to engage with the audience through the following activities:

  • 2 Competitions:
    • Twitter Puzzle: Designed to appeal to the algorithmic geek, and
    • Help us improve our website:  Designed to appeal to the front end evangelist
  • Pair Programming in Javascript on Angular.js/Backbone.js with a focus on Test Driven Development
  • A demo of our Continuous Delivery infrastructure
  • A couple of mini-puzzles

Let's dive into each of the above.

Competition 1: The Twitter Puzzle

What was it?

Twitter Puzzle Standee

The puzzle's challenge was to identify the pattern in a set of tweets, design the algorithm and code the solution. On solving the puzzle the winner would receive a t-shirt.

We designed the standee on the right - and just hung the T-Shirt over it :). The copy was designed to be action oriented with few words and more images.

Why did we do it?

The winner had to have an understanding of using APIs, understanding of problem solving and a great sense of logic. The puzzle was designed to appeal to the algorithmic geek giving a sense of camaraderie without knowing many details of our company.

Did it work?

During the first break many people were trying to access the Twitter puzzle on their phones. At Multunus, we advise customers on the importance of a mobile compatible website. But our puzzle page was not mobile optimized!  I am sure this is a lesson we wouldn’t forget soon. 🙁

By numbers, we had a 30% spike in daily unique visitors and a 75% spike in daily page views during the conference. But those are just vanity metrics.

In terms of actual conversions, we received a grand total of....just 1 complete submission 😐. But the solution worked perfectly and we've thankfully parted with a t-shirt because of that.

Competition 2: Help us improve our website

Improve the Website Standee

What was it?

The challenge was to suggest improvements to our newly designed website and associated branding elements. The best improvement ideas would have the option to chose one book from a set 3 books on design: The Design of Everyday Things, UX for Lean Startups and Don’t Make Me Think.

Why did we do it?

Seeking feedback from the participants of MetaRefresh was akin to running a usability test with some of the best front-end minds.

The 3 books were selected to appeal to the tastes of our target audience. "Design of Everyday Things" is a classical design book, "Don't Make Me Think" is a short primer on Web Usability and "UX for Lean Startups" is of course relevant to anyone who's an Eric Ries fan.

Did it work?

TL;DR:  Some participants spent up to an hour analyzing our website. Yep, we killed it with this challenge.

As the first day progressed [it was a 2 day conference], interest in the challenge grew. We were surrounded by front-end evangelists and ideas started pouring in.

“I just bought the book [the Design of Everyday Things], but I will still want to win one more” said a student from the  National Institute of Design. The feedback was varied and included comments like “You do have a very cool storyline on the website” to “It is very difficult to gauge your services from your website.”

By end of Day 2, we had 130 odd improvement ideas (!) from 20 odd people and a significantly enhanced awareness about our business.

Discussing UX Feedback

Discussing improvements to website

Pair Programming to Experience TDD of Angular.js

What was it?

We also planned to have a pair programming session as an extension of the Angular.Js workshop.

Why did we do it?

The workshop was planned for attendees of MetaRefresh who had missed the Angular.js Mini Conf earlier in the same week.

Did it work?

No. During the entire duration of the conference, no participant showed interest in the Pair Programming Activity. Although a couple of participants wanted to know more about Angular.js, no one was interested in pairing to learn more about TDD. We may have picked the wrong activity for the audience.

Thinking JerryOur Kiosk

 

Demo of Continuous Delivery infrastructure

What was it?

We demoed our Build Pipeline infrastructure - that is a core (among many others!) aspect of our Continuous Delivery setup.

Why did we do it?

The activity was designed to share how we build software here at Multunus. The tools that we use are open source and free - and we believe any team with enough persistence can setup a similar system in their environments as well.

Leena explaining continuous deliveryVaidy talking about Multunus

Did it work?

The Walkthrough of Continuous Delivery in the Android App was popular on the second day with more business owners attending. Some participants appreciated the complexity the value of Continuous Delivery while a few suggested improvements to the delivery process. On the whole, yet another way to engage with our target audience without being pushy.

Cryptic Jobs Ads

What was it?

We also created two job posts on hasjob.co that were cryptic - while the conference was running.

Cryptic job ads

Why did we do it?

Simple job posts don’t attract eye-balls nor do they seem attractive to our target audience. So we created the cryptic posts to attract the black swans.

Did it work?

Yep! Kinda. We had good almost 20 folks who solved the mini-puzzle - possibly at least a few of them taking a look at our teaser hiring page. Our hiring process however is a bit involved - so if anyone actually went ahead to level 2 [another puzzle :)], that would have been a bonus.

The good news? We now have one candidate who seems to be a good fit - and who knows? He may go all the way :).

[ UPDATE: We just heard from that one candidate, that he has future study plans 🙁 ]

That may not seem like much doesn't much to be happy about right now, but we believe in long term hiring - and we think there's a good chance that the folks who either solved the mini-puzzle and even the ones who attempted it, will recognize our company the next time they see it.

Conclusion

During the 2 days, our 5 member team had conversations exceeding 5 mins with about 100 conference participants about business, technology, process and design. That kind of engagement was exactly what we were looking for.

Being a sponsor doesn't have to be about short term conversions for either hiring or sales. Instead the long term value of engaging with the community and the resulting long term recall is priceless.

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  • vaidy

    I see good conferences as events which ’curate’ audiences for the sponsors. Attempting to engage with such a crowd allows for a good signal to noise ratio.

  • Leena

    Nicely written Kuldip.