What Happens When A Small Business Marketing Conference Isn’t What You Thought?

IMG_5322_2I was excited. Really, I was. Being given a ticket to a marketing conference which no less than a dozen people in my new network had been talking about and recommending was pretty cool stuff.

Granted, being GIVEN a ticket is also pause for consideration and I had been forewarned that the information may be skewed toward selling of product, services and more, but I was curious to watch and learn, and I was eager to reconnect with my peeps.

I anticipated sunny weather, smiles and at the very least, confirmation of industry updates and strategy. I expected to meet great people and network as per usual.

What happened instead is worth mentioning.

Call me optimistic, enthusiastic, willing and motivated. Even call me committed or reliable – just don’t call me gullible.  Trust me when I say, not all marketing conferences are worth your time. Some should just be hung in the street as an example of a wolf in sheep’s clothing leading lambs to the slaughter.

How someone holds two of these 3-4 day conferences every year, discusses the same topics and approaches, and essentially sets up the event the same way and STILL boasts an average crowd of four hundred truly is commendable. But it IS a MARKETING conference – someone knows how to market to their target demographic. The only problem is – that makes his average demographic naive sheep, which knowingly I am not.

Between the nature of the content and the speed at which he flew through the information, my initial impression of the first two sessions on day one was that this would be a good review of basic business startup practices. I had hugged the necks of my new network of professionals from the San Diego business weekend I attended in January and was enjoying the charisma and energy of the host and the event in general. The notebook looked meaty with it’s spiral binding and one hundred and fifty pages, and I even “won” (thanks Ray!) a t-shirt that was thrown out into the crowd at the beginning of the event. We were off to a good start, I thought.

Lunch was delicious and I shared a table with friendly people who were kind enough to answer all 101 of my questions about their past experience with the events. Every one of them had attended a past event with this host, which I found interesting. They return because of the people, sharing time with “friends” and the opportunity to promote their business. Ok, fair enough. A standard networking club. Got it.

Here’s where I had to step off the merry-go-round…

After lunch, in session three, titled “Relationship Marketing” (which I was looking forward to quite a bit), the host proceeded to advise the entire room to (in my own words) be inauthentic. From suggesting we “must get the maximum number of friend/connections on ALL social media platforms”, to going to our “competitor’s social media sites and asking their friends to be [our] friends”, even recommending we always “do [our] best just in case someone is watching” I cringed more than not. Clearly this session was not living up to its name.

I’m sorry, but let me explain:

IMG_5614a. I only want to do business with people I know, like and trust and not everyone is my target market or referral partner, nor are they all my friend or someone I SHOULD be connected to. So, friending and connecting with everyone isn’t my idea of sound advice.

IMG_5615b. If I found out one of my connections or ‘friends’ was going to my social profiles and asking all of my friends to be their friends with the ulterior motive of scooping my friends’ business away from me, trust and friendship would not be part of our relationship and they would not be a connection any longer. But, that’s why #1 is so important. People you CHOOSE to friend are vetted… or should be.

c. Having integrity and character means being the best version of ourselves – ALWAYS, even when NO ONE is watching! THAT is authenticity.

But it didn’t stop there. Many of the tips offered were outdated, sneaky, ILLEGAL, or just plain incorrect. Here are just a few examples:

1. “Increase your database with a few user-generated websites.” example: CatsinSinks.com which he explained allows site visitors to upload photos of cats in sinks in exchange for contact information which is then used to market and/or advertise to those people.

– The user who enters their information in order to engage with a website, should always be provided fair warning of any attempt to collect information which may be distributed or used for any purposes other than simply engaging with that website. Not being up front about the use of that collected information is illegal. Period.

2. “Run in a local election and lose.”

– While this may be good for name exposure and may increase awareness, not everyone should run for an office seat. Perhaps this is why our government, school systems, etc have the issues they already have. Just saying.

IMG_53313. “Try to get your products or services on Groupon or Living Social.”

– If not done very carefully, this can put you straight out of business. Just ask this guy.

4. Start a blog… and be sure to link from your blog to your website.

– What? Why encourage people to have two sites that compete for traffic? I teach small businesses to start a blog, yes. But the blog should be ON your website! The whole point is blogging regularly to leverage your expertise in your field and increase organic search engine optimization and readership… on your site.

5. “Write Part 2 of a Blog Post, making sure that there is no Part 1.”

– He says this creates ‘panic’ in a visitor’s ability to not find the first post and makes them search, read, etc everything you’ve published trying to find it, which forces them to ‘get to know you’. Then, by the time they’re done ‘getting to know you’, they’ll feel like they’ve known you forever, which makes them more interested in continuing to follow you. Again, I’m sorry, but my first thought would be, how unorganized is this writer? My second thought, they clearly don’t know how to market themselves. And lastly, you are wasting my precious time!

Don’t use tactics or pull the wool over your audience’s eyes. Be respectful, friends! Do I really need to say that you will benefit more from honesty in the long run?

Now, I get that he’s had some pretty amazing opportunities handed to him in his life and that the stories surrounding those opportunities have given him perspective. He’s learned through experience and is now teaching what he knows. He is a guru, yes – of marketing? No. Of systems and tactics? YES. Strong accusation? Maybe.

Being positive and having a sunny outlook may draw people to you, which is part of your marketing approach, sure. But being in the marketing industry is a commitment. What worked last week may not work today. It is always evolving. So taking marketing advice from a systems and tactics guru is not recommended.

For someone who is teaching marketing, I was surprised to see he had not updated his Twitter account in almost 3 weeks, wasn’t using an event hashtag to increase awareness or engagement across any/all social platforms and hasn’t maximized his website or blog for sharing and readership.  He’s an author, speaker and coach. He should be doing all of those things. So, why isn’t he? I guess I don’t understand.

Unfortunately, this host is not a leader in the marketing industry. He has found and developed a system that works for him, which he teaches, uses his events to promote and makes a LOT of money on – I’m sure. (along with the mastermind groups, which I’m assuming are one of his business cornerstone offerings…)

“Being my age, I have been to more than my share of those kinds of conferences. The whole purpose is to sell themselves. They are there to sell their system, their CD’s, their books, and their coaching.  The fact that four hundred sit and stay, is either a reflection on them individually, their ignorance, or a reflection on the sheer desire they have to be like the host,” says my friend Susan Saurastri, OC Real Estate Agent.

But if being a “rockstar”, as he was referring to it, means being sneaky, only doing enough to get you noticed, not believing that a good reputation is worth it’s weight in gold and that people will only work with you if you appear bigger and better than you really are, I am not only NOT a rockstar, I don’t want to be one.

I’m glad I didn’t pay for a ticket to attend this event and I’m so grateful I was able to see and spend a day with a few peeps.

That said, the purpose of this blog article is not to defame the business owner and presenter, which is only one of the reasons I am not naming him or the conference in this post.  Instead, I want to inform and encourage you to be smart and take the events you may happen upon for what they’re worth. See through the veil and don’t drink the kool-aid, my friends. Not everyone that speaks in public really is an “industry expert”. Sometimes they have just taken a sizable dose of their own medicine.

I chose not to return to the conference for day two and three (today and tomorrow), instead opting to enjoy doing business I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do during this time, and I am doing it poolside. Building a business and a brand is hard work, don’t let any coach, event host, or tactic-driven preacher tell you it’s easy. But don’t pretend you can’t enjoy it along the way.

So, what have I learned?

  1. There truly are more reasons to attend events, conferences and seminars than just the focal topic. Meet people, practice your elevator pitch, catch up with lifelong friends, or explore a region.
  1. If the conference information wastes precious time, give yourself permission to opt out. I would be at the conference today and tomorrow, networking and enjoying the people if I had wifi access and could work during the sessions. Even though it’s painful to listen to and I almost couldn’t stomach sitting through the third session yesterday due to the mis-information being given, the people I knew and met are good, well-intentioned people. “Salt of the earth,” as Susan would call them.

Jamie Teasdale – Founder

Were you at this conference and you had a different observation? Perhaps you stayed through today? Or maybe you experienced a conference that went south?

Please share your story below or offer your advice to our small business readers:

What Happens When A Small Business Marketing Conference Goes South?

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