Conferences vs. Outbound Email

One of the reasons that we believe our customer base has grown in the last year despite an uncertain economic environment is the absence of in-person conferences. Some people think that hobnobbing at those little cocktail tables is a competitive activity to cold email outreach (though, as you'll see below, we’d argue that these activities complement each other well). Our sense is that several new clients of ours, no longer able to rely on their networking savvy, scrambled to find a new channel for business development. With all of us stuck in makeshift home offices, cold email made a lot of sense.

Certainly, this trend has been good for Incendium, but we were also curious to consider how our business can continue to grow once we are all able to pack convention centers once again. A couple of months ago, one of our customers provided us with a very natural experiment when they asked us to conduct cold outreach to fellow attendees of a digital conference that they had “attended.”

Now, you may laugh at these digital conferences, and we have certainly been guilty of doing so ourselves. After all, what’s the point? Without those little cocktail tables and the serendipitous introductions that they promise, why even try?

The answer: Attending the conference can get you access to the attendee list. Armed with just such a list, we set out to match names with email addresses, wondering how our email campaigns would perform with these (maybe slightly warmer?) leads compared to the baseline.

The short answer is that the campaign performed markedly better than our sample group. Open rates were ~40% better and both response rates & positive response rates were at ~2x our general cold outreach for the same client. Obviously, these are results from just one client in one industry and the sample size is only in the hundreds, but these are significant results with interesting implications.

So is it “worth it” to attend conferences, even digital ones? Based on our data, the answer may be yes. Notably, we did reference the conference in the email copy in order to imply affinity. We would recommend doing so if you take a similar approach.

So, go to conferences (even digital ones)! We certainly don’t discourage it and, as the data here show, doing so should not be viewed as an alternative to cold email outreach, but a complement. Marketing involves both hors d'oeuvres and open rates. While we believe that cold outbound email provides a stable backbone, a multichannel approach is always best. Until those little cocktail tables (and the pigs in a blanket) are back, we’ll see you at the virtual happy hour...

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