Conference Lessons You Can Learn From Apple

Upper West Side Apple Store

I walked into the newly expanded Apple Store at Knox Henderson on the day of the release of the next version of the iPhone.

I hesitated at first thinking it would be packed with crowds but my iPhone was stuck in the middle of an upgrade. I needed help and I needed it fast.

There was a line around the block to get in and the store was jammed. Since I was not there to pick up the new iPhone, I got to walk past the line. I walked in and found the person responsible for scheduling the Genius Bar appointments. He scheduled me for an appointment in the next 15 minutes.

Apple Knows Customer Psychology

While there I played with the new iPhone and iPad. I tested some new apps and decided I should upgrade in the near future.

I stayed long enough to get my iPhone fixed. I quickly sensed the rhythm of the store. Every few seconds three or four people left with their new purchases and three or four more entered the store. This was in addition to those that were getting the new iPhone. Lots of lookers. Lots of buyers.

This Apple store is clearly a showcase for products that were first contemplated through online research, played with in the store and then purchased.

Customers like me came with a specific problem to solve. While there, we touched items that we were dreaming about. I noticed that the Apple t-shirt staff stayed away until a customer made eye contact. They did not intrude on the reverie. Apple clearly knows customer psychology.

I walked around the block to a new Microsoft store. By contrast, a dark-suited staff member stands on guard next to each Surface tablet on display. As soon as you walk in you are greeted by a staffer much like you are when you walk on a car lot. The hungry sales staff pounces! Beware the impending sales hustle! Memo to Microsoft: learn the new rhythm of shopping.

Customers Want To Sample The Product

Shopping today is clearly a visual, hands-on experience.

People want to see the merchandise, see the menu, see the interior spaces, even see faces. Some of that seeing happens online. Does anyone select a restaurant these days without first going to Yelp or Foursquare and reading the menu and reviews? We do people-searches in LinkedIn and Facebook before meetings, dates and sales calls.

Step one of a purchase is word of mouth. Step two is online research. Step three is visiting a visual showcase to sample the product. Step four is sample the merchandise. Only then does a purchase occur.

How does your conference leverage each of these steps of the buying process? How do you allow potential attendees to sample the product? What visual display of past or current offerings can they peruse? What online reviews can they find? Where are others talking about the conference experience in various social networks?

The Great Walled Edifices Of Yesteryear

Later that day, I was reviewing a large conference online. It couldn’t have been farther from the style of the Apple store as possible.

No way to view any of the past or current offerings. Just the online equivalent of vertical acres of walled stone. Nothing visible except product names which were as confusing as possible. It reminded me of visiting one of the large, dark, gloomy church edifices of the past. The barriers were to keep people out not invite them in to participate.

I kept trying to see about this conference’s past and future events. No “merchandise,” as it were, on display, just empty pages with the words “More info to come.” The site was outdated with a message from the CEO composed from a year ago, not recently. It looked like a relic from the past.

I wonder how conferences of the future will remain alive and in-the-flesh in years to come. Apple seems to know a lot more about people and how they tick than conference hosts do.

Sell the sizzle and joy of conference participation, not the threats of non-attendance, as it were. Sell the dream, not the past. Sell getting hands onto the magic, not staying piously distant. Sell the fun of discovery and feeling smart about it, not submission to shoulds and must attends. Sell solutions to relevant problems, not information they will need a year from now!

What are some ways conferences can provide a visual showcase of their offerings that potential attendees can sample? What keeps conference hosts from showcasing more of their conference experience online?

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  1. […] Conference Lessons You Can Learn From Apple From – Today, 6:43 AM […]

  2. Mike McAllen says:

    Really cool post with some great takeaways for me.


  3. Jennifer Seuferer says:

    What about taking short videos of the most dynamic sessions you’ve had in the past and posting those on the website? I think that would work at my job.

  4. Jeff,

    I had similar thoughts and a similar ‘lightbulb’ moment last month when I visited the store in Barcelona. There is a lot to learn from the market leaders on customer service and interaction.

    My initial thought was to create a genius bar approach to a conference. Rather than having everyone listen to the speaker why not have them sit behind a bar ready to help attendees? Why not have them schedule group sessions during the conference (at times selected by the attendees not the organiser)?

    I would love to try this out. But to do this (like Apple) we need great products (content) and staff (speakers). The content is easier than hiring speakers who can cope with this out of the box approach.

    Customers have shown that when there is motivation (I really want that new Apple Product) they are happy to enter into challenging environments. We have to do that for our events.

    I have since found out that apple hires out its’ stores so it might be easier to run a exceptionally interactive conference than I first thought!

    Thanks for re-sparking my thoughts on this!

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