The congeniality and unpretentiousness of biogas industry professionals are why Biogas Americas has become one of my favorite cleantech conferences. Everyone treats you like a long-lost friend, even if you’re meeting them for the first time, and no one asks where you went to college before deciding if you are worth knowing.

As a result of the openness that pervades among the attendees, it’s much easier to learn what’s really happening in the industry at this moment in time, and here’s what I learned in Savannah last week.

Apps Matter

A good conference app can exponentially increase your exposure and networking opportunities. Fortunately, the American Biogas Council worked with a good developer to create an intuitive app. Features like attendee profiles and platform messaging made it easier to network and make meaningful connections, which is one of the most important benefits of conferences.

Unfortunately, I got the feeling that most attendees didn’t use the app to its fullest potential because they were uncomfortable with the technology, didn’t want to engage in another online platform, or didn’t understand the benefits.

Note to future cleantech conferences: when you send out all of those pre-conference emails, send sole subject emails (repeatedly) featuring how to use the app and describing its benefits.

QR Codes Are (Finally) Catching On

QR codes have become normalized in our society, especially since COVID-19, yet I was pleasantly surprised how many attendees had integrated them into their business cards.

Trading business cards at exhibitions is an old (but trusted) marketing tactic. Still, nobody has the time to manually enter all that data into a usable form after the conference—and neither do the recipients of your business cards.

If you haven’t already, do yourself and your prospects a favor by adding a QR code to your business card. This will make connecting on LinkedIn or entering contact information into a CRM easier.

SWAG Spend Still Missing The Mark

The more neural associations your audience has with your brand, the more likely it is to be stored in their long-term memory (read: they’re less likely to forget about you after the conference ends).

At a conference where anaerobic digesters were front and center, it was refreshing to see many companies adding toy cows to their display tables, which used to only contain branded pens and sales sheets.

That said, there are many ways to capture methane and turn it into biogas, and developers and suppliers could have stood out by using less obvious but more creative symbolism, like United Airlines deployed Oscar the Grouch for trash feedstock (they paid millions for the rights, which may not be in your budget), a pig snout for swine digesters, or a branded compost bin for food digesters to cite just a few examples.

We are a visually oriented species. Logic and our brains’ frontal lobe came much later, and there’s a reason the root word of numbers is ‘numb.’ Visual associations will always trump facts and figures in your audiences’ minds. SWAGs should be eye-catching reminders to easily understood concepts and should be at the forefront of your marketing materials.

Social Media Is Still A Foreign Language For Most

The American Biogas Council created a hashtag #biogasamericas for the conference to help create a community of biogas enthusiasts and supporters. That’s what social media is for—to connect people with common interests who can share information and progress.

I was disappointed that only a handful of the thousand conference attendees used it.

That’s not the fault of the conference organizers. The hashtag was on every display in prominent locations around the venue. The problem is with the perception of social media within the associated industries.

I get it. Twitter isn’t for everyone. If you grew up in the pre-internet era, like a large percentage of the attendees in Savannah, social media is a curiosity, much in the same way rocket ships were fascinating to previous generations. While touching the moon was a moment of national pride, not everyone knew why it was important to go, how it would increase our nation’s prosperity or the community of enthusiasts who were religious about the mission.

If you asked most CEOs there, they couldn’t tell you the value of social media beyond posting pictures of their children on Facebook, and only because it’s more convenient than sending emails with attachments to their family and friends.

So here it is: social media is an extension of your brand. It’s free advertising that draws potential customers into your sales funnel. It puts your brand in front of (potentially) billions of users but can also be targeted to the narrowest of niches, which is why hashtags on platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter are so valuable. They allow you to bypass all of the cat videos and faux outrage and communicate with those who share like-minded interests.

Your brand doesn’t have to sell cosmetics to benefit from social media. Sales funnels in cleantech are notoriously long, and your company needs to stay top of mind and ahead of the competition during that entire period. Publishing regular content reminds your audience of your value, even when your team isn’t in the office.

“Our audience is small, and we know them all” is the common response that implies social media wastes time for developers, suppliers, and contractors. Here’s the problem with that belief: even if that’s true (and I don’t think it is), your audience doesn’t wake up every morning thinking about your brand. Like all of us, your audience lives in a stimulus-saturated world during every waking moment. Do you wake up thinking about what you’ll buy that day, that week, or that month? Neither does your audience.

Your project or product isn’t just competing against others in your market space. You are competing for attention. Period.

If you want to stay in your audience’s consciousness, your brand (project or product) needs to be where they live, and today, people live on Google and YouTube. Just as newspapers have struggled to come to terms with their broken business model in a digital age, you have a choice: follow your audience online or go the way of the dead trees that used to be delivered to your front door.

I look forward to seeing everyone in Denver next year!

CleanTech Focus