October 19, 2011
Case Study

Event Marketing: HubSpot's Dreamforce effort generates more than 2,300 new leads and 362 product demos

SUMMARY: When you are an exhibiting sponsor at someone else's event, your effort can be limited by constraints outside your control. At the same time, you do want to stand out from the crowd to maximize your investment in the effort.

Find out how HubSpot created a strategy for this year's Dreamforce exposition that pushed the boundaries on what defines an event booth, promoted a unique event theme, and led to over 2,300 new leads while providing attendees with takeaway value.
by David Kirkpatrick, Reporter


When putting marketing budget dollars into a live event, you want to get the most bang for your buck. And when your presence is just one of many exhibitors, you definitely want to stand out in a way that reflects your company brand and attracts positive attention.

HubSpot, a marketing software company, does not typically go to trade shows as sponsors or exhibitors, but this year decided to become platinum sponsors at Dreamforce '11, the Salesforce.com user conference that topped 45,000 registered attendees this September. (Full Disclosure: I attended this event as well, as an attendee and guest blogger, courtesy of HubSpot.)

As an inbound marketing company that is possibly better known for its extensive, and sometimes quirky, content marketing strategy than for providing software, HubSpot knew it needed to put its own spin on event marketing.

"We told them (Salesforce) pretty early on when we agreed to be a platinum sponsor, that we were going to make this investment and we had to do it our way," explained Marta Kagan, Director of Brand and Buzz, HubSpot.

She continued, "We actually had a slide that we shared with them in our initial meeting that had a picture of a guy standing in front of your typical trade show booth -- sales guy with his badge and suit -- and the headline on that slide said, 'Doing this is like Greenpeace clubbing a baby seal.' It's not in our DNA."

Kagan said for the campaign, HubSpot could not:
  • Just have a booth

  • Have "booth babes"

  • Send a bunch of salespeople

  • Be just another vendor

What HubSpot wanted to do with the effort was to provide value to Dreamforce attendees instead of interrupting their experience, and to position themselves as partners of Salesforce.

Read on to find out HubSpot's event marketing strategy that led to more than 2,300 new leads, drove 362 product demos, and depleted the United States' supply of stuffed unicorns.


One interesting element of this event marketing effort is, aside from outside vendors printing t-shirts and other similar tasks, HubSpot planned and executed this effort completely internally.

Kagan comes from an agency and startup background with experience in events with the scale of Dreamforce and was ready to bring in an outside producer. She was emphatically overruled by HubSpot CMO, Mike Volpe, who told her the company had the people to do the event in-house and that "it would be awesome."

She said at the event, "People probably felt that we were a team and they got a sense of our culture."

Step #1. Plan the theme and brand the event

Kagan said the event planning began with a four-part concept and strategy:
  1. Offer something of value to event attendees

  2. "Be remarkable" to stand out from other event sponsors

  3. Provide calls-to-action "everywhere" to create engagement and turn event leads into prospects

  4. Be as "everywhere" as possible at the event

The offer of value and main call-to-action was achieved by staffing the event a little differently. Instead of sending a sales team and hiring "booth babes," HubSpot sent its inbound marketing consultants armed with tablets and a software tool to provide attendees with an actual mini-assessment and one-on-one consultation of one aspect of their inbound marketing (see Step. #5 for more detail on this aspect of the effort.)

To stand out among 45,000-plus people at the event, HubSpot outfitted its event staff with bright orange tracksuits.

HubSpot achieved "being everywhere" by occupying four "un-booths," instead of placing its staff in a traditional sponsor's booth. The "un-booths" were HubSpot-designated areas at the event, featuring casual seating and no walls. Three were located in the main exhibitor area, and the fourth was actually on the second floor of a building that hosted breakout sessions.

HubSpot wanted to have its staff literally moving around all of the event locations and performing the one-on-one consultations, but Salesforce limited HubSpot's presence to the four “un-booth" areas.

HubSpot created the "marketing fact vs. marketing fantasy" theme and selected the unicorn as something of an event mascot to round off their plans to stand out at the event.

Step #2. Pre-event promotion is not a necessity

After spending a significant marketing budget on event sponsorship and then crafting a theme and branding strategy, the next step is to promote the company's involvement in the event, correct?

For Dreamforce, HubSpot actually took the opposite approach and did not do any pre-event advertising or put out any formal announcements.

"In terms of true promotion -- email, blogs and anything on a large scale -- we really didn't do any of those things," Kagan stated.

Actually, the company actively worked to keep the "fact vs. fantasy" and unicorn theme under wraps until the event happened.

Because a number of HubSpot representatives were presenting sessions at the event, there was an initial plan to promote the company's involvement and its speakers' presentations.

When the Dreamforce agenda was released online for attendees to register for sessions in advance, the HubSpot sessions all filled up within the first couple of signup days. So much so that one session was given an additional time slot for an encore presentation.

The marketing team decided there was no internal need for pre-event promotion since they weren't taking the traditional vendor approach anyway and the four-part strategy’s main impact would happen at the event itself.

The closest HubSpot came to pre-event promotion was two blog posts/press releases on the Monday before Dreamforce kicked off when physical registration at the event began. One post outlined the event effort, and the second was a tongue-in-cheek "apology" for a unicorn shortage in the U.S.

HubSpot also created an e-book on marketing fact vs. fantasy and a landing page to download it that went live the Friday before the week of Dreamforce.

Step #3. Tie event materials to theme

With a strong theme in place and a four-part strategy for the event, the marketing team made certain all event materials fit into the overall concept.
  • The entire team, aside from the HubSpot employees presenting at the event, wore the orange tracksuits during the event and at night when socializing with attendees

  • Each team member was given an iPad with the custom app created for Dreamforce to conduct the one-on-one consultations

  • Every attendee who received a consultation also received a stuffed unicorn dressed in an orange cape with a HubSpot "sprocket" logo, a URL and a QR code that went to the e-book landing page

  • The e-book content was shared on LED screens at HubSpot's "un-booths," on the large overall conference screen, and each speaker included the material either before, or during, the presentations

  • The attendee bag insert was a sheet of rainbow unicorn stickers with the landing page URL and QR code and no other HubSpot branding

Kagan explained the insert, "If you have been to conferences and tradeshows before, you know that most of what ends up in that bag is a sheet of paper with some call-to-action and advertising. Instead of doing that, we put in a sheet of rainbow unicorn stickers and really nothing else, so we created a bit of fun and intrigue and tried to be the remarkable item in that attendee bag."

The closest HubSpot came to traditional brand marketing with event materials was the water bottle that was included with each attendee bag was branded with the company name and sprocket logo.

Step #4. Deal with adversity

The event planning was complete, every stuffed unicorn HubSpot could get its hands on was bought and then adversity hit in the form of Hurricane Irene.

Rachel Sprung, Event Coordinator, HubSpot, handled logistics and on-site details for the event and had to scramble to ensure the entire team, coming in from the East Coast, could make it to San Francisco where the event was being held.

With the event starting Tuesday, Kagan and Sprung arrived the previous Friday and on Saturday the hurricane hit the East Coast, cancelling flights. Seventeen of 40 event-team members, including 15 booth personnel, were booked on one cancelled flight, and in the end, only one team member's flight was not cancelled that weekend.

The entire event team was alerted, and some were able to jump on new flights on short notice.

Sprung said, "One girl had gone to the gym and came back, saw my email, showered and just raced to the airport and took the first flight out."

Most of the HubSpot event staff wasn't able to immediately get on a flight to San Francisco, so Sprung began looking at alternatives. One airline said they could provide reservations -- for Thursday, only a day before the event ended on Friday. HubSpot even considered chartering a private jet.

The staff ultimately had to individually find flights, some leaving from different cities than they expected. Most were able to get out by Monday night or Tuesday morning. Because the event began on Tuesday, the HubSpot "un-booths" were short-staffed the first day of the show, but the entire event staff was on site by Tuesday night.

Sprung said on that first day, "The team really, really stepped up. They didn't take lunch breaks and they just put all their energy into it and really came through."

Step #5. Execute the event strategy

Aspects of the event strategy, such as being "remarkable" and "everywhere," were at least partially accomplished through the branding (such as with the orange tracksuits) and event materials (marketing fact vs. fantasy slideshow appearing on multiple displays around event, for example).

The main strategy concept, offer something of value, was based on the "un-booths" and the one-on-one marketing consultations offered to event attendees. Even presenters, such as HubSpot's CEO and Founder Brian Halligan, and CMO Mike Volpe, conducted these consultations.

Part of HubSpot's software tool is a website grader. The company took that part of the tool and created an iPad app specifically for Dreamforce. Event team members were given these iPads for the one-on-one consultations that involved:
  • Grading attendees' websites across five key inbound marketing criteria
  • Comparing those websites to competitor websites

  • Offering more detail on any of the comparison areas

  • Offering advice on how to improve the website score

  • Turning the website grade report into an email that included a list of action items the attendee could deploy back in the office

This effort resulted not in selling its product, but with HubSpot actually providing a service with value that also served as an unobtrusive (partial) product demo and lead generation effort.

The unicorn mascot and orange tracksuits helped HubSpot stand out from other vendors as well.

Kagan said that the unicorn was a unique way for HubSpot to get its message of separating marketing fact from fiction across, and also served as a unique visual item to create conversation at the event.

Sprung added, "You easily knew where to find HubSpot because you would follow an orange jumpsuit. People were coming up to us on the street at night and during the day saying, we want to find you. Someone even tweeted that they saw the HubSpot logo more than the Salesforce logo."

Step #6. Promote during the event

Even though HubSpot did not do any pre-event promotion, it did promote through multiple channels during the event.

The marketing fact vs. fantasy slide show both online and on display screens at the event were a major source of promotion. The company also created its typically large amount of content -- such as blog posts, online video and Tweets -- during the event, along with bringing in guest bloggers to augment that content.

The team employed another atypical promotion during the event to stand out from other exhibitors. Instead of hosting one evening cocktail party during the show, HubSpot sponsored an “RVIP Lounge” the week of the event.

"The RVIP Lounge, which is basically a karaoke bar on wheels, was decked out in some HubSpot branding and drove around the streets of San Francisco each evening of the conference," explained Kagan.

She continued, "We would pick some people up, they would come in, they would sing karaoke, they would have a cocktail, they would talk to a HubSpotter, and they would have a good time and a really memorable experience that they would then talk about with other fellow attendees."


HubSpot's early metrics from Dreamforce are very positive, even before the 30-, 60- and 90-day reviews are completed.

These numbers are from only a few weeks post-event (and before the initial review). The event marketing effort:
  • Generated over 2,300 new leads (this number does not include reconversions, only completely new leads)

  • Led to 362 post-event full product demos (not the in-event one-on-one sessions) that are typically one step from a closed deal for HubSpot

  • Led to five new signed customers

  • Kagan added the overall feedback from the sales team was very positive with 100% asking to return to Dreamforce next year

Other metrics include:
  • Marketing Fact vs. Marketing Fantasy e-book pulled in about 55,000 views on SlideShare in the first few days it was up

  • All of HubSpot's SlideShare Dreamforce content -- e-book, speaking sessions, etc. -- views top 100,000, and almost triple the views of Salesforce.com's content from its own event

Kagan explained HubSpot's outside-the-box approach to the event, "I think a lot of the folks in our executive team, who are brilliant, felt uncomfortable with these things (the strategy), and still trusted us and let us do it, and it paid off."

She added, "It sort of reinforced the theory that I certainly have, which is, you know if it doesn't scare people, it is boring."

Useful links related to this article

1. Event attire
2. Event "un-booth"
3. Announcement blog post
4. Unicorn shortage blog post
5. E-book and landing page
6. Stuffed unicorn
7. RVIP Lounge



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Headbanging with HubSpot, social networking with Salesforce

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