Last week I attended two conferences and was handed dozens of poorly designed pamphlets, half-a-dozen corporate branded t-shirts, and a handful of lackluster keychains.

The next day, I thought about the companies that stood out. Out of the hundreds of companies I'd encountered, there were only a few that rose above the clutter and created a memorable, standout experience.

Planning a conference presence isn't easy--but should be a crucial part of your marketing strategy. Here are three ways to stand out in the competitive conference landscape.

1. Start planning your marketing efforts early.

Many companies spend anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars on conference sponsorships, booths and their experiential marketing efforts. Even though these events are costly, you'll often see marketing collateral that was pieced together at the last moment. And it doesn't just seem this way--many brands are crunched for time and conference materials sometimes get put on the back burner until the week prior or night of the conference.

Unless you prioritize, and put time and effort into your conference marketing strategy, you'll likely see very little return. When executed well, a conference is a great opportunity to get the word out about your business or service.Your conference presence needs planning just like any other great marketing program. As soon as you know you'll be attending a conference, start working on your marketing strategy so you can focus time and effort on executing well on a great experiential setup.

2. Have collateral that's not just a piece of paper.

Think about the last conference you went to. How many poorly-designed one-pagers and mediocre chachkies did you walk away with? Chance are, if you've attended a conference you might have come away with a swag bag of useless marketing collateral.

Good examples of collateral are items that are related to your brand and are something the attendee might need or want. Is the conference planned for a rainy day? Brand umbrellas with a slogan related to your brand. For an event going on in July think about branding beverages with a catchy slogan.

Your marketing collateral should start a conversation, align with your brand values and goals, and encourage people to talk about it. Don't be afraid to be creative -- a small dose of out-of-the ordinary can spark a conversation you might not have had otherwise. Marketing collateral doesn't just speak to attendees at the conference, it can also serve as a visual reminder of your brand for months or years to come.

3. Hire people that know how to sell.

During my last conference, I walked around and 90 percent of people manning the demo booths did not engage me at all whatsoever. If you are not outgoing -- that's fine, find someone who is and train them to tell your story. Your booth represents your company and is the face of your brand. It's important to have a team at the booth that represents your brand and is friendly to onlookers. Prepare your team with a list of commonly asked questions to ensure that they can answer any potential customer and partner questions, and prep them for common objections that might come their way.

4. Capture information.

You can have the best booth in the world, but  if you're not capturing information it will be hard to follow up with attendees after the show. A simple card drop with associated giveaway can help you collect valuable leads. Have a game or contest going on at the booth that can engage attendees and get them to sign up with their email address.

And after the show? Make sure those business cards are recorded and given to the right team to can follow up to help close a sale.

5. Evaluate and optimize your efforts.

When the conference is over, your hard work unfortunately shouldn't stop there. It's important to evaluate the results of your experiential campaign to see if your conference presence had positive ROI. Did you meet your lead quota? Were attendees actively engaged with your booth? Was there any social chatter about your brand? Hold a team meeting as soon as you can while takeaways are still fresh from the team.  Like any marketing program, a event marketing program takes time to grow and optimize. Start today and optimize as you go.

By starting early, creating quality campaigns, and evaluating the effectiveness of your efforts, your conference marketing program has the opportunity to become a foundational part of your marketing strategy.

Published on: May 23, 2018