Trade Shows: A Necessary Evil?The thought of a trip to Florida in February or San Francisco in August sounds fantastic. That is, until you hear that the purpose of the trip is to attend a tradeshow. Let’s face it, most of us get little personal time or pleasure from the host city of a tradeshow. How many times have you said, “All conference rooms / convention centers are the same. I wish I didn’t have to get on a plane to attend…”? In fact, a recent trade show industry report found 45% of attendees visit only one exhibition per year.
Why the change in attitude?
Think of the recent changes to the business world. Before the internet, you relied on the knowledge of your suppliers/partners for the vast majority of your product information and solutions. Today, you don’t need to talk to a sales rep or company for information. All you need to do is “Google-it” from the comfort of your office, car, or bedroom (you know you do it!). The results you get from these kinds of searches often have more information than you could consume in a lifetime. The truth is, the ease with which information can be acquired has radically affected the value of trade shows.
Pick me, pick me… Visit my booth. Please.
How many times have you avoided making eye contact with someone “manning” their employer’s booth? It’s akin to walking past a homeless person on the sidewalk. You want to help, but something is holding you back. Maybe you’re late to a meeting or you don’t have a need for their products or services. Buyers want to do their own research before talking to a supplier/vendor. Some estimates indicate that buyers actually complete 75% of their buying cycle before they are willing to speak to a salesperson or contact a company for information.
What does this mean for the exhibitor on the floor? If you’re trade show strategy is to introduce your company or product for the first time to the attendees at the show, you are likely to fail. If you don’t understand why – reread the previous paragraph. Attendees are not looking for new information or new relationships at tradeshows. Instead of introducing yourself, you should focus on growing your existing relationships at the trade shows you attend. Use this time for face-to-face account meetings to review sales or introduce additional service offerings. To be successful, connecting with your existing customers takes planning.
Trade Show Strategy Starts Weeks in Advance
Your success on the trade show floor is determined weeks and months prior to your shoes hitting the concrete floor. As an exhibitor, your pre-show marketing is as important as your post-show follow up. It’s a good idea to announce that you are an exhibitor to your clients and prospects at least two months in advance. Talk about the theme of your booth in your email newsletter, your blog, and social media profiles. Send inserts with your invoices, and for those clients and prospects you really want to see, launch a micro-targeting campaign to get them to your booth.
The Future Tradeshow Will Look Like INBOUND ’13
The success of inbound marketing, ease of video conferencing and webinars and vast information online will force the evolution of the trade show from a one way transfer of information to a collective collaboration of solution providers. One example of a conference that does this type of crowdsourcing well is HubSpot’s INBOUND conference held annually in Boston. Attendance has grown from less than 1,000 to over 10,000 in just three years. Why the success? The format is not traditional (i.e. a large open space with rows and rows of 10’ x 10’ booths). There are exhibitors at INBOUND, but they a set up in a large “lounge-like” area that serves as a social gathering area, dining area and exhibitor space. Most importantl,y the show focuses on education, and services providers and users of the HubSpot software platform work collectively to raise the abilities of all attendees. This type of experience is shared by Traci Brown, owner of Red Cedar Marketing and a seasoned trade show veteran in her blog covering the Content Marketing World show.
Odds are you won’t be cutting all shows out of your schedule this year or even next, and it’s going to take much more than cool SWAG and promotional products to deliver the value you can achieve with newer, less costly marketing activities. Success will come when you integrate your trade show strategy with your other planned marketing campaigns.
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