Marketers rate in-person events as the most effective marketing method, according to the Content Marketing Institute. That’s probably why trade shows remain so popular. They offer personal, face-to-face contact that’s becoming so rare in our digital world.
Salespeople may see trade shows as places to complete sales. Truth be told, conferences offer better opportunities for marketing than for sales, says Philip Piletic at Techloot. Trade show attendees usually want to learn about new products and services. They are unlikely to make on-the-spot purchasing decisions. That means trade shows are best for qualified lead generation as opposed to clinching deals.
These recommendations can help marketing and public relations professionals get the most out of B2B conferences.
Publicize your attendance. Inform your existing customers about your trade show booth well in advance of the conference. Whenever possible, make direct contact with them to let them know what products and services you’ll have on display. That will help keep your booth busy, Piletic says, noting that nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.
Pay for a memorable display. Giveaways remain the proven gimmick to gain attention, but most every exhibitor gives away trinkets. Instead, save your money to commission a display that will give visitors a memorable experience – preferably an interactive experience. Renting a booth is often more cost-effective than buying one, but still allows for a great deal of customization, says Lisa Bertaina, president and co-owner of ExpoMarketing. A smaller, well-designed booth in a strategic location can draw in traffic more affordably than a large exhibit. Interactive experiences such as games, short shows or social media activities can attract traffic and enable greater engagement with sales staff.
Keep the space open. Smaller exhibits that are uncluttered and open can appear larger than they are, Bertaina says. To create the feeling of a larger size, minimize furniture and use built-in storage to keep items out of sight.
Social media promotions. Publicize your booth on social media before and during the event. Instead of just promoting your own company, share interesting and useful content to keep followers engaged, such as polls and links to educational resources. Use a social media listening tool to learn what topics interest attendees and join the social media conversations. “Remember, the key goal to exhibiting is giving attendees what they want. For social media, it’s not all that different,” says Jillian Tempestini, content marketing specialist at Nimlok.
Create a trade show website. Consider creating a website specifically about your company’s trade show appearance. Fill it with valuable, relevant content such as photos, fact sheets and marketing materials. Place the website address in all show-related correspondence, press releases, and invitations. Post a link to it from your main website, and make sure you’ll be able to update it quickly and easily. Feature pictures of exhibit visitors on the website (but get their permission before you do it).
Become a panelist or speaker. Try to schedule your company executives to be a speaker or member of a panel discussion. This requires being in touch with conference program organizers long in advance to secure speaker invitations. Start your planning for next year soon after the close of this year’s show.
Scope out competitors. Paying visits to competitors’ exhibits and schmoozing with sales representatives can reveal considerable intelligence about their marketing strategies, product positioning, product claims and future products.
Measure results. Keep track of individual visitors through badge scanning and keep aggregate counts of visitors. Follow the individual exhibit visitors through the entire sales funnel to determine ROI. Also, track attendees at press conferences and at presentations made by your company representatives. Follow up quickly on specific visitor requests.
PR at Trade Shows
While B2B journalists typically attend trade shows, don’t expect reporters to attend your press conference unless you’re Apple releasing a new iPhone. For smaller or less well-known companies, securing interviews and media placements during trade shows can be challenging, given the extensive competition for media attention.
Instead of holding a press conference, focus on meeting reporters and editors and learning more about their publications and the type of content they seek. Determine what types of trade show stories they are developing. Offer company executives and subject matter experts as sources for future articles and investigate possibilities for contributing articles. Checking publications’ editorial calendars can reveal story topics that are suitable for your company and products.
Frequent the trade show press room, after-hours social events and press conferences to “bump into” journalists and pitch them your company’s perspective. Buying journalists a drink never hurts.
Bottom Line: Trade shows offer exceptional opportunities to meet customers and journalists face to face. While sales are rarely closed at trade shows, B2B marketers win qualified leads and can developer deep relationships. Likewise, PR pros can meet journalists and pitch ideas for future stories.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.