Three Stages of Trade Show Marketing to Maximize Your ROI
Fall trade show season seemed to be a good time to revisit our philosophy regarding trade show marketing and participation. Trade shows matter. You don’t always get that message from exhibitors or attendees, but they do matter. You sometimes have to look hard to find the value.
For some, they’re a step or two removed from reality. For many, they’re theater–at worst, theater of the absurd. And almost universally, they’re the one place where brands spend money to sit shoulder to shoulder with their competitors, and spend too little time with their customers.
But ignore my cynicism for a moment. Really, trade shows matter. But everyone involved has to search for their value, and stick to a plan to maximize it. Let’s look at the stages of trade show participation, from an exhibitor’s point of view. And let’s think about how to extract some value.
First, there’s anticipation.
This is the pre-show hype, when every marketer is engaged in a frenzy of activity In the midst of planning promotions, receptions, appointments, press conferences, and VIP events it feels like a marathon and the trade show becomes the finish line. This is where brands can take their eye off the ball and start throwing away stupid amounts of money. This is where you have to breathe deeply, and think about why you’re exhibiting. Is it your customers and prospects? The media? Competitors?
Because the answer to this should guide whatever you do next, in the run-up to the show. Are you trying to serve your customers? Then make everything about your presence easy for them and welcoming. Making appointments, navigating your booth, getting answers, scheduling follow up – easy is the guiding principle.
Maybe you do need to intimidate your competition or wow the Sultan of Brunai. In that case, throw mad cash at everything that moves or doesn’t, and enjoy the financial hangover.
Stage two is show time.
In North America trades shows are usually three days of caffeine-fueled frenzy. Attendees are tired just from getting to the show. But remember your guiding principle–the plan you’ve defined. When attendees are ramming their heads against walls, trying to compete with media and their competitors to get brands’ attention, you’re there for them. You’re easy. You welcome them, you answer their questions, and you make it clear that when it comes to doing business, the media stands in line behind the people who pay your bills. This may seem simplistic, but think about it–if you are an 800 pound gorilla among brands, you have a team that handles the media stuff. And if you’re a small fish in a big ocean, no amount of energy (unless you have a truly unique, world beating product) will get the media attention you crave. So spend that energy when it’s not needed to sell.
Stage three is the home stretch.
All the VPs and VIPs have gone home. You can drive a golfball down an aisle and not disturb anyone who’s actually selling something. But you are focused on customers. You are open to the possibilities that can occur when competitors aren’t paying attention. You are in a state of pure zen.
While other exhibitors are ready to flee for the airport, you are secure in the knowledge that there are still customers to be earned, if you act like you care and put in the work. Stay on the floor, get the most out of those dollars you spent to be at the show, and resist the temptation to do what every other slacker is doing: Hide in the back of the booth and count the hours until it’s time to leave town.
When it comes to trade show marketing, make a plan, stick to a plan. That’s where you find value.