By VIJAYA SINGH-DHILLON, Managing Director, ABI Marketing Public Relations
Marketers are always under pressure to do more with less — especially in these uncertain economic times creating tight resources and slashed budgets. Despite these challenges, trade shows continue to be a popular and effective way to capitalize on marketing and sales investments, as well as a successful approach for leveraging business success. In fact, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, 73 percent of executives rated trade shows as a highly valuable tool to achieve marketing and sales goals. Additionally, a recent study of marketing executives across industry sectors shows that, over the next several years, 85 percent will either increase the number of exhibitions they will attend or remain status quo. Clearly, executives see the value and importance of attending trade shows and will continue to do so.
With trade show participation, careful planning will allow marketers to maximize lead generation, as well as educate target audiences and recruit distributors. By following a few simple rules, any exhibitor can boost its return on investment (ROI).
Preshow: Plan and Outreach
To ensure a high ROI and create solid business opportunities, the most important actions happen months before setting foot on the show floor. Begin with developing a detailed calendar filled with key industry events for the year, as well as crucial deadlines for submitting materials. By searching industry association websites, trade journals and publishing companies, you’ll be able to pinpoint the trade shows that will yield the best return.
Next determine the key messages your company wants to share with the trade show audience and then build initiatives to deliver them effectively. For example, if your company will be launching a new product in the upcoming year, identify the trade show that will put your product launch in the brightest spotlight for your target audience.
For maximum exposure to your company’s target segment, it is critical to conduct customer and prospect outreach well in advance of the show. This includes emails and e-newsletters to inform customers and prospects about show attendance, product launches, and speaking opportunities your company may have. Make sure these missives contain the important show details, such as the location of your company’s booth and what you plan to show.
In addition to informing your customers and prospects, don’t forget to reach out to the media that will be in attendance. The best way to draw media attention to your company is with something “new” to the market, such as a product launch, a new approach to an old problem, or an original twist on an old product. Send out a separate, concise media alert as a teaser for the media to visit your company’s booth and secure interviews. In addition, press releases further detail what your booth will be showcasing, such as the unveiling of a product launch or set of services, and will conjure up pre-show enthusiasm. Connecting with editors at important media outlets will drive your messaging beyond your existing customer and potential customer base — reaching prospects you didn’t even know existed.
Because editors’ calendars quickly fill up, it’s essential to secure appointments with the media in advance of the show. These include press conferences, one-on-one interviews, round table discussions, sponsorships and speaking engagements. These all supplement event participation by giving in-depth exposure and more interaction with key targets.
You could also organize a press conference to communicate key messages to a group of journalists at the same time, or conduct one-on-one interviews that deliver to a more tightly-focused media group. Yet, both require early planning to coordinate with a careful selection of editors. A strong news angle with invitations sent out at least three to four weeks in advance of the show are vital to secure optimal attendance.
Additionally, speaking opportunities, including panel discussions, case studies presentations, and sessions on industry trends, also add to a company’s exposure and visibility, whether or not they are actually exhibiting at a show.
It’s vital to coordinate a media briefing with your sales team to go over key messages, as well as the process for booth tours and interviews. Editors can ask a variety of questions so make sure to clearly define the necessary details that your team must cover, as well as anything confidential that cannot be leaded to the media, such as pricing and company financial information. Provide your team with simple responses or a plan for what to do in such a situation.
It’s also crucial to plan your booth design with the attendees in mind. Think of the booth it as a store front – It needs to look great, draw attention, and display your key messages. Consider how you want attendees to experience your products or services, and orient the booth to lead them down an informative and organized path. People will be drawn to a well-organized booth as it saves them time and lets them easily find the information they seek. Perhaps you arrange the booth according to key-industries or maybe you show a progression of products for different applications. Thoughtful organization will provide the efficient and pleasant experience that attendees seek.
Remember that the show floor is an interactive stage to demonstrate your company’s capabilities. For example, a packaging manufacturer might have the latest machine technology running right inside the booth or have prototypes for people to hold and inspect. This hands-on type of experience helps a customer better understand and appreciate the value of your innovations for their business. The customer’s familiarity with your products or services will reinforce key benefits and spur meaningful dialogue between companies.