Another trade show season is upon us and clients are already asking us: “Is there really any PR value to trade shows these days?” Like many tried-and-true tactics in the marketing toolbox, trade shows have a time and a place. As long as a trade show presence is on-brand and on-strategy, we still think they can provide excellent opportunities for media engagement.
Business-to-business marketers often struggle more than their consumer counterparts when trying to assess trade show value and opportunity. At a recent Business Marketing Association – Minnesota Chapter breakfast seminar on B2B marketing challenges, one panel participant made the excellent point that trade shows are only successful if marketers “put in what they expect to get out” of the opportunity.
Here are a few things that have changed on the trade show landscape in recent years:
Interaction rules the floor
The days of a static 10×10 display and a business-card fishbowl are mercifully finished. These days, it’s simply not good enough to drive booth traffic and collect opt-in marketing information; show attendees want to be wooed into a conversation that’s relevant to their own business challenges. Give your booth visitors more than just a branded tchotchke – give them wisdom and intelligence they can use on the job and they’ll be far more likely to remember you long after that chintzy desktop bauble breaks.
Make some noise and make some news
A press release saying “hey, we’re at the show” doesn’t count. Exhibitors must leverage their trade show presence by targeting key media outlets and press attendees with legitimate news that will get noticed. Even if you don’t have a big announcement planned, make sure the media knows you’re at the show for a reason, whether it’s expanding to new markets, boosting product availability or hitting new sales milestones. Then, take advantage of exhibitor resources like pre-registered media lists, online pressrooms, etc. to spread the word about your new products and services.
Take names and numbers, but use them wisely.
It’s not sufficient to simply collect and hoard leads without using them in a purposeful way. That means engaging with prospects rather than trying to sell them, providing valuable insight instead of a gimmicky discount and asking customers what they need versus telling them what they need. Consider trade show leads as an invitation to connect through regular, predictable and low-pressure communications. A monthly opt-in e-newsletter is a good place to start, as is direct outreach and timely outreach to the warmest leads.
Giveaways should drive business and be brand-appropriate
Of course everyone loves free stuff. But before you spend thousands on booth giveaways, you must consider the potential ROI and the impact on perceptions about your brand. Why not take an extra step – even if it means an extra expense – and make your giveaway truly unique and brand-appropriate? I once represented a flooring company who had planned a media breakfast at an industry expo. We created custom breakfast trays inlaid with the company’s flooring product and invited attendees to “eat off the floor.” It’s those small details that help create a memorable giveaway that will have a longer shelf life than an ordinary trade show tchotchke.
By emphasizing personal relationships over product pitches, ongoing communication over transactions and a natural, personalized approach to trade show marketing, companies can have better measurable results and a (relatively) anxiety-free experience on the show floor that will translate into qualified business leads and sales after the show.
What are you planning for the 2016 trade show season and what advice do you give colleagues or clients looking to make the most out of these opportunities?