Like an interview, tradeshow marketing yields success proportionate to the effort you put into it. Would you walk into a job interview cold?
Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail,” and that sentiment rings true for industry tradeshows. Events are important elements of any integrated marketing campaign, and can help position your company as a leader in your industry. No matter the industry, hundreds of business deals are conducted at trade shows each year, and getting a positive return on your investment requires a lot of planning and preparation before you even hit the show floor. Whether you are exhibiting, sponsoring or just attending, success lies in the planning.
Planning for the big day
Imagine showing up for a job interview without having done any preparation. What are your key talking points? What do you want to get out of the experience? How will you know if you’ve done well?
I’m not saying you should dry clean your best suit when you hit “send” on your job application (unless you want to), but planning for a trade show should start well ahead of the main event if you want it to be a success.
- Determine who you’ll be meeting: Invite your most valuable clients and prospects to join you at the show and reach out to attendees at least four to six weeks in advance to set up meetings while you’re there. Even if your target contacts aren’t attending, they’ll appreciate you thinking of them, and may even set up another time to connect outside of the show.
- Dress the part: If you have a booth, design the physical aspects to visually represent your brand. Like in a job interview, first impressions matter: It only takes a tenth of a second for someone to form an opinion, so make that instant count. Create a welcoming experience that will draw attendees to your booth, and include interactive elements that will keep them there to better engage with and understand your product or service.
- Show off your industry knowledge: Have you ever Googled yourself before a job interview? Just like you would want your social profiles to highlight what you know about the industry you want to work in, you should use tradeshows as an opportunity to position your company as a thought leader online. Choose a hashtag for attendees to use when Tweeting about meeting you at the booth, arrange for a team member to live blog the whole event, draft and schedule posts to go out through Facebook and LinkedIn. Take videos and photos, and livestream from the show when possible. Plan all the content you want to share during the show beforehand, so you don’t have to worry about it while you’re in the moment.
- Put your networking skills to use: Before you head to an interview, you likely check LinkedIn to see if you have any contacts in common with your interviewer. Social proof generates trust, and having the ability to talk about people or experiences you have in common opens doors to creating an experience, not just having a conversation. At the show, consider interactive games or quizzes, or integrate experiences like demos or massages at the booth. The more engaged the crowd, the more interested attendees will be drawn in to see what the fuss is about. Reward your visitors with branded giveaways, which also act as free, walking promotions. Make sales a friendly competition for attending team members – train them well beforehand and let them loose to score the best deals at the show. And don’t forget to walk around, interact with other attendees, scope out potential partnerships and take note of what successful booths are doing so you can try it next year.
- Send thank you notes: Yes, it can be tedious and tiring following up with everyone you saw at the event, but this is where you can really make an impression. Post-show contact may be even more important than your outreach prior to the event, because it’s your opportunity to close the loop with prospects and show them your genuine gratitude for taking the time to speak with you. Bonus points if you have something of value you can share with them based on your conversation.
Events should be integrated into broader marketing strategies and not seen as standalone occurrences. As with any element in an integrated campaign – or that coveted job interview — attending an industry tradeshow requires thorough planning and analysis to ensure success.
With the right planning, event sponsorship and attendance can be a great way to reach prospects. Find more tips to make the most of your trade show presence on our podcast.