Source: Wikimedia Commons
You’ve used every strategy in the book. You’ve created awesome content, promoted on social media like crazy and even paid third parties to put in a good word for you. And so far, you’re doing great!
But you know what else can make your campaign better? Two words: Trade shows.
“Wait,” you say. “How can I benefit from offline trade shows, when the bulk of my work is online?” Good question! There are a number of reasons you’d want to participate in one of these events, including:
- Trade Shows Offer Networking Opportunities. It’s one thing to “Add” people online, and quite another to meet them in person. Since trade shows bring participants from the same/related industries into one physical location, you can have face-to-face meetings, which are crucial to building stronger, more personal and more meaningful relationships.
- Trade Shows Allow You to Size Up Your Competition. Then again, maybe “networking” isn’t in your vocabulary. Even so, you can be sure your competitors will put their best foot forward during a trade show. Take that as an opportunity to find out which marketing tactics work for them, why those tactics work and how you can use them to your advantage.
- Trade Shows Increase Your Chances of Connecting With Your Intended Audience. On the internet, it’s easy to get drowned out by the digital noise. It’s also easy to attract people who may not necessarily be part of the audience you want.
Trade shows, on the other hand, restrict access to your fellow industry insiders, or at least those who have an interest in your industry and what it has to offer. In fact, when B2B marketers were asked about the channels they prefer to use, trade shows ranked number one in terms of the “quantity” and “quality” of leads generated.
- Trade Shows Leave Lasting Impressions on Your Customers. Assuming you’ve done a good job of putting your booth together (which we’ll discuss in a bit), your customers won’t easily forget a firsthand experience with how awesome you are. If that’s the case, there’s a good chance they’ll spread the word about you on social media, and create a ripple effect beyond your wildest dreams.
- Trade Shows Are Effective Marketing Tools. When the Content Marketing Institute surveyed a group of B2B marketers, they found that 81 percent use live events (e.g. trade shows) and 75 percent rate them as effective.
With all these benefits, what’s not to like about trade shows? Well, you do have to put up a booth first. You also have to plan, budget and do other things to ensure that all your trouble will be worth it. Luckily, you can take some of the guesswork out of that process by following the tips below.
- Make Your Plans in Advance
Keep an eye out for any upcoming events where you can participate. As soon as you get wind of an event, find out details like how much a booth will cost, how long it’ll take to commute to the trade show venue, how previous installments of the trade show went, basic house rules and any other points of interest.
If the organizers haven’t provided much info about the event, that’s okay! For example, the latest Barcamp for bloggers — which will take place in Saskatoon, Canada — has the tagline “You Don’t Have to Be an Expert to Have a Passion”:
Screenshot from Barcamp Saskatoon
From there, you can come up with unique activities connected to the theme. You can invite speakers who’ve made a living out of an unexpected hobby. You can play a video on a large screen within the participants’ line of sight. Or, you can persuade people to sign up at your booth, so you can send them materials later.
- Map Out Your Goal for the Booth
What will the trade show help you achieve? Will it introduce you to the world for the first time? Publicize a new product you’re excited about? Or will it add to your existing subscriber base? When you have a clear and focused goal, it’s easier to visualize what to include — and not to include — as you put up your booth.
- Connect With Potential Attendees Before the Trade Show
Even if your booth has both style and substance, there’s no 100% guarantee that it’ll attract enough attendees to compensate for your investment. With that in mind, keep your contacts list handy and update them on any exciting new changes — whether through face-to-face meetings or social media interactions. The earlier and better you do this, the higher the possible turnout come the day of the trade show.
- Secure Your Spot as Soon as Possible
This way, it’s easier to have a strategic location for your booth. Ideally, your spot should be somewhere near the entrance, but far from your competitors. You also want to take note of things like the location of restrooms (for your attendees’ convenience) and the location of successful trade booths in previous years (so you can replicate their success).
- Canvass the Apps/Gadgets You’ll Use
Of course, you don’t want to use leaflets, business cards and registration sheets anymore. Not only are those passé in the Information Age, but they also waste too much paper. Instead, take your pick from one of many gadgets and apps that help you capture customer data.
In case you’re overwhelmed by all those choices, here are questions to consider:
- What data do you need to capture?
- Which app/gadget will be most effective for capturing that data?
- What are the pros/cons of this app/gadget? What do previous users have to say about it?
- Is the app/gadget easy to use even for people who aren’t tech-savvy?
- Given the number of attendees expected, how many units do you need to buy?
- How much will each unit cost?
Aside from data capture technology, you also want to look at the equipment that’ll help your booth stand out. Are you going to need monitors? Projectors? Gaming platforms (if applicable)? Be sure to test them out for bugs prior to the trade show.
- Prepare for Possible Mishaps
As excited as you are for the show, it won’t hurt to keep Murphy’s Law in mind. It’s possible that the Wi-Fi is too slow, the power supply is too unstable or the app/gadget is too buggy. Make sure you have a backup plan in case one of these 10 things happens.
During the Show
- Make an Eye-Catching Booth
You don’t have to do anything too outlandish. As long as you master the basic principles of good booth design, and you don’t lose sight of your goal for the tradeshow, people will pay attention.
- Let Charismatic People Man the Booth
As mentioned earlier, your booth will leave a lasting impression on your attendees. If you hire people who are polite, knowledgeable and good-looking to hold the fort, it’ll make the difference between attendees just glancing at your booth, and staying there.
- Post About the Event on Social Media
People love to be in-the-know about ongoing events — whether they’re at the scene or not. Even a simple yet heartfelt comment can work wonders for your engagement rate, as this Twitter conversation shows.
Screenshot from Twitter user @epicurUAEn
Also, make sure you use the official hashtag for the trade show. If you can set a trending hashtag of your own (e.g. #awesomebloggerat2016tradeshow), that’s even better!
- Give Back
When people flock to your booth, it means they’re curious about what you can give them (rather than what they can give you). So teach them something new. Answer their questions. Make them feel that you view them as more than a number on a spreadsheet.
- Host Games
What better way to keep people at your booth than through games? Come up with something that’ll help people learn more about your business, entertain them and reward them all at the same time. It can be in the form of a mystery, interactive exhibit or video game. Whichever you choose, make sure your attendees have fun!
- Analyze Results
Once the trade show is over, check your numbers. How many people arrived at your booth? How many of them stayed for the desired amount of time? What particular attraction did they seem to like the most? Keep that data on file for future reference.
- Ask for Feedback
You can do this on the event day itself (preferably near the end), or you can send them a survey via e-mail. Use an online survey tool to facilitate this, and — as with the other data collected — file it away for safekeeping.
- Follow Up
Even after the event, don’t forget to stay in touch! Connect with attendees via social media. Send them an email to remind them how you met, highlight important details from your meeting and forward the materials you promised. If you feel bold enough, ask them out for coffee!
- Plan for the Next Event
Don’t be a one-hit wonder! Instead, be an active participant in subsequent trade shows. Use the data you gathered to improve future booths. The more consistent you are when building up your presence, the more people will remember you.
Organizing a trade show booth can be intimidating at first. But once you get used to it, and feel more comfortable with similar marketing tactics offline, you’ll increase your chances of standing out even in a digital world.