Finding hidden value in trade shows

Published October 7, 2016 7:02 pm by Sean Griffin
Categories: , , ,

“Leads, leads, leads.”

It’s a common mantra businesses and their teams take into trade shows. Event producers do their best to feed the frenzy nowadays too, offering mobile devices, apps, attendee badges and email lists all geared towards that same end.

Leads are of course critical for populating your sales funnel—even more valuable with a proper nurturing program—but, there’s so much more you can garner than lists of often hard-to-qualify leads. And this is so important to do since events still account for large portions of marketing budgets and can dictate how marketing energy and thought is spent over the course of months.

Coming off a week spent at behemoth trade shows that two very different clients took part in—the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago and the Hershey RV Show in Pennsylvania—I felt inspired to share some best practices for rounding out the value you get from events.

Mine for content
We marketers like to say content is king. The reason why is twofold: mobile devices provide an almost constant opportunity for consumption and because purchasing decisions are more informed than ever; that education happens largely through valuable content.

Listen to what attendees are saying at events; by paying close attention to their challenges, questions and the changes happening in their world, you can generate tons of useful content that caters to those ideas. Events are especially social media content-rich environments, providing ideal opportunities to produce quick-hitting interviews with subject matter experts or satisfied customers, product introductions and lots of photographs. Especially consider live tweeting or Facebook Live.

Secure customer testimonials
There are very few marketing assets more valuable to a business than third-party endorsements, especially from customers. Keep an ear out for satisfied customers and get their stories. Or, if you know of satisfied customers planning to attend, this is an ideal time to meet with them, get them comfortable with the idea and even interview them about their experience; making eye contact and pressing the flesh is a much more effective way to build trust than via an email or phone call. These stories are great fodder for blogs, newsletters, and email campaigns. In some circumstances, the media will even run these stories if they aren’t told in an overtly partial way.

Evaluate POP materials
Many businesses use some form of point-of-purchase materials—flyers, tri-fold brochures tabletop posters, signage, iPads and the like. Events are an opportunity to observe customers interacting directly with these pieces. Watch how they react; see if any particular visual or messaging appears to grab their attention. Which pages do they skip and which do they stop to look at? How do they react to the physical shape and texture of a piece? Heck, even ask them what they think.

Conduct market research
Wear some unbranded gear for a few hours and walk the show. Explore your competitors’ displays, pick up some of their literature talk to their representatives and customers to help supplement understanding of your business’ space. Don’t be afraid to eavesdrop either, you can always listen in to conversations and presentations. You can do this in your own booth as well. You may get more candid feedback from visitors.

Meet the media
Trade shows often make things very comfortable for the media—the more there is and the more valuable their time, the more coverage the event will get. This provides exhibitors a unique opportunity to meet with editors and reporters to share company news and product advances. A simple search of the event site or an email to the organizers will typically yield a list of the media planning to attend. Invite them to visit, develop a schedule and share it with the team working the event. While the content you generate is important, the earned content these outlets offer can be even more valuable.

In today’s businesses, there are often layers between marketing departments and the end user or customer (i.e. distributors, franchisees, outside sales or the web). Events are the ideal and appropriate avenue for marketers to be on the front lines. They provide the opportunity to interact directly with customers, observe how they interact with your marketing and find out if demographics may be changing.

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