Trade shows are expensive. Plain and simple. They can devour the lion’s share of your marketing budget. Nevertheless, trade shows should be part of your marketing plan if a significant portion of attendees comprise your target audience, you are interested in building relationships, or your product or service is typically underrepresented at trade shows. Of course, another school of thought would conclude that you need to participate if your competition is there. While the latter might be true, where resources are scarce the prudent marketing maneuver is to spend money proactively rather than re-actively.
So, we’ll focus on three benefits of participating in trade shows, which amount to costly promotional campaigns because, let’s face it, rare is the occasion when a deal is closed on the exhibitor floor.
Well-run campaigns set the stage for continual brand recognition. Case in point, CUNA GAC 2017. This was the third trade show in as many years in which Credit Union Network for Financial Literacy (CUNFL) participated. The first two yielded much buzz because our simple but bright booth stood out among the many financial services vendors. CUNFL publicly introduced The Berenstain Bears Financial Literacy Program at CUNA’s combined America’s Credit Union Conference and World Council of Credit Unions conference in 2015. Our booth was a huge attraction but not simply because it was bright, or because we had goodies to give away, or because ours was one of few children’s financial education and marketing products on display. It attracted hundreds of visitors mostly because the iconic characters struck an emotional cord with them.
The following year, we enjoyed similar popularity. This year, our popularity seemed to have waned slightly but real interest in our product increased. In other words, we were a known entity. Unlike the first two shows, fewer people who visited us were hearing about or seeing The Berenstain Bears Financial Literacy Program for the first time. We had begun seeing the cumulative effects of prior trade show participation, more than two years of PR, and word of mouth advertising, which is still the most effective in all of advertising history.
Technology is wonderful. I think most would agree that we don’t know what we’d do without it. Just like word-of-mouth advertising, however, the ancient art of relationship building can never be completely replaced or replicated by an app. We are social beings that appreciate and respond to real live interaction. Ironically, as much as connecting online or via teleconference cuts a lot of red tape, time, and expense, shaking hands and physically meeting people cuts ambiguity, enabling parties to glean a better understanding of each other.
If the bulk of a trade show audience is comprised of your target market demo, you have an opportunity to interview prospects. That’s right, interview them. Think: Sales 101. The key to successful sales is the ability to understand and fulfill prospects’ needs. The best way to do this is to listen to them. When you meet prospects in person, you can listen to their words and their tone, and watch their body language.
Warning: Your prospects are interviewing you, too. So be mindful of the words you choose and the manner in which you use them; i.e. your tone, facial expressions, and body language.
Mailing lists can be costly. If you do a lot of direct mail advertising and need to blanket geographic regions, then purchasing lists is certainly a wise use of your ad budget. If a more targeted list suits you better, then trade shows might be a good solution, especially coupled with the aforementioned benefits. The key is to choose the right trade show, which a little homework will reveal easily.
Most trade show hosts will supply vendors with a list of attendees. Use that list for direct mail prior to the show. Collect cards during the exhibit. Consider doing a free raffle and collect business cards in a fishbowl. Then you can create a targeted list by sifting through the one provided prior to the show and the business cards you collected at the show. Use your targeted list for prospecting after the show.
Most importantly, keep nurturing the relationships you’ve established at tradeshows because those are the seeds that could blossom into future referrals.