Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, Trading Ideas Seminar

A modern approach to tradeshows: insights from industry leaders

With a wave of new marketing tools and an increasingly digital landscape, traditional marketing strategies are evolving to keep up. One primary example is tradeshows. Broadly speaking, it’s not enough just to show up with a booth or a table anymore. While events vary by industry and audience, many companies are noticing a change in outcomes from years past and looking for fresh ways to make the most of their experience and their spend – before, during and after their shows. Traditional metrics of success such as booth traffic, leads and sales are still important to consider, but there are also other ways to think about tradeshows to understand the opportunities and true success of the event, and how companies can best position themselves for the right outcomes.

Last week, my colleague Megan Derkey and I attended Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal (MSPBJ)’s Seminar, Trading Ideas, a panel co-hosted by nParallel, to continue the conversation with many other industry professionals about trade show trends, innovation, budget management and more.

We’ve been discussing a number of these considerations lately with our clients as we’ve supported recent shows, and this week’s seminar reinforced many of our recommendations:

Be digitally prepared.  

Consumers are behaving differently than they did even just five or 10 years ago, spending more time researching products on their own and engaging with content marketing, unbiased reviews and third-party content. So, while they may still attend an event to be exposed to new ideas, people and products, most decision-making takes place back at their office or behind a computer (or smartphone) screen. Understanding this behavior, forward-thinking companies can be mindful of how they are not only presenting themselves through valuable face-time in the booth, but online and through media that consumers engage with during and beyond the show. From owned content such as landing pages, blogs and social content, to earned media and online conversations – the digital coverage of the event is often as important as the event itself. Our clients almost always garner more publicity through online impressions or engagement than foot traffic in their booth.

Digital innovation can also streamline the in-booth experience and create experiences that are seamless for both sales reps and booth visitors to have ready information or quickly capture information to properly nurture leads after the show. Personalization continues to be a major trend in marketing, and we all know that it can’t happen without high-quality captured data.

The majority of the Trading Ideas panelists mentioned how they had done away with printed collateral all together at shows, and now offer seamless ways for booth visitors to choose what collateral they would like to receive and have it automatically sent to their inbox – no more printing and shipping costs for exhibitors, and no more hauling a giant bag of collateral around the trade show floor for attendees. It’s a win-win!

Tell your story.

While this may sound like Marketing 101, many companies miss the opportunity to tell a unique story and create an experience – online, in the booth or through various sponsorship opportunities — that will be engaging enough for audiences to take interest. You aren’t limited to setting up products on display. Travis Stanton, editor of Exhibitor Magazine and moderator of the MSBPJ event this week, shared an example about a cyber security company whose product was built on the concept of confusing hackers. At a recent tradeshow, their entire booth was designed around one word of their product story, “confusion,” using a hall of mirrors to create a memorable experience that attendees would talk about long after. To the extent that it supports your story and doesn’t become too distracting or busy, take advantage of tools like virtual or augmented reality to create even more immersive experiences.

Consider various audiences.

Prospective customers are certainly an important audience for companies exhibiting at tradeshows, but equally important are other influencers – especially at a gathering when so many high-profile industry experts will be under one roof. For all potential audiences – from partners, to investors or attending media – preparation is the key to success. While customers will likely be leisurely walking the tradeshow floor, media and other high-profile influencers typically run on a tight schedule. For that reason, it’s important to do outreach in advance of the show to acquire lists of attending media, schedule and prepare for interviews and share appropriate information and resources. You never know where a networking meeting or media interview will lead. At a recent international medical tradeshow, we helped a client secure interviews with numerous media, many of which ended up wanting to try the product for their own businesses, ultimately becoming leads themselves and covering the product in their outlet.

Take an integrated approach.

Tradeshows are becoming less transactional and more relational in nature, and while it can feel unnerving to come home from a tradeshow without a stack of new contracts or sales, it’s important to understand your company’s objectives and strategies when it comes to brand awareness, business development and networking and how even intangible results can support your goals. These top-of-the-marketing-funnel activities can sometimes feel less productive than converting leads at the base, but they are important nonetheless and need to be strategically considered within the broader marketing plan, not just based on a gut reaction to an event. By incorporating the events of the tradeshow into an integrated campaign, companies can look forward to more miles from their budget and a higher return on the show investments.

Though tradeshows are changing and attendance can ebb and flow, it’s important to look at the opportunity from all angles to see where your company needs to shift perspective on strategies: from traditional to digital, transactional to relational and focusing on the top of the marketing funnel all the way down.

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