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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