Commit to Customers, Not Just Booth Space

Donovan Cronkhite
President, RJM

Posted On May 14, 2018

With a world that changes as quickly as ours does, it’s appropriate to reevaluate your marketing plan each year. And while many activities slowly decrease over time, or drop off completely, there is one that we have seen stick around since 1851.

Okay, we haven’t personally seen it stick around since 1851 – we’re not that old after all. But we’ve seen it in marketing plans since we started in 1980 and companies continue to use it to grow their customers. And that’s tradeshows.

To do a tradeshow right, however, takes a little more than reserving the booth space. You’re going to invest thousands of dollars in floor space, travel costs, hotel rooms, and time out of the office. You would hope that would be enough. But while trade shows are often a huge investment in themselves, not supporting the event with a proper marketing plan guarantees a low ROI.

With a little prior planning and a bit of support, tradeshows can be an effective part of your customer focused marketing plan. While the world may seem like it’s moving in an ever more digital direction, tradeshows offer a type of engagement that other media can’t replace – personal interaction with a defined group of customers interested in your product, all in one place at one time.

Why we still believe in tradeshows

From industry specific B2B tradeshows that pack convention centers in major cities with highly qualified, engaged customers to the local B2C shows centered around a specific product – boats, homes, or cars – these events are the original targeted advertising. With any strategy that can grow customers, we’re a believer.

And while the marketing world is evolving faster than ever before, a personal interaction is always worth more than a digital one. With every digital interaction, we’re working towards getting a personal interaction, so why not just start there?

The tradeshow basics

Beyond the booth space and any event sponsorship that you elect to purchase, there are a few tradeshow basics that you should always have. We’re going to assume that you have the following already in place:

  • An attractive, informational display booth that draws the right customer into your space.
  • Takeaway collateral for booth visitors – brochures, flyers, business cards, case studies, trinkets, etc.
  • A data collection point – from a fishbowl to collect business cards to a digital option on tablet.
  • Reason for a booth visitor to give up their data. Usually this comes in the form of a great giveaway. Data doesn’t come for free!

Think of these four things as the cost of entry to the show. With many tradeshows you’ll be competing against companies both larger and smaller than you are. Your booth area needs to draw in the right customer – not just any person – from across the crowded floor. While it may be tempting to cut some costs in these four areas, an attractive booth that can be clearly seen from a distance is vitally important. Larger companies may build elaborate sets on site, but even without their budget, be aware of first impressions and what your booth says about your company.

Making tradeshow marketing work

When you really want to make a tradeshow return a ROI worthy of your investment, it takes more than just showing up. It doesn’t take anything complicated to leverage your tradeshow appearance, just pre-planning and a little creativity. You want to be the “must see” booth that everyone has on the top of their mind when they arrive.

Ask for a pre-registration list
Falling in the “it never hurts to ask” category, check with the event organizer to see if they will share a pre-registration list of the registered attendees. Ideally, you’d like this list to be as complete as possible, but no less than about a month before the show. This list will often not only contain company and attendee name, but title and email address as well.

Use this email list to do some pre-show marketing. On the simple end, a single email promoting your booth number and what you will have to offer during the show can help visitors plan where to spend their time. On the other end of the spectrum, a multi-week automation chain can help drive inbound leads through downloadable materials before the show. Use these inbound leads to setup after show dinners and meetings to achieve even more face to face time with your customer.

Increase your visibility at the show with digital
Location based marketing is easier, and cheaper, these days thanks to the ubiquity of mobile devices. While you can go into a city and purchase out of home media surrounding the tradeshow – everything from the airport, to the taxi cab, to billboards around the convention center – digital can fulfill this role as well. It would be quite the feat if no attendee opened their phone to Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, or Instagram when in the venue to either conduct work or pass the time.

Segment off a piece of your digital marketing budget to do a highly targeted campaign across a few media properties during the show. The geographic targeting capabilities of digital media allows you to place ads with a ten mile radius of a specific address on Facebook and down to one mile on Google AdWords. Combine this with other filters such as place of employment or industry, and you can easily get your content in front of potential customers while you’re at the show.

Be ready to follow-up
The most common mistake around tradeshows is collecting a stack of business cards that then get put in a desk drawer never to be seen again. This may sound familiar. You collect business cards for each person you talk to during the show, then return to the office to be overwhelmed with all of the to-do items that piled up when you were gone. After you’ve finished putting out those fires, it’s been so long that now follow-up to the tradeshow seems out of place.

Don’t put post show follow-up on the back burner! No matter what, there will be some time that you will need to dedicate to following up after the show. Block off time after the show in your calendar now to give yourself ample time to reply to those whom you met. Reduce the time it takes to translate those business cards into something usable with a business card scanner app. Many of these apps will allow you to import scanned data directly into a CRM like Salesforce or export the scanned cards into an Excel format.

Don’t try to turn every person into a sale, but be ready to follow-up
Not every person you meet at a tradeshow is going to be ready to make a sale right now. But that doesn’t mean each shouldn’t be nurtured along a pipeline. After you digitize all of your contacts, segment each into a category such as prospect, proposal, and current customer. Each of these categories will be looking for slightly different information from you. Make sure to treat them differently.

Pre-build your email marketing
Instead of trying to rush responses out after the show, pre-build your content marketing so that it’s ready to go when you get back. This can be as simple as a single email saying “great to meet you” to a multi-week marketing automation campaign.

But don’t just be ready with email, make it significant. For your prospects, build content marketing pieces that tell more about you and how you can help. Let them download the case study or watch your team video. For your proposal category, send information on your products or services you exhibited with or invite them to experience a demo. For your current customers, this can be a great time to check in with something new they may not know about.

Instead of trying to do personal responses, have wide nets ready to go triggered based upon the data you collected at the show. This speeds up your response time and allows you to focus on maximizing your time at the show instead of scrambling to create the content after the fact.

Build a tradeshow plan, not just a booth

Being strategic about tradeshows will help you see actual return from the large investment instead of only gaining visibility. You’ll find yourself working on the show a lot longer than you may have anticipated – sometimes a year out for a larger show – but it will ease the pain after the event when you come back to the office with follow-up materials and a plan ready to go.

The booth, the space, walking the show floor – these are just part of what grows customers at a tradeshow. But your follow-up, your continued deliverables, and your sales effort afterwards is what takes the commitment you’ve made in space and turns it into a commitment to customers.