Trade Shows and Events are arguably the most exciting initiative a marketer can participate in. They’re fast paced, offer the chance to communicate directly to customers and have an unbeatable sense of immediacy. Receiving feedback to your work ‘real time’ is gold, which is why I find the experience, however intense, very gratifying. Good trade shows attract the most influential people in your market so it’s important you spend time crafting a solid approach and presence.
Like other marketing initiatives, when the big day finally arrives, it represents months of planning, decision making, countless agency meetings, telephone calls and contact reports. However, because most trade shows usually last just a few hours or days, when the doors open and customers wag their conference badges past security, it’s all systems go – and little margin for error. All your months of planning and decision making unfold in front of you.
Since most of us learn by producing, here’s what I’ve learned about producing trade shows and events:
1. Be clear about your goals before, during and after - is it to launch a new product (that requires pre hype and follow up?), to collect sales leads and establish a competitive presence? How are you measuring success? What’s your target cost per prospect? Is customer follow up messaging planned? The more up front thinking you do on your metrics and approach will help determine if the investment was worth it. As well, a good metrics plan helps make quick decisions when you’re in execution mode.
2. Start planning early – at least 3 months from the big day. Because you’re deciding on many details and collaborating with internal and external teams, yes and no answers take longer to implement. As well, issues may not be under your direct control (like unionized venue staff), so it’s important to leave lots of trouble shooting time before the big day.
3. Check out the show website for competitors – Most events host their own and it’s a great source of information on competitors, where they will be located, and their product focus.
4. Develop a solid customer demo – nothing impresses prospects more than an enthusiastic manager who knows the product intimately and who shows key features in a relevant, real life way. Watching a smooth demo is not only very cool but one of your secret weapons to keep people engaged in your booth and listening to your story– and away from your competitors.
5. Have a *final* checklist meeting where equipment is preconfigured, checked and prepared as much as possible prior to shipment. Also make sure you know where materials are delivered to at the exhibition hall. Just in case one of your suppliers didn’t fill out the shipping label correctly and your pallet of computers ends up nameless in the back of a warehouse and you have to go hunting for it.
6. Be ready for customer questions – As ready as you can be. Spend time with the product and develop ‘what if’ scenarios. Know the competitive offering and how your product is different or better or wins, feature by feature. Most people are receptive to you not knowing the answer, but if you say you’ll find out and promise to get back to them – make sure you do. I find 'lunch and learn' sessions prior to a show an effective way to help booth staff get familiar with products and concepts in a supportive environment.
7. Look prospects in the eye – If you have junior or inexperienced staff, make sure they’re friendly (are you having a good show?) and to invite people in. It sounds obvious, but you’ll be amazed how many prospects respond to this small nudge. Look for groups of chatting booth people and give them tasks to do. Nothing looks worse or more uninviting to people walking by than uninterested booth staff.
8. It’s nice to give something away. Not because everyone does, but because it’s an opportunity to put a lasting reminder in prospect’s hands. Tote bags or branded desk accessories generate awareness longer; edibles and water bottles don’t. Cardinal rule – keep costs low. Unless it has a call to action built in, it’s one of the hardest things to measure the value of.
9. Appoint a key contact on the booth – the ‘go to guy/gal’ should be able to handle emergencies, customer questions, leads, VIP customers, etc. Make sure they know key event personnel and how to reach technical support in case you need urgent equipment assistance. This person should also manage the booth staffing, breaks, etc.
10. Communicate results in a timely manner. Because trade shows have such a short life, share results with your senior management fast. Everyone wants to know if the show met expectations on number of attendees, qualified prospects and customer reactions. In many cases, you’re being asked to commit to next year’s show now, so having clear goals at the outset will make this task relatively straightforward to decide.
Done well, trade shows are an effective, immediate way to reach influential target groups in your market with key messages, new products and offers. Just remember to write a good brief, give yourself lots of planning time and realize that not everything will go exactly and according to plan. But odds are it will still be a terrific opening.