Trade Show Exhibits help Focus your Marketing
A friend recently out of grad school was chatting with me about inbound marketing, what he’d learned, and where he thought his prof had missed the boat. As he related, many marketing gurus these days discuss inbound and outbound marketing, and tell their students that inbound marketing (i.e., businesses positioning themselves to help them be found by customers looking for product info) is the best way to succesfully promote products.
Trade shows are typically called an outbound marketing method (info is being pushed out to the prospect), and lumped with other older marketing tools such as tv commercials and newpaper ads. However, this labeling is misleading, because there are a surprising number of similarities between trade show and search engine marketing.
Back before the internet, the most common types of advertising used the radio, television, and newpaper (remember them?!) ads, commercials, billboards, and those annoying telephone cold calls. All of these promotional methods are outbound marketing, and also shared another characteristic – they are un-targeted forms of advertising, which means that, even though they did find customers, they wasted varying amounts of potential profit by also sending advertising to people who weren’t interested in the product.
The internet changed that, with search engines becoming the dominant form of targeted marketing just a few years after it became popular. Now advertisers promote their products through pay-per-click advertising on the search engines, and these adds are only shown to someone that searched for that exact product!
Trade show marketing comes from ancient times – remember the farmers markets? Because of that long history, many consider trade shows an example of old school marketing techniques, and lump it with commercials and yellow book ads.
However, trade shows have been, and still are very popular promotional strategies – the key difference with other outbound marketing is that trade shows are focused, similar to search engine marketing, rather than the broad brushstroke painted by television commercials. That is because the overwhelming majority of people who attend a business trade show are there because they are interested in the products being shown at that show…they already opted in! This makes the trade show much closer to being an inbound marketing tool than most people recognize – most of the attendees are searching for these products, just like those on the search engines.
About a decade ago, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Thomas Friedman wrote a best-selling book called The World is Flat, which refers not to the physical dimensions of the earth; but to how communication technology and computer-related developments have leveled the competitive playing field for companies from all parts of the globe, bringing distant parts of the world together (whether that’s good or bad is a topic unrelated to this post, although Friedman discusses it in his book). Similarly, trade shows breach industry and international barriers, bringing in prospective clients and sight-seers from many different companies to peruse and even form new relationships with businesses. Ultimately, visits like these tend to add to a company’s revenue because they help foster the increase of exports to worldwide customers.
Another similarity to inbound and search engine marketing is that trade shows also work well with social media. With the exploding use of more capable mobile phones and social media, these two work together in tandem to really help trade show highlights spread like wildfire. Friends take high-res snapshots and video of trade show displays and then quickly send them to their Facebook or Pinterest networks, and list their attendance on their LinkedIn business profiles.
These activities clearly bolster brand awareness; and further make people more receptive, since they are being shared willingly and readily by technology that makes it both attractive and easy to do so. In fact, it makes a whole lot of sense for a company to construct a whole new suite of trade show-centered advertising, by encouraging things like on-the-spot YouTube videos made by clients talking about aspects of the trade show
displays that they like; what could be done better, and things like that. Then they can send it to the social media network of their choice. Trade show booths that encourage this by having a small section devoted to it will surely see a rise in all the important numbers.
Trade show exhibits benefit from customization, and such things as large, high res monitors, iPad counter tops, specialized lighting panels, SEG graphics, etc can help a company stand out, which historically leads to more conversions solely from uniqueness. A company’s goal with their trade show display is to stand out from the crowd and differentiate themselves, in order to be noticed and remembered after the show – much the same as the PPC advertisers that use highlights, pictures, videos, and customer reviews in the search engine listings to catch your eye on the internet.
So don’t blindly discard the value of trade show marketing. It may indeed be an ancient strategy, but judging from the increasing attendance at trade shows by both exhibitors and attendees this year, it is clearly still a viable marketing tool. Coupled with social media and proper planning, trade shows can and should be relied on to be highly effective ways to promote your products and services.