Should trade shows still be part of your marketing picture, or should you consider accepting that invitation to participate in an upcoming show?
There are two answers to this question, the first simple, and the second quite a bit more challenging.
If you routinely participate in trade shows and have baked their costs into your annual budget, the first test is: “Can I measure the ROI?” This can be relatively easy for consumer shows/events — you track the leads you receive from the event, and then see how well the leads convert.
If there is a positive return; that is the leads generate enough sales that you are profitable (or even better, the revenue per lead/cost ratio is better than other options, except perhaps repeat and referral business), then continue. The goal should be to review and test ideas to improve the yield.
In non-residential shows, or where you can’t quite measure the results, then you have a bigger challenge. The process may still be worthwhile, especially if you are engaging with potential new clients, maintaining relationships and gathering useful competitive intelligence. However, perhaps you don’t need to send the squad of employees and you don’t need to purchase a booth to achieve many of these results. Sure, as a non-exhibitor, you can’t aggressively solicit business, but you can certainly keep your radar eyes open and gain insights into market trends and developments.
The replacement for — or tool to enhance — questionable trade show results: A truly solid online presence, with really good social engagement, valuable content, and relevant feedback/lead generation tools. That point is made by Eric Allaman and Laura Emanuel of the Brownstein Group in a recent Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) Marketer article: Trade Show 180: Break Rules, Create Rules and Listen Up.
In this article, the writers aren’t suggesting you ditch your trade shows, but they suggest you “adopt a digital-centric approach” to reach out to your audience before, during and after the show — including building links to special pages within your site through domains relevant to the event.
They suggest you:
Amplify the story (using services such as Outbrain or Taboola to “drive traffic by publising it alongside related content on mainstream news sites.”
Mix it up socially: especially Twitter, but where appropriate, use other social media venues; and
Go off-cycle: Think beyond the show itself to developing material well before the event so you aren’t caught in the crowd during the event
If you’ve read through these suggestions, they work quite well whether or not you have a physical presence at the event. But frankly, nothing can beat one-on-one (or in a speech, one-to-many human face-to-face contact and quite often trade shows remain the most cost-effective way to achieve these connections. The catch: You need to budget, and you need to measure. It takes a lot more work than just setting up a booth and hoping people show up.