Standing out from the rest of your fellow exhibitors is often a combination of what you do, what your visitors can do, and what your booth looks like:
It doesn’t take that much to exhibit at a tradeshow. Just rent a booth space, bring an exhibit, a handful of staffers and do your thing.
Uh, what’s your thing, though? That’s the big question. Are you there to increase brand awareness? Show that you have a bigger or cooler exhibit than your main competitor? Take a client out for dinner and drinks?
As George Harrison once sang, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”
It’s better to have a plan. To know what you want. More leads? Sales? Giving away a specific number of samples? Getting more social media followers? Certainly, you want to pick goals that are important to growing your business. But one step beyond that is to not only pick good goals, but to make them concrete goals, such as:
- We want 150 good leads, 50 of which are new.
- We want 300 new Instagram followers.
- We want to hand out 1000 product samples.
- We want to do 100 in-person demos of our product or service.
- We want to meet with CEO’s of three major prospects.
Once you delineate those goals, create a plan to get there. Create the roadmap. If you want to meet with specific people, set appointments. If you want to line up new social media followers, make it easy. If you want new leads, have a method for uncovering the right prospects.
Tradeshow marketing can be expensive, but since you are at a place where thousands of prospects are all gathered in the same place, it’s also the ideal setting to generate leads at the lowest cost-per-lead you’ll ever manage.
Create a plan. Follow the plan.
Every tradeshow visitor is looking for something. And a majority of those visitors are decision makers at their company or can influence buying decisions. Make sure you’re giving them what they want:
Building software to host a virtual event poses a million questions, many of them hoping to address the user experience. And the exhibitor experience. How to keep people engaged, how to keep them from being bored, how to have conversations, how to connect, how to give keynotes. And so on. I recently caught up with Sandy Hammer, co-founder of AllSeated, which has recently launched virtual event software that looks, well, impressive. She and I sat down to talk about it, and to give her a chance to show us a little bit about how it works:
The use of virtual tradeshow exhibits may not be exploding, although my sense is that it is increasing. Some big tradeshows have gone completely virtual for the next year or so, maybe longer, depending on the depth and breadth of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Which leaves exhibitors in a bit of a quandary: what to do about virtual exhibits. Should you invest in one? Should you just wait out the pandemic and hope you can get back to live tradeshows in the next six to twelve months?
And if you are seriously considering a virtual exhibit, it’s important to consider all of the various things you can do in the exhibit. I’ve seen a few virtual exhibits lately, and there is a wide variety in the approach. Some exhibitors have chosen the simple, let’s-keep-the-cost-down approach. Others have tried to throw everything in but the kitchen sink.
As an aside, one exhibit maker I spoke with recently said that a recent client of theirs did a virtual exhibit and found that at the virtual tradeshow, they experienced a 700% increase in leads for a fraction of the cost of appearing at a live show. My eyes opened at that stat, and while it’s impressive, it’s likely not going to be a common experience for every virtual exhibitor. But it does demonstrate that there is a lot of potential in virtual tradeshows if you plan ane execute well.
Having said that, there are a number of ways to get engagement at virtual tradeshows. The first is crucial: make sure that potential visitors know about your virtual tradeshow exhibit so that they are prepared, put it on their calendar, and have expectations.
The second is to build the expectations and prepare for them by putting specific things in your virtual tradeshow booth that visitors want. Things they’ll respond to, interact with, and share with others.
From that starting point, the question remains: what should be in your virtual exhibit? There are many answers, and your company’s specific needs should help frame the answer. Here are a lot of the things, perhaps not all, that could go into your exhibit. Keep in mind that each piece will add to your overall cost, much like a 3D real world exhibit, and that each piece of content, such as videos or white papers or PDF reports, all will take time and money to create. Before finalizing your plan, create a budget based on all of the pieces you think are necessary to make your virtual tradeshow booth a success.
Here are a number of things you can and should consider:
- Product Demos
- A place to collect visitor’s contact information
- Download Center (PDFs, coupons, sales sheets, special reports, etc.)
- Archived video
- Live stream video
- Live chat
- Booth tour
- Schedule a meeting
- Learn about your company
- Learn about new products
- Give people the ability to share things on social media
- Steer people to your social media outlets
- Leave an audio or video message
No doubt if you put your mind to it, you can come up with more. What am I missing?
You’re familiar with a SWOT Analysis, I presume?
Year ago, I wrote a brief article on doing a tradeshow marketing SWOT Analysis, which would be a bit different from a more general SWOT Analysis.
But now that we’re in a pandemic created by the COVID-19, how would you approach doing a SWOT Analysis and is it worth doing?
I would argue that while a formal SWOT is probably unnecessary, it’s not a bad idea to at least examine some of the changes the pandemic has wrought, to see what obvious and perhaps significant changes your company is facing.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
How are you positioned in the marketplace? Do you have new products about to launch? How are you perceived by your customers and clientele? Are you doing things to keep relationships going? Are sales strong or flat? Just knowing these and other related things will help you understand your position in the marketplace compared to your competition and compared to how you might have been with no pandemic.
With no tradeshow marketing coming for at least another quarter or two, can you put the budget towards something else? Is a virtual event worth the investment? Can you do another kind of outreach for a fraction of the cost of exhibiting at a big tradeshow? Take a look at your options and see if there are missed opportunities that you may have overlooked.
Are there marketplace threats you sense but perhaps haven’t put your finger on? Are your supplier lines still open and working well, or are there kinks that may signal something worse down the line? Do you have any competitors that are taking this time to move aggressively into an area that you thought you dominated? Threats are often overlooked because, unless you actively think about them and look for them, they can sneak up on you without you knowing until it’s too late.
All in all, doing a brief SWOT check-in may help you understand how the company is doing and give you insight and context in how you’ll handle the rest of the year and move into 2021.
What is the future of tradeshows, events and conferences? While most people in the industry I speak with think things will (mostly) get back to normal at some point, that may still be some time away. Which leaves virtual events as one way of keeping the clock moving forward.
This week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee offers a chat with Kaleidoko’s Jonathan Tavss, who discusses a recent virtual event he helped facilitate, and what the future of tradeshows and events, combined with a strong digital presence, might look like:
Find Kaleidoko here.
This week’s ONE GOOD THING: Ted Chiang’s collection of short stories entitles Exhalation.
The social distancing guidelines put forth due to the COVID-19 pandemic has effectively shut off a majority of the economy, like turning off a spigot. It would be easier to line-item the businesses that are open than those that are closed: grocery stores, drive-through coffee shops and some business offices. Ten million in the US have filed for unemployment in the past two weeks.
The impact of this on the nation, on the world, is unfathomable.
I know many people who are sitting at home most of the day, binging TV shows or reading books or even playing board games or sharing music online. Others are making use of the time to learn a new skill, to tackle that novel, to write music, to create.
Others don’t know what to do.
If you’re still working, whether from home or in the office, and you have to sell to keep things going in the company, what do you do? What approach do you take?
I subscribe to several sales newsletters and thought I’d share a few thoughts. Some came from the newsletters, others from just my own experience. But here we are in a time where it’s difficult to even find someone to talk to.
First, when you call, it makes sense to ask your contact what approach their company is making. Are they putting everything on hold for the time being, awaiting the end of the social distancing and figuring they’ll kick back into action when the pandemic is over? Or are they moving forward with business as usual, as much as they can?
If it’s the former, tell them, that, ‘yeah, it’s a crazy time, I get it,’ and ask if you can send a quick email with your contact information so that when we do get back to normal they can reach back out to you. If it’s the latter, move into your typical sales questions to uncover any needs they may currently have for what you’re offering.
Another part of the equation is what you’re selling. If you’re in the restaurant supply business, chances are that your potential buyers are not even open, unless they’re doing take-out or drive-thru only. If you’re selling Personal Protective Equipment for health workers, you probably can’t keep up with the demand. It all depends on the specific products or services you’re selling.
Most people probably fall somewhere in between those two extremes. Which means you’re going to have to find a strategy that keeps at least some business coming in.
With millions stuck at home, that means people are going online to shop, they’re connecting via video meetings (Zoom is being mentioned dozens of times a day in the mainstream press!), telephone and email.
Questions to ask yourself:
- What shape is the company website it? Does it need upgrading? Can you add new products, new services and new ways for people to connect?
- Are your social media platforms being updated frequently? With so much time on their hands, everybody is on social media.
- Can you offer a digital version of your services? Lots of people are taking this time to create online learning classes or other ways of sharing their information.
- Can you connect with others regularly? Sure! Some people are starting up regular Zoom meetings just to have a face-to-face connection with others outside of their home.
Bottom line: be there for clients and prospects. Don’t stop doing outreach, however that looks for you. Don’t be pushy but if you continue to think you can offer something of value, something that your clients and prospects can really use, keep doing it.
The tradeshow industry looks to be imploding, at least for the short term. Natural Products Expo West cancelled. NAB Show cancelled. HIMSS Show cancelled. SXSW cancelled. Even March Madness games will be played without an audience, if they’re played at all. I think it’ll get worse before it gets better.
You built an event calendar out for the year. You planned, you upgraded, you designed and produced new graphics, maybe you even invested in a new exhibit. But if the show doesn’t take place, how can you make the best use of your upgrades or your new graphics?
A couple of suggestions:
Put together a short video, maybe a minute or less, that you can share on social media. Explain that while you were planning to launch a new product or debut a new booth, but the show cancellation prevented you from doing so. Instead, show it off in the video. If it’s just a graphic upgrade, show those off in the video. If it’s a new exhibit, your exhibit house should have provided 3D renderings – show those off as well, and make sure to tell your clients and prospects and social media followers that you’ll be using it as soon as you’re able at the next show – whenever that is.
Use social media to launch the new products. If it’s feasible, have a little contest and give away some samples. Pick a few winners and mail them the samples.
Convene people for a Zoom virtual meeting. Maybe even make it a virtual tradeshow to where you can show off your new booth renderings – and hey, if you want to go all out and it makes sense for you and you have the room, set up the booth and use that as a backdrop for your Zoom call. Show it off!
Do one-on-one outreach to clients. Make calls, send emails. If convenient (or wise), schedule coffee or lunch. Keep in touch! Heck, schedule a Zoom call and send a coffee gift card ahead of time so they can have a fresh cup on hand! Talk to them about what you were going to do with the show.
Other promotions: create a small brochure and mail it to your clients and prospects showing off your new products that you were going to debut at the tradeshow. Have a sale. Offer free shipping. Do a BOGO sale.
Bottom Line: It looks like the frequency and functionality of tradeshows and events are going to be drastically cut for the foreseeable future. Don’t wait to figure out what you can do in place of tradeshow and events. There’s always something.
Thanks to Andy Saks of Spark Presentations for the inspiration for this blog post.
You’ve heard the phrase “think outside the box.” But in the
tradeshow world, sometimes it makes more sense to think inside the box.
In many cases, it does make sense to think outside the box. Which means, generally, to do things you don’t normally do. Turn it upside down. Work backwards. Do something random.
But tradeshows have so much riding on them that the more you have a plan and the better you stick to it – with minor deviations as warranted – that it pays to stay inside the box.
Make the plan. Execute the plan. Stay inside the box.
While you’re making the plan, many weeks or even months before the tradeshow, that might be the time to think outside the box. What can you do that’s different? What your competitors aren’t doing? What might be an activity in your booth that attracts people? What kind of different ways you can think of to promote your appearance?
During the brainstorming and planning phase, come up with as many different and unusual approaches you can think of that might help you stand out. But vet them. Test them. Make sure they are practical and can be executed as flawlessly as possible. Then, once you have something in place, iron out the rough spots and prepare it for the show.
And once the show starts, don’t stray from the script unless there’s agreement among the principals that it’s a good move. Otherwise, work the plan, take notes on how it went, and make adjustments for the next show.
Thinking outside the box isn’t a bad idea, in fact in many cases it’s a great idea. Just know when and where to do it. The tradeshow floor where thousands of visitors are passing by, where competitors are putting up their best, is not the place to wing it.