Time to revisit the role of trade shows in your product marketing strategy?

Trade shows blurred
Image by p_saranya

The COVID-19 pandemic, now in its third month, continues to spread around the world, leading to the cancellation of conferences, trade shows and large meeting, as organizers are participating in global efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

In short three months, your plans to take part in your industry’s top trade show have been shattered. No sophisticated displays showcasing your products and attracting high quality prospects. But also no need to fuss over many hours on your feet trying to get the attention of bored conference goers and make them listen to the pitch you are reciting for the umpteen time. And no more expensive dinners and long evenings at the bar.

Now, that all these great opportunities are temporarily unavailable, it is the perfect time to revisit the role of trade shows in your product marketing strategy.  

Are you taking full advantage of trade shows? Are you maximizing the opportunity to discover and interact with new prospects?  What are the metrics by which you measure the efficacy of these efforts? Can you justify the cost and time loss involved in sending a large team to a trade show?  

The Trade Show Experience

I speak at many industry events every year. Whenever I have the opportunity, I take time to tour the show floor to meet new companies, learn about new products and services and get an update on the pulse of the industry. The following is a typical interaction that takes place at the booth of one of the trade show’s exhibitors.

ME: Standing in front of the booth, watching a slide show describing the company and its products.

BOOTH STAFF: Two are at the far back of the booth chatting with each other. Another one is on the phone. They look up for a split second and go back to what they were doing.

ME: The slideshow ended and restarted. I am leafing through a set of expensive-looking product datasheets printed in full color on heavy stock paper for a few minutes.

BOOTH STAFF: Still ignoring me. The two are still chatting while the third one is now reading email on her phone.

ME: A few minutes pass. I am still at the booth.

BOOTH STAFF: The person on the phone grabs her coat and leaves the booth, not uttering a word. One of the remaining salesmen finally looks up from the far back of the booth: “how’s it going?”

ME: Leaving the booth.

If you think this scenario is made up or exaggerated, let me assure you it is not. It is a characterization of actual interactions I have had over the years.

Attending a trade show is a huge investment. I am not talking only about the actual cost of paying an exorbitant sum to secure an exhibit space, fabricating the exhibit, and covering flights, hotels and expensive meals. Think about the time lost in preparing for the event and writing detailed trip reports afterwards.  Worse, think about the waste in sales and marketing personnel hiding behind the signage and brochure racks and spend more time on their smartphone answering email (or worse) than interacting with attendees.

Can You Do Better?

Now, let’s assume that your salespeople are much better in engaging passers-by than the typical team I described above. What do they tell me when I ask them about your product and company? Do they begin by saying something along the lines of “we designed an AI software that …”?  (it appears that every single product on earth today must be using AI) or are they able to articulate the business problem your product or service solves?

Whether at a trade show or the offices of a potential investor, startups in particular have difficulties explaining not only WHAT they do but also WHY they do it. They are usually much better describing HOW they do it (propping the narrative with as much AI and machine learning lingo they dare to) than articulating a credible evidence of a business problem worth solving.

And how do you estimate the return on this significant investment? Do you measure the success of a recent trade show based on the number of badges you have scanned and business cards you brought back (not a good enough metric), or do you have a strong analytic view and know, or instance, the convergence rate of leads from past trade shows (much better)?

Consider Virtual Events

How to do a better job defining and articulating the business value of your product or service, is a subject for another blog article (email me if you’d like to discuss). In the interim, let’s go back to the topic of trade shows.

The coronavirus crisis will subside. But for now, dozens of in-person events, large and small, are being postponed or cancelled altogether. This is an opportune time to develop a branding and a go-to-market strategy that utilize virtual events.

Instead of a conference or a trade, consider creating a virtual event. Whether a modest 40-minute online seminar or a full day conference, a virtual event is not only much less expensive, it also opens several options not available at in-person events.

Here are some of the benefits of a virtual event:

It is cost effective to produce.The savings in not having to design, build, ship and install a physical exhibit can be significant. And, of course, you do not have to spend thousands of dollars on travel, hotel accommodations and meals. Moreover, the number of days out of the office are reduced dramatically.

It’s also better for attendees.You should also look at hosting a virtual event from the attendees’ point of view. Avoiding travel, lower cost to attend (usually) and mere convenience will draw in participants that otherwise wouldn’t attend your event, either because they are footing the bill themselves or cannot get their manager’s approval.

Many more people will visit your virtual booth.  Not everyone in a regular trade show will visit your booth. In fact, if your team is like the one I described earlier, only a few delegates will stop at your display long enough for you to impress them.

Flexible Schedule. Conference organizers tend to cram as many presentations in parallel tracks as they can. Have you ever attended a conference and been disappointed to realize that two of the sessions you wanted to go to were being held at the same time? With online conferences there are no scheduling conflicts.

Longer-lasting content. The valuable content delivered in a virtual conference is available to attendees after the formal event had concluded. At some point you may decide to move some or all content outside of the paywall so that it is exposed to search engines and is available to a broader audience.

Related article here.

Written by Joe Barkai and first published at joebarkai.com. Joe is a recognized industry analyst and strategy adviser, a blogger, and a published author.

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