Locked in every trade show is a number. Someplace deep inside event demographics, and underneath all the hype and buzz of exhibitors, speakers and attendees you will find it. The number of people you really want to talk to. These are your targets – people who have a high propensity to become your customers.
Often event-producer-provided audience descriptions can be somewhat biased and useless from a marketing perspective. Case in point: Aren’t we all “decision makers”? Because of this, I’ve come to respect third-party audits by companies like BPA Worldwide or Exhibit Surveys. Wherever possible, its a good idea to insist on third-party audits to drive true marketing discipline into your program and the event industry at large. All said, chances are you don’t want to attract and start a conversation with everyone who attends a trade show – You want to engage with the folks that really matter, your suspects and prospects.
I’m always amazed at the size and scope of the spend many companies make at major events to drive awareness and audience. I wonder if anyone ever bought anything because of a 24-story building wrap. I’m not saying awareness vehicles have no value. On the contrary, awareness is critical in driving pipeline. My point is: each and every tactic and investment at every event should be scrutinized and prioritized to ensure it is the best tool to accomplish your business objectives with your targeted audiences. Event marketers don’t have to have the largest budget, the biggest booth or the most impressive sign to win. They just need to be strategic in their approach and apply intelligence to their process. Here are some ideas that can help you own the show without breaking the bank.
BYOA – Bring Your Own Audience: The audience is the most important part of any event. Don’t rely on someone else to provide it. Be sure to link with sales organizations and have them personally invite key customers and prospects to the event. Design experiences just for them when they get there. Leverage business partners to participate in your presence and ask them to do the same. Use search (both standard and social media) to identify and invite suspects. Engage in a direct marketing campaign with key media properties to drive awareness for targeted audiences that meet your demographic and psychographic profile requirements. Its a lot easier to catch the right fish if you stock the pond.
Get The List: Negotiate sponsorships with event producers that include the pre registration, registration and attendee lists. Sort and parse the list to ensure you’ve boiled it down to just your target audiences. Communicate with this audience before, during and after the show. Ensure you build a communication stream well-before the event to determine how you will handle opt-ins, hot, warm and cold leads and ensure this process is followed.
Engage The Press And Media Early And Often: An event is not the first time you should contact the press and media. Its imperative you build relationships with key media properties well-ahead of time. Remember, if you can provide content that is relevant to their audience and is easy to execute you will go far. Just like any business relationship, press and media relationships are predicated upon a mutual exchange of value. Make sure your content is newsworthy and you spend time helping them succeed. Its not always about your company, brand or products. Hold a press conference before the event to drive mindshare and monopolize the media. Remember to invite prominent bloggers in your industry who are respected by your target audience – they often have greater pull than mainstream media.
Be Everywhere That Matters: Fill educational tracks with experts that can provide high-value content in sessions relative to your companies niche in the subject matter of the event. Secure a keynote speaking opportunity. Participate in panel discussions and roundtables. Remember, audiences spend far more time in sessions and attending speaking opportunities than they do on the show floor.
Get The Smallest Booth Possible: That’s right, I said smallest. Your largest investment should be in engaging with your audiences. You don’t need to bring every product in every product line. You don’t need 300 signs scattered throughout the booth. You don’t need every employee in your company to staff your booth. What you do need is enough space to manage flowthrough of your targeted audience over the course of the show. You also need space for the appropriate number of staffers to manage these attendees. Ensure your experiences and demonstrations have enough room to comfortably be executed. Other things to consider include business theater and meeting space. Take advantage of off floor or off site meeting space. The cost per square foot is often less and you can control the experience more effectively. Above all, make sure your booth is open and inviting, and most importantly, efficient.
Use Time As A Competitive Weapon: Create experiences and engagement activities that monopolize the time that your suspects and prospects spend with you. If you have days filled with demonstrations, booth tours, speaking engagements, meetings, etc., audiences will spend more time immersed in your brand and will have less time to spend with competitors.
Leverage Social Media Or Virtual Technologies: “What happens in Vegas…” or more appropriately, “What happens at the event often stays at the event.” This is unfortunate considering the huge investment made. Use social media to enhance, expand and extend the event experience for attendees and outside participants as well. Videos (YouTube), Photos (Flickr), Blogs, Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, private social networks, etc. can all be potent additions to your strategy. Remember an event is a point in time, relationships are long-term. Engage and interact with your communities both on and off line to improve the ROI of the event.
Follow Up Quickly And Consistently: Remember the communication stream? Execute the plan to follow up with and engage opt-ins, hot, warm and cold leads. The reason for investment and participation in the event was most likely to obtain these suspects. Don’t waste the investment by dropping the ball when the event is over. Leads are gold. Covet them. Communicate with them. Build relationships with them. Now.
Creating mindshare and heartshare doesn’t have to be expensive. Recognizing and engaging with a targeted audience is more effective and efficient than betting the farm on broad-based awareness efforts. With the proper alignment of tactics to business objectives, and the discipline to scrutinize and prioritize each and every investment, you’ll be well on your way to building the right share of voice to own the show.
Have other ideas? Please share!