Let’s talk about what for a lot of folks is a marketing method from a bygone era: Trade shows, or Trade Fairs as they’re referred to in most places outside of the US.
At one point in time, Trade Shows were a staple in most every tech company’s marketing budget–shows like Comdex, PC Expo, Network World and a host of others were annual rites of passage. But in the Internet age, they have been greatly reduced in the marketing mix, if not taken completely out of the picture.
There are many reasons for this. First and foremost, the ROI of tradeshows was always very questionable for most exhibitors. In marketing departments everywhere there were always sharp discussions during budget time on whether to continue the expense of the major shows. They always seemed important to exhibit at but usually it was pretty difficult to make a direct correlation to enough actual revenue to justify the large expense. As the Internet became more prominent this ROI looked even worse in comparison–as it did for many other “offline” marketing methods, such as traditional direct mail and print advertising.
So are trade shows now obsolete, having gone the way of the Dodo bird? Probably not, but many marketing folks would say that they are at least on the endangered species list. So when, if at all, do traditional trade shows still make sense today? And what should your goals be if you do decide to invest in a show or two? Let’s take a quick look at 4 points relevant to each of these two questions.
4 REASONS IT MAKE SENSE TO GO TO A TRADE SHOW:
A CONTRARIAN APPROACH
One of the major enduring useful tactics in marketing is to “zig when your competitors zag”. If you are in a market where a show is still well attended but vendors are starting to stay home rather than pay for booths, you may have an opportunity. If your competitors aren’t there, you have a larger, captive audience of prospects to strut your stuff to. One of the basic tenets of a good marketing program is to find a “communications channel” which isn’t too crowded that the ROI goes to hell. With trade shows falling out of favor in marketing budgets, there is potential to benefit from a contrarian approach in some markets.
INTRODUCTION INTO A NEW MARKET
This is always one of the strongest reasons to attend a few shows. If you have a brand new company or your company is entering a market space it hasn’t previously participated in, a couple of well-selected shows can be a very good investment. Remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression.
INTRODUCTION OF A NEW PRODUCT
Much like a company entering a new market, a new product introduction is a very traditional reason to exhibit at a trade show. In my opinion, introducing new products at shows has historically been over-estimated as a useful marketing tactic. Sure, the press is there covering the show but if 50 other vendors are also announcing new products your new product might get lost, or at least get less press coverage then if you announced two weeks before or after the show. Remember the comment above about over-crowded communications channel?. In some cases, announcing at a show fits this description. This can still be a sound marketing tactic–just don’t do it because everyone always does it that way. Do careful research and planning to ensure it is a net positive.
IMPORTANCE OF HIGH TOUCH
If you have a product that absolutely requires some hands-on or personal selling before prospects buy, trade shows can be an excellent investment. For example, if the product is quite expensive, or an expert demo sells far more than prospect downloads from your website. I had a software company client at PJM Consulting who was in a market where expert demos are essential; they grew the company to a great extent with trade shows and almost always could demonstrate a profit on their show budgets.
4 GOALS TO ENSURE A HIGH RETURN FROM A TRADE SHOW:
This is always one of the most important reasons to go to many shows. If it is an important show, the press will be there in full force. You really need to plan PR tactics ahead of time, however, as all of the other exhibitors have the same goal of getting press appointments and coverage. It is CRITICAL to plan far ahead in securing appointments with target editors and have a “tease” of substantial news to obtain the appointment. Editor’s schedules fill up far in advance. Properly planned, the show can pay for itself just in this area by eliminating the need for a dedicated press tour. But if not well planned, you will end up “wasting” your product introduction or other news, resulting in little or no press coverage.
EFFICIENCY OF INDUSTRY NETWORKING
Networking with the other exhibitors is often overlooked by many vendors. The focus is generally solely on customers, and maybe distribution channels. Often many companies with complementary offerings are attending and exhibiting along with a few competitors. This can be a great arena to begin or continue discussions with potential strategic partners. At a minimum, makes sure to set aside some time to walk the show floor and see who might have synergy with your company. Even if you’re pressed for time, shake a few hands and gather some business cards–it can be an excellent setup for future discussions.
LOCAL CUSTOMER VISITS
This is also an area that holds potential to lift your show budget’s ROI, which is often overlooked by many exhibitors. You are flying staff to a faraway city–why not go in a couple of days early, and call on a few potential major customers? At a minimum, make sure you get those free show tickets that often go to waste out to local prospects in your database, so they can come to the show for a meeting or demo at your booth.
LOCAL CHANNEL VISITS
In the same vein as visits to customers it makes a lot of sense to call on current or potential channel partners, once you decide you’ll be spending money going to a show in a certain region. Add a couple of days to your trip and visit a few key partners and prospective partners in the area. And make sure to invite them to the show well in advance and supply those free tickets, so you end up seeing many more later at your booth.
If you just spend a lot of money and fly to a city, set up your booth, and wait for new customers to flock by to see you–you are likely to be very disappointed in your return on investment. But if you use a tradeshow as a hub for a variety of related activity, adding a couple of key shows into your marketing mix can still bring a very nice ROI. The key is preparation and planning, to make sure your results are optimized.
I’ve outlined a few reasons why it still may make sense to exhibit at tradeshows/trade fairs even today, along with some ways to maximize your return. What’s your reason for attending tradeshows in the Internet Age? And what concrete results do you hope to achieve? Post a comment to continue this discussion.