In a Digital Era, Trade Show Interactions Still Matter

In today’s digital-first ecosystem, it’s easy for businesses and their clients to build high-value connections without ever meeting face-to-face, yet many industries continue to present at trade shows. What motivates these efforts?

In today’s digital-first ecosystem, it’s easy for businesses and their clients to build high-value connections without ever meeting face-to-face, yet many industries continue to present at trade shows. What motivates these efforts?

Unlike online marketing and networking, trade shows offer opportunities for businesses to perform recon on their competitors, track industry trends, and build supplier and distributor relationships. From a competitive perspective, then, trade shows are a must-attend event — but that doesn’t mean technology hasn’t changed how these shows operate.

Pre-Show Assessments

Trade shows last a few days, but anyone who’s spent time on the circuit knows that the majority of the work takes place before you arrive.

Businesses need to build pre-show media connections to boost publicity, perform research to determine the best shows to attend, and plan their presentation, from giveaways to booth display. Luckily, technology is helping businesses reduce the costs associated with participating in trade shows, particularly through the use of AI to select shows.

One option is using the program SummitSync. Companies can map past conference and trade show participation against internal CRM data to determine whether attending a given event will be beneficial to them. This allows the company to estimate their ROI on a given conference and only attend those that are the best use of their time and resources.

The B2B Advantage for Trade Shows

Unlike many digital marketing efforts, attendance at trade shows isn’t typically focused on building connections with individual customers. Instead, trade shows lean heavily on the B2B angle, connecting companies with each other and, in the case of manufacturers, providing opportunities for one-on-one interactions with distributors.

Since it’s much harder to target distributors via online marketing campaigns, trade shows are a powerful setting for promotion, negotiation, and product demonstration. Shows also offer companies a chance to solidify previously digital relationships and consolidate brand loyalty.

Certain industries place a special emphasis on trade shows and consider them an essential element in their marketing practices. The specialty foods market, for example, which is projected to control 20% of market share in the next few years, has always relied heavily on trade shows as part of their distribution and sales model.

Using aggressive educational campaigns and an appeal to health, fresh food, and interest in local eating, specialty food brands have long used trade shows to get their products on shelves around the country. Other niche brands can learn a lot from food companies’ practices.

Industries in Transition

Ultimately, trade shows provide valuable insight into changing market trends, and this is the greatest motivation for companies to attend.

At this year’s L.A. Textile Show, brands demonstrated how they’re embracing sustainable fashion, integrating technology and textiles, and centering activism in their work. Though the show isn’t one of the largest yet, the producers are focused on becoming a must-attend show for the industry. That means promoting the show online, demonstrating the quality of past events, and encouraging attendees to act as boosters, advertising their planned attendance at the 2019 event.

Business relationships today take place largely online, but it’s time to rethink this kind of digitization. Though online networking can form the foundation for professional connections, email will never replace a handshake and one-on-one demo. That’s where the trade show comes in: to roll data and direct connection into one powerful event.

5 Things You Should Say ‘Yes’ To

Having just come back from a trade show, I am still reeling from all of the positive vibes, great contacts and inspiration that I experienced. It got me thinking about why people choose not to go to shows. I know that time and money are usually the two biggest considerations when it comes to going to something like this. And I really want you to look at this a different way.

Having just come back from three glorious days in Chicago at PRINT 17 I am still reeling from all of the positive vibes, great contacts and inspiration that I experienced. It got me thinking about why people choose not to go to shows. I know that time and money are usually the two biggest considerations when it comes to going to something like this. So, I wondered what other things people are probably regularly missing out on just because they don’t give themselves the opportunity to do something that would be considered outside the norm (for them).

And I really want you to look at this a different way. I want you to consider yourself personally and your company as something to invest in in ways other than equipment and software. These might seem like luxuries, but I want to argue that they are NOT luxuries. These kinds of things are vital to your development as a member and maybe even a leader – or THE leader — of your team. Saying a loud and enthusiastic YES to these things will make you better, stronger, happier and could just take you places you never thought you would go (literally and figuratively).

Here are 5 things you should say “yes” to, if you get the opportunity:

  1. Going somewhere new — Maybe a vendor has asked you to come and tour their facility. Maybe a networking group you belong to is having a happy hour next Friday at a new place across town. DO IT! Extending yourself out of your comfort zone is good for you. You will meet new people, find out about a service or product you didn’t know was available to you, or try some new kind of food you never knew you’d been missing all your life. New = adventure. New = Good.
  2. Going to a trade show — You might have to fly. You might have to pop for a hotel room. You will have to be off the shop floor for a day or two. You will never see that money or time again. Do it anyway. Being gone is a great time to see what your team is made of in your absence. Being around your peers, competitors, vendors and industry heroes is good for you. I shouldn’t have to explain why. This is your industry and you should be an active participant in it.
  3. Learning something — Whether it is how to start a Facebook page for your company or being able to explain the fundamentals behind direct marketing, if there is something going on in your business that you are not comfortable with, now is the time to raise your hand, say you need help and get to learning. There is no downside here. The more you know is not just an NBC jingle from the 90’s. It is the truth.
  4. A project that makes you A LITTLE uncomfortable — Let’s say a client asks you to do something you’ve never done before. It will not require you to go out and buy new equipment or software, but you have not tried something like it before. Before you say no, think about the implications of being able to add that aspect of your offering to all of your clients. Hearing the dollar signs ringing in yet? It is also empowering to your team to give them some latitude to figure out the best way to do it. Yes. You might lose money on the first one. But on each subsequent project you will get better and better and more profitable. Just say yes.
  5. A new hire that “gets it” — There are at least two whole generations of people who have grown up as technology natives, but who may not look and sound like the kinds of people you typically hire. Talk to them anyway. It is time to start reverse engineering some of the roles within your team. You can look at the person, decide that you admire their energy, vision and manner, and decide that you will find a place for him/her on your team. It may be a title you’ve never had before. You might INVENT a title for him/her. But new blood Is what our industry needs. It’s what YOU need. Fresh perspectives. People who are not afraid to challenge and even defy what you think you know. This industry needs more shaking up. Shake.

I hope I have convinced you that discomfort is the new growth. Change is the new steady. Give it a go.

Say yes.

Digital Developments in B-to-B Event Marketing

Event marketing has long been a staple in B-to-B, where the face-to-face conversation enabled by a trade show or corporate event plays a valuable role in launching or deepening a business relationship. But these days, business events are taking off in new directions, empowered by advancements in digital technology. I’ve been keeping an eye on some of the new developments, and happily share a few here.

Event marketing has long been a staple in B-to-B, where the face-to-face conversation enabled by a trade show or corporate event plays a valuable role in launching or deepening a business relationship. But these days, business events are taking off in new directions, empowered by advancements in digital technology. I’ve been keeping an eye on some of the new developments, and happily share a few here.

Harnessing attendee word of mouth. Event organizers can help registered attendees spread the word about upcoming shows with tools like Plancast, where members share news of their plans-both consumer and business-with friends and fellow social network members.

A private social network for attendees. Both Pathable and CrowdVine offer tools to help show organizers create a private social network, where event attendees can post their photos and profiles, search for connections and make appointments with people they’d like to meet at the event. This takes a lot of the randomness out of networking and lets attendees use their time more efficiently. A boon for exhibitors, who can interact with attendees in advance and follow up with them later, in a dynamic virtual environment.

Events designed for both virtual and live audiences. Some companies are moving in the exciting direction of “hybrid meetings,” where live content is concurrently streamed online, engaging both attendees on site and people at their desks. To pull this off, considerable advance planning is essential, says Pat Ahaesy, of P&V Enterprises, a NY-based event agency. “The hybrid event needs to be rehearsed and staged, with high definition video cameras. Speakers must be trained on how to engage with both audiences. And the content has to be terrific.” But the benefit is huge. You get double the audience, plus an archive of content that can be repurposed for years of additional value.

“Smart card” badges for richer data capture. Show badges built with “near field communication” (NFC) technology are gaining attention from organizers and exhibitors alike. Instead of scanning, exhibitors tap visitor badges using a mobile device, and the data uploads to the cloud in real time. So the post-visit message stream can begin right away. The attendee badges can even be loaded with money (remember, this is the technology behind Google Wallet) and followed up with a message like, “Thanks for coming to our booth. Have a macchiato on us!”

Bob James, head of marketing at ITN International, shares another interesting application of the technology: The satellite manufacturer Harris Corporation knew they’d have a busy booth at a recent show, and they were concerned that they might miss connecting with some important prospects. So they set up 22 self-serve kiosks around the booth, where visitors could tap their badges, request a case study or video, and indicate what kind of follow-up they’d like. A neat way to expand the reach of the booth staff.

Program book on your smartphone. I am always vexed at being handed a heavy conference guide to lug around, so I really appreciate the ShowGuide technology from RiverMatrix, which moves the entire show program off my shoulder and onto my phone. That’s including sessions, speaker bios, maps, the works.

Virtual events. After years of experimentation, virtual events still struggle to enter the mainstream. A study by the Event Marketing Institute says 93 percent of senior executives polled find value in virtual events. But Exhibitor Magazine’s survey suggests that 60 percent of businesses have yet to try a virtual event, even a webinar. Making the trade-off between the value of face-to-face contact and the cost savings of online interactions remains a challenge for B-to-B marketers.

Digital is making events faster, cheaper, better. What new digital developments are you seeing as part of the business event marketing mix?

A version of this post appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Lights, Camera, Action: Video Helps You Stay in Touch With Customers

One problem that plagues B-to-B sales and marketing is coming up with relevant, timely messages for nurturing customer relationships. A territory-based sales rep may be trying to keep in touch with hundreds of contacts at a time, but struggles to find a steady supply of good-quality reasons to use to reach out—without being a pest. I recently ran across a particularly compelling solution to this problem: Personalized email that links to entertaining, but useful, videos.

One problem that plagues B-to-B sales and marketing is coming up with relevant, timely messages for nurturing customer relationships. A territory-based sales rep may be trying to keep in touch with hundreds of contacts at a time, but struggles to find a steady supply of good-quality reasons to use to reach out—without being a pest. I recently ran across a particularly compelling solution to this problem: Personalized email that links to entertaining, but useful, videos.

Here’s where I ran across this: Glenn Diehl, owner of the New York distributor of Skyline Exhibits, has a team of eight sales people selling custom trade show exhibits and portable displays to marketers and trade show managers in New York City and several northern counties. Diehl came up with a program whereby his reps can send to their contact lists emails embedded with a link to an informative video created by Mike Mraz, a trade show marketing expert with a creative knack for video production.

Mraz was already producing his “Today’s Trade Show Minute” videos every three weeks as a way to promote his own consulting and training services. His arrangement with Diehl includes access to fresh “Minute” videos twice a month, plus a custom landing page with a personal introduction from each rep.

Here’s a sample email (see the first image in the media player to the right) from Skyline rep Al Mercuro, who was the first at SkylineNY to adopt the program and make it part of his regular customer outreach. The cover note is in plain text, inviting customers to have a look at the latest “Minute” video.

Customers who click through find themselves at Mercuro’s dedicated landing page, which includes his friendly face, a short message, the “Today’s Trade Show Minute” video and a call to action (see the second image in the media player to the right).

There are three reasons why I like this program:

  1. The content is fresh, lively and relevant to both the recipient and the sales objective of the vendor. The videos deliver a useful trade show success tip in only 60 seconds.
  2. Outsourcing the video content to a third party like Mike Mraz ensures an ongoing supply of new material for Skyline’s customer communications. The relentless challenge of creating new content is one of the most common impediments (PDF) to long-term communications success for B-to-B marketers.
  3. The program is managed by marketing, but goes out over the name of the sales rep, providing tangible help in relationship building with the rep’s key contacts.

I learned from Skyline’s sales and marketing team leader, Frank Cavaluzzi, that the program is scheduled for some fine tuning this year. Currently, it’s up the sales reps to take the initiative to send out the email. Cavaluzzi is planning to streamline the process, make it more automated, so it’s a bit easier for both sales and marketing to execute.

How about you? Are you seeing productive new ways to keep in touch with customers and prospects?

A version of this post appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Outlook for Online Retailers: Sunny, With a Chance of Rain

On the surface, a walk through the show floor at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in Boston, which ran June 15-18, would make even the dourest economist smile.

On the surface, a walk through the show floor at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in Boston, which ran June 15-18, would make even the dourest economist smile.

With a reported 5,000 attendees and more than 350 exhibitors, the show was the first one I attended this year that felt like a “real” trade show. I saw lots of online and offline retailers and catalogers walking around, discussing Web design, social networking, site navigation, the mobile Web and other online-related matters. I also saw many packed sessions and many smiling, busy vendors. Was this 2009 or 1999?

But beneath all of this good feeling was the fact that the gloomy economy was still top-of-mind for most attendees. Many said that while they were there learning about the latest trends, they were still struggling, hoping to break even at year’s end. Others were more hopeful, stating that while their sales were down, their profits were holding steady and they were positive and upbeat about the year ahead.

During a presentation on June 16, Gian Fulgoni, chairman and co-founder of comScore, added a bit to the doom and gloom. He noted that while online retail sales were up 2 percent between both January 2009 and January 2008 and February 2009 and February 2008, they were down 1 percent in March, flat in April and down 4 percent in May. Overall numbers are flat.

But Fulgoni had some good news. E-commerce, for example, clearly continues to outperform brick-and-mortar stores in disposable income-driven product categories, such as sporting goods and fitness merchandise; books and magazines; and music, movies and videos.

What’s more, he said, 74 percent of consumers say they’re likely to shop online before making an offline purchase.

So the weather forecast is mixed. But there’s no denying the real energy on the trade show floor. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.