Friday, August 24, 2018

Lesson #298: Top 5 Trade Show Marketing Ideas

Posted By: George Deeb - 8/24/2018


& Comment

If you are a B2B marketer, industry trade shows are often the ideal meeting place to network with your industry peers, all in one central place.  So, incorporating trade shows into your marketing plans is often a terrific way to get in front of your target customers.  For example, with me now an owner of Restaurant Furniture Plus, where better to find a bunch of restaurant executives to sell our products than the National Restaurant Association Show (“NRA Show”) each year.  There are many ways to get the word out about your company at trade shows, with varying degrees of cost.  Below are the top 5 options to consider, in order of cost, from least expensive to most expensive.

1. Speak

The best thing to do is position yourself as an authority on a certain topic that is relevant to the audience of the show.  The show organizers are always looking for good speakers to fill their agendas, and why can’t that be you!!  You never want to pitch your company as the primary topic, as the show organizers won’t let you simply stand up and promote yourself.  You want to pitch a topic that is educational to the attendees.  Maybe the NRA Show attendees would be interested in learning the hottest new trends in restaurant designs and restaurant furniture, as an example.

And, where you can, find a brand name customer of yours to collaborate with on that pitch to the show organizers.  Instead of you pitching your own success, it would be even better if your customers can pitch that success for you.  So, as an example, get Chipotle’s head of new store design to speak to how you helped them reinvent their prototype to stand out from the crowd.  So, look for collaborative pitches with your customers, as the show producers love getting brand name speakers on their rosters, much more than unknown startup executives.  And, the best thing about speaking, there are typically no costs to you, other than the travel time and costs to get there.

2. Attend

If you can’t become a speaker, make sure you at least become an attendee of the event.  Attendee costs are typically not that expensive, and they can yield a big pay day as you are networking throughout the event, rubbing shoulders with prospective customers at the lunches, break-out rooms and while walking the exhibit halls.  Attending also has the additional benefits of educating yourself on key industry trends and keeping an eye on how your competitors are marketing themselves at events like these.

3.  Advertise

There are several ways to advertise your business at or around events.  Maybe there is a trade show magazine or directory, that you can buy an ad.  Or, a show website or email list, you can buy an ad.  Or, maybe you advertise on things related to the show, but, not through the show itself.  That could include handing out fliers to people in the hotel lobbies or bus shuttle stops near the show.  Or, buying ads targeting fans of the show on Facebook.  There are options for all size budgets here, depending on how creative you want to get.

4. Exhibit

Having a booth as an exhibitor is one of the more expensive options.  Because the booth comes with a cost of the booth (e.g., $5,000) and the space rental (e.g., another $5,000), and you typically have to have a couple people manning the booth, including all their travel related costs for those days.  But, at least with having a booth, you are ensured of having good visibility to people in the exhibit hall, provided you locate your booth in a highly trafficked location (so study a show map before committing to a booth location in a bad location).  Also, don’t forget to have handouts ready at your booth, so visitors can take with them, to remember you by when they are back in their offices (e.g., personalized zip drives with your logo on it and company presentations included).   Based on my experience, if you can at-least break even with sales coming from leads generated by your booth after the show, you are doing a good job.

5. Sponsor

Becoming a key sponsor of the show, typically comes with a very high expense.  Maybe you sponsor the show’s lunch for the day, paying for the meals of all, in exchange for you getting premier brand exposure and a 5 minute sales pitch during the lunch.  Or, less expensive things, like paying for the show badge lanyards, and getting your logo included on the lanyard.  Or, paying to get your flyer included in the shows “goodie bag” for attendees.  There is a wide range of options to consider here, at a wide range of prices, depending on how big of a splash you want to make at the show.

Where to Find Trade Shows to Attend

When looking for new trade shows to consider in an industry, I typically start at Google.  For example, maybe with a “restaurant industry trade show” search, to see what I stumble on.  I’ll also research the key trade associations (e.g., National Restaurant Association) and key trade publications (e.g., Nation’s Restaurant News), as they often produce large annual events and have large followings.  So, do a little digging, and you’ll be surprised how many options you will uncover.  For Restaurant Furniture Plus, I found about 20 different shows on various topics in various locations throughout the year to consider.

How to Prioritize Which Trade Shows to Attend

It is hard enough for an early stage company to afford one trade show, yet alone 20 shows.  So, until you are much bigger in size, with unlimited marketing budgets, you will have to be very strategic in how you prioritize which trade shows to attend.  For example, a gathering of Restaurant CEOs may be perfect if you are selling a strategic solution to companies, and a gathering of Restaurant Executive Chef’s may be perfect if you are selling them a new food option.  So, figure out which shows will have the highest number of target customer prospects (not target companies), and go from there.

Obviously, you will also want to bias shows closer to your home region, will save on costs and make sure logical target customers will be there.  As an example, it would be hard for Restaurant Furniture Plus to leverage a trade show in Europe, when there isn’t a cost effective way for us to ship our U.S. made furniture to overseas customers, as an example.  Not to mention the higher travel costs of flying to Rome vs. flying to Chicago to attend.

Concluding Thoughts

Trade shows would not be my first marketing effort for an early stage company.  I would bias more cost effective things like Google search ads and targeted ads to my prospective customers on LinkedIn first.  But, when you can afford to add trade shows to your mix, you should.  But, they are not cheap.  As a benchmark, the average cost per B2B lead may be $250, and the average cost per B2B lead sourced from a trade show may be $750, around 3x more expensive!!  So, just make sure you have a high enough average ticket, to cover that level of marketing investment before taking the plunge.  If you are selling $50,000 orders of furniture, you are in good shape.  If you are selling $50 orders of napkins, you may want to look elsewhere.

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of the importance of trade shows for B2B marketers, when to use them and the range of options and costs to consider.  Don’t forget to bring enough business cards with you!!

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.

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