Tip of the Iceberg
Are you new to tradeshows or having a tough time getting the results you’re looking for?
Success starts with understanding one key secret: the time spent at the show is only the tip of the iceberg. Success or failure depends on what you do after and – especially – before the show.
Exhibitors with poor results often rely solely on the at-show efforts of their booth staff – often poorly trained and ill-prepared – to make a show a success. They make the mistake of confusing logistics administration with true strategic planning. They blame the exhibition management for not bringing in enough of the right prospects, or the economy, or the booth design. Worse yet, they sometimes decide that “trade shows don’t work” and give up rather than learn how to succeed.
Great results can be had, in almost any situation, with proper planning, preparation and support, based on a clearly defined set of goals.
And since successful tradeshow exhibiting allows you to introduce yourself to new markets and new prospects, solidifies relationships with existing customers, and speeds up your sales cycle with prospects, planning correctly is well worth the time and effort.
High Level or Annual Planning
Planning for individual shows will be easiest if there is an annual marketing plan which includes an overall tradeshow plan, even at a high level. Fortunately, you can create a good individual plan on its own, which can be used later to start an overall plan.
A high level plan:
– sets a consistent overall strategy
– helps you evaluate specific opportunities for fit
– suggests how & when different marketing approaches can reinforce each other
– creates a consistent framework for evaluating results
– saves time in preparing for individual shows
Tradeshow Planning: Setting Strategic Objectives vs Logistics Management
“Tradeshow planning” is often confused with handling the logistics of the show: budgets, deadlines, and the “stuff” involved whether it is the booth, the clothes, or the giveaways.
Preparing for the logistics is critical. And costly if done incorrectly – it only takes one show with missed deadlines, and rush charges for everything from production to shipping to show services, to make this point clear. This planning and tracking is often handed to someone who is good at handling details, which is appropriate.
However – the single most critical aspect of planning for a successful tradeshow is – to borrow a well known idea – to start with the end in mind. (Thank you Dr Covey, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”)
The key is being clear about – and keeping a laser-like focus on – your business objectives, target audience, branding, strategies for implementing each objective, and ways to measure results. All show preparations must be geared towards achieving these goals.
Meet the deadlines, of course. But start at the beginning, with a plan to succeed.
An individual (or marketing campaign-level) tradeshow plan:
- Sets specific business objectives to be met, aligned with overall strategic goals
- Defines target audience, including demographics and key pain/purchase points
- Clearly identifies tactics, goals and measurements for each objective
- Establishes a budget and ROI rationale
- Sets up a timeline including planning, logistics, marketing and promotional efforts, staff preparation to support goals, etc.
- Provides a clear evaluation process
Let’s look briefly at each of these topics.
Business Objectives for Tradeshows
In the long run, tradeshows are all about building your business. That may mean generating sale-ready leads, and it may not. There are many ways to use tradeshows to support your business or organization.
Trade Shows Can Be Used To:
- Generate quality leads
- Reinforce existing relationships
- Strengthen company, product or brand awareness
- Reach the media or provide input for blog
- Announce or measure interest in new products or services
- Perform competitive analysis
- Find vendors / potential partners
- Use as “because” to contact customers, prospects and dormant leads
You need to specifically who you will be targeting at each show. This is because your marketing message – the one that will move you towards your selected objective – must be based on the needs and interests of your target audience. It’s all about WIIFM – “what’s in it for me”. If you don’t know who, how can you direct your message?
You want your booth to be designed in a way that reaches out to the right people, filters out the others, and starts a conversation. This is why one of the very first things we ask for when we prepare to design a tradeshow display is “who do you need to reach – at this show”.
Tactics, Goals and Measurement
“Build sales” is not helpful as an objective.
“Build sales by setting appointments” – that is actionable and measurable. You can train your booth staff how to qualify attendees, how much to say in the booth, and when to move to “make a sale” of an appointment time. If you’re handing out gifts, to know the correct moment to present them. You can decide how to lay out your booth based on this goal. You can determine how to word your marketing collaterol.
And before the show? This goal now leads to specific pre-show tactics like promotional mail or email, offering them an opportunity to meet you in person.
Here’s a few things you can measure already in this scenario:
- How many invited prospects came
- How many additional people were attracted by other at-show activities
- How many signed up for appointments
- The results of those appointments
- The number and size of sales resulting
Of course, setting appointments may not be the next step from a show for your business. What is? Select your objective, then determine what needs to happen before the show, at the show and afterwards to make it happen.
Know your objectives, set up tactics, make them measurable, and focus your efforts based on these.
There is a lot to juggle in preparing for one show, never mind if you have a series of shows. You need to read and understand the show book, with its rules and deadlines. Preparing a project plan with milestones and deadlines, is not a bad idea. You may need to “rent” this service from your tradeshow provider, or you may be able to keep it in-house by getting the most organized person on your staff to keep track and pay attention when they say a deadline is looming.
Some of our tips can be found here: TRADE SHOW PLANNING – A TIMELINE FOR SUCCESS
You need to evaluate every show. Evaluate based on the objectives you set, for effectiveness. Also evaluate your staff on how well they met their individual goals, and ask for their input on what could have been done better in preparing them, in setting up and executing on your plan.
The essence of a plan is to take a good look at how events can support the major corporate objectives, who will be reached, how and when, with what budget and in order to reach what measurable results.
Need help starting, thinking through, or implementing your plan? We’d be happy to help.
Deborah Elms is CEO and head of the Trade Show and Event Division of Imprinted Originals. She is passionate about helping businesses, non-profit organizations and associations create and retain customers through the effective use of tradeshows & events.