Written by Kajsa Bjoern, Skyline San Diego.
A lot of time and money go into your exhibit. But are you doing everything you can before the show to ensure your show presence earns a positive return on investment (ROI)? A majority of attendees already have a list of what booths to visit, so you have to ensure that your target market knows that you will be there and what you have to offer them. Effective pre-show marketing will help draw traffic to your booth, as well as maximise the qualified leads you gather at each event.
CHOOSING PROMOTIONAL OUTLETS
Print and Direct Mail
The rising costs of printing and mailing have deeply curtailed the amount of direct mail marketing done by exhibitors. Many businesses may still send out a save-the-date postcard or other low-cost self-mailer. However, if you want to maximise ROI, and therefore minimise cost, your print budget might be better focused on ads in trade publications or in literature distributed by the event host.
Email and Social
Social media and email marketing form the backbone of most exhibitors’ pre-show marketing efforts. Keep in mind though that the months prior to a trade show or event are definitely not the time to begin building an email list or growing your follower count. Instead, you should continually encourage prospects to sign up for your newsletter and post engaging social content, which will result in you organically growing your audience. Your best-paid efforts on social media similarly might involve follow campaigns or page-like campaigns that you run intermittently throughout the year. This way, you’ll have a ready audience of recent and receptive prospects when you begin your trade show promotion.
Search engine and social platforms make it easy to set up your own ad campaigns; however, it can also be a huge cost that doesn’t earn ROI if it’s not done right. Trade show ads need to target not just only those who are interested in your company, but also the subset of that audience that plans to attend the show. To make sure you reach this group, you need to focus on “custom audience” targeting – i.e., uploading customer or registrant email lists and target these individuals directly. Re-targeting campaigns can allow you to serve ads to people who have previously visited your exhibit page or microsite—individuals who are already aware of your company and are presumably at least thinking about attending the show.
CRAFTING YOUR MESSAGE
The first step to planning your promotional calendar involves determining your goals for the event. Is it to raise brand awareness, build relationships or launch a new product? The next step would be to determine how to achieve those goals, which could be something like increase booth traffic, maximize attendance at an event presentation, pre-registrations for giveaways, or pre-scheduled private, onsite meetings. Mapping out these goals well in advance will allow you to craft and plan the focus of your pre-show marketing campaigns.
You should also use this time to build an exciting, event-specific landing page or microsite, to which you can drive all your promotions. Use these web pages to provide details of your product launches, information on who will be staffing your booth and a visual calendar of any demos, presentations or networking events you may be hosting at the show.
Two Months Before the Show
Send out your initial save-the-date notice. Focus on the show itself—the theme, city and venue. Let people know you’ll be in attendance.
One to Two Months Before the Show
Provide details on your exhibit, including your booth number and your planned activities during the show. Invite attendees to make an appointment if they’d like a private demo or consultation. If you have a new product or service you’ll be rolling out, this is the good time to share a short teaser video to pique everyone’s interest. If possible, create a short clip that recaps last year’s show. If it’s your first time exhibiting at the show in question, it is fine with a recap of another show with the same target audience. However, keep in mind that this will only be beneficial if it’s created in a way that attracts your target market.
Two-to-Three Weeks Before the Show
Mid-campaign messaging should reinforce what you’ve shared previously, reminding people of any looming promotional deadlines and eligibility requirements. Since this is the timeframe in which attendees will be planning their itineraries, it’s a key time to reach out personally to contacts and schedule one-on-one time with them at the event.
The Days Before the Show
Send a final email to remind everyone of your booth number and encourage them to visit. Personally reach out to anyone with which you have a planned appointment to tell them you’re looking forward to speaking with them onsite.
This is a good time to get personal and timely with your social media posts, showing photos of your staff traveling to the event, setting up the booth, etc. You should begin following the show hashtag and use it to interact with other attendees. Automatic thank-you texts and emails should go out whenever you scan an attendee badge.
Your benchmarks for measuring the success of your promotions will depend on your goals for the event. Common key performance indicators for pre-show promotions include:
- Email open rates and click-through-rates
- Social media engagement stats – including follows, likes, shares and comments on any show-related posts
- Pre-show event or giveaway registrations
- In-booth redemptions of coupons or other materials sent out in your pre-show marketing
- Website visits immediately before, during and after the show (be sure to use trackable links in all your promotions)
Your pre-show marketing budget may be limited. But by honing in on your best prospects and focusing your efforts on platforms with the best ROI, you can stretch your marketing dollars and better ensure an effective trade show presence.