The Trade Show Lesson: Using Traditional Marketing to Learn About Social Media

I attended a great presentation yesterday that was put on by The Essex Group at the GNHCC.  The topic of the presentation was Secrets to Trade Show Success.  To most in my age group, this topic may not spark much interest, and I would be lying if I said I couldn’t sleep the previous night in anticipation of attending the meeting.

However, thanks in part to the presenter, I became very interested in the business of trade shows, and the planning and effort that goes in to a few hours or a few days of promotion.  The lessons that were covered ranged from body language and tone to set up and booth location.  When the meeting was over I was able to go through some of the information that was provided and relate it to my line of work, social media.

There were some keywords that I took out of the presentation, and I am going to explain how they are significant to online networking (social media strategy) and offline networking (trade shows in this case).

Goals

Before you decide to enter the new media world you need to make sure that you have goals set, and you are not just jumping in with no idea what you want to gain from the work you put in.  In trade shows it is a similar situation.  You need to decide why you are there, do you want new customers, do you need market research, or are you there to introduce a  new product or service.

The key here is to set your goals and determine your message based on those goals.

Preparation

The main difference between trade shows and social media is the amount of time you should take to plan for the event.  The Essex Group recommended that planning takes between 6 and 9 months, and can take even longer for some shows.  If the preparation time to implement social media take that long you will start way behind the current trends.

There were some strong similarities in the preparation however.  These included the importance of budgeting, staff selection, and training.   From a budgeting perspective, though most tools in social media are inexpensive, there are costs involved if you want to do a good job, and do it right.  Staff selection and training are both an important part of branding online and offline.  Your company’s brand is tied directly to whomever is representing you, so making sure you have the right people and they have the skills necessary is worth the time or cost you put into it.

Engagement

The engagement at a trade show is literally shaking hands, smiling, and making eye contact.  Online engagement however, is a little different.  Online, companies need to make an effort to build conversations around topics important to their brand.  Companies also need to be prepared to respond to discussions about them that are going on everywhere online.

The Essex Group made a great point about engagement, and one that I could relate to.  They explained the importance of the Killer question.  The Killer question is that one question that will draw people in and encourage them to speak with you.  This works online as well, and the power of it online can create successful viral campaigns.

Follow Up

The follow up at trade shows is comprised of qualifying leads and sending out information that you may have promised them, or that they may have requested.  Online it is similar, but there are more opportunities here.  Qualifying candidates can be done in advance by finding them first, and then placing your brand and your information in front of them on a regular basis.  This can also lead to relationship building, and engagement.  The follow up is the most important part of the networking, and doing this online using CRM tools can make that process easier and more organized.

These are just a few connections I found between trade shows and social media strategies.  There is a much longer list that includes; contests, incentives, and measurement.

As someone that has little experience working the set up and execution of a trade show booth, I believe there is a lot to learn from the traditional ways of marketing, and there are many common themes with new media marketing today.

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3 Responses

  1. Dan – great insight into the trade show world .. I’ve been working in the marketing department at a company that puts on tradeshows for almost a year now and finding a way to make social media work for various industries has been a challenge at times. We’ve found that the shows the promote their presence on Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn at the beginning of their campaign and establish a hashtag, in the case of Twitter, have been able to bring added value to their attendees and exhibitors. In the past contact between attendees and exhibitors was limited to on-site networking and post-show follow up, but as more of our customers learn to incorporate social media into their business they have been able to start the networking online before the show even begins and keep it going long after the event ends. I don’t think anything will ever replace the importance of “face to face” interaction, but social media really supports the constant follow up and outreach that our customers need, even though some of them don’t recognize that yet.

    • Toni,

      Thank you for the comment, this is really great insight. I agree that face to face interactions are extremely important, and even if the relationship is started online, I still think it is important to meet in person.

      I also think the added value you mentioned comes from the awareness prior to the show, like the hashtags, and the continued contact after the show.

  2. I enjoyed your article. Social media has enhanced the ability to market before, during and after trade shows… and enabled exhibitors to maximize the impact of event participation.
    If I may share… this site may be of interest… it has over 200 articles covering the “how to’s” of trade show success: http://www.trade-show-adivsor.com.

    Jules

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