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To Exhibit

To exhibit or not to exhibit…

Many companies and marketing managers are asking themselves whether exhibitions or trade shows should still form part of their marketing mix.

With economic pressures increasing, marketing budgets are being reduced and as a result, marketing managers are expected to pull more than just rabbits out of hats to ensure they meet their pre-determined ROI (Return on Investment) measurements.

With our marketing planning for the year underway and like most topics that require an answer at Compex, we rounded up the troops and had a bit of a creative brainstorm. It’s important at this stage to clarify exactly who the troops are, and, to ensure the outcome to this debate was fair and unbiased we included some of our clients’ insights and thoughts on this matter too.

1. Objectives, objectives, objectives!

We cannot emphasise this point enough. You have to ask questions like, why you are exhibiting at a particular show and what will success look like? Who are the visitors and what will your marketing initiatives be, to catch their attention? What are your key messages versus that of the show organisers?

Too often, we work with clients who exhibit just for the sake of exhibiting. Don’t get us wrong – we too have been guilty of this strategy when time is the enemy. Realistically, though, if this is your approach, we can tell you that you are wasting your time, effort and money and will not be getting an optimal return on your marketing spend.

We would encourage you to develop a 12-month plan that includes the trade shows where you’d like to have a presence. In all likelihood, this will mitigate the risk of being reactive towards exhibiting and create the opportunity to make strategically informed marketing decisions.

2. Leverage your presence through additional opportunities and activities:

Never just think ‘exhibition stand’- think bigger! You’re already spending money to be at the show, so you might as well make sure that you’re getting the most out of it and that you’re taking advantage of the opportunities that exist. Take time to think about leveraging these opportunities and integrating your exhibition into other marketing initiatives.

Here are just a few thought-starters:

• Take up a sponsorship property: Depending on the type of show, they often offer various sponsorship packages (ranging in cost) to exhibitors. Examples include sponsoring the conference lanyards or being the primary sponsor of the opening ceremony. You could even think about how you can showcase your products/services through a sponsorship opportunity.

• Get your CEO on the programme: Engage with the conference organisers long in advance and position your CEO or a senior manager as a potential speaker at the conference.

• Schedule private one-on-one meetings with stakeholders: Incorporate a small meeting area in your exhibition stand, or find out if the organisers have matchmaking programmes, so you can start emailing and making appointments. You may also want to enquire if the venue offers private meeting rooms. These stakeholders will most likely respect the fact that you have sent them a personal invitation to meet with them (and remember the snacks!).

• Arrange an evening event in conjunction with the conference schedule: Invite stakeholders to a private event taking the form of a cocktail party, dinner, or even a magic-hour breakfast. Again, be sure to define your reasons of hosting such an event and know what your message will be. In order for this event to be impactful, the interaction needs to be worth the attendees’ time and effort.

• Take advantage of technology and what it can do for your brand: Technology is moving at such a rapid rate and every brand can embrace this phenomenon because the information to learn, share and master is literally at our fingertips. Most trade shows will have a twitter # associated with them. Use this to reach your target audience (you don’t have to find them; they will find you if your content is well-thought-out).

3. ‘Stand’ out from the rest!

What does your stand look like and what unconscious decisions are you asking the attendee to make? Would you have personally stopped at your stand? If the answer is no, then you should not be there or you should rethink what perception you want your target audience to have about your brand.

There are various ways (with flexible pricing options) that you can use to attract more people to your stand. Instead of a standard shell scheme stand, perhaps build a custom designed stand. Something else you may want to consider is spending a little less money on your stand but ensuring a unique visitor experience, which can be remembered or better still, talked about!

4. Manning your exhibit

If you’re sending your junior intern to man your exhibit, then again, you should reconsider being at the show. Visitors will not take your company, products or services seriously if they engage with someone who is not knowledgeable about your offering.

As a rule of thumb, we suggest having a variety of personalities which includes someone from your marketing department, as well as a subject-matter expert who can deal with any technical queries. These individuals should know why your stand looks the way it does, what is the company’s chosen messaging and have a detailed breakdown as to why you are exhibiting at that particular show (and obviously what the show schedule is).

Remember (yes we know it’s a given) but even what your staff members wear on-site sends a message about your brand.

5. Think ‘Sustainability’

Look, we are under no illusion that exhibitions can and do cost a lot of money, but if you do proper planning and think about sustainability, you can stretch your wallet more than you can imagine. And subsequently, take care of our environment! Our ‘recycle, reuse, reduce’ philosophy can help you in this regard. We promise you, once you set aside some time to think about this approach, the ideas will come rolling in!

• Recycle: Do you have any ‘reusable’ materials which we can help you use on your exhibition stand? Any leftover, outdated pull-up fabric banners, office furniture, toilet rolls, etc.? Our design team are full of ideas and as mentioned we always welcome a brainstorming opportunity!

• Reuse: Instead of reinventing the wheel each time, why not think of a way to reuse your exhibition stand at other trade shows or engagement opportunities. If your key messages change, we can easily reprint that fabric banner, but still use the previous exhibition structure. We can also design a modular solution where the structure is set up slightly differently.

• Reduce: Bigger is not always better. Once again, focus your efforts and money on the stand design and attendee experience, rather than the stand size (we’re not saying that you shouldn’t go big, but this is a consideration). Perhaps build your exhibit using environmentally friendly methods (like installing LED lights). There are many options available that we can share and this can also form part of your communication and marketing activities related to the show.

6. The bigger picture

Your presence at a trade show should never be approached in isolation. Make sure you have an integrated perspective with your messaging and that you leverage your various marketing channels to enhance your presence.

For example, how can you drive traffic to your website or social media platforms and is your content exciting enough for people to share? Lastly, are you engaging your staff about what you are doing, why you are doing it and how they can get involved?

So, to exhibit…or not to exhibit was the question – we’re not Shakespeare so don’t have the answer that is necessarily right for your business. We also don’t know your business or marketing objectives. But, we do have confidence in the fact that if you take your time to investigate your options, you will come up with a trade show plan that will lay the foundation to shape this experiential and educational marketing channel.

Who knows, what you’ll be able to pull out of that hat if you follow some of our advice, and what opportunities you could give your brand to get one-to-one with customers!

After this exercise, we now understand (just a little better) what Benjamin Franklin’s meant when he said: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”. You may be wondering if we will still be exhibiting in the future, well the answer is a resounding YES.

Source : www.compex.co.za

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