Will Broadfoot, director of Footfall Events & Marketing on unlocking exhibitor potential and improving participation.
There was a time when trade show marketing wasn’t the complex beast we face today.
It was a time when hundreds of registrations could be gleaned via emails imploring prospective visitors to ‘avoid the queues’ and exhibitor referral marketing consisted of a bundle of unrequested tickets stuffed into Jiffy bags alongside a show manual that could double as the phonebook. These are certainly changing times, but not just for organisers.
Consider for a moment how your exhibitors’ business models have changed over the last five years or so. The rules of marketing engagement have undoubtedly shifted just as much for them as they have for us all. They’re working harder, smarter and with seemingly fewer hours to dedicate to preparing properly for our events.
Now, don’t get me wrong, some exhibitors absolutely get it: they complete all their catalogue entry forms, suggest VIP nominations, send over PR material, and fire off enough tweets to out-Trump the Donald. But for every super exhibitor, there are another ten that do a fraction, and some who do so little to help themselves, you wonder why they bother exhibiting at all.
Take a small but respectable trade event with 150 exhibitors. Is it really that hard to encourage them to successfully attract 20 visitors each through the doors? Well, sadly, it is pretty tough, but with a defined strategy, and 3,000 visitors at stake, it’s a challenge worth setting.
Registration companies have developed sophisticated tools to enable exhibitors to invite and monitor their target visitors while referral marketing software is now commonplace. And yet exhibitors are still often frustratingly reluctant to buy into the scheme. So what steps can we take to try to improve participation?
Perhaps the simplest check, but an easy one to overlook, is to ensure that our organiser-to-exhibitor messages are reaching the right person. Aside from the contract decision maker, we should know precisely who is responsible for marketing, who deals with PR and who will be getting the stand built. Perhaps less simple though is deciding who among the organising team should be responsible for account managing the exhibitor over the months leading up to an event.
And perhaps therein lies part of the problem: account management, and whose job is it anyway?
The ops team are busy collecting everything from risk assessments to stand plans; marketing are sending out invitations, banners and juggling a dozen vis prom campaigns; sales are focused on sponsorship, catalogue ads and filling the remaining stands; and PR are hoping to extract news, new product info and whatever else is needed.
Exhibitors have instructions, portals, offers and priorities coming out of their ears, and that’s just from the organisers. Add to this the raft of external suppliers offering everything from stand build solutions to phoney catalogue listings, and it’s no wonder they start to switch off.
But what if that exhibitor had a single point of contact whose job it was to personally prepare them for the event – would they participate more actively in the pre-show effort?
And if that individual followed a strategic plan detailing what they were sending, when and to whom, just how much more could be achieved?
I’m sure we’ve all heard this line before: ‘We don’t invite our customers to visit us at events because we don’t want them to meet our competitors’. Overcoming objections such as this isn’t impossible, but it does need to be done through actual dialogue. A single point of contact, with a build-up of trust behind them, would hopefully be well placed to get results.
An incentive or reward scheme might also help tip the balance. Free lead retrieval devices, speaker slots, post-show e-blasts, catalogue entry enhancements, even future stand discounts could be enticement enough to encourage exhibitors to embrace the programme.
Quite often though, it’s not exhibitors’ unwillingness to become involved that prevents them, it might simply be that they need help coming up with ideas or templates of what to say.
As marketers, we’re getting better and better at encouraging peer to peer referral among visitors, and I for one am a big advocate of the benefits of such tactics. But time and time again, our research shows that some of the visitor groups enjoying the highest conversion rates are those with pre-booked meetings to attend.
So shouldn’t we be doing everything possible to personally explain to our exhibitors how best to use the specialist tools we provide, to come up with ideas to help maximise their potential, and then reward those that do?