How to explain my longtime fascination with trade shows and business events? It’s because events often comprise the single largest portion of B2B marketing budgets, averaging 22%. And because, when done right, events can be the single most powerful vehicle for generating new leads and deepening existing customer relationships. In 2005, I decided to research and write Trade Show and Event Marketing: Plan, Promote, Profit, to help B2B marketers think strategically about extracting more value from their investments in business events.
But since my book came out, much has changed. The industry weathered 9/11, when everyone thought the trade show was a goner. And now with COVID-19, similar predictions abound. But to me, the major change is the new technologies that are driving increased productivity and effectiveness for events, and where B2B marketers can get even more value from their trade show dollars.
Let’s look at a few of these new tools that marketers can use to drive booth traffic, engage with customers at the event, and follow up effectively to close sales.
Intent data for prospecting
Intent data has been a hot topic in B2B prospecting for a while now, but it’s especially suited to pre-event promotion. Most events are organized around specific industries, products or functions, and conveniently, these are exactly the topics by which intent data is segmented. Mike Hamilton, a trade show marketing veteran and owner of GetSynchronicity, is a pioneer in using intent data to set appointments and drive traffic to client booths. “We use search term activity to monitor online research and buying habits of top account-based prospects, and prioritize accounts based on the resulting intent data,” says Mike. “We then reach out to the most promising accounts via IP targeting, mobile targeting, Facebook/Instagram targeting, LinkedIn targeting, re-targeting and email campaigns to ensure that our clients are meeting as many clients as possible at the show.”
Mobile, mobile everywhere
The mobile devices that power the daily lives of your customers and prospects are the ideal vehicle for reaching them before, during and after the event, whether it’s virtual or face to face. To increase response rates, try an engagement platform like those custom-built by Thece. Connected to a QR code, these web apps use gamification, polling, and every conceivable involvement device to drive visitors to your booth, register once they arrive, or follow up with qualification questions. According to CEO Zachary Rozga, once you have created your first design, it’s easily replicable for other purposes. “We find our clients come up with hundreds of ways to use the platform across their marketing efforts,” he says.
One on one meetings
The other day I was at a healthcare conference and noticed a section of the exhibit hall packed with people chatting at small tables. Meredith Sands, the organizer, said these were “partnering” rooms, enabled by the Meeting Mojo system to allow attendees to set up appointments with each other throughout the two days. What a boon, to attendees, to exhibitors and to sponsors! I was impressed at the efficiency—and the clear popularity—of this new tool. Exhibitors, encourage your organizers to offer you a similar way to squeeze every last drop out of your time at the show. UK-based Meeting Mojo has just announced a video chat option to enable one-on-one meetings at virtual conferences, too.
Lead capture, analysis and follow-up
One of the most annoying things about exhibiting at trade shows is being stuck with a crummy data capture tool provided by the show organizer. There is a better way, using mobile-enabled system from a company like iCapture. Your staff can use it on their own phones to scan badges or business cards, and send the data along to your CRM for analysis. Best of all, you can take it from show to show, and your reps can do their follow up right out of their phones. It’s intuitive, easy to integrate, and customizable. Genius.
As exciting as these new technologies are, before you dive in, take a breath and consider this advice from Glenn Diehl, trade show production expert and president of Genesis Exhibits, who reminds us: “With all these shiny new objects—the alphabet soup of VR, AR, LED screens, NFC, RFID—we have to remember what we’re about. Don’t take tech for its own sake. Use it with an eye on your lead flow, your customer engagement, your revenues, and your ROI.” Amen.