Uber does not own taxis and yet they have revolutionised taxi services. Airbnb doesn’t own a hotel but millions of us look to their site first when we plan accommodation for our holidays and business travel.
New businesses like Eve Sleep, Simba and Casper are applying tech and marketing skills to the business of buying mattresses. They can deliver them to your door just like pizza or some other fast food option that outfits like Deliveroo specialise in.
Gamechangers: Add to the list Amazon, Tesla, Crypto money, online estate agency…
There have been some massive changes in many traditional markets. From bed-buying to travel and of course in retail.
Amazon has shifted whole populations into nations of online buyers. Many of us now buy our books, groceries, clothes, holidays and experiences online. And of course, not just from Amazon but from a multitude of online businesses that now serve us.
Looking back to my own teen years, scarily a long way back now, whole industries like personal computers (that’s what they were first called), mobile phones, coffee chains and online publishing, didn’t even exist. Hooray for 2018 my kids say!
What’s changed with exhibitions?
In many ways, trade shows today look very similar to those of the 1980’s when I first started working as an exhibition organiser.
True, there weren’t any digital screens on stands back then and a lot less “technology.” Structurally though, they looked a lot like many of their 2018 counterparts do now.
But, there has been one big change and it’s still taking place. I’m talking about the move to make trade exhibitions feel more like consumer shows.
The rise and importance of “experience”
Why is this happening? Because we are now harder to impress and therefore to attract to a run of the mill exhibition.
Personal technology has upped the stakes when it comes to experience in our lives.
We have all got accustomed to great graphics on our video games. We can have amazing sound quality when we play our music whether that’s in our homes, our cars or headphones.
Add to that the excitement and fun many enjoy at the events and festivals they attend outside of their day jobs and you can see why it’s getting tougher to provide a wow factor at exhibitions. Which is why some events (see Further Reading) are radically changing the format for their trade events.
Has your trade show marketing model changed?
You could argue that so far, there has been no Uber-style game changer for the event industry.
Well, all-digital events do exist and although it could be argued that they are convenient, they as yet, don’t match-up to the buzz that comes from live interactions with real people and …robots. Which is why they haven’t yet taken off.
And it could be said that exhibiting now is pretty much just the same as back in the 80’s. You book your space, grab your stand, turn up and meet people. True. But there are things that tech enables you to do now that couldn’t be done as efficiently back then and I would argue, they can transform how you approach shows and the results that you obtain from them.
1. Build relationships in advance of the show
In the old days, we produced product-led direct mail to alert prospective clients to our presence. We focused on the features and benefits of what we offered. We didn’t tell people too much if anything about our process to deliver the best widget and why we were the most qualified, most skilled, best able to deliver business in the market.
But you can do this, in fact, to be successful, you will have to do this.
Back then marketing channels were not fragmented like they are now. Alternatively, you could say, marketing channels were not as targeted as they are now.
You can build affinity with your market through social media, SEO plus articles and stories that illustrate your values and the way your business does things. This is the basis of content marketing, a natural ally of experience marketing. Content marketing lays the foundation for what people can expect when they “experience” your brand.
Approach your trade show marketing from the viewpoint of starting a lifelong association with your brand and you can use these tools to engage audience interest long before you ever reach the show venue.
2. Use your stand and team to deliver a great visitor experience
Your stand at an exhibition will be many for many buyers, their first experience of your business. Your stand and the people working on it are your brand ambassadors to the world during the open days of the show. So focus on the experience that you want to deliver to your stand visitors and make it great.
See the ideal experience in your mind, then make it happen. Get your stand story straight. Shout it out on your graphics or on digital screens. Bring a team together that can deliver your sales message positively and memorably.
If you’ve seen the movie “The Founder” you’ll know how the McDonalds brothers created a whole new way of buying hamburgers. Then they met Ray Kroc….
Could virtual reality work for your business in a show environment? It’s brilliant for training simulations. What about touch screens that provide visitors with in-depth access to your products? Or interactive tables, or augmented reality displays. Your choices for deeper engagement with your audience are growing all the time.
3. Embrace measurability
It’s an exciting time to be in sales and to be an exhibitor. Digital makes things measurable and that applies to trade show participation too. It’s never been easier to evaluate your exhibiting results. Off-the-shelf lead recording devices abound as does the software that enables you to sort and sift your leads and to input them into your database with ease.
Build your target attendance profile before you book your stands. See how individual shows deliver on your key buying sectors, then book your events. Don’t do it the other way around.
If you are still using individual spreadsheets to hold leads, think seriously about whether this really is the best way to hold vital sales data for your business. Data is knowledge and a power for good in your company regardless of the problems at Facebook.
4. Speed-up your sales process
If you are new to exhibiting you will come to love the speediness advantage that shows deliver. For a start, they can take huge chunks out of the buying process and move your business from unknown to loved ASAP as described here.
What else could you speed-up?
- Knowledge delivery: How can your stand team impart the most information about what you do in the shortest possible time? How can tech products support them in doing this?
- The number of sales appointments held each year? Hold some important meeting on your stand. Book follow-up appointments with visitors from your stand. Mobile phone and diaries are combined so you don’t have to go through a PA to get things organised (like we did)
- The delivery of samples: Have them on your stand if portable or, ready to send same day while you are at the show. 3D printers will enable you to create personalised samples there and then (give or take production time)
- Market research: Incorporate short research questions into your visitor meeting and greeting. Record answers onto your digital lead capture devices
- List building: Shows are brilliant for this as already stated. And you can have your data in a format that will load easily into your CRM
- Your post-show follow-up time. Speed this up and deliver accurate, as requested information and you will surprise and enthuse your stand visitors
5. Match your stand display to your ambition
There has never been more choice or flexibility when it comes to finding professional displays for stands. Small stand exhibitors and those on shell schemes, no longer have to look like the poor relations when compared to their bigger neighbours.
Seamless graphics, digital screens, and props abound and all can you help you stand out to the people you most want to be doing business with. If you have been wheeling out the same old display for the past few years, think and decide whether that’s the right approach to help you make massive sales gains. It probably isn’t.
Innovation keeps us moving forward. Innovation can lead to game-changing products, services, and breakthroughs. What can you learn and apply from those pizza and mattress delivery models to your exhibiting and sales processes? I would be very keen to know and write about your discoveries.
One thing’s for sure. If you don’t ask yourself that question, the answer will be nothing and that would definitely be a missed opportunity.