TechMarketeers just returned from two days at Interop 2014 held at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. Interop is an excellent hi-tech show, well organized with a good conference program. But right now, I want to rant a bit – not about the show, but the exhibits.
There were a large number of good-to-excellent booths at Interop. Well designed exhibits with easy-to-understand messages coupled with a well-trained booth staff was the norm.
However, judging by some of the exhibits we viewed, people are throwing their marketing dollars down the proverbial drain. Let’s call it the Trade Show 101 Drain because someone in marketing is not paying attention to the basics of event marketing.
Rule 1 – Trade Shows Are Part of a Program, Not Isolated Events
A trade show is not a 1-time event that lasts for 3 days in Las Vegas (or wherever). Trade shows are (or should be) an element of a strategic marketing program or an active campaign. Shows should show current key messages and themes that are part of “the moment.” A fairly large number of exhibits at the show featured “standard” messaging (typically product oriented) that had probably been used at other shows. This is a lost opportunity for marketers to support their current campaigns and reinforce key messages. And it’s not that hard to do. Marketers should update the boilerplate company/exhibit description in the show guide, create some new signage and perhaps select a new giveaway that supports current messaging.
Another symptom that the show was treated as an isolated event is the lack of pre-show promotion and post-show follow-up that is also tailored to the campaign. The tradeshow is the central element of a program that starts months in advance with pre-show promotion, again tuned to the major campaign themes of the moment and continues with months of post-show follow-up that goes beyond getting a sales call. Show management makes the pre-registration list available to exhibitors for a purpose – so that you can promote your presence to people who plan to attend and start exposing your key messages well before the show. Judging by the number of pre-show mailers I received, very few Interop exhibitors took advantage of this. Simply listing the fact that you are exhibiting on your website is good, but very few of the attendees visit your website. Being a show sponsor is another way to get a bit more pre-show publicity from show management. However, to increase your booth effectiveness, you must give attendees a reason to put you on their ‘must see’ list before they travel to the show. A pre-show email campaign telling them what you will be showing in your booth and how it will benefit them is a great way to do this. And I mean a campaign – 2 or 3 email notices over 6 weeks before the show is a good place to start. Trade shows are definitely not ‘build it and they will come’ events – they are too noisy and cluttered. Give attendees a reason to plan on stopping by your booth.
Post-show follow-up in almost all cases was also very generic. I have received an email or phone call from everyone who scanned my badge or took my business card. All-but-one of these was a canned email with no indication that the company remembered what I was interested in when we talked in the booth and all of them were generic “can I help you with any additional information?” I agree that it is not practical to send a tailored follow-up to each attendee who stopped by. However, you should absolutely restate your key messages and themes of the show. And for those that did engage in a conversation and shared their specific needs with you, at least try to act as if you paid attention! ‘Hot’ leads deserve customized follow-up. With today’s marketing technology, this is not overly difficult.
Rule 2 – Say What You Do
I was amazed at how many exhibits did not have any visible messaging that described what the product or service being offered was along with a clear benefit for the user! Are these vendors trying to keep what they do a secret? If I could not figure out what I was looking at in 5 to 10 seconds, I moved on. With over 300 exhibits vying for my attention, I didn’t have time to waste trying to figure out if the exhibitor offered something I was interested in.
Also, please keep your messaging/signage simple. The goal of the exhibit is to attract the attendee’s attention, not to sell them your solution. That’s what the booth team does. Many of the booth backdrops and signage that I saw looked like product catalogs. Stop it! Tell me what you do and why I would be interested (a benefit!) and I will come into your booth to learn more. Signage full of product model numbers and cryptic acronyms do not catch my attention.
Rule 3 – Listen. Please Listen!!
This rule was followed more often than not, but when it wasn’t, the exhibitor lost all credibility with me in the first 15 seconds.
When an attendee enters your booth, the opening dialogue with booth personnel should be about what they are interested in, not about what you want to sell. Please do not launch into your pitch simply because I walked onto your carpet. Please do ask me what I do and what I am interested in learning. Both of us will benefit. If there is a match, I will stay and listen to your pitch. If not, neither of us will waste each other’s time. If there is a match (in other words, I am qualified), my interests and needs should be noted on the lead record. This will allow the follow-up to be a continuation of a dialogue rather than starting from scratch. Again, marketing technology is available to do this – use it.
There was one case late in the 1st day that I have to mention. It was the final hour of the day and show management had arranged a welcome reception with beverages and appetizers available on the exhibit floor. The attendees were plentiful, and the exhibitors were all there enjoying the hospitality too. In fact, in one booth they were enjoying the hospitality so much that they totally ignored the presence of an attendee who actually wanted some information – me!! There were 8 (count them, 8!!!) people in the booth wearing the sports shirt with the company logo on it and not one of them came up to me and asked how they could help. Come on people!!! Happy hours on the show floor are designed to bring attendees into the exhibit area. Let’s remember why we are at the show. (And if I wanted to start a real argument, I would make a comment about whether or not exhibitors should be allowed to bring beverages and snacks into their booth to begin with – but that’s another post!)
It’s Not All Negative Vibes!
There were a large number of good-to-excellent booths at Interop. However, it seems to me that far too many exhibitors were not paying attention to why they attend trade shows in the first place and not following the rules of good trade show marketing. Organizations spend a great deal of money on event marketing. It is up to us marketers to make sure that the money is well spent and not going down the Tradeshow 101 Drain.
One last plea – a generic “one message fits all” exhibit is a missed opportunity. An exhibit that delivers current campaign messaging tailored to the show audience is a winner.
End of rant.