Of the variety of traditional and digital marketing tactics available to business-to-business marketers, trade shows and conference events command the biggest share of the budget and cause the greatest concern. To learn whether exhibiting at conventional trade shows delivers marketing value, Forrester Research, together with MarketingProfs, surveyed 238 b-to-b marketers from eight different industries, including software, business services, and computer and electronics manufacturers. When it comes to trade shows, these marketers told us that they:
*Spend a lot of money on trade shows. Despite rumors to the contrary, trade show exhibitions are as popular as ever among b-to-b marketers—77% say they use trade shows as part of their marketing mix. In fact, trade shows consume the largest percentage of the budget: 21% on average. For seven- figure marketing budgets, this amounts to a few million dollars spent on trade shows alone.
*Admit attendance and general show traffic fails to deliver value. Unfortunately, the large burden trade shows place on b-to-b program budgets fails to produce quality demand, brand awareness or more effective communication with existing customers. Of those surveyed, 26% rated trade shows highly effective for creating leads and communicating with customers. In contrast, more than half of the respondents rated executive events and face-to-face meetings as highly effective for achieving the same results.
*Plan to spend more on interpersonal events than on trade shows. When asked how their spending plans will change in 2008, 54% of respondents said they would spend more on executive events and seminars while only 30% said the same for trade shows.
B-to-b marketers understand that personal interaction—between prospects and sales primarily—build trust and move the buying process forward. Yet Forrester's survey data show that they struggle to deliver the same intimate, involving experience at trade shows that they create at seminars and executive events. To make show attendance produce positive returns, b-to-b marketers need to adopt the following basic practices:
1. Use trade shows to bring qualified prospects—and loyal customers—together for personalized, one-to-one time with sales and key executives. Top marketers put trade shows at the center of sequential communication campaigns that use e-mail, direct mail and press releases to gain potential buyers' and customer attention. They create event-specific Web pages to serve for attendees searching for show information to land upon and learn about special opportunities to meet with other customers and top executives.
2. Create a differentiated trade show experience that balances raising name recognition with building dialogue and relationships. B-to-b marketers put trade show budgets to the best use when they sponsor track sessions, keynote speeches, panel discussions, hospitality suites, intermissions and lunch tables. Multiple activities give marketers ample opportunity to meet prospects without breaking the bank. Top marketers also create a series of conversation-starting scripts for small, medium and large appetites to engage visitors in meaningful conversation, not lengthy demos.
3. Use show traffic to conduct informal customer and brand research. Not every visitor who comes by the booth is a potential lead. Use booth traffic to conduct impromptu market research by asking visitors specific questions aimed at gauging brand awareness, favorable impressions and decision-making information sources.Use this research to validate key customer needs and to see whether these needs align with your message or solutions. Keep surveys short: three to five questions maximum. And reward participants with a trinket, brochure or demo as appropriate.
4. Continue after-show conversations with timely follow-up communication, offers and additional opportunities to interact. Savvy marketers make trade shows a source of excitement and activity, whether or not they are launching a new product or service. They use digital media—like video, podcasts and blog posting—to capture interactions, customer testimonial and event speakers in real time and use these vignettes, observations and interviews to bring the show to those prospects and customers who couldn't be there in person.
Laura Ramos is VP-principal analyst at Forrester Research (www.forrester.com). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.