Make the most of your pre-show marketing

Jenny Ellenbecker is the Tradeshow Manager for Ellenbecker Communications. She has planned and executed tradeshow strategies for clients for over a decade, including for some of the biggest expos in the mining, construction and oil and gas industries.

As we’ve said before on this blog, you just don’t throw a party and then forget to invite anyone. But that’s what you have done, in effect, if you don’t aggressively market your presence at a tradeshow in the months leading up to it.

Many reports have shown that most attendees know well in advance of the opening ceremony just which booths they will visit. Therefore, setting up a booth—no matter how attractive—and just hoping that someone strolls by and decides to drop in is simply not a viable strategy. And this is even more critical as corporate budgets are cut at the same time that tradeshows costs continue to climb!

Here at Ellcom, we have a lot of tradeshows on the horizon that serve important industries for our clients’ diverse product lines. Power-Gen, NGWA, the ARA show, CONEXPO-CON/AGG, OTC…

And pre-show marketing is a big part of our planning for each and every one of these shows.

Of course, there are a lot of tools you can use to reach your audience. Advertising plays a part, as does participation in some of the marketing plans sponsored by the various organizations putting on these shows. Then there are invitations of one sort or another—and other familiar methods.

We’ve noticed a trend in pre-show marketing that we find troubling. I call it the “spamification effect.” What I mean is that budget-cutting is leading many companies to turn to massive eblast campaigns as their primary pre-show marketing tool. For a few hundred or a few thousand dollars, you can send an emailed invitation out to tens of thousands of potential attendees. Bam! Mission accomplished, right?

I’m not so sure.

Of course, these campaigns have their place as a mass-marketing announcement of your presence, just as paid ads do. But the question I always ask is, “Are they really targeting the people you most want to see walk in your booth?”

As any salesman will tell you, a lead is not the same as a qualified lead. And we strongly suggest that our clients focus on targeting their pre-show marketing as much as possible to the hundred or few hundred or few thousand people who are the most important to their success. That includes current customers and your top prospects for new customers.

Your salesmen know who those people are; get their addresses and email addresses and make sure that these key people receive a targeted invitation to your booth. Make sure that your eblast or postcard or other direct mail piece is customized to appeal to a group or sub-group that these people belong to. You likely have several such groups that these key contacts can be sorted into into—customize a separate message for each of these different groups.

Make sure that the message is something they will care about. We all react more favorably to a message that speaks to us, our specific interests, than to a general message that we know is going to all ten or twenty thousand attendees.

And in an upcoming blog post, I’ll talk a little more about the actual media you may choose to use to accomplish your pre-show marketing goals.