Booth invitations—the medium matters

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.

In an earlier blog post, I talked about how important it is to target your pre-show marketing to the few hundred or few thousand people—both customers and prospective customers— that matter most to your success. But how do you do that, once you have identified your target audience and customized a message that talks directly to them?

The medium matters.

When I say medium, I am referring the actual marketing piece that is carrying your carefully crafted message. Is it an eblast? Is it a postcard? Is it something more exotic?

I’m not going to talk much about eblasts, mainly because everyone does them, and because there are so many issues that can derail or dilute their effectiveness. They can be caught by the recipient’s spam filter and never get a chance to do their job. Even if they make it into the inbox, the email program may block any active content or the awesome graphics your artist worked so hard to create. Some of them get through, and some are actually read by the recipient, and this may well be worth the time and expense. Like an ad in a magazine, they are a way to get a general message in front of a lot of people. We approach every eblast on a case by case basis.

I should probably add that I’m not talking about targeted emails here—we consider them to be something quite different from an eblast. By its nature, an eblast is general and “blasts” out to a large list. A targeted email goes to one person at a time, or to a small group of people. And these are generally people who are used to getting an email from you and are likely to read your message.

But there is an “old school” message-delivery system that we still like here at Ellcom—Direct Mail (DM.) A DM piece can be crafted to stand out from all the other physical mail a prospect gets. Maybe by the creative use of shapes or colors or copy you can stand out from the crowd. Or perhaps you can include a small promotional item, or send an invitation in the same format as a birthday or holiday card—those almost always get opened! DM is not always appropriate—but it is another option to consider when sending to a relatively small, targeted group of recipients.

And finally, you may consider actual phone calls to invite a few dozen or even a few hundred special customers or prospects. Either the salesperson for an area or a marketing person may make these simple calls—the fact is that most of the calls will likely roll to voicemail, where you can leave a brief, warm invitation to a special event you are hosting, or perhaps just an invitation to see your new equipment at your booth. This is an unusually personal touch that can help your message stand out from all the background static that surrounds a major tradeshow.

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.