With the economic downturn taking its toll on marketing budgets, running an effective integrated trade show marketing campaign has become more important than ever. The following suggestions—courtesy of Nicole Genarella, vice president of marketing at Elk Grove, Ill.-based 3D Exhibits—can help put you on the right track:
1. Unite the entire program with a single theme and message. "A single message and consistent marketing theme will draw your customers to you," says Genarella. Whether it is a pre-show mailer, an e-mail blast, a print ad, or a trade show exhibit itself, every element of your trade show marketing campaign should communicate a consistent image and brand message.
Even more important is unifying that image and message via a single visual theme. "Customers respond to a consistent theme," says Genarella. "The repetition helps customers understand your company and its products, and creates a level of trust that encourages business."
Genarella says if your pre-show mailer portrays your company as serious and business-focused—and the exhibit features some sort of game as a draw—customers will be confused as to who you are. "If they aren't sure who you are and what your brand stands for, it's going to be much harder to get them to engage in a business relationship," she explains.
2. Tie into your ongoing campaign. Many companies make the mistake of abandoning their existing marketing and advertising program to create something completely different for their trade shows. This can have the same effect as when your pre-show communications don't match your at-show messaging, resulting in confusion for the target audience.
Instead of starting from scratch, Genarella recommends marketers draw from and build on their established campaigns. "Building on your established campaign eases your customers into what's new and maintains your present relationship," she says.
This doesn't mean you have to be literal in your application, but it does mean that all of the pieces should fit together and support one another. Genarella gives the example of 3D Exhibits' own Everything Matters campaign, which was launched in 2007: "We continue to use Everything Matters as our overall message, but for our 2008 exhibit, we evolved and expanded the message to speak to specific areas of expertise, including creative design and comprehensive program management."
3. Integrate multiple touch points and media. Different people respond to different approaches. Some customers are more influenced by print media, others by a text message. Incorporating a variety of approaches increases your likelihood of reaching a more diverse audience.
Genarella points out putting together the right combination of elements—print, electronic, and experiential—requires knowing your audience. "Reaching your target audience means knowing if they prefer e-mail or printed invitations, which publications they read, and what type of environment they find most conducive to conducting business in," she says.
4. Interact. Trade shows give you the opportunity to get your audience to engage with your company mentally, physically, and emotionally. Genarella encourages clients to take the fullest advantage of this opportunity through interactive activities such as surveys, challenges, hands-on demonstrations, and educational presentations.
In 2008 3D Exhibits helped Accuray create an integrated exhibit experience incorporating hourly product presentations to reiterate its messaging about its new product technology. Genarella says using a live presenter who welcomed audience questions got the attendees even more engaged with the presentation, and showed how much Accuray cares about its customers' perspective.
She throws in a caveat, however: Unless you are using touch screen or a response mechanism, video alone doesn't constitute an interactive experience. "After the show you want your customer to recall the message on the 103-inch plasma screen, not just the 103-inch plasma screen," says Genarella.
5. Increase attendance with pre-show communications. Pre-show communications help drive visitors to your exhibit and increase the success of your presence at the show. Genarella recommends starting your trade show campaign with mailers or e-blasts; these should introduce key messages and compel customers to seek you out on the show floor. Promoting giveaways or touting the benefits of new products can build a sense of intrigue driving attendees to your exhibit. Room drops, entry way signage, and sponsorships can also help drive visitors to your exhibit.
3D Exhibits client Hitachi Medical Systems America leveraged an array of integrated elements, including VIP pre-show mailers and personal URLs, to let physicians know it had expanded and enhanced its product offerings. The result was an increase in qualified leads at the show and visits from physicians who had not visited the Hitachi exhibit in the past.
6. Post-show outreach continues the momentum. Post-show communications help you move the contacts you've made at the show closer to a sale. Post-show components that echo pre-show and at-show messaging help the attendee to recall the experience at the show, enabling you to build on that experience and initiate ongoing contact.
Plus, the speed and thoroughness of your follow-through will either cement the positive image you've worked so hard to achieve, or erase it. "Post-show contact defines your level of customer service and reveals whether or not your company lives up to its declared brand attributes," says Genarella.
7. Choose smart. Limited budgets mean making smart choices. Before making any cuts, Genarella says marketers need to assess which elements are going to make the largest contribution to achieving the company's goals and objectives. "A targeted integrated program with a few well-chosen elements will generate better results than just showing up—so the program is likely to pay for itself," she notes.
Genarella advises clients to consider reducing their show schedule rather than eliminate or handicap their integrated marketing campaigns. "Reallocating budget from shows that aren't as well attended by your target audience can insure that you generate the best results possible from the shows you attend," she says.