How To Out-Market Your Competitors At Trade Shows

How To Out-Market Your Competitors At Trade Shows

Integrated Systems Europe (ISE), Digital Signage Expo (DSE), the NAB Show, InfoComm, CEDIA, Digital Signage Week…it’s enough to make any marketing director’s or chief marketing officer’s head spin! After all, let’s face it: As one show closes, planning for the next one begins. It’s a never-ending cycle of early mornings, late nights, lousy lunches, happy hours, meetings and walking 25,000-plus steps per day.

As much as trade shows and conferences are the norm within the AV community, brands are still fighting to figure out how to out-market, out-brand and, in some cases, out-experience each other.

It’s amazing how often we talk with brands that spend hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of dollars to showcase their offerings, but don’t have a true marketing strategy to support all that. In order to flesh out a strategy fully, some preliminary work must be done.

I’ve worked with many brands—both big boys and small, scrappy upstarts—within the AV industry to help them find success at conferences and trade shows. Let’s discuss a framework for getting there.

Goal Setting

The first part of the framework centers on setting realistic and achievable goals. Before the conference even starts, you have to work out what you want to achieve. Do you want to generate greater exposure for your products? Maybe you want to find suppliers and build partnerships. Fully understanding your goal(s) will allow you to plan your marketing efforts at the conference more effectively.

Begin by outlining SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) that help determine which metrics and data matter and which ones are either throwaways or vanity metrics. After all, data simply being available doesn’t mean we have to use all of it.

Metrics from a marketing perspective are usually different from metrics from a sales perspective. Looking from a marketing point of view might entail capturing additional data, such as leads, contacts and total impressions. Often, however, that data ultimately leads to sales.

Customer Research

Conferences and trade shows are unique in the sense that, for the most part, you have a captive and highly aware audience. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to do your research, however; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Your customers attend trade shows for specific reasons, and they’re looking to achieve pretty narrow objectives.

Start by creating your conference avatars—the target group with which you’re seeking to engage—and spend some time in their shoes. Where are they from? Why are they there? What are they looking to leave with? What pain points do they have? Once you’ve given some thought to their wants, needs and pain points, find a way to be the solution. Position your brand as a guide that’s able to help them find success (as defined in relation to their problem).

Staying narrow will allow you to spend quality, focused time with those who matter in your quest to achieve your goals and key performance indicators (KPIs), rather than just collecting business cards.

Set A Strategy

With so many different business units taking part in any one conference—for example, representatives from marketing, sales, the c-suite, etc.—it should go without saying that having a strategy will help combat a tendency to be reactive.

Sit down with your team and focus on your marketing-related goals; then, work backward from there. It’s best to ask yourself the following questions: What materials do I need? What type of outreach has to happen before the show? What about after the show? Who is handling social media, and how are we going to participate? Do we send an email blast? If so, to whom and saying what? Do we capture content? If so, what types and how? Whose content, and when?

That litany of questions is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to strategic marketing. Naturally, for most people, it’s daunting—even overwhelming—just to think about.

When working with brands headed to a conference or trade show, we usually conduct two to three internal workshops to develop a strategy. The next step is to put together a branding-and-marketing framework for everyone to follow at the conference. After all, to achieve success, all ships must sail in the same direction. Accordingly, when the framework is finished, it’s advisable to have an all-hands meeting to discuss its content, how to use it and what to do should something go wrong (as it usually does).

Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast

Now that you’ve set proper goals, come to understand the audience you’re trying to attract and even put together a pretty robust strategy, it’s time for the true test. Who is going to execute on the framework while, at the same time, keeping up with the rigors of the conference?

Peter Drucker, the great business visionary, talked about culture eating strategy for breakfast. When translated to this scenario, that means you might have the most concrete strategy ever conceived, but, if your internal team isn’t onboard and if your organizational culture isn’t set up to nurture strategic agility, then it’s all for naught. It’ll collapse like a vintage Vegas casino comes crumbling down.

If your organization is not in a position to execute on its strategies, then an organizational shift must happen. In my experience, the better organizations are at marketing themselves, especially at conferences and trade shows, the more aligned they seem to be both inside and out.

But, then again, if your organization is fundamentally misaligned, then properly marketing yourself at a conference or trade show is the least of your worries!

“This post originally appeared in Sound & Communications Magazine 2020″.

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