Taking the Stage at Trade Shows

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Trade shows are a lot like music festivals – highly anticipated events that draw thousands of fans to see top brands perform. Like a music genre, the industry subject matter attracts and unites, giving sponsors the luxury of playing to an educated, interested audience.

Targeting refined groups is nothing new – most marketing tactics do just that. But what’s special about trade shows is that brands are also live and on The Big Stage. With that power, they can communicate on a far more personal level.

Trade show data is often unclear and hard to work with, but that marrying data-driven tactics with a traditional, offline experience can lead to “a more robust” result. Clearly, the dynamics of direct, person-to-person channel create some room for positive, negative and unquantifiable results. So how can your brand create positive personal chemistry with its desired trade show audience? Undeniably the most important aspect, here are some ideas to help guide your planning:

Stay on-brand

This may seem obvious but a style guide that outlines proper uses of fonts, colors and assets cannot necessarily govern the execution of stunts or other activities designed to get attention. If, for example, your brand has earned the Sage archetype by achieving all the right media attention and the highest revenue in a category it created five years ago, tactics that could be seen as desperate or discrediting to your closest competitor could also weaken the foundation of your positioning. If it feels over-the-top, it’s probably off-brand too.So often, exhibitors weaken their brand by asking questions like “what should we do for giveaways?” In order to create a longer-lasting impression and authentic exchange using giveaways, the better questions to ask are “what would only our brand give away at this particular venue, and how does it match our public-facing brand purpose?” The same filter should apply to all planned, visible activities.

Anticipate the competition’s presence

You’ve already done the SWOT analyses and have seen the competition’s websites, videos and collateral. Your distinctions are predisposed, so design all of your visible materials to be cleaner, clearer, more cohesive and easier on the eyes than your competitors. It will make you appear more credible and help your staff stay focused as they engage visitor traffic at trade shows.

Understand the audience and venue

One of my favorite trade show projects came with one specific challenge: create an incentive for CES attendees to visit our VoIP client’s booth in a remote section of the building. Based on brand and positioning criteria, our strategy included the placement of a British guard and classic red phone booth outside the building’s main entrance where branded, authentic-looking passports were given away. Visitors that then proceeded to the booth and registered were a) allowed to test the quality of the phone service by calling anywhere in the world and b) automatically entered into a contest to win a free trip to London. Early research into the venue and mindset of the attendees, along with effective brainstorming and vetting, turned a logistical problem into a unique opportunity for engagement.

Enlist the media

For high-value press targets that see all brands on largely equal terms at the event, why not host an exclusive, off-site cocktail party or dinner after the show? The added exposure can give your brand an advantage. Design your invitation to underscore each recipient’s VIP status and send them early so the date can be reserved. For some trade shows, we have also created VIP cloth-bound, foil-stamped binders as gifts to select media members. These are designed to be easy to carry and typically include all available information about the show and fun things to do while visiting the host city.

Before and after

Once your strategy is in place, start building and expanding your list of prospects so you can send an eBlast inviting attendees to visit your booth. This is also a good time to tease your recipients across all of your communications channels about anything unusual that you are planning. Now that you have built the mailing list, follow up with your key prospects again after the event is over.For marketers seeking credibility through immediate personal connection and ongoing media recognition, the trade show format offers the ideal stage. But winning your audience over with a memorable performance starts with the art of planning. For more examples of deliverables created for trade shows, check out the work SHIFT has done in the past!

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