Tradeshows have always presented a unique opportunity for manufacturers to connect with existing and potential customers. And while COVID led companies and industry associations to attempt to duplicate the tradeshow experience virtually with varying degrees of success, physical shows are back. The carnival-like atmosphere, having all the competitors in an industry under one roof, the opportunity to have face-to-face conversations in a great city on and off the booth floor and the chance to physically interact with equipment and products remain valuable tools in your marketing toolbox and are a powerful way to connect customers with your brand.
Looking at tradeshows in a vacuum, which is an easy trap to fall into for many of the reasons just outlined, can lead many companies down the wrong path when it comes to planning and executing a successful show. What companies need to guard against is thinking of tradeshows as single, one-off events rather than as a consistent continuation of a customer’s experience with your brand. Whether it’s how you show up digitally or how you show up physically in a 40 X 40 booth, your brand is your brand. Imagine what goes through the mind of a potential customer you have been nurturing through different channels, and they can’t find your booth because it isn’t true to your brand. Or perhaps they do find your booth, and it’s not the company they were expecting? It’s like the worst experience you could have using a dating app. Are they seeing a different company? How does that impact their impression of you? Business relationships are a lot like personal relationships. The foundation of each is based on trust. Anything that threatens this foundation of trust threatens the relationship going forward. Is that a risk worth taking for a one-time event that occurs every one, two or three years?
Staying true to your brand, whether at a physical or virtual tradeshow, is as critical today as it has always been. And while virtual shows were hailed as the next big thing, we saw the same challenges in creating a consistent experience for customers, or by not putting in the time to make the best use of the opportunity. Physical or virtual, there is no substitute for relevancy, consistency and authenticity. Brands are built over time, and each brick represents an interaction. These interactions are part of the customer journey and the formation of their perception of your brand. Like brand building, a customer journey runs on a continuum, and tradeshows are just one touchpoint that should be part of a uniform, holistic experience with your organization. Shows are not different. They are additive. They are an opportunity to truly bring your brand to life and reinforce everything you stand for. And because they are so visual, it’s critical that you “Look The Part.” You should look like you, not someone else. This is how you instill confidence and trust. And this goes from choosing the color palette and messaging of your booth to your business cards, brochures, videos and digital messaging. All of it plays a role in reinforcing your brand identity—confirming who you are and what you stand for. Without this kind of consistency and attention to detail, you can look unprofessional, unprepared and unworthy of their business, which is not ideal when you are trying to gain someone’s trust.
While how you look is important, how you get there is just as important. What we mean by that is you have to think of tradeshows as a 180-day marketing campaign. Preshow and post-show are just as important as the show itself. To pull this off requires planning. As Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” A lack of preshow planning and marketing is a missed opportunity to impact sales. Your customers’ first experience with you should not be at the booth. Unlike the great movie Field of Dreams, “build it, and they will come” doesn’t apply to tradeshows. People need a reason to come see you. At a minimum, they need to know you’re going to be there. Zero post-show follow-up is also a missed opportunity. Even though it occurs after the show, it’s something you have to think of before the show.
Whether you’ve just finished a show or you’re preparing for one, we’ve put together a checklist we hope you’ll find useful. If, in fact, you have recently wrapped up a show, it might be an interesting exercise to grade yourself against these ideas and initiatives to see how you did.
In the end, showing up as you, not some brand you and your customers don’t recognize, will make all the difference. Tradeshows really do provide a unique opportunity to showcase your brand, reinforce connections with existing customers and begin relationships with new ones.
Have a great show!
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