Now that in-person events are once again possible, many of us are anxious to start engaging face-to-face. But you can’t just recycle your 2019 trade show marketing strategy.  Returning audiences are looking for something refreshing and more compelling.

In this blog, we’ll cover trade shows and how you can effectively cater to post-pandemic audiences with a hybrid event strategy – one that combines technological aspects with your traditional modes of outreach? A successful strategy is composed of three parts: the pre, the during, and the post. We’ll also be walking you through all of them with a little twist on how you can delight both the in-person and the online.

Post-Pandemic In-Person Events

After experiencing the hardships of the pandemic, people are feeling an insatiable appetite to go out and mingle. But they still require modern digital elements to keep them entertained.

Moving forward, in-person events that implement virtual technologies are going to become the norm and it’s important that you make sure your company is mindful of this new trend. In fact, a recent study found that 86% of B2B organizations saw a positive ROI when hosting a hybrid event. Are you utilizing a hybrid event strategy as a part of your new trade show sales and marketing plan?

Trade Shows

Trade shows are expensive and in lieu of the pandemic, studies have found that 38% of companies have a smaller trade show budget this year than prior to the pandemic. On average, booths cost anywhere from $100-$150 per square foot. Even with a company budget of $40,000, a 10×10 booth space will cost you around $14,000 just for the real estate. And this doesn’t even include the cost of your booth design, setup, shipping, travel, lodging, graphic design, production, and promotional costs.

Generating a worthwhile ROI is what got me into trade shows in the first place. After I sold my first company, the IT Group, some clients of mine asked me to come out to a trade show where they were exhibiting because they needed help enhancing their ROI. They were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, but they weren’t experiencing promising returns. During my time at this event, I had a sudden light bulb moment – this is when my idea of a hybrid trade show with pre, during, and post-digital sales was born. Keep in mind that this was 2008, amid our great recession and at a time when trade shows were struggling to generate an audience.  The strategy I ended up developing was so successful that it kickstarted the formation of my own digital sales and marketing agency, Vonazon. It’s also the same strategy that has evolved over the years. I’m going to break this down for you right now with a bit of a twist – because again our world has been uprooted and things have changed.

Trade Show Strategy

Pre Trade Show

Let’s start with your pre-trade show strategy. Here are a couple of things you should be doing long before event day:

Begin planning months before. Your company has to register for a booth many months in advance, so you have no reason to procrastinate your promotional marketing strategy. Spend some time creating a pre-trade show calendar with deadlines that will let you and your team see when certain projects should be completed. This includes your landing page, direct mail pieces, marketing collateral, emails, social posts, and so much more. Your audience is most important – who are your customers at this event, what’s their percentage of attendance, and what content or information do they need to review before, during, and after the event?  How am I going to educate them about you and your company?

Establish your “why” and set reasonable goals. Take the time to really ask yourself why you’re attending/exhibiting this specific trade show. It can be easy for a lot of companies to feel obligated to attend certain events because they know that their competitors will be there but try and figure out what you’re hoping to gain from the event. Sit down with your team and come up with some measurable, definitive goals. Are you looking to gain x amount of leads? Are you looking to generate x amount of sales? What type of engagement do you need for this event to be considered as successful? Whatever the case, come up with some solid reasons for attending.  Again, remember to think from your customer’s perspective, why are they attending and what do they need or want?

Design your booth and messaging. This is where you can get creative! The same old booth design is no longer going to interest people like it once did. Consider the hybrid approach and design a booth that is both virtual and physical. There are platforms like 6Connex.com, Hubilo, Remo Conference, and many others where you can create a completely virtual booth experience for those attendees that can’t show up in person. These sites let you showcase a 360 view of your booth, post all your brochures digitally, and connect sales reps to virtual attendees–––all online!  This strategy is being mindful of your audience that cannot attend or are not ready to attend. 

Spread the word. Promote your attendance before the event to increase booth popularity. You can achieve this through targeted and organic social media posts, Google ads, email outreach, or physical mail pieces. You should also consider creating custom content like company-branded eBooks, infograms, and case studies. These assets can be showcased on industry-related websites through contextual PPC campaigns or other sites to give users a glimpse of your industry-based specific knowledge. The key is to advertise your custom content and your trade show attendance simultaneously so that the reputation of the event and the usefulness of your asset work together to attract your audience.

Plan on integrating virtual elements: Studies have found that 38% of event organizers say that it takes more preparation time to host a hybrid event than it does an in-person or virtual event. So, you need to make sure that you give yourself enough time to plan. Meshing technological features and digital elements with in-person attendance allows your company to simultaneously cater to two audiences at once – those who are not there in person and those who are. You’ll see a huge boost in audience participation and your hard work will pay off with a dramatic increase in ROI.  Here are four things to think about when planning a hybrid event:

1) Make sure that your booth has a strong Wi-Fi connection. –– The last thing you want is not to be able to livestream your event on social media because your Wi-Fi connection is faulty. Consider having a backup connection to minimize the chances of this happening.

2) Plan on bringing multiple cameras to the event. –– You can use cameras to record a live podcast or webinar series from the event. Alternatively, you record in-person customer testimonials after attendees have seen a live demo or interacted with your product. This is going to be your opportunity to generate authentic content and gain real-time feedback, so don’t leave the camera set-up to the last minute.

3) Think about implementing virtual pieces. –– You may want to include a photo booth where attendees can take photos in front of a branded background that they can later post on their social media accounts. Or you may want to include a Virtual Reality segment that allows attendees to take a tour of your facility from the comfort of a chair. Memorable technological features like these can give you an edge up over your competition, but they require a suitable budget and lots of pre-planning.

4) Think of ways to spice up your conversation or speech. –– You may want to engage your digital audience during your in-person speech by creating live online polls or digital Q&A sessions. This way you can take questions from an online audience who’s watching from a livestream while simultaneously taking questions from your in-person audience as well. Either way, these components need to be accessed beforehand.

During the Show

If pre-trade show marketing is done correctly, then it will give you a strong foundation for what’s to come. After you’ve laid out a plan, here’s what you should consider doing during your trade show:

Work the plan. Setting up a strong pre-trade show strategy isn’t enough. You have to make sure that you execute the strategy once you’re there. There is no better way to do this than to make sure that everyone working in your booth is on the same page. Consider running through scripts with your team to make sure that they engage with attendees in a way that is aligned with your strategy.

Utilize social media. If the event has a designated hashtag, be sure to use it. You can use social media to post some of your trade show highlights as they happen, pictures of attendees at your booth, recorded speeches, workshops, and demos. You can even use features like Instagram Live to host live Q&A sessions, Twitter for live-tweeting, or LinkedIn for showing off the benefits of your booth and the features of your products and services.

Be strategic with giveaways. No matter how well you organize your attendance, not every person who stops by your booth is going to be your preferred customer – and that’s okay. The key is to access the ones that are and try and engage them even further; giveaways are a great way to do this. Prizes, gift cards, or discounts can all be giveaway incentives, and they shouldn’t be handed over to random passersby who show no interest in your products or services. Save giveaway entries for those who hand over their contact info.

Be memorable! Attendees visit multiple booths a day, and chances are, your competition will likely have a booth at the same trade show as you. So, stand out! Give attendees something to remember you by. Be creative.  In February 2020 at the NADA event, literally, days before lockdown, my team and I helped one of our customers build the largest slot machine in the world.  It was the hit of the show, everyone was talking about it. On the last day, we used the random slot machine to pick the winner of a Harley Davidson motorcycle.  Literally, the entire show, everybody including exhibitors came to watch 8 finalists pull the handle about 32 times until there was a winner.  That was memorable… You don’t have to spend a fortune like that but be creative.

Keep in mind that we live-streamed the event and used pictures/video, social, email, and much more to launch quite a few campaigns over the months to follow.

Post Show

Some people think that once a trade show is over, their work is done. But this is far from the case. The show may be over for the attendees, but the work for your sales and marketing team is just beginning.

Here are a couple of things you should do as a part of your post-trade show marketing strategy:

Follow-up promptly. Many exhibitors take too long to follow up, or they never do. So, be ahead of the game! Make personal calls to build rapport while your leads still remember you.

Connect virtually. Immediately after the event, kickstart a lead nurture campaign geared towards the prospects you gained from the event. Walk them through a series of emails that remind them of your booth, offer educational resources such as recorded speeches from the event, exciting times, or branded assets. Then, try and interest them in a phone call or demo. You should also create a separate email series for those on your list who didn’t register for the event, to show them what they missed, and to give them another opportunity to connect.

Measure your results. Remember the goals you created during the pre-trade show strategy phase? Now it’s time to see if you achieved them. Look back at your goals and use qualitative and quantitative data gathered from the event to determine your success. If you achieved or outperformed your goals, then you can look for more ways to optimize your strategy for the next event. If you underperformed, then try and determine the cause so you avoid making the same mistake in the future.

Keep a record. If you don’t have a written record of your trade show strategy, your goals, the results, and your ROI, then you won’t be able to analyze your trade show progression throughout the years. It’s crucial to keep track of all the trade shows you attended and what you gained from them. This will not only help you determine how you can optimize your strategies, but it will also help you identify which trade shows are worth attending and which aren’t.

Anyone can analyze the current environment we are living in and tell you that people are excited to start attending in-person events again. But simply having a booth at an upcoming trade show is not going to be enough to captivate a crowd who has become incredibly reliant on digital modes of communication. The best way to cater to their digitally evolved needs is by giving them the best of both worlds and targeting their interpersonal demands as well as their digital desires with a hybrid event strategy.