I write this column on the heels of a successful collocated Amusement Expo and NBVA Show, and will be on my way to Las Vegas for the NAMA OneShow as this issue hits your mailbox. Many of you probably will be reading this just before, or while attending, the show -- and I do hope you all make the trip this year!
We've said it before, but it bears repeating: there's real value in an industry-specific exhibit, and the need for face-to-face interaction has never been more important. A trade show does not have to attract huge crowds to be worthwhile; what's needed is a solid core of substantial buyers who can make it meaningful for the exhibitors and attractive to industry members and newcomers who recognize the value of seeing "the state of the art" under one roof, in an atmosphere that encourages discussion.
However, the popularity of communicating "virtually" -- through email, instant messaging, LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social media channels -- continues to lead some marketers to question the role that face-to-face communications and print advertising play in building a brand. If you use all the tools available to you, a well integrated marketing plan will maximize the return on your investment.
Face-to-face engagement creates a personal connection and builds trust between a company and its target audience. A warm handshake, engaging conversation and getting to know customers and prospects individually plays an important role in forming stronger and more profitable business relationships.
Face-to-face meetings simply are more effective than virtual interactions. Increased workloads and pared-down staffs have made multi-tasking commonplace, and this makes it difficult to hold anyone's attention. How many of us have been on a conference call while also checking e-mail or signing off on paperwork and viewing a webinar, all at the same time? Virtual meetings don't facilitate the "give-and-take" often needed to make complex sales decisions. Buyers and sellers know that "face time" is critical for exercising the arts of persuasion and decision-making, and for establishing candor in a business relationship. Trade shows are gatherings of industry professionals from all over the country, including many whom you won't meet anywhere else.
There is an important place in a company's sales and marketing strategy for virtual interaction and advertising; the Internet has given us powerful methods for maintaining relationships and doing business. The secret lies in attracting interest through consistent print advertising and publicity, then methodically combining online ads, webinars and other informative virtual events, social networking and email to establish, maintain and reinforce a presence in the customer's mind.
The most common reason marketers choose virtual engagement is to save time and money. Setup costs for a webinar can be a fraction of the investment needed for a physical seminar; the proceedings can be archived for later viewing; and making the archive easily accessible online improves search engine visibility.
But first, you have to get those prospects in the door. The in-person interaction that happens at industry events helps form the bonds that establish long-lasting business relationships. Print ads are durable, credible and persistent. Virtual communication keeps dialogue going with prospects and customers. This is why smart marketers make effective use of all three.
Building integrated communications plans that marry the benefits of print and virtual marketing outreach extends the results of initial contacts and impressions made in the trade show exhibit area.
The approach is straightforward. First, send out press releases to your trade publications outlining your show plans. If you have something new to display or discuss, you can't beat a print article and photo for attracting widespread attention and encouraging prospects to visit your booth. Then publicize your attendance on your website and through online advertising. Use direct email to alert buyers, and to set appointments. Participate in LinkedIn forums to talk about the show and the industry, in general. Set up a Twitter account and promote it to attract followers, using relevant hashtags so your tweets become part of the thread.
And remember, trade shows take place at a single location and only last a few days. This environment is a powerful marketing medium that generates leads for future sales. So leverage that brief face-time interaction with print and interactive advertising plus virtual communication tools for post-event follow-up. This will help keep customers and prospects engaged.
Before embarking on any marketing program, evaluate your objectives, establish well-defined goals and metrics, and make a plan that will get the job done. That plan should combine quality face time with print and digital communication.