Don’t Screw Up Your Tradeshow: 3 Lessons from BAI Retail Delivery

Are you tired of tradeshows eating up your marketing budget with little to no apparent return? Do you think it’s a waste of time to have your employees manning your booth when they could be doing real work? Is your travel budget out of control? Be honest. Do you think tradeshows just suck?

I’ll be brutally honest. The problem isn’t tradeshows. The problem is you. If your entire tradeshow “strategy” is making sure that your booth is set up and that cardboard-cutout employees are positioned in the booth in case a prospect comes by, you’re right – tradeshows suck.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. I just got back from covering BAI Retail Delivery in Chicago for CU Times. While there, I was reminded of three simple ways that you can assure success at most any tradeshow.

1. Have a Plan!

That seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Have a plan. Obvious, right?

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to the sales manager at a reasonably well-known fintech company. We’ll call it Company A.

Knowing that Company A had exhibited at Retail Delivery in the past, I asked whether they’d be there this year, as well. The sales manager told me no. He said that every year, he reviewed the attendee list and sent salespeople to Retail Delivery who had prospects attending. But for the most part, the salespeople never caught up with the prospects they were looking for. So, reasoned the sales manager, why bother?

While at Retail Delivery, I found myself at a bar (Would it be better if I said it was a juice bar?) with a group that included a top salesman from Company B, a competitor of Company A. I asked the salesman from Company B whether he was having a good show. No, he said, he was having a great show.

How could that be?

The salesman explained that when he got the attendee list, he started calling prospects for appointments. By the time he got to Retail Delivery, his calendar was booked solid. He got to speak to just about everybody on his list.

Let that sink in for a minute. Company A trusted blind luck and as a result found no value in Retail Delivery. Company B had a plan – a pretty simple plan – and it paid off big time. Need I say more?

2. Engage the Media

As soon as my name was added to the media list, my inbox was flooded with invitations to speak with representatives from various companies. I spoke with people from companies you’d probably recognize, like Fiserv (for a story that hasn’t been published yet) and Malauzi Software (for a story you can read here).

Clearly I didn’t have time to talk to everyone I would’ve wanted to, but I did interview a representative from a company I’d not heard much about. It’s an online and mobile banking company called Backbase. Apparently big in Europe, they claim to have solved the omnichannel conundrum. (You can read more about Backbase here.)

What’s my point? Sure, there’s a lot of competition for the attention of every journalist at a tradeshow, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to reach out. You never know if you’ll catch some reporter’s eye. And guess what else. I saved all those emails. If I ever need a source for a particular topic, I’ll check those emails first.

3. Differentiate Yourself

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. Marketing is all about differentiation. That’s another no-brainer, but most people seem to forget about differentiation when they’re getting ready for a tradeshow.

What do I mean by differentiation? Here’s a simple example. At Retail Delivery, there was a reception in the expo hall both nights. The first night, online banking provider Q2 gave away soft pretzels in their booth. The second night, they had draught beer.

Am I trying to imply that anyone’s online banking decision would be swayed by a pretzel? Of course not. However, a month from now, if someone asked you to name an online banking provider you saw at Retail Delivery, I think there’s a decent chance you’d think of the beer and pretzel company first. That’s not bad brand reinforcement.

On the other hand, I think you can go too far with differentiation. There was another exhibitor that had a magician in its booth. He was great. In fact, he was so great, I got his business card. But he was also so great, I completely forgot the company he represented. His greatness overshadowed their message, at least for me. Oops.

Why I’m Right

Back in 1999, Las Vegas played host to the 20th annual COMDEX computer show. It was the most amazing event I ever attended. It occupied the entire Las Vegas Convention Center, the entire Sands Convention Center, all of the meeting rooms at the Las Vegas Hilton, and three gigantic temporary buildings in the convention center parking lot.

By 2004, COMDEX had vanished. What happened, and how did it happen so quickly? IMHO, the Internet happened. Exhibitors and attendees alike reasoned that there was no point in attending big tradeshows when the Web provided such a great conduit for product information. It was all right there at everyone’s fingertips, right?

Remember how video conferencing was supposed to eliminate your travel budget? Didn’t happen, did it? The same is true with tradeshows. People are finally starting to realize that there’s just no substitute for live human interaction. Tradeshows are making a comeback. It’s up to you whether they’re a smart investment or a stupid waste of money.

That is all.

#BAI #tradeshows #strategy #mediarelations #branding

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© 2015 by John F. San Filippo

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