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Trade Shows – A Chance to Experiment

We all hear the same things about B2B trade shows: Trade shows are dying, nobody buys at these things anymore, they’re too expensive, what a hassle, etc. While consumer-oriented shows like E3 and CES are massively popular, and attract both consumers and businesses, many industrial and manufacturing shows are mere shadows of their former selves. Of course there are a few shining stars left that still hold massive sway in their specific markets, but in general attendance is way down, exhibitors are going with smaller exhibits and sending fewer representatives.

All too often B2B trade shows are viewed through a very narrow lens: Lead Generation. This focus tends to completely overshadow any other reason to be at the show, and if attendance is down then leads will be down, therefore the show will be branded as decreasing in value.

This is bad for the organizers of the show, since they’re dealing with smaller revenues from exhibitors and fewer reasons to give attendees to show up, but for the B2B marketer these shows can be the perfect little test site to conduct real-world testing on small, very focused groups of existing or potential customers.

I’m scheduled to attend three very different B2B trade shows in the next month, and for each of them we’re conducting a very specific ‘test’ effort to see what we can get out of these shows aside from just leads.

One of these efforts is centered around our social media programs, and trying to get a better feel for the kind of content that will elicit a conversation among our followers, as well as generating an increased follower base.

Another effort will determine our customers needs for product education, and what types of materials are most desirable for them to educate themselves with.

The third effort will look at what kind of joint-branding activities our customers would be willing to engage in, and how we can best provide mutually desirable results from connecting our brand with theirs.

So, for each show we’ve set a small, achievable goal. 1 – Increase social media activity, 2 – Improve our product education materials, 3 – Determine what methods of cross-branding are appealing to our customers. These goals are each significant on their own, but to get results in all three over the course of a few weeks IN ADDITION to the leads you would have received at the show anyway? Now you’ve dramatically improved the value of those shows for your company without any additional out-of-pocket expense.

Typically, the ROI for trade shows is measured according to the # of leads obtained at the show. While it certainly is an important metric, it is in no way the only tangible benefit to exhibiting at a trade show. You can also measure the amount of competitor info that you have gathered, how many people have liked/followed you in your social media efforts, how much feedback you get on your products, or even the number of media reps you speak with. Anything you do to benefit your business  and customers needs to be identified so that you can get a true evaluation on the value of your presence at the show.

Basically, what I’m getting at is to try and not view trade shows through one single lens of ‘hope we get lots of leads’, but rather to look at all the different ‘little experiments’ you can conduct while you’re there. Set forth two or three small, achievable goals for yourself that will provide a tangible result, and you’ll find that your company’s attitude toward trade shows will improve dramatically, along with the beneficial results you’re obtaining in exchange for your cost of exhibiting.