While budgets for events continue to rise, tech marketers struggle with how to show up strategically and prove tradeshow ROI

Talk of the tradeshow as a dying marketing and sales vehicle has been an ongoing conversation for years. And while growth has continued at a slower pace of late (in line with macroeconomic trends), the tradeshow industry writ large carries on.

According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), growth of the exhibition and events industry continued during the second quarter of 2019 with a year-over-year gain of 1.6% and with growth in real revenue and attendees, indicating that the industry is on track for a ninth consecutive year of growth. 

Why? Tradeshows represent the unique intersection of industry innovation and right-fit buyers, coming together in one massive convention hall (likely in Vegas, Chicago or Orlando). So for exhibitors that show up strategically to the right events and fully leverage the opportunity and spend, the tradeshow moment-in-time should make a significant impact in moving customers down the sales funnel. 

But while the industry continues to demonstrate year-over-year growth and companies are increasingly investing in event marketing, marketers still struggle with how to show up strategically and prove ROI.

And for technology companies, specifically, events are only getting bigger and more extravagant, making it even more challenging for exhibitors to gain attendee mindshare and capture value. Attendees also face rising ticket costs with badge rates upwards of $1,500 or more, especially for full access to the exhibit hall, keynotes and other specialty tracks. 

So how can tech marketers ensure they get the most value out of the 2020 tradeshow season? Here are two must do’s to recapture and even increase the value of one of marketing’s largest annual budget line items:

1. Carefully vet each event (even those you’ve exhibited at before) to determine the potential value 

Marketers must vet each event to understand the total potential value based on onsite opportunities and attendees. Just because your company snagged top booth real estate and went all out with a customer party last year, does not mean that strategy holds true for this year (if it was even strategic to begin with 🤔).

Here are a few questions to ask your team as you explore event options in 2020 and beyond:

  • Have we been to this event before? Is there a baseline for ROI measurement? Or, are we in event exploration phase?
  • What is the attendee audience? Is it a more general and broad audience (i.e. SXSW) or is it more industry-specific (i.e. vertical)? 
  • Is our competition attending? How are they showing up? Can we discern anything about their event strategy?
  • What are our business development goals for attending? Is there an expectation that priority customer meetings will get scheduled and/or that customer deals will be closed on the tradeshow floor?
  • What is managements’ expectation for what success looks like? 
  • What are the different types of exhibit, sponsorship and networking opportunities available? Is a booth required to achieve success? 
  • Does your company have hard news that aligns with the event theme that could drive buyer interest/purchase and visibility through media coverage? If not, what story are we trying to tell by attending?
  • What is the PR opportunity onsite? How is this event typically covered? Has your company engaged with media during previous events?

Asking and answering these questions will help your team with initial thought starters to brainstorm as you move into the next “must-do” phase – strategic event planning. 

2. Develop event-specific strategic plans (for each and every event!) that define business objectives and measurement of success – and hold sales reps to it

Especially for companies with a lengthy event roster, strategic planning is an area where we often see clients skimp, defaulting to autopilot mode with the same approach and tactics year-after-year. 

Don’t give in! No matter the level of investment, it’s critical to develop a plan that includes strategies, tactics and corresponding measurable metrics that can evaluate ROI. Even if it’s just a one-pager, plotting out objectives and metrics is key to setting the right expectations with executive leadership, the marketing team and for each marketing and sales representative attending. Otherwise, sales reps can flit from event to event without demonstrating if they’ve had a meaningful impact worth the value of their $$$$ exhibitor badge.

Here are a few essential buckets that should form the blueprint of your strategic event plan:

  1. Event objectives 
  2. Target audience(s) 
  3. Strategies and supporting tactics for reaching your target audience(s) before, during and after the event
  4. Event-specific key messages
  5. Baseline metrics
  6. Measurement goals
  7. Reporting structure and cadence

From a marketing standpoint, we strongly recommend that clients approach strategic planning from an integrated perspective, with pre-, during- and post-event moments-in-time defined across customer communication, media relations, content marketing and social/digital. 

Communication tactics could include some of the following: 

  • A pre-show landing page that previews what you’ll be demo’ing and includes a form field for attendees to request a meeting
  • A pre- during- and post-show blog series about event highlights and industry trends
  • Customer email nurture campaigns with CTAs to schedule demos, meetings, etc., onsite, continuing nurture streams with strategic content post-event
  • Media storytelling strategy, with show-specific messaging and announcements that highlight new products/solutions, customer momentum and partnerships
  • Paid and organic social media (including live video), using the event hashtag to participate in show-specific conversations
  • Paid digital campaigns that reach target accounts in attendance with show-specific strategic content and CTAs 
  • Content marketing pieces to leverage across channels, like blogs, playbooks, whitepapers, etc. to reach target buyers and drive website conversions

The Bottom Line 

Tradeshows and events can still have a meaningful impact for business development and should be a component of your 2020 marketing strategy. 

It’s on you as marketers and exhibitors to approach events from a more strategic perspective, grounded above all in how you will measure success. 
Want to learn more about best practices for capturing the tradeshow opportunity? This case study highlights how ARPR’s strategic and integrated approach helped one client achieve breakthrough results at their #1 industry tradeshow.  

Blair Ruth leads the ARPR cloud practice. She loves nothing more than building strategic communications plans to help clients tell their unique story to audiences who matter.

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