We’ve been to dozens of trade shows, and one thing that we always notice is the difference between companies that “get it” — and those that don’t. Companies that understand their audience’s needs and address them vs. those that can’t stop bragging about themselves. Your customers are primarily interested in how you’re going to help them, and not as much in overblown details of your company’s capabilities.
For example, in the building products space — at shows such as the International Builders’ Show or International Roofing Expo — you need to show how your product or service will help contractors complete their work on time, on budget, and with no quality concerns. (And, of course, why you’ll do it better than your competitors.)
Keeping that in mind, it’s tough to explain why B2B marketers created trade show booths at both of these shows that featured:
- Timelines about a company and/or product history that no one will read. Boring!
- Empty, nonspecific words about a company and its “great” products. Why is this relevant?
- A photo that showed how a siding product would protect your home from sharks if it was completely underwater. Really?
To avoid this sort of hazy and unfocused messaging and make sure your booth connects with your audience, here are three tips:
DO YOUR RESEARCH
If you’ve had a product in a particular market for decades and it sells fairly well, you may assume you know the customer, right? It isn't that difficult — we make it, they buy it.
That might have worked years ago, but the world has changed. Budgets are tight, and the pressure to perform — with products that save time but maintain quality — is fierce. Not only that, buyers are getting younger and more diverse, so they might not fit the cookie-cutter customer profile you’re used to. And if you don’t regularly speak with your customers and prospects, you may find yourself caught flat-footed when new products or market shifts take hold.
As customer/buyer demographics change, it’s important to update your customer personas so you better understand their motivations, how they like to get their information, and how they buy. A trade show is a great way to speak with your audience.
Here are some ways to challenge your audience assumptions and create new personas while you’re at the show and back at the office:
- Talk to your sales team: If they haven’t been given a chance to add their insights, now is the time. What do their buyers/end users want? How are they using the products? Where are competitors gaining on — or even surpassing — your flagship products? What makes your products special… or not?
- Focus groups: You can learn a lot from a well-selected group of professionals. Ask about their challenges and pain points, and where your products fit in.
- Social listening: We assume you’re monitoring your own social media platforms, which is great. But what are people saying elsewhere online? That’s where most of the conversation is taking place — negative and positive.
- Study the industry: What are the major trends right now and in the future? How are your competitors reacting?
KEEP IT SIMPLE
When you’re trying to get people to visit your booth, be simple and direct.
One booth message that stood out at a recent show was, “Failure is NOT an option,” with a large photo of a product that secures roof materials. That sort of message resonates right away with a key audience — almost as if you’re reading their mind.
The same thing goes for productivity and quality. Both are key message topics that building products audiences gravitate toward. For example, if a new roofing product can be secured with fewer fasteners, it can save time and money for contractors. When you play that up, it makes the right people take notice.
Keeping it simple means taking a headline approach. Don’t spill every last word about how outstanding your product is vs. your competition on a panel outside your booth. Instead, save that for the display area or even the brochure. On the other hand, messages that include cost-savings, efficiencies, and other reasons why your customers buy are perfect here.
One more thing: Integrate your topline messages as much as you can. This means including them in all digital and written materials, such as in-market and during-show ads, social media posts, and public relations content.
WEAR THE HAT
So now that you have them in the booth, you need to make the messaging come alive. That means putting yourself in the shoes of your customer and looking at your marketing and sales from their point of view.
What is the most relevant thing to them? Do they want to see and feel the product? How are you setting that up and making sure there are experts nearby to engage with visitors? (Hey, if their reputation is on the line because of your product, it’s the least you can do.)
If a demonstration is the best way to get across your key differentiators, do it. Depending on your booth, you may want to do the demo on a large table, or get a studio-type setup with TVs overhead. And make sure any booth giveaways or follow-up pieces reinforce your overarching theme. Now is not the time to use last year’s QR codes with outdated messaging. (If you are planning a demo event outside of the trade show, here are some tips you’ll find valuable.)
Then, of course, lead them to their next step — asking for more information, setting up a meeting, etc. Understand the customer buy cycle and nurture the prospects along the path. Decide if marketing or sales should do the nurturing (our advice: have marketing manage this until prospects have indicated that they are ready to buy). And stay in touch with relevant messages.
Remember, the show is all about your current and potential customers — not you. When you drive your marketing strategy to make it all about their needs, you’re on your way to success.
For a checklist featuring all of the steps you need to make an integrated marketing plan for a trade show check out our free Trade Show Planning Guide today!