Manufacturing marketers have a long tradition of attending trade shows. Larger companies use these shows to build their brand and maintain their superior market position. But are in-person trade show events still cost effective for small- to medium-sized manufacturing companies in today’s digital age?

Providing travel, housing and meal reimbursements for employees, in addition to the cost of signage and shipping of demonstrations and exhibits for the booth can add up to a high cost per lead. It’s incumbent on the marketing manager to ensure that these particular leads will be qualified and worth the expense.

Why Trade Shows?

Trade show exhibits are a no-commitment way for prospects to learn about your products as they wander anonymously through the trade show exhibition floor, collecting brochures and business cards from a wide range of possible suppliers.

If potential customers see something promising, they can “raise a hand” and immediately plug in to your sales and marketing system. At that point, they have the chance for high-value one-on-one time with your staff – the ultimate human “touch” that can propel the prospect at warp speed through the sales funnel.

Appeal to the Senses!

More than just an eye-catching design and color scheme, your trade show presence can engage all five senses – sight, hearing, touch, and even taste and smell, when appropriate.

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, a hands-on demonstration must be worth 100,000 words. Many engineers, especially, think in three dimensions. Just like taste testers in the grocery store use the sense of smell and taste to lure customers, allowing a prospective customer to “touch the dials” at a trade show exhibit teaches them so much more than just words could say.

According to a survey published by LinkedIn, 31% of buyers rate demonstrations in their top three preferences for sales content, second only after information on a product’s features and functions.

Letting a prospect see how your product works in real life, from a 360 degree perspective, helps them see for themselves whether it could work in their specific situation. They will get answers to questions such as:

  • Will the product fit into the available space – in all dimensions?
  • Does the product require additional materials or other accessories in order to use it or perform necessary tasks?
  • What kind of preparation work is required to begin using the product?
  • Can the product be altered to meet individual specifications?
  • How long will it take to perform a task using this product?

Trade Show Best Practices

Follow best practices for trade show marketing, including …

  • Plan well ahead, even up to a year before the show, in order to coordinate with your overall business marketing plans.
  • Relate every aspect of your trade show participation, including the booth, handouts and workshop presentations to measurable business goals, such as number of qualified leads, email subscribers, etc. 
  • Send a range of personnel, from marketers to sales reps to sales engineers, so that prospects at different stages in the buyer’s journey can receive the right attention and information.

Choosing Your Venue

Be sure to consider all the different audiences for your product when narrowing the list of trade shows where you will choose to exhibit. Study exhibitor lists and any demographic information provided by the show’s host from previous years, but don’t stop there.

Demographics, such as age, gender, marital status, etc., don’t mean nearly as much to your marketing efforts as buyer personas. Buyer personas are developed by surveying the actual buyers of your products to determine the factors that contributed to their buying decision, as well as their ultimate satisfaction with the products.

With one or more buyer personas identified, selecting the most appropriate trade shows for your business should be much easier.

Get Involved

Become a Gold, Silver or Platinum sponsor for the conference and gain additional promotional space on the website, in the printed program and at the show.

In the areas where you project the largest clientele, become involved in the pre-planning of the show. Volunteer your subject matter experts to serve as organizers, on panel discussions and workshop leaders.

For additional qualification of prospects, offer workshops designed to solve the problems of those most in need of your product or service. These provide a platform to subject matter experts at your company, with the double benefit of positioning them as experts, which buyers respond to favorably, and providing the human touch which is so important in moving prospects toward a buying decision.

For more information about Trade Show & Workshop Marketing, contact Jim Gribble at Marketing for Manufacturers.