In an article by Margit B. Weisgal, President and CEO of the Trade Show Exhibitors Association, she outlines the benefits of trade shows:
“Exhibit marketing is the most cost-effective means of reaching customers and prospects; it reduces the buying cycle; it allows you to reach hidden buyers. Most important, though, is that it can reduce the cost of a sale by as much as 75%.”
However, to attain those kinds of results, planning is essential. And that’s where many exhibitors fall short:
“Seventy-one percent of all exhibitors have no measurable goals or objectives or even a written marketing plan.”
Weisgal offers a 12-step planning process that can be very helpful for defense contractors who are actively marketing at trade shows or who are considering it.
- Define the Situation – This is the military eqiuvalant to a commander’s situation report. Who is your company? What is your product and its real benefit? Who are your competitors?
- Identify Your Target Audience(s) – This needs to go beyond just the procurement people. Think about the end users and those who can influence the purchase decsion. You probably have multiple, distinct audiences.
- Pre-participation Research – Not all shows are a good investment of your time and money. The author includes 8 questions to ask before deciding on a new show (and 5 questions you should ask for shows at which you currently exhibit).
- Set Goals and Measurable Objectives – Sales goals are not a realistic metric given the long sales cycles for most defense contractors, but other goals should be set and measured such as contact and qualified leads.
- Management Support and Input – To be effective, management needs to perceive trade show marketing as a cost rather than an investment. Don’t exhibit if you can’t get management support and input.
- Strategies and Tactics – This contains the specifics of how to achieve the goals and objectives from 4 above. Unfortunately, many exhibitors skip ’s 1-5 and start here.
- Integrate Current Advertising and Corporate Communications – Your trade show message needs to be consistent with all other corporate brand touchpoints.
- Develop Pre-Show/At-Show Promotion – After you’ve determined who you really need to see at the show, develop a promotion beforehand targeting that group to drive them to you.
- Design an Exhibit to Support Steps 1-8 – Take the perspective of the visitor whose mindset is “what’s in it for me?”
- Plan the Follow-Up Program – According to some experts, 80% of exhibitors don’t follow up on leads. By developing a follow-up program beforehand, this problem can be eliminated.
- Involve and Train Your Staff – One of the biggest challenges is getting staff to listen to vistiors before jumping into a presentation.
- Measure Results and Make Money – This invovles getting back to management, comparing results to objectives and determining if a return to that show is in order.