Scratching_headTrade shows get a bad rap. For that matter, pretty much all marketing tools get a bad rap.

I just returned from the 2011 AAPEX event in Las Vegas. AAPEX represents the automotive aftermarket industry and is one of the largest exhibitions in North America, ranked something like 32nd. It's also co-located with the even bigger SEMA show that showcases the specialty equipment market for auto enthusiasts.

A very common complaint from exhibitors at trade shows and trade fairs in all industries around the world is their inability to measure a return-on-investment.

To be sure, exhibiting at trade shows is EXPENSIVE. Regardless of whether the investment in money, time, and mental anguish is for a small 10×10 booth or one of those two-story mega-exhibits with a restaurant and bowling alley, that investment is significant to that company. (And sorry, trade show industry trainers, pundits, and associations – trade shows DO cost…a lot.)

But even so, trade shows and other marketing tools get a bad rap. Why? Because, in most cases, failure to realize a fair ROI is the fault of the company, not the marketing medium. 

This scenario actually happened to me last week at AAPEX and countless other trade shows over the last 25 years. Walking the floor, I stop and talk with one company's senior marketing executive who raves about what an awesome event it is and how their booth has been steadily visited by the exact right buyers they came to see. He is ecstatic. I walk across the aisle to one of their competitors and hear the exact opposite. THEY'RE having a terrible show. It's the SHOW'S fault for not bringing enough of the right attendees. 

And it's not just trade shows I hear this about.

Direct mail is dead because nobody opens their mail anymore.

Telemarketing is dead because of the Do-Not-Call list.

Email is dead because we all get too much and it's all seen as spam.

Video marketing is dead because nobody's going to watch anything over three minutes anymore.

Long-form direct response advertising is dead because nobody's going to read all that copy.

Pick any marketing tool and you'll hear plenty of loud complaints.

BUT, study every marketing tool and you will find example after example of people and companies who succeed with each one. Why? Because the fact is every marketing tool works…when you know how to use it.

Does this mean every marketing medium will work for every company? Of course not. But it's Marketing 101 to determine the answers to simple questions. Who is your market? What media do they use, read, watch, attend, or participate in? What message can you develop that matches the needs of that market?

I believe (and I don't think I'm alone) that marketing is a tool for developing in-bound communications. Good marketing gets the targets to raise their hands and show interest. Good marketing helps your targets to identify themselves and respond, culling out those who don't fit your profile. Peter Drucker went so far as to say, "The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous." I would dare say it also makes advertising superfluous.

Advertising is not marketing. Companies tend to get these confused. Advertising is out-bound. It sends messages out with some hope that something will stick and create results. The problem is that advertising is almost impossible to measure. Oh sure, we can measure what's going OUT. We measure advertising effectiveness via audience size, impressions, viewers, readers, website stats, total attendance, etc. We pat ourselves on the back because we've increased "awareness." But as I stressed in my September 12 blog, I've never cashed a check on awareness. 

On the flip side, marketing MUST be measurable. And being in-bound, this measurement can and should be meaningful and specific. We KNOW who is raising their hand. We KNOW who is responding and what they are responding to. Marketing connects the dots between a medium and ROI.

So when I have a conversation with a company who raves about meaningful and specific results, I think they've used that medium as an in-bound marketing tool. When I talk with a company targeting the exact same prospects and who complains about lack of ROI, then I think they are probably approaching this as an advertising vehicle. Unfortunately, I hear a lot of complaints.

Maybe that's why so many companies have trouble with marketing.