Trade 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.
Oh, Steve, you are so right on! It’s a wonder anybody sells anything anymore! I know exhibitors (no names) who measure their trade show ROI by how many catalogs they have to lug home with them! “Yeah, this was only a one box show; I’m not coming back.” Don’t get me started!
Nice blog Steve…
I have been to many trade shows and have received many promotional material…
And I have to say that most companies, especially industrial ones, love to promote features and benefits that either their customers don’t care about, or don’t understand…
If a product is targeted to a specific market (that wants or needs the product) via a specific medium (frequented by the market) with a message that the market cares about… sales will follow!
I disagree, and I do a lot of them and pay for a lot of them. Here is the problem with trade shows, the big guys that have 2 story booths typically take the first 3 rows of a show where all the traffic is. The small, new, innovative company that has something that needs to get awareness, leads etc. is placed in the back near the bathrooms or out in the parking lot. They see nowhere near the traffic of the booth of the big guys. Hence they stop comming. The attendees come to see things they don’t know exist, (things they know exist – they can get information on the web) but the little innovative guys are not there any more, so they stop coming. This creates a death spiral for the trade show which is why trade shows will eventually die off. Two reasons – no innovation so why go, and I can get most of everything I need on the Web after the kids go to bed. Sorry to tell you but trade shows are dead. I have gone from 12 a year to 4 a year. You will end up with 1 or 2 big shows in each industry and all the regional shows will die. This has already happened in the industrial space. Go check out Westec it use to be in 4 buildings now it is in one section of the L.A. convetion center.
The way to fix trade shows, is put together a point system based on revelence to the market and innovation, those that score high enough are given premium placement in the show. Interest trumps big dollars or big names. If Joe’s Tools is more innovative than Summitomo then Summitomo is in the back – we don’t care how much money they have. This will drive innovation and buzz, If you want to play, you better bring the new stuff.
Yes, I agree. It’s all about segmenting your market properly in the first place, and targeting your marketing – and the medium you use to deliver the message – to a specific niche.
Even more effective is to find out what the target market wants – and then create it for them (be it a product, service, information or whatever).
I agree. While placement in a show can effect your results, identifying your goal and executing a plan are the key. I work dozens of expos every year and the biggest problems I see are exhibitors either waiting for their “qualified” prospects to come to them with wallets open or as you say, treating the show like advertising. With few exceptions, any company can make any show into a winner. It’s all in how you approach it.