Why you should attend the biggest trade show in your sector

I recently had the opportunity to attend one of the world’s biggest packaging shows (Interpack) and see first hand why it was such an important show for so many businesses.

Taking place every three years, Interpack covers all 17 halls of the Dusseldorf Messe and runs for six days, drawing over 160,000 visitors, thousands of exhibitors and the world’s trade media.

You would expect to find major equipment manufacturers selling machinery used in the packaging process, but alongside them were companies representing the dozens of packaging sub-sectors, from films, labelling, retail, paper, card, rolled aluminium, automation, logistics, distribution, food manufacturing and more.

Each of these has its own micro market with trade shows and trade media covering all areas of the world, but rather than being scared away, they elected to invest in Interpack for a number of reasons. In thinking about your own promotional plans, put the cost and time investment to one side and consider the following benefits:

1. You raise profile by swimming with bigger, more established fish and casting your net wider.

2. Attending the major show might cost more, but the media will be in attendance and looking for new product and new application stories. Greater exposure can be achieved.

3. As a smaller player, you will be able to access hitherto unaccessible customers i.e. buyers and specifiers from very large companies. allowing you to develop relationships with people that no amount of direct marketing and cold calling could hope to create.

4. You can create and develop relationships with the media, increasing the likelihood of greater exposure further down the line.

5. The real draw of the exhibition environment is in the live trial and live demonstration of product. This should not be undermined. Build this into pre-event activity and promotion.

6. Use the opportunity of a sector being under one roof to check out your competition.

7. Target major contractors you want to introduce yourself to before the show (especially useful if you are a parts supplier).

Rather than attending lots of small shows, as might be your strategy, why not consider going large and heading for where the majority of the people go, staying true to the objectives of your business, targeting the right people with the right message at the right time in the right place.

Image: Courtesy of Dusseldorf Messe via Packaging News

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Top content from SXSW 2011

Flicking through the uploads on Slideshare, it’s clear the assembled throng in Texas are getting through a lot over the last few days.

For those who might not be familiar, South by SouthWest is a creative showcase that until recently was better known the arts – film and music. More recently the technology and digital marketing crowd have come together and formed an interesting stream at the event. From pop up iPad stores to interviews with heavyweight marketing and business alumni, SXSW is now an important stop on the technology marketing circuit.

Sadly not for me, with advance tickets costing anything between $450-$750 for the five day Interactive stream alone. But here are my top three picks from the unofficial SXSW presentation channel (email subscribers and RSS readers will need to visit the blog page for this one).

First up, Christopher Carfi’s overview, in itself a great example of how you can easily add an audio track to a presentation and create a piece of branded content around something as simple as a trade show (b2b marketers take note, you don’t need a video camera and 12 hours of editing). This is a useful 9 minute introduction giving a flavour of what SXSW is all about.


A little lighter, and with useful advice for when we attend any large scale trade show, is Abby Covert’s short animated deck offering tips to noobs (for Brits read newbies) attending SXSW for the first time.


Finally, a deck from Lynne Johnson giving a useful look ahead at the latest developments in Augmented Reality (AR). It’s not just QR codes, web cams and card! But you knew that already didn’t you?


I’d love to hear from any UK marketers that made it out to SXSW and whether they thought the event was worthwhile?

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Marketing Metrics 6: Trade shows

Attending trade shows is one of the most expensive activities in a marketing plan. How do you ensure they provide return?

Trade show organisers have probably had to work harder than anyone else during the recession. The expenditure in this area is often the first thing scrapped in a marketing budget review as extravagant. This isn’t a surprise given most companies attending trade shows fail to manage their attendance properly from the outset. They are not ruthless about why they are attending and what they want to get out of the show. Going because you always have is a poor approach to marketing and business.

But done well, with appropriate consideration given to pre-event traffic generation, trade shows can be your most profitable marketing mix tool. Why? The lion’s share of your new business still comes through word of mouth, endorsement and personal selling, so it makes sense to be right in the heart of any gathering of your clients and customers.

I tackled this very issue in a recent post following my experience at the Total Packaging show in Birmingham.

From a metrics perspective, there is a lot that you can do to measure the effectiveness of attending an exhibition. Working through the following thought process throws up things to consider and the metrics to be employed to measure them. In these recessionary times, I’ve deliberately kept to the tangible lead generation focused activities.

1. Why, what, who? Start at the planning phase, and decide what you are exhibiting, why and to who? If you haven’t got a credible reason to exhibit and/or nothing new to promote, don’t.

2. Focus on ‘new’. Make a maximum of three key messages the core part of all pre-show and show communication. The rules of high impact PR apply throughout, so ‘new’ always works best and attracts the most interest. Demonstration and presentation are fantastic ways of getting ‘new’ across. This could be product, service, data or insight related. And ‘new’ doesn’t have to mean available – a measurable metric might be to take a set number of enquiries, even orders for a previewed/future product or service.

3. Calculate Total Project Cost. Price up space and stand costs, design & logistics costs, hospitality, literature, email/advertising costs, hotels, lost sales force productivity through being taken off the road and management time.

4. Apply a Cost Per Enquiry. Having a Total Project Cost will allow you to start to consider cost per enquiry and allows you to start to work out how many enquiries (and convertible orders) are required to cover the investment of attending.

5. Set enquiry/order targets. Plug in your rough order value and calculate how many orders will be needed to cover this cost and then ideally turn a profit.

6. Set specific enquiry targets. With all the previous steps completed, you’ll be able to allocate enquiry targets against the cost of attending, per product/service line exhibited, per sector and per sales rep. This gives you a minimum of four ways to set lead generation metrics, and informs what you should do next to promote your attendance at the show, to who, and by who.

7. Agree pre show marketing targets. Allocate enquiries to each element of pre-show marketing (personal sales call, invite, email, visit to site, online registration). Offer customers pre-registration. Stage an event or give a presentation within the trade show and use the sign up to this as a metric. Set up a daily blog/email summary/Twitter feed from the show and measure engagement. Twitter hashtagging is fantastic for events. Above all, set up a specific Internet landing page and employ Google Analytics to give you a thorough assessment of this. Any advertising and literature should cite all contact points.

8. The intangible. Some times it is important to attend a trade show to build or protect profile and reputation. In this instance, arrange meetings with trade publishers and editors in advance and set a metric on that, reviewable 3 months and 6 months after the show in terms of PR coverage.

This is by no means an exhaustive list but it will give your trade show planning greater clarity and focus.

Image Beacon Alliance

Making an exhibition of yourself

Trade shows are often a mystery to me. They are an expensive, time consuming and resource draining element of the annual plan but done well, can energize or re-energize a tired sales force, a disinterested distributor network, or disengaged customer base.  They offer the opportunity to demonstrate, to research and to make introductions in a safe, if artificial, environment.

I recently had occasion to attend a trade show in Birmingham, visiting a client who was exhibiting their wares and I also used it as an opportunity to research the particular sector and to talk to some of the leading players. I think more and more people are attending shows as a delegate, opting to go about their information and contract trawl in a much more clearly defined, but guerrilla, manner.

I deliberately picked the second day to maximise time with influencers and decision makers on stands (they would simply have been too busy on day one). It became quickly apparent to me that many of the exhibitors were experiencing poor levels of traffic and interest. Most were quick to bemoan the show, its organisers, their promotion methods, and the decline of UK trade shows in general. Worryingly, few accepted their role in promoting their own attendance at the show and too many stand personnel were quick to offer sweeping statements without really ascertaining who I was or what I was interested in.

Trying to spin this experience (and fourteen years of managing trade show attendance) into some positives, here is my take on getting the most from trade show attendance.

1. Establish that your target audience attends. Surprisingly obvious, but despite waning interest, how many companies (yours included) persist with certain shows in a bid to keep up appearances?

2. Agree a single and central proposition and stick to it. Lots of stands are just too cluttered. Issue based communication is the order of the day. Delegates have problems to solve so reframe your whole approach by answering ‘Who do I help and how?’

3. Agree evaluation criteria by setting benchmark objectives. Don’t be so vague as to have a simple enquiries target – cut it by product, sector, customer type, geographical market or sales rep. Be bold, you are investing big money and you need to ensure  a return.

4. Design data capture early on and ensure it can be quickly used after the event. If you can invest in barcode scanners if they are on offer. Anything else is just fiddly, time consuming and unprofessional.

5. Take space only and design a stand that reflects the importance of the market to your business. If the UK packaging sector is your number one sector, reflect it by having a corner stand open on 2-3 sides, some good height and visual branding, hospitality space and on stand promotions and Meet the Expert type events. Put it another way, why not?

6. Befriend the organisers. Like in any other walk of life, they can give you a great spot next to the seminar hall, near the entrance or near the coffee bar, advance notice and deals on showguide advertising, ad banners on the website and in promotional emails, and opportunities to join the conference program. By not creating a relationship you are reducing your ability to do this.

7. Integrate the show into your marketing and communication activities. You decided months in advance to attend the show. Tell people. Add it to your website, stationery, advertising, emails, press releases, invoices, statements etc.

8. Invite key customers & prospects and get them to network. Use your best most loyal advocates to do your selling for you. Everyone knows word of mouth and referral are the best, and easiest routes to new business. Act as the facilitator.

9. Brief your stand personnel on what to plug, how to act, and ensure they are always mindful of looking open, engaging & interested. There really is nothing worse than the two suited guys clogging the stand, talking to each other or tapping into a laptop. All those thousands of pounds flushed down the toilet as potential buyers stroll by.

10. Invite editors of the major journals to visit the stand and meet the team. Yes, it’s a tough sell, especially if PR is not one of your strong suits, but by getting editors warmed up to you as a business and what you do, it makes it easier to get releases placed in the future and can help you position yourself as an expert when they write features about the things you excel at.

Here’s to making an exhibition of yourself, in the right way.

Image Danburgmurmur Flickr stream