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From Trade Show to the Digital World – 10 Things You Should Know

Choose Local! Guest Blog written by Heather Watson, Creative Director of acorn30

The COVID-19 pandemic has made all business owners re-think how they do business. Whether it’s shifting production lines to manufacture PPE and Hand Sanitizer or creating an eCommerce store to sell products online – it’s been shapeshifting for many.

As we’ve been working to find ways to adapt to doing business in a safe manner, one area that still needs to be figured out are Trade Shows. In 2020, numerous trade shows and conferences were postponed or cancelled for the year. Plans had been too far along for many show organizers to be able to shift from in-person to online events; these things take one to two years to plan and it’s difficult to turn on a dime. Show organizers with a bit more run up time were able to shift to online events. 

These online trade shows and conferences have had mixed reviews. In one case, the barrier to entry is low. Both vendors and delegates can participate remotely thus making the often hefty travel expense budget non-existent. It allowed for people to attend who may never have attended an in-person version, thus opening up new opportunities for networking and generating leads.

On the other hand, as more of our daily lives are centered around video calls it quickly became apparent that trade show and conference delegates are ‘zoomed out’. Holding their attention during sessions has become increasingly difficult. As well, due to the fact that they can easily pop in and out of sessions remotely and the investment to attend is generally low, delegates are cherry-picking how they attend shows. They choose a couple key presentations or events within the agenda and fade away. “Exit through the Trade Show Floor” is no longer an option – thus making it near impossible for vendors to actually have any meaningful interactions.

Trade Shows have played a critical role in getting the word out about your products and services, generating leads, meeting with customers and closing new business. It’s no wonder that they play a significant role in marketing activities for many businesses. When so many businesses rely on vendor space at trade shows and the fate of many in-person trade show events is still unknown in 2021, how do businesses replace trade shows? 

Here are 10 Ways to Adapt 

1. Create a Virtual Exhibit

Not all is lost for trade shows. Many organizers are still producing online versions and the costs are more affordable than ever. If you were budgeting to be a vendor at a particular show it’s quite possible there’s an online version. Create some videos that show product demos, feature some of your employees and customer testimonials. The best part is that you can use the video in other presentations to prospects.

2. Maximize Past Trade Show Leads

We all do it, come back from a show with a mega list of possible contacts. The follow up begins with the hottest leads and as time goes on, the other leads begin to fall further and further to the bottom. There’s no reason to NOT reach out to those contacts – even if you first met a year ago. The key is to reach out and offer something of value; be humble in your initial outreach, reference where you first met and let them know that you’re just touching base to see how things are going. 

3. Connect With Other Exhibitors

Exhibitor lists are usually published on the show organizer website; spend some time and do some research to see who you can connect with.  Explore ways you can work together strategically to help each other out. 

4. Join Networking Groups

Many organizations like your local Chamber of Commerce, Board of Trade or Association have now figured out how to hold Covid-safe networking events. Consider diverting some of your resources from trade show marketing to memberships with these organizations and make the time to attend as many sessions as possible.

5. Review and Audit your Website

Even if you built a brand new website a year ago, there’s information that may need to be updated. Have you made it easy for visitors to determine your hours and how to get in touch? Are your Covid-protocols easy to find? Many customers out there want to do business but they need to know how they can do business with you now. Other aspects to look at on your site:

How is your SEO? Both on and off your website, it needs to perform well so people can find you when they’re searching online.

How current is your blog? Do you have a content strategy that helps with search and helps your customers solve problems?

Are there conversion opportunities on your site? A conversion opportunity is a simple call to action that helps visitors take the next step such as ‘get in touch’ or ‘request a demo’. It’s good practice to have at least one on every page of your site.

6. Keep Your Social Channels Updated

Whether it’s Google My Business, Facebook, LinkedIn or any other platform, it’s important to let your prospective customers know you’re still in business. Develop content that is current so people know how to get in touch and what products and services you’re offering. Provide customer service resources for maintenance, repairs or warranties. 

7. Call, Email Repeat

If you’re trying to make sales calls, you’ve no doubt experienced how mixed up auto attendants are these days. With so many people working from home, it’s near impossible to reach somebody by telephone. When you phone somebody and get their voicemail leave a message and in that message tell them you’ll email them too. Then email them and tell them you’re following up your voicemail. Better yet, consider sending video voice messages in email. [see next point]

8. Use Video 

On your website, on your social media and yes, in your email messages. Help your prospective customers ‘put a face to the name’ by embedding short video messages in your emails. Like any voice message, your videos should be short and to the point. Don’t obsess over the production value. Other ways to use video:

  • Customer Service How-Tos
  • Product demos/unboxing
  • Customer Testimonials
  • Employee ‘About Us’ Bios
  • Facility Tours

9. Leverage Your Customer Database

Your existing customer database is a great place to look for leads and generate new sales. Spend some time understanding the different customer types your customers fall in to and assign them to a Buyer Persona. Look for ways to engage with them either through marketing automation/workflows or simply 1:1 in a way that caters to their needs. If you’ve not yet explored an online ad strategy, this might be a good time to begin. Start with a campaign that specifically targets your current customers and perhaps lookalike audiences.

10. Ask for Referrals and Testimonials

As you work through your database of customers, identify those who you ought to connect with to ask for referrals and testimonials (Hint: All of Them!) and reach out.

It’s not hard to find new ways to connect with prospects if you’re on the lookout for opportunities. Just because trade shows have been cancelled or moved online doesn’t mean you can’t generate leads. If you need help finding ways to connect, reach out for a free consultation.

BY: HEATHER WATSON, CREATIVE DIRECTOR OF ACORN30

As a Creative Director at acorn30, Heather Watson’s primary role is developing marketing strategies to help align sales and marketing efforts. Heather has a lifelong career in marketing, starting at 15 working for a market research firm as an after-school job. She went on to attend college and graduated from Marketing and Human Resources Management. Her experience started with traditional marketing with a focus on public relations and copywriting and has evolved to the marketing technology and automation that is used today.