While some marketers mistakenly perceive trade shows as an old-fashioned lead generation tactic, savvy B2B marketers enjoy a trade show's reinvigorated ability to get them face-to-face with critical buyers, even in today's digital world.
If you have colleagues who look at seemingly old-school trade shows and think, "Why should we continue to exhibit?", the answer is because trade shows continue to provide so much value to B2B marketers – value that may be surprising at first glance.
In case you or someone from your team is feeling reluctant to pack their bags for a bustling three-day trade show, here are six reasons why trade shows bring unique value to your company.
1. Digital marketing is no picnic.
As a B2B marketer, you have a wide array of digital marketing tools to employ. But access to tools doesn't guarantee success. For example, many marketers have found social media to be hard to use for more than building awareness, lacking success at generating plentiful sales leads with it. And social media is no longer free media – it's now pay-to-play, for increasingly more pay.
That other digital marketing darling, content marketing, requires far greater effort to stand out. For example, the 500-word blog post is so last season. Successful blog posts tend to be comprehensive, well-researched articles running 1,500 to 2,000 words or more, rather than short posts outlining the basics.
Search marketing also keeps getting more difficult. Google keeps tightening the reins on its search algorithm, changing previously allowable "white hat" SEO practices into "black hat" methods that Google will ignore or, worse, penalize you for. Companies dependent on SEO for leads dread hearing about the latest algo change that may drop them off the front page of search results and drive a stake into their business.
Email can still be a successful marketing method (especially with clients and already active leads), but broad email marketing is done for, thanks to email fatigue and more sophisticated spam filters.
Exhibiting at trade shows isn't a walk in the park either. Doing trade shows right takes more effort than many realize. But getting to the promised land of digital marketing nirvana is even harder.
2. Trade shows are now infused with tech.
Trade shows are no longer just halls filled with people, furniture and temporary structures. They have evolved into hotbeds of technology. Exhibits now often include interactive booth activities that help attract, engage and retain booth visitors, and let exhibitors better wow crowds and persuade individual prospects.
For example, exhibitors can use large touchscreens for tailored, highly personalized presentations to a team of buyers. They can use social media to attract attendees to their booth, and then create an Instagrammable event in their booth to get attendees to share their company brand with their peers. Exhibitors can create activities that educate buyers about their products and services. Augmented reality and virtual reality are getting a footing with high-end exhibitors who really want to stand out.
These tech advances have helped exhibitors remain relevant to younger, "digital native" attendees who expect tech as part of their day-to-day experiences.
3. Increasing measurability proves the value of trade shows and events.
B2B marketers have struggled with the conundrum of more easily measurable digital media, versus the less easily measurable (yet intuitively higher-value) trade shows. But that dynamic is rapidly changing. With more and more companies switching from Excel spreadsheets and siloed databases to web-based CRM systems like Salesforce, exhibitors are getting better data on leads to sales conversions than ever before.
The Harvard Business Review authored a new study showing that greater use of events correlates with greater business growth. That greater trackability has helped increase trade shows' credibility: 52 percent of the Harvard survey respondents said event marketing drives more business value than other marketing channels, while only 8 percent said it drives less.
4. Trade shows tick all the boxes on marketers' goals.
Marketer have long valued trade shows for meeting three major marketing goals: building brand awareness, generating sales leads and strengthening key relationships. Exhibitors often adapt their trade show program and exhibit design to focus on the key goal they want most.
Savvy exhibitors even design their booths around activities to accommodate visitors at all phases of the buying cycle: spaces for early-phase buyers (such as group presentations), the middle phase (including product demos) and the late phase (such as conference rooms).
There are still more goals that trade shows can help marketers achieve. Exhibitors will often launch new products – especially since attendees' No. 1 goal is to see what's new. Companies can meet with industry press at the trade show, which can generate much publicity after the show is over. Marketers who have embraced account-based marketing find that trade shows get them a rare chance to actually get face-to-face with buyers from their target accounts.
5. You can grasp your industry's big picture at your industry's main show.
Trade shows are a unique occasion where everyone is all together at one time: your clients, your competitors, your channel partners and your industry experts. In this arena, you get the pulse of your industry's trends, main issues, challenges and opportunities. You'll never have a better chance to engage in conversation with your competitors than when you walk into their temporary places of business to see what they are promoting – and how potential buyers are responding to it.
Even better, as an exhibitor, you'll get a more accurate feel for the market by talking to hundreds of prospects and clients over the course of just a few days. Your booth visitors aren't just a boost to your sales pipeline; they are a continuous, face-to-face stream of market intelligence.
6. You'll get to know your own team better.
It may seem counter intuitive to fly to a trade show in order to know your own team better, but hear me out. Your booth-staffing team is pulled from a variety of disciplines: sales, marketing, engineering, customer service and top management. Instead of sitting in their cubes, isolated in their departments, they spend a few days working together, shoulder to shoulder, with team members they ordinarily wouldn't work with. They go out to dinner together to share stories and celebrate successes. Working together at the show creates new relationships that otherwise would not have happened – relationships that bear the fruit of better cooperation across departments when back at the office.
If your trade show booth staffers are from different parts of the country, you get face time with your fellow employees or channel partners you usually only interact with over the phone, chat, or email. Those tighter bonds build trust and community that leads to better communication and less turnover.
Trade shows are still a tremendously valuable arrow in your B2B marketing quiver. They help you meet your key marketing goals that drive essential business results, provide insight into the state of your industry, and strengthen relationships within and outside your company. They are worthy of your time and investment, because they will pay you back many times over.