Leveraging Exhibitor Networks To Drive Trade Show Attendance

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By Michelle Bruno

According to the Dallas, Texas-based Center For Exhibition Industry’s (CEIR) latest “Cost To Attract Attendees Report,” the top tactics to drive trade show attendance in 2016 include an array of tried-and-true channels. In order of effectiveness, the list includes email, exhibiting at other exhibitions, direct mail, search marketing, telemarketing, social media, trade for free listings and advertising, and complementary exhibitor tickets. The grouping remains mostly unchanged from 2013.

The Limits Of Marketing And Advertising

The full list of tactics, which also includes social media (a tactic on the rise), search marketing and television ads (the least effective), is striking in one respect. With few exceptions, the targets for these tactics fall into only two camps: qualified known (the organizer has contact information and a presumption that the prospect is qualified) and unqualified unknown (the organizer has no contact information and less of an inkling about the prospect’s qualification). There is a third group that, as evidenced by the CEIR report, organizers aren’t going after yet to drive trade show attendance—qualified unknowns.

Another Way To Acquire Attendees

Exhibition marketers address the qualified known group of attendee prospects with marketing campaigns, such as email and direct mail. They attempt to attract the unqualified unknown group through advertising. There is, however, another channel that organizers can access to reach the qualified unknowns—the exhibitor. Exhibitors can more easily reach individuals (their prospects and customers) who are pre-qualified as attendees and whose identities are unknown to the organizer.

When exhibitors are motivated (i.e. they’ve moved past the tired argument that bringing in their own prospects and customers runs the risk of benefitting their competitors) and they have the tools, they can be powerful attendee-acquisition machines. Luckily, motivation improves when the tools become easier to operate and access. There are a couple of ways that organizers can position themselves to tap into the exhibitor channel:  

Digital and print asset distribution: A more traditional approach that organizers can take is to provide exhibitors with pre-designed email invitations. Third party service providers, such as Exhibitor Invites, distribute the invitations without sharing exhibitor contact lists with show producers. Other offerings from firms in this category include web banners, digital show logos and printed postcards that exhibitors can use to promote the show.

Referral-marketing tools: New social technology being introduced by Gleanin allows exhibit staff to view which of their LinkedIn connections are registered for the show (as well as who likes and follows their brand) and extend invitations to those who have not yet registered. It helps exhibitors manage their own direct, person-to-person referral campaigns, while helping organizers drive trade show attendance.

Exhibitor appointment-setting tools: While there are exhibitor-attendee appointment-setting platforms available for organizers to implement at trade shows, they only facilitate connections between exhibitors and confirmed attendees. Jifflenow allows exhibit sales staff to schedule meetings with prospects and customers during the show from within their customer relationship management (CRM) platforms like Salesforce. Although these are tools that exhibitors must purchase and deploy on their own, organizers can support such efforts in any number of ways.

Benefits Of The Exhibitor Channel

The objective of all attendee-acquisition campaigns is to bring the highest number of pre-qualified attendees into the exhibition for the lowest cost. Supporting exhibitors with a strategy and tools to help them reach out to their current base of prospects and buyers—often a more qualified and motivated attendee—benefits show organizers and shifts some of the costs of acquisition to the exhibitor. Working with exhibitors can help organizers drive trade show attendance by tapping into new attendee categories and companies and obtaining new contact data to boost their attendee-marketing lists going forward. 

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