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5 trade show marketing mistakes

The U.S. trade show industry is BIG. In 2012, there were 10,900 trade shows that drew 27 million attendees. While the overall industry has grown 2-3% in 2014, not all shows have seen this increase. Many are not growing and/or seeing a decrease in their margin/profit.  Part of the challenge today for trade show marketers is to cost effectively attract attendees.

Traditional marketing approaches such as direct mail and email are becoming less effective due to both clutter and poor targeting.  This is evident by declining response and sign-up rates when sending communications to last year’s attendees list. Little, if any, in-depth data analysis of campaign effectiveness is done even though the show organizer has the data in their registration system. Unfortunately these systems are nothing more than repositories of registration data, and do not provide the capability to perform analytics on the campaign results of cross channel and multiple communications.

Therefore, trade show marketers are missing the boat to analyze what has not worked, and most of all what has produced the most cost effective results. To meet attendance goals, satisfy exhibitors, and increase profits; trade show marketers frequently just “send more” to make up for the decrease in registration rates. In essence, they are using last year’s registration as just a list, and not transforming it into a marketing database that allows analytics to improve their marketing campaigns. Here are 5 of the most common marketing mistakes from looking at last year’s trade show campaigns with input from Steve Juedes, President of Direct Hit Marketing in Longmont CO, a trade show marketing and analytics firm that services over 35 shows.

  1. Not creating a marketing database

The data in the registration file is only a response list.  If, in the registration process, a few other questions are asked, then they are only a few, as attendees do not want to fill out long registration forms.  The value of this data is its recency and accuracy, which is usually a problem with B2B data and lists.  That’s a good thing, and by enhancing this accurate list with other demographic data, the opportunity for profiling and segmentation is dramatically enhanced.  This leads to better targeting and future outside list selection which will undoubtedly increase registration rates.

2. Looking only at cost per impression and not cost per registration

This is the classic activity vs. result trap. Many marketers choose to judge and select their marketing communication tactic based on cost per impression or CPM.  This does not take into account the multiple contacts and media trade show marketers launch before the show. As an example, this last October I attended the DMA Annual Conference in San Diego. I received 5 brochures and multiple emails, all sent to generate one registration. I’m sure the DMA knows how much each communication cost, but do they measure how much in total was spent on me to generate one registration? Probably not! It is now incumbent for trade show marketers to measure across all communication channels to determine both the combination that worked, but also the total cost per registration.

3. Not segmenting the registration list creatively

Segmentation comes from two sources – existing knowledge of the market segments or data analysis that identifies new ways to segment. Don’t get me wrong, trade show marketers do know the general segments their show attracts, as frequently the show is organized around industry groupings. An example is the largest US trade show – ConExpo-Con/Agg convention, also referred to as the equipment show, is held in Las Vegas every two years. Logically, their campaigns are focused on potential attendees by past attendance and industry definitions. While that’s fine, it could go much further by using some creativity based on the existing registration list and data. Here are other segmentation approaches that they could consider:

  • Registration type by date and discount for early registration
  • How many attendees are from same company and/or location
  • Conference behavior such as educational seminars attended
  • Analysis by titles
  • Other demographic data from an enhanced registration list
  • Combinations of the above

A direct marketing truth – the more relevant the message the higher the response rate.

    4. Not analyzing the results of cross channel communications

As mentioned in number 2 above, most trade shows calculate cost per impression of the outbound communications as the primary criteria for media selection. Therefore, we see a continual shift to lower cost digital and e-mail communications. Unfortunately, this misses the real issue, as unless a cross-channel attribution model is built, the actual cost per registration is not tracked or known. Two significant results from 30 trade shows held in 2014 that Direct Hit Marketing has analyzed found:

  • Multi-channel and multi-touch communication produced a most cost effective registration vs. only e-mail.
  • Direct mail outperformed e-mail by a 3 to 1 in verified registrations and related revenue. Direct mail, as a single direct channel, has been more effective than an e-mail only approach.

In other words, cost per impression is the wrong criteria for media selection.

     5. Not up-selling educational events to increase value per registration

Many shows offer educational seminars for an extra fee, and can produce very significant incremental revenue.  While there is a focus on the educational content in the initial communications and brochures, marketers are often missing the opportunity to dynamically up-sell upon an individual’s registration. Two recommendations are:

  • Quickly follow up in the confirmation a special offer for the seminars – discount, two for one, etc.
  • Determine if more than one person per company is attending, and offer a company discount to the most senior title, communicated by a capable telemarketer.

In essence, don’t stop selling when the individual registers!

While there are more than 5 mistakes, start with these and pocket the profit!

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