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SPIE Professional April 2010

Marketing at Optics Trade Shows

The hard work of being a trade-show exhibitor is getting the best prospects to visit your booth.

By Ruth P. Stevens

If you exhibit at trade shows as part of your business-to-business marketing strategy, you're in good company. About 18% to 25% of the typical B-to-B marketing budget goes to trade shows.

Direct marketing can play an important part in your success in exhibition marketing. Using direct marketing to promote your attendance in advance of the show can double, triple, even quadruple the results of your overall trade show investment.

Trade show marketers often get so preoccupied with designing and building their booths, they can forget to concentrate on driving qualified traffic to the exhibition hall. If you wait for them to walk by randomly, you'll miss a major business opportunity.

There are a number of important reasons why an investment in pre-show promotion is critical.

Business buyers generally plan their trade show time in advance. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) found that 76% of attendees use pre-show information for this purpose. You are also competing with conference sessions, other exhibitors, and with outside attractions (especially in destination cities like Orlando or Florence), so you must get on your prospects' calendars early.

CEIR commissioned a study by Deloitte & Touche that shows that exhibitors who conducted a pre-show campaign raised by 46% their "attraction efficiency," or the quality of the audience they attracted to their booths. Similarly, the conversion of booth visitors to qualified leads rose 50% when a pre-show promotion was used.

CVI Melles Griot
George Meyer of CVI Melles Griot talks to a customer at SPIE Optics+Photonics 2009. The company gave away a Nintendo Wii as part of its trade show marketing.
Pre-Show Strategy

The goal of a pre-show promotion is to drive traffic to your booth. But not just any traffic. You want qualified prospects only. In effect, you are front-loading the sales qualification process.

An effective pre-show strategy employs targeted communications to both registered attendees and people who are already interested in doing business with you. Here's how:

  • Extract high-potential visitors from among the trade show attendee population and encourage them to visit your booth or set up an appointment. Remember, not everyone is worth your attention. So, a blanket mailing inviting all registered attendees to stop by usually contains a lot of waste.
  • Ask the exhibition organizer about renting a mailing list of pre-registered attendees. To eliminate non-prospects, ask for a targeted list of attendees by technical areas that match your products.
  • Invite your own customers, inquirers, and prospects (from your in-house file) to the show. If they are not planning to attend, your invitation might change their minds. At the very least, it will remind them you are exhibiting and serve as a useful part of an ongoing relationship-building communications stream.
Multi-Touch Promotions

Ideal pre-show promotions use a series of contacts, leveraging multiple media channels. While it's impossible to make recommendations for every possible scenario, there are pre-show, multi-touch contact strategies that have been proven to work.

To drive qualified traffic to the booth, use your trade show attendee list to send a postcard. Use a follow-up e-mail, if an e-mail list is available.

First, craft the direct-mail piece to attract the qualified and repel the unqualified. An example of the copy might be: "Attention, purchasing managers! Come find out how you can save time and money in your search for the best industrial lasers (or confocal microscopes, etc.)." The creative thrust of the message should be around why the prospect would benefit from a visit to the booth. The postcard should go via first-class mail and be scheduled to arrive a week to 10 days before the trade show.

Note: Plan ahead and never use less than first-class mail. There is nothing more wasteful than a pre-show mailing that arrives after the prospect has left town for the event.

Whether or not you follow-up with an e-mail reminder, it should be equally targeted in its message and include links to a landing page from your company Web site. The landing page should describe in detail your plans for the event, such as the new products you plan to introduce at the trade show, any parties you will host, and industry sessions where your executives will be speaking.

You can also set up appointments with past inquirers with:

  • An outbound postcard
  • A follow-up phone call
  • A confirming letter and/or e-mail

Use the outbound postcard to announce that your company will be at the trade show. Explain why this is important to the prospect. Is a useful new product being introduced? Is this a chance to meet with the product designer? You must give some reason why the prospect will benefit from the fact that you are exhibiting.

Call these prospects to set up appointments to meet a sales rep at the booth at a specified time. You might also mention other attractions, like an executive panel session or a party you are sponsoring. The point is to gain an appointment so that you can have a face-to-face meeting and, one hopes, move them further along the buying cycle.

A confirming letter or e-mail, or both in succession, will remind the prospect about the appointment and resell him/her on the reasons why visiting your booth is going to be worthwhile. You might include a pass to the exhibition floor, with the sales rep's business card attached.

Plan Ahead

About five weeks in advance, have your sales people call their clients to set up appointments at the trade show. Try to make the meetings coincide with the least-trafficked time periods on the trade show floor.

Create a master schedule of expected visitors, and make sure you don't overbook in relation to the booth space and demo stations available.

If prospects are unwilling to commit to a specific time, ask them to name an afternoon or a morning period when they'll come by. Follow up appointment-setting calls with a confirmation letter, and then an e-mail reminder a few days before the trade show.

Ruth Stevens

Ruth P. Stevens (www.ruthstevens.com) consults on customer acquisition and retention and teaches marketing at Columbia University Business School (NY) where she obtained her MBA. She is the author of The DMA Lead Generation Handbook, and Trade Show and Event Marketing. She is past chair of the DMA Business-to-Business Council and immediate past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York.

Pre-Exhibition Checklist

Because you only want qualified visitors to come to your booth, use a message and an offer designed simultaneously to attract the wheat and to repel the chaff.

1. Place stickers with your booth number and the name, date, and city of the show on invoices, letters, packages, and whatever goes out in the months before the show.

2. Drop an electronic ad or tagline in all pre-show e-newsletters, e-mail, etc.

3. Send out free passes to the exhibit hall.

4. Send part of a two-part item, inviting recipients to pick up the other part at the booth. Try two-way radios, athletic socks, and work gloves—whatever comes in pairs.

5. Send a letter plus a map of the exhibit hall, with your booth location highlighted.

6. Do what everyone else does: send a coupon, puzzle piece, or key that can be redeemed for a gift at the booth. But also do what only a few do: narrow your target for this promotion to attendees who are likely to convert to qualified leads.

7. Offer a time-limited incentive, to create a sense of urgency. "The first 30 people to visit our booth will get a special prize!"

8. Stress the benefits of visiting your booth. Explain why recipients should take the time to visit you. Are you offering a show special? Launching a new product? What's in it for them? Give them a good reason to take the action.

Case Study in Exhibition Marketing

By Kirsten Bjork-Jones

The trade show strategy at Edmund Optics (EO) is quite simple: "Make Every Lead Count."

But the hard part is: "How do we ensure that qualified prospects visit our booth in the first place?"

To solve this problem, EO has developed a multi-channel approach to trade show marketing. We start with pre-show marketing, and then we implement a strategy for on-site promotion that increases both booth traffic and qualified leads.

Edmund Optics
Ken Newman of Magnet Productions gathers a crowd with a magic light trick at the Edmund Optics booth at SPIE Photonics West in January.Photo courtesy of Chris Hardy.

For SPIE Photonics West in San Francisco in January 2010, our pre-show marketing activities started in December 2009, with print advertising alerting the industry of EO's booth number. In January, we ramped up our targeted marketing activities, creating offers designed to provide a compelling reason to visit the EO booth. Our most successful motivators have been free product samples, must-see technical presentations, and interactive hands-on demonstrations.

Edmund Optics markets trade shows via multiple media, including direct mail, e-mail, and social media. The pre-show activities typically result in 7%-10% of the overall trade show leads.

This year was the first that social media, specifically Twitter, had a noticeable impact on our pre-show marketing. A newly released product advertised on Twitter generated more qualified leads than any single product in our catalog.

But our marketing effort continues throughout the event. The entire Edmund Optics team is focused on "pulling in" every potential lead during the show and offering visitors a reason to return to the booth during the show. We advertise on the back cover of the show guide. EO staff hands out booth schedules to increase repeat traffic.

Overall, EO's most successful trade-show lead-generation activity is in the area of crowd-gathering, with our clever magician who highlights our key marketing messages and invites visitors inside the booth to view demos and interact with staff. The magician smoothes the otherwise awkward transition from the aisle to the demo, making it easier for the staff to engage the prospect effectively. We are convinced that a combination of pre-show and at-show marketing tactics has helped EO continue its record of lead-generation success at SPIE Photonics West.

Kirsten Bjork-Jones is director of global marketing communications at Edmund Optics, an SPIE corporate member.

SPIE Corporate Membership

Corporate members of SPIE receive discounts on exhibition space at SPIE technical meetings along with priority points for booth space selection.

Other benefits of corporate membership include discounts for advertising in SPIE Professional, exhibition guides, the SPIE Newsroom, and other areas.

For more information, e-mail membership@spie.org

Write to us at spieprofessional@spie.org


DOI: 10.1117/2.4201004.07

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