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Are Trade Shows a Waste of Time and Resources?

Category : trade shows


Tradshow ROIIf the answer to any of the following questions is true, the tool below might be for you.

1. Have you ever wondered if trade shows are more of a drain on your organization than a benefit?
2. Do you start to sweat when the business leaders in your organization begin asking about the return on trade shows you attend?
3. Are you routinely asked to attend trade shows that you do not believe will add value?
4. Do you have people in your organization that are emotionally charged about attending a show?

Deciding which trade shows to attend can be a difficult decision when emotions enter the decision process. It seems that every show has a strong advocate trying to convince the organization to attend.

Statements such as, “all our customers will be there”, “the market will think we have disappeared if we don’t attend”, “the trade publications won’t think we are a serious player”, and “this is the largest show in our biggest market segment” are a reflection of feeling, not fact.

Conversely, with very tight budgets and demand to show ROI, deciding which show to attend can prove to be just as difficult.

While establishing better goals and metrics is a usual course of action to prove marketing return, trade shows can be particularly challenging.

To ensure the show success it is important to set up quantitative and qualitative metrics prior to deciding to exhibit. If you establish goals such as the number leads, number of customer meetings, and the number of brand impressions you can mitigate emotional decision making.

Driving to Trade Show ROI

To measure ROI it is important to fully capture the costs and benefits of a show. Below I propose some metrics that can be used to demonstrate the benefit of a show. Three metrics in particular are the calculation of Advertising Equivalence, cost savings from customer meetings, and monetizing brand impressions with speaking engagements.

I would recommend the development of a standard template that includes the elements listed below. It is also important to consider the timing of when you validate the results. I have found that it is important to check at least three times: Immediately, within a month or so and then again when deciding to attend the show again.

Trade Show Costs

Event Sponsorships/Exhibition

  1. Exhibit costs
  2. Speaker costs
  3. Sponsorships
  4. Individual registrations
  5. Other


  1. Booth / Equipment Shipping costs
  2. Other Transportation


  1. Number of attendees x the average cost per day x the number of days

Promotional gifts/collateral

  1. Promotional gifts
  2. Printer materials
  3. Other promotional items (pre-show mailers, etc.)
  4. Graphics /Banners / Signs

Resource Costs (Time x salary)

  1. Attendees
  2. Creative services costs (agency, writers, designers, etc.)
  3. Show planner
  4. Marketing manager
  5. Product manager
  6. Other

Customer Meetings

  1. Meeting room
  2. Food and beverage
  3. Marketing materials
  4. Other

Show Benefits (Included both quantitative and qualitative measures):


  1. Number of leads
  2. Total revenue resulting from closed leads
  3. Increased Brand Awareness and Reputation
  4. Estimate impressions (total attendees at show that see sponsorship of a general session)
  5. Booth traffic impressions (Track for a period of time and then extrapolate)
  6. Brand survey results (taken at the booth)

Public Relations

  1. Press Release Coverage (Number picked up by trade publications)
  2. Speaking engagements (Number and survey results showing interest)
  3. Ad Equivalency (Cost for a full page advertisement / the amount of coverage space in an article)
  4. Press meetings/ new relationships developed

Customer Relationship Development and Savings

  1. Number of customer meetings
  2. Savings from travel to individual customers (number of meetings x number of staff x travel costs – total cost of travel to individual meetings)

Market Research Insight

  1. Number of research surveys completed
  2. Document and key learning from customers at the show
  3. Competitive information gathered

When using criteria such as the above, you should be able to add the total costs and the total benefits and ultimately be able to calculate the shows ROI (benefits-expenses/expense).

Hopefully, this provides some additional insight into the measurement of trade shows.

Do you see anything that is missing from this list?

How Close Is Virtual World Marketing To Mainstream?

Category : online marketing, trade shows


Image of an online trade showHave you considered the fact that your next job interview could be in the virtual offices of your future employer in Second Life? No? Well, you’re not alone – I’ve never considered it either. But, an article last month in Kiplinger’s magazine about virtual interviews by companies such as Verizon, Microsoft, and HP leads me to believe that the possibility isn’t so remote.

More importantly to small business marketing is how far we are away from actually having to consider adding virtual world marketing to our plans and budgets. Admittedly, my mind was pretty closed off to the possibility. I couldn’t imagine myself, buying real estate in Second Life and flying my avatar around to meetings. But, a few recent news stories have me thinking other virtual world technologies may become more mainstream for small businesses.

Cisco recently announced a Second Life-like site for resellers and developers – sort of a virtual trade show. From the article:

The new Cisco site will be accessible through Cisco’s Web site, but it is not open to the public. The ISPN was designed and housed on servers owned by Unisfair Inc. in Menlo Park, Calif., Sage said. Visitors to ISPN will be able to click on buttons to navigate as they move through trade show halls and booths, a meeting hall and a lounge, along with various “shadow people,” without the need to pick attire or facial characteristics as in Second Life. However, they will be able to chat with one another in ISPN to compare technologies. In coming weeks, Cisco plans to allow voice communication between ISPN participants through WebEx and Skype, he said.

Hitting closer to home, a major distributor of ours is hosting virtual trade shows for the manufacturers of products they carry and the resellers and end users who buy those products. You wouldn’t believe how life-like the interface is! I can actually see our company participating in an event like that – or at least trying it to see what kind of quality leads we’re able to obtain.

So, it looks like we have another avenue to consider for future marketing efforts or at least keep an eye on. If your interested, I found a webinar being hosted by BtoB about how marketers can achieve ROI in Second Life. The webinar is this Wednesday, September 26th (tomorrow). I won’t be able to attend, but would love a recap if anyone decides to check it out.

What are your thoughts on virtual world marketing? Fad or viable marketing effort?

The Worst Tagline Of All Time

Category : general marketing, strategy, trade shows


Trade Show ImageI’ve been at trade shows and conferences as an exhibitor and attendee off and on for the last few weeks and have seen literally thousands of slogans and pitches. But, for some reason, this one stopped me dead in my tracks:

Tomorrow’s Solution Today

This might be one of the worst slogans of all time. No, I’m not going to name the company. I actually spoke them and they’re very nice people. They’re a small company with a white board product focused towards the education market. When asked about the slogan, they said they don’t have the time to put into a marketing activities like slogans. That was as far as the conversation went.

This was a large show with hundreds of exhibitors and they spent thousands of dollars to be there. Here’s how their name and description showed in the show guide:

Company Name (Which, as you can imagine, gave no indication of their product)
Tomorrow’s Solution Today

Ouch. Attendees of this show couldn’t hope to reach every trade show booth so I’m sure many of them went to the show guide to find out who they wanted to meet. I’m sure 100% of those people breezed by this company’s description without a second glance. What would stop you?

  • If it’s tomorrow’s solution, why would I want or need it today.
  • A solution to what? For what do I need a solution?
  • What product or service? Everyone has a “solution”.
  • The white board product is great, but there is nothing futuristic or visionary about it. So, why is this the product of “Tomorrow”.

Okay, enough with bashing the slogan. They’re obviously not focused on or interested in marketing (but they should get interested soon). Check out Ryan’s recent post about another bad slogan attempt.

So, what goes into a good tagline or slogan? Well, there are many opinions on this, but here are a couple tips I think are important:

  • Keep it simple – Making someone think a little is a good thing, but too much complexity will drive the casual browser away.
  • Stay Relevant – Keep it short, but indicate something about your product or service that might grab some attention.
  • Be Unique – Find someway to make your slogan stick. Don’t be afraid to stick out from the crowd.

What other suggestions do you have for a small business that wants to create or improve their slogan or tagline?

Want a Free Link Into Your Site?

Category : print advertising, trade shows


I was an exhibitor at an industry trade show in Las Vegas last week when an attendee came strolling up to our booth. He had a magazine in hand and he was trying to match up our company name with a company he’d circled in his magazine. They matched, we spoke about his needs and our products and he asked for a follow-up call from one of our sales people.

Before he left, I asked him what led him to our booth and he said he was looking up companies listed under a certain category of his trade magazine’s Buyer’s Guide. He also said he found and researched our company after finding us in the magazine’s online version of their Guide.

The magazine he was carrying was one in which I advertise. Every year they offer a free listing in their Buyer’s Guide where you can list your company’s products and services under corresponding categories in the Guide. This includes a reference in the printed Buyer’s Guide bundled with the magazine as well as a link to your site from their online version.

I’ve typically taken the “sure, whatever” approach to this – taking the magazine up on the free offer. But maybe I need to switch up my thinking on this. They do offer a paid version that includes a more prominent position in both the online and offline versions. But, who knows whether the paid listing would drive any more online or offline traffic? The free link from their site surely isn’t hurting anything from an SEM/SEO standpoint!

Have you had any experiences with Buyer’s Guides? Is it worth buying into a better position?

Tips For Trade Show Success

Category : trade shows


tradeshow.jpgWhatever your industry, trade shows most likely play a role in your yearly marketing. For many small businesses, trade shows are a very large budget item where big returns are expected. Paying for the booth and getting it all set up is one thing. Taking advantage of the traffic is another.

Trade show attendees walk around with dazed, overwhelmed looks on their faces carrying small suitcases of giveaways and company literature. They’ll make it through two or three days of conferences and walking the exhibit hall floor before they return to their rooms on that final night and do a purge of unwanted gadgets, catalogs, and brochures so they’ll still have room in their luggage for their clothes. How do you wind up not being one of the unlucky throwaways? Plan ahead, be relevant and call the attendee to action.

There is no magical solution to converting all of your visitors to customers, but here are some tips to better your chances of getting a follow-up engagement:

  1. Book early: If you know there is an industry show you want to attend, book early and try to get a good booth location. Booth locations I like are the aisles in front of an entrance or a booth a few spots down from a major player in the industry. I’ve also had success on the ends as people sometimes like to walk the perimeter.
  2. Will advertising work?: I’m not a fan of paying good money to hang banners from the hall ceiling or near an entrance. That space is so dilluted and typically too expensive. I do, however, like advertising on our site that we’ll be at a show, placing banner ads on an industry website close to the show date, or even using paid-search around show-related keywords.
  3. Have a strategy: Know your audience and what pains them. What do you have to offer that will solve a problem for your audience? Make sure your booth clearly addresses how you can solve that problem via graphics, product setups, or handouts.
  4. White Paper or Customer Story: This is easier said than done, but relating to the attendee with a story or application from someone in their line of work will often be a winner.
  5. The 150-page catalog dilemma: Do you have a catalog that weighs as much as your laptop? Consider bringing electronic versions of that catalog on CD. The 25-pound catalog might not make the cut if the attendee is deciding between that or the foam ball that can be given to one of the kids. But, a nice compact CD fits just about anywhere. Plus, you can embed hyperlinks and drive more traffic to your website.
  6. Have a Call to Action: I’ve been the attendee as well and I know from experience that I’m always attracted to a call to action. If I’m handed a brochure saying I can come to a website and download a coupon, white paper, or free tutorial, I’ll often check it out if it interests me. Plus, luring them with a show-specific website url will make the attendee feel he or she will be getting something that someone outside of the show can’t get.

Remember, enthusiastic booth workers can also play a big role as well. How can an attendee feel drawn to your product or service when the presenter doesn’t seem interested or passionate about their company.

I did a quick search to see if there are some blogs out there dedicated to trade show strategy. Here are two I found. If there are other blogs you know or you have content that you think could be added, please let me know and I’ll add it to this post.


Evan Owen, President of A Smash Hit! Trade Show Displays, emailed and also commented pointing out three blogs his company authors related to trade shows. I checked out all three and they look to be a great source of information. I’ll be checking in on a regular basis. Here are the sites: