How Distributors Can Boost Trade Show Performance With Experiences

When an attendee visits an exhibit and interacts with its representatives and products, she has an experience. But is it the experience the company wants her to have?

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Nick Simonette, Vice President of sales at Czarnowski.Nick Simonette, Vice President of sales at Czarnowski.

Experiences are everywhere, especially when traveling to and attending a trade show—from the airport check-in line to the flight to the interaction with salespeople on the show floor.

Airlines strive to create experiences that are linear, repeatable and reliable. This is not the case for live experiences in the trade show environment. These experiences are non-linear and designed to address different individuals’ needs, communication and learning styles, and interests. When an attendee visits an exhibit and interacts with its representatives and products, she has an experience. But is it the experience the company wants her to have?

Trade shows are a traditional part of a distributor’s marketing mix. However, it’s easy to become complacent and put up the same banner and hand out the same brochures in a 10-by-10 exhibit every year. These stale exhibiting strategies are a waste of money and a commercial liability, especially as competitors deploy more innovative, eye-catching, and engaging spaces, and use multifaceted approaches to educate visitors.

Today, trade show attendees are looking for more from corporate exhibitors when they walk the show floor. In response, a distributor should create compelling experiences that encourage attendees to explore its products and services. A creative approach to exhibiting can help an organization stand out from the competition, build relationships with valuable prospects and kick-start the sales process.

But experiential marketing is easier said than done, and if done poorly, it can damage a company’s reputation. There are several key steps a distributor should follow to ensure it properly executes experiential marketing engagements at its trade shows.

Create a Sustained Marketing Message

A trade show is a piece—albeit a significant piece—of a company’s marketing spend and mix. So, a distributor should reinforce the messages it communicates through other marketing platforms—from interviews with trade publications to social media activity to one-to-one sales initiatives—in its trade show exhibit. By connecting marketing messages across channels, the exhibitor will ensure audiences hear a consistent message wherever they encounter the company.

Along these lines, it’s crucial that a distributor avoid a “flea market” approach to exhibiting. A distributor shouldn’t seek to show every product in its portfolio or all the services it deploys. This unfocused approach can turn a trade show exhibit into a cluttered catalog. Instead, a distributor should create a hierarchy of products and services and even consider having a centerpiece product or service in the exhibit.

A distributor of construction equipment may have ambitious sales goals for its skid-steer loaders, for example. Instead of putting a static image of the vehicle behind a table covered with product brochures, the company would be better off putting the actual vehicle in its exhibit and letting customers sit in it and take pictures that they can share on social media with a custom hashtag. The company could complement this interactive engagement by running a professionally produced promotional video on an LED video wall in the exhibit. And sales reps could be on hand to offer visitors more information about the vehicle and the company’s related maintenance and repair offerings.

It’s also crucial to commit to a sustained trade show exhibiting strategy. A distributor cannot simply exhibit at a show one time and hope to make an impact. Instead, the company needs to be visible across marketing channels—including trade shows—over a significant period of time.

Understand Your Audiences

In many cases, attendees at an industrial trade show span a wide spectrum of experience levels and ages. A company will have everyone from business owners to project schedulers dropping by its exhibit. While a distributor can’t possibly cater to the varied preferences of these different audiences, it can aim to accommodate them by adopting a multifaceted approach.

A key part of this multifaceted approach will be a proper mix of experiential opportunities. While technology-driven activations can be an asset with some audience members, too much technology can turn away certain visitors. So, it’s important to combine technology experiences with one-on-one human interaction. A robust sales force in the exhibit that engages visitors can facilitate face-to-face interactions and foster relationships with all types of visitors.

While it seeks to appeal to the many audiences represented at industrial trade shows, a distributor should also have a clear understanding of its target audience. So, before every show, a distributor should build an attendee persona that accounts for the gender, age, job title and personality traits of its most important audience. Then, the company can build the exhibit to connect with this audience without turning away other potential visitors to the exhibit.

Make Technology Approachable

The use of technology in trade show exhibits continues to increase as formats such as virtual and augmented reality become more accessible. While a distributor can deploy technology in its exhibit to be a facilitator of memorable trade show experiences, it must use it appropriately and can’t view it as a substitute for human connection. Including a virtual reality engagement in an exhibit, just because it’s the latest and greatest technology, will do little to generate sustained, meaningful experiences for an audience. Trade show attendees are increasingly sophisticated and can sniff out gimmicks from a mile away.

It’s important that a distributor works to ensure technology is an asset and facilitator of valuable experiences – and not an impediment to them. Forcing visitors to stand in line and put on a bulky headset to experience a virtual reality engagement will likely do little to further a brand’s marketing goals. It can even become a distraction to the core messages contained in the exhibit. But integrating virtual reality in the natural flow of the exhibit to reinforce messages and illustrate in more detail a product or service can make the technology approachable and impactful.

Leverage Data

Another way a distributor can use technology to reach its target audiences is to leverage the granular sales data it collects to create custom experiences for customers and prospects who visit the exhibit.

Data can facilitate interactivity and educate attendees about market trends and insights that matter to them. A distributor could use video screens, iPads or one-on-one meetings to present individual customers with actionable, custom insights pulled from data. For instance, a food distributor may want to show store owners how to optimally place various products on their shelves to maximize sales.

Combining data and technology in the exhibit can create interactive, memorable, and ultimately valuable experiences for customers.

Make the Most of Your Trade Show Spend

If a distributor spends the money to secure a spot on a show floor, it needs to make the most of that investment. A distributor must clearly articulate its story and goals, understand its target audience, properly place its exhibiting strategy within a robust marketing mix, and keep visitors’ experiences in the exhibit top-of-mind. Those that follow this recipe for success will maximize the chance that their key messages resonate well beyond the walls of the exhibit hall.

Nick Simonette is vice president of sales at Czarnowski.

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