Getting the most out of the effort of expos

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Waikato is awash with expos, trade shows and events, and opportunities for your business to be seen in these environments are growing. But ‘how’ do you want to be seen?

I’ve got my Fieldays ticket, I went to the Good Food Show and I’ll undoubtedly snake my way around the Home Show again. Although that’s an eclectic mix of expos, born out of a mix of professional curiosity and personal interest, I have my reasons.

But sometimes I look at exhibitor stands and wonder “why are you bothering?” or, worse, “why aren’t you bothering more?”

Most expo organisers are good at making sure exhibitors are relevant to the core purpose of the event, wanting everything to complement and align. That naturally means there will be companies with similar or directly competing products. If that’s you, you’d better make sure you stand out.

You can’t always claim to have something unique about your product, but you can make it feel different from the one in the booth down the way. Even with only a 3m by 3m pod, investment in making your stand look amazing can be prohibitive, especially for small businesses. Investing thousands for a few days is a tough call, even if you are certain the passers-by will be exactly the group you’re targeting.

Investing in good design, quality presentation and display materials is going to help you get noticed, but creativity on a budget doesn’t necessarily always mean a budget-looking stand. A few strong images and carefully chosen words can be just as effective as fancy kit and all the bells and whistles. But they do need to be good images and the right words.

Coming up with what’s ‘good’ and ‘right’ for your stand comes back to what I always witter on about in these columns – making sure you have a clear understanding of what your brand is all about. Clarity, relevance and authenticity are even more important in a concentrated, limited-use investment like an expo stand than your everyday marketing activities.

There’s more to love than looks, right, and attracting customers won’t just come from the way you display your message on your site.

Just like the dreaded cold-calling, approaching the slow-walking passer-by can be daunting but is an art in itself. At the Good Food Show, I found myself in the middle of a detailed sales pitch before I even realised what was happening. Somehow, I’d gone from a glance of passing interest to the point when the poor guy probably thought he was about to close a sale.

I was chatting about this very topic with Vicki from Waikato Food Inc and she offered up some wise words around how to identify genuine potential customers. Having a couple of subtle targeted questions to ask up front, she suggests, can quickly help you sort the shoppers from the browsers.

At Fieldays, for example, if you ask me where my farm is, I either have to lie (which I’m rubbish at) or reveal that I’m just a marketing consultant scouting for new clients! If you start out with “Let me I tell you about the great new features on the new Gizmo 3000 somatic cell counter…” and launch the sales patter, you’ve wasted three minutes of air on me while a genuine farmer walked right on by.

However you approach the sales aspect of being at an expo, may I politely suggest that you do actually be at the expo. An unmanned stand is an unsold product. If you can’t budget for having enough bodies available to always have someone on your site, or pull in some friends to help out, it looks like you just don’t care enough.

So, when your few days are over, you’ve packed it all down and scoffed all the leftover jelly beans, what then? A debrief on what worked and what didn’t, or what you noticed from others, is essential, but don’t forget about the most important people in all this – the customers. Plan for post-expo marketing and communications right from the start.

If you ran a competition to grow your database, do something with it.  At the last Home Show, I was feeling lucky (or broke) and entered countless competitions. Only one of the companies contacted me. I think it’s fair to assume that I didn’t win anything but, having given you permission to email me, I was expecting at least a quick ‘hi’. I may not be a qualified lead, I confess, but without any kind of follow up, how would they ever know.

Expo isn’t short for exposure but that’s exactly what it is – an opportunity to engage your brand on a practical and human level. Make it real and true, and make it count.

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About Author

Vicki Jones

Vicki Jones is director of Dugmore Jones, Hamilton-based marketing management consultancy. Email vicki@dugmorejones.co.nz