I thought it would be appropriate to discuss how to use events as part of your marketing strategy. By marketing through events, I am primarily referring to having display booths at conferences and trade shows.
Marketing at relevant industry events has a number of advantages:
- High numbers and concentration of your target audience. If you are selling products and services to deer farmers, what better place to meet a lot of them than at a deer convention.
- An opportunity to meet personally with your current and potential customers. It provides a venue to talk, discuss and hand-out updated information.
- An opportunity to show and demonstrate your products first-hand. If you are selling handling equipment, you can demonstrate its features and use at a trade-show. For certain products, this is much more effective than using brochures or other media.
- Many events attract visitors from a large geographic area, usually national and often international. This gives you an opportunity to expand your potential customer base to other regions and other countries.
- These events are also an excellent place to recruit, select and sign-up distributors and retailers of your products and services.
- It is a great place to check out the competition and gather market intelligence by visiting their booths, and talking to customers of their products.
- By holding a contest or draw, you can build up your mailing list and identify potential marketing leads to follow-up.
- It is a great way to distribute brochures to potential customers. Many people attend shows and exhibits merely to collect brochures. They study the brochure and place their orders on the basis of that information.
- Your presence at the event demonstrates to customers that you are a serious and major player in the industry since you have made the investment in time and effort to be there.
- Finally, and most importantly, you can make sales right on the spot. If your products are small, your customers can take the product home with them. If you are selling large items or live animals, you can take orders for delivery when you return to your farm or office.
There are also disadvantages to trade shows and conventions:
- It is expensive. Costs include booth rentals, travel, accommodation, display materials, staffing and being away from your business. For specific target audiences such as deer or elk farmers in a state or province, it may be cheaper to advertise in the local association’s newsletter or do a direct mailing. An alternative may be to share a booth with another non-competitive vendor.
- Only a small portion of deer or elk farmers attend conventions or trade shows. Therefore, you will not reach all of them at any given event.
- Trade shows and conventions attract different types of visitors. It is important to select the ones that have the types of attendees that you are interested in reaching.
- Trade shows may not be the best venue for small operations. If you are selling venison, some of the buyers at trade shows are looking for tons per month, something an individual farm cannot supply.
Let’s take a look at specific applications of event marketing.
- Deer or elk industry conventions – these are usually held once a year by associations to provide learning opportunities for their members, conduct association business and raise funds. Most of these have a trade show associated with them. These events are ideal places for deer/elk farmers who are interested in selling breeding stock and related products to other farmers. It is also an excellent place for other vendors (feed companies, handling equipment manufacturers, etc.) who have products to sell to this target audience.
- Farm and agricultural fairs – these are held in almost every state and province. They are an ideal place for associations to have trade booths to increase public awareness about the industry. As well, farm fairs are an excellent place to attract new farmers into the deer and elk industry. Existing farmers already have the land and experience, and many are looking for diversification opportunities.
- Hunting and sportsmen shows – these tend to be general consumer shows geared toward outdoor enthusiasts. If you offer hunting services and/or private hunts, these are an excellent place to have a booth and sign up customers. These shows are also a good place for associations to have booths to increase awareness, disseminate accurate information and gain support for the deer/elk farming business. It is also a good place to identify potential investors and partners for individual ventures.
- Specialized trade shows – these are suitable for specialty products. For example, if you are selling elk velvet antler capsules, then attending a health food or nutraceutical show may be appropriate to sign up distributors and/or sell directly to the public. If you have meat products such as venison jerky, then some of the large food shows may be the place to go. However, as indicated above, buyers are usually looking for large quantities and consistent supply.
You can find relevant events from the links listed in the Steppingstones Library website located at http://www.steppingstones.ca/library/tradeshows.htm) Check these lists and identify ones that may be suitable for your business or association.
In Canada, there are federal and provincial funds and other assistance/services available to exhibit at foreign trade shows. Check with your local economic development department for more information.
Now for some specific tips for getting the most value from your event marketing. Here are some suggestions for things you should do BEFORE the show:
- Send an invitation to your customers to meet you at the show.
- Send a photo or drawing of your booth so that your visitors can easily spot you.
- Send your customers a map of the exhibit hall marked to show your booth, the rest rooms, the food stands, pay phones, and all the exits.
- Send an entry form for a contest to be entered at your booth.
- Be sure you have all brochures, displays and other materials ready well in advance.
DURING the show, we suggest the following:
- Staff your booth with enough staff and the right people. Don’t blow your opportunities. Be sure a knowledgeable person is at your booth at all times. People who work at your booth should be personable, extroverted and friendly with a high energy level and proper social graces. Remember their behavior and decorum are a reflection of your company.
- Many trade show and convention visitors are party animals. Capitalize on this by have a hospitality suite where you can entertain and meet with your most important prospects.
- Have one of your staff (or hire someone) to walk around the show handing out flyers encouraging people to visit your booth.
- People don’t like to walk into a booth where they might feel trapped – be sure your booth has an open feel to it.
- If you can, include a hands-on demonstration or something people can handle. Studies show folks love to touch things.
- Research shows that location has very little to do with the amount of traffic at your booth. So don’t spend extra to get a preferred spot.
- Keep things very easy to understand; a few large pictures are better than many small ones. Be sure your farm or company name is highly visible.
- Quickly separate the serious prospects from the browsers. Don’t spend too much time even with serious prospects; there are many others to meet. Arrange to meet your serious prospects later at your hospitality suite.
- Have no chairs in the booth unless you plan to close sales there. If you must have a chair and table setup, put it in a quiet corner.
- Don’t give away too much literature. People get overloaded. Save your best for follow-up.
- Be sure to take breaks every four hours and see the entire show as early as possible to gain a feel for the competition.
- If you offer a draw or prize as a way to collect business cards, offer something of value to your target audience. That way, your mailing list will be more relevant. If you offer a trip to some warm place in winter, everyone will enter but the proportion of, say deer farmers, may be very low. This is particularly true in public, consumer type shows.
AFTER the show, do the following:
- Contact your leads within one week after the show. If possible, send a thank you note to others who visited your booth.
- Calculate all your costs for attending your show, and compare to the sales or potential sales. Did the show provide a reasonable return on your investment of time and money?
- Do a debriefing with your staff/family to discuss what went well, and what could be improved. Write it down and put it somewhere you can find it when planning your next marketing event. With experience, your event marketing will become more successful and profitable.
Yes, event marketing takes a lot of work and planning. But by carefully selecting your venues and following the suggested tips, your efforts will be well rewarded.