Four Ways To Avoid Exhibition Marketing Disasters

Exhibitions are an effective marketing channel only if you harness them within an effective marketing strategy.

learn more about Omar Rahman

By Omar Rahman

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Many marketers approach exhibitions without a strategy. Money, but no strategy. But given the kind of budgets we are talking about, shouldn't a well-defined exhibition marketing plan really be taking centre stage? It is well worth investigating. So, here's what you are missing if you skip strategy and what you can do to turn things around.

1. No pre-event marketing plan means nobody knows you are exhibiting

Get more attendees to increase conversion-to-lead and sale. Exhibition success starts with attendees. That's why you choose Gulfood in Dubai over SIAL in Paris– because it attracts more of the people in the region you are targeting. That is people who align with your ideal customer profile. The more attendees like that, the more ROI potential. And you get more exposure to more people who are more likely to buy from you. But that doesn't just happen.

The exhibition attracts those people because exhibiting businesses promote their attendance, which attracts an audience interested in those businesses. So, imagine there are two categories of attendee– type A and B. Type A are people who came specifically to see you. Then, type B are the people who didn't. They're either interested in the industry landscape generally or they came specifically to see another business. You hope to convert some type B to your business, but type A will drive the majority of leads and sales on-the-day. Which brings us to pre-event marketing. Things like social media, email campaigns, radio mentions, and press interviews help pique interest, to secure more type A attendees. Which means you get more warm visitors and more leads.

2. No marketing plan means you don't know who your customers are

Build ideal customer personas to increase leads on-the-day and sales thereafter. If you don't have a considered marketing strategy you won't know the nuances of your ideal customers. You won't have a buyer persona. And that's a problem. Not knowing who your customers are means you don't understand their motivations, aspirations, fears, concerns, problems, priorities, and processes. And if you don't know that, you can't effectively sell to them. Which means you're much more likely to miss your lead and revenue goals. (Of companies that miss those goals, an incredible 80% don't know their personas' buying role, for instance).

Now that's a major issue. Say you're attending Automechanika Dubai. Certainly all 30,000 attendees aren't your ideal customers. Even if you could get all 30,000 to visit your stand, you wouldn't convert them. For example, maybe your product is only cost-effective for enterprise luxury vehicle manufacturers.

Having a marketing strategy in place means you already know how to attract and recognize the right attendee. And you know how to talk to them once they're there (something we're getting worse at, with only 67% of businesses training their staff on exhibition lead-qualification in 2015 compared to 83% in 2010). And you know how to segment the leads you get by persona, for more effective follow-up communication.

That's why companies who exceed lead and revenue goals are more than twice as likely to have personas than companies that miss those goals. And nearly 94% of companies who exceed those goals segment their database by persona. Having a marketing strategy means you know your ideal customers, so you're more likely to get leads during the exhibition– and sales after that.

Related: Exhibitions As The Most Effective Marketing Tool For SMEs

3. No marketing plan means you don't use leads effectively post-event

Build a clear lead follow-up and tracking plan to get an accurate picture of effectiveness. In 2010, the EXHIBITOR Sales Lead Survey found that less than half of companies track exhibition leads throughout the sales cycle. Less than 30% measure and report the leads that then convert to sales. The most recent version of that survey shows some improvement – but not much. By 2015, 35% of respondents measure and report exhibition leads that convert to sale. That's a big problem because you don't know how valuable exhibition attendance has been. So justifying your budget becomes a guessing game.

Build a clear, consistent lead tracking and follow-up program as part of your marketing plan and you'll make better use of exhibition leads. Which ultimately means you'll get more sales – and attribute those sales correctly to the exhibition channel, so you can justify your budget next year.

4. No marketing plan means your activity is "spray-and-pray'

Take a strategic birds' eye view of your marketing mix, to ensure attendance integrates with your other channels and drives overall business goals. You've heard the old 80/20 adage, that 20% of your activity drives 80% of your results. That's very true in marketing. If you don't have a marketing strategy, you don't understand the overall marketing mix. Which means you might be wasting money where it might be better spent. It could be that exhibitions aren't the best way to spend this year's budget, for instance. Or maybe exhibitions are hyper-effective but social isn't working for you. But you're still allocating the same budget to social because, hey, that's what you've always done.

Instead, collect, analyze and compare results from every channel. And use that information to create a tailored, targeted marketing plan that spends on more effective channels. That is, one that integrates the channels you do use more effectively, taking the overall business objectives into account. In the end, this can create a powerhouse funnel that drives sales.

The final word

Don't attend exhibitions just because. Exhibitions are an effective marketing channel only if you harness them within an effective marketing strategy. This ensures the exhibitions you attend, the attendees you attract, the visitors you talk to, and the leads you track, all turn into sales.

Related: The How-To: Utilizing Exhibitions As A Market Development Tool

Omar Rahman

Co-founder, TGP

Omar Rahman moved to the UAE from the UK in 1991 to take a business development position in the sales department of EMA Lubricants, a joint-venture with Exxon Mobil. In 1995, he teamed up with Alexander Maddock to launch Top Gear Promotions LLC – now known simply as TGP – an exhibitions and events solution provider, having executed over 2,000 successfully delivered projects locally, regionally and internationally, for organisations including Etihad, Dubai Holding, General Electric, Dubai Tourism, IPIC, Masdar, Qatar Airlines, Emaar, Expo 2020, and many more. Rahman studied Civil Engineering at the United Kingdom’s North East Surrey College of Technology.

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