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Tradeshow Marketing Strategies: How to Effectively Engage Attendees F2F

by Lee Ali, Expo Stars managing director/founder

Taking part in exhibitions is key for many businesses looking to create new leads, nurture relationships and promote their products or services. But with some of the biggest exhibitions attracting thousands of attendees, it can be difficult for exhibitors to stand out from their competitors and liaise with attendees in a meaningful and authentic way. But by understanding some psychology behind effective face-to-face engagement, you can plan an effective strategy to help maximize your results at exhibitions.

Lee Ali Expo Stars
(Lee Ali, Expo Stars)

Grabbing Attention
Have you ever been to an event and found yourself walking up and down the aisles aimlessly and not really taking anything in? You’re not alone. As both consumers and business people we’re bombarded every day with marketing and sales messages. And on top of that we have our own worries about work and our personal lives to contend with. Because of this, we may find ourselves not really engaged or mindful of our current situation.

Now, let’s look at it from the other side. As a business exhibiting at an event, you want to get the attention of the attendees. But as we’ve already alluded to, there can be a lot of factors affecting their mindset. They might be tired, pre-occupied with things going on at home, or have a constant stream of calls from the office to deal with. On top of that, they’ve made the time to visit an exhibition to learn about new innovations and inspiring ways of improving how they work. Instead, all they’re getting is the hard sell from businesses offering products or services they’re not interested in.

If you can understand the state of mind your potential customers are in, plus appreciate what they want to get out of the tradeshow, you can start to tailor your approach to suit their needs while meeting your own objectives.

A strategy for effective face-to-face engagement
So much of current exhibition discussions are around technology such as virtual reality, interactive displays or other design features. But with these trends, many businesses have lost sight of those all-important, one-to-one interactions.
To plan effective exhibition strategies that focus on face-to-face communication, you need to consider:

  • Your objectives: What do you want to get out of the exhibition?
  • Understanding your audience: How can you show empathy to your audience and make them feel comfortable?
  • Educate and inform: Don’t go for the hard sell, aim to educate, inform and inspire
  • Tap into emotions: Consider all the senses and build an emotional connection with attendees
  • Build energy: You want positive energy on stand and to find ways to encourage attendees to take action

By mapping out your plan for each one, as well as getting the whole team on board with this approach, you’ll find you start getting better results from events and tradeshows.

Start at the end
Never underestimate the importance of planning. It’s one of the top priorities when it comes to maximizing results at exhibitions, so make sure you have a clear understanding of what your objectives are.

As well as setting clear goals, you need to make sure the exhibition is the right fit for what you’re trying to achieve and that it will give you the best opportunity to reach your target audience.

You’ll need to determine how you’re going to measure success as part of your goal setting. Remember, more often than not exhibitions are a way to introduce your brand to potential customers, or to remind them of what you offer. So rather than resulting in sales there and then, you might want to set objectives and ways of evaluating the success of the show based on lead generation, meetings booked or sign ups of free trials.

Understanding your audience
To really connect with a potential lead, you need to put yourself in their place and understand why they are there, what you can offer to help their business, any cultural differences, or any challenges they face.

Expo Stars Anti-Aging Medicine World Congress – Monaco
Anti-Aging Medicine World Congress in Monaco

Rather than diving straight into your sales pitch, take a moment to identify and mirror their communication style. This helps to connect with them and make them feel comfortable. Do they seem direct and conscious of time? Keep it concise. Perhaps they prefer to chat and want the smaller details? You can find out more about personality types to maximize your connections with our iMA communication styles quiz here.

Having trained promotional staff who know their own communications style and can identify other people’s is a great investment.

You should also make sure your team has the relevant skills and experience for the particular event, for example you might need some people on the stand to speak certain languages.

While you’re greeting attendees on your stand for the first time, this is the perfect time to qualify your leads. Start your interactions with natural conversations to make visitors feel at ease. Use open questions such as, “What brings you to the show?”
It’s important, however, you don’t spend too much time talking to unqualified leads. Use these questions to filter for high-value prospects:

  • Determine their buying authority: “Are you a part of the buying team?”
  • Identify their key buying reasons: “What is the main objective you are trying to achieve?”
  • Discover their buying time frame: “When do you need a solution by?”
  • Find out what their budgets are: “What budget do you have allocated for the project?”

Aim to give no more than two minutes to unqualified visitors, but make sure you dismiss them politely to stay professional.

Educate and inform
Focus on educating and helping your prospects when you’re at exhibitions—not purely selling. Your aim should be to inform and help your target audience so you can begin building that trust.

To educate well, you need to really understand your customers. What are their worries or concerns? What problems can you help them solve? Do they have any preconceived beliefs you can discuss?

As well as thinking about the messages you want to communicate as part of the education process, you should also consider how you’re going to deliver the information in the most engaging way possible. Will you present to large groups, or keep it one-on-one?

Can you let your prospects try the product for themselves, or is there a way you can bring a service to life by making the presentation interactive?

Whichever way you decide to educate, remember to remain empathetic and adapt your communication style to your audience.

Tap into emotions
Not only do we want to make your interactions with attendees at exhibitions informative and engaging, but we want them to be memorable and inspire action too. You need to consider what emotions you’re conveying and how you can positively affect the way your prospects are thinking and feeling.

To do this, think about the customer journey around the booth not just in terms of what people can see, but what they can hear, feel, smell or even taste. You have to create a compelling reason for people to stop by and speak to your team, and adding something that is immersive or experiential—such as a live demonstration—can help to achieve this.

Another effective tactic is to give some attendees privileged access. For example, you could hold a VIP drinks reception or have a special roped-off lounge area for special guests. Scarcity often makes people want something more, so you could use this psychological trick to your advantage and create a buzz around your stand.

Build energy and encourage action
When it comes to energy, it’s important to create a positive environment that creates a good atmosphere at events. Thinking about your stand, this can be achieved with the design, color schemes and signage, as well as making sure it’s easy to get around and clutter free.

When it comes to people, make sure your team’s body language is positive and welcoming. We don’t want to see people hiding at the back of the stand, looking uncomfortable and staring at their phones all day.

You also need to find ways to encourage your prospects to take action. What is it you want people to do, and how can you make them do that? Whether it’s signing up for a webinar, taking advantage of a free trial or scheduling a follow-up meeting, make the process is as easy as possible and ensure your prospects are clear about the next steps.

Generating genuine leads at exhibitions can be tricky, so it’s essential to have a clear strategy in place. With upfront planning and understanding of the mindset and motivations of attendees, you can develop an effective face-to-face engagement strategy to start building meaningful, profitable long-term business relationships.

For more info about how to plan your exhibition engagement strategy using our free calculator, visit www.expostars.com/calculator-2

Lee Ali is founder and managing director of the global exhibition engagement company Expo Stars, based in Manchester, U.K. Founded in 2007 to help large, international organizations get the most out of exhibitions and events, they’ve managed more than 3,000 projects, in 100+ cities across 53 countries. They have built up a worldwide network of more than 2,500 professional promotion staff trained in proactive engagement and delivering measurable results to global brands such as BMW, SEMRush and a number of pharmaceutical companies. For more info, visit www.expostars.com.

This story originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Exhibit City News, p. 58. For original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/ecntears_novdec_2019_copy

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