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Tradeshow Strategies: Leads Are Not Enough

If You Don’t Collect and Append Meaningful Data to the Customer Profile, You Jeopardize Your Trade Show

by Pat Friedlander

Corporate exhibitors inevitably face the “What’s the ROI?” question. The process of determining the ROI from trade shows has been very vague in the past decades, but at this point in the evolution of face-to-face marketing, vague doesn’t cut it. In a still-siloed world of disconnected marketing channels–trade shows being one of several—attribution is a crucial factor in funding various initiatives. Everything from email marketing to web banners thrives on easily demonstrable metrics. However, in the trade show environment, determining success is much less sophisticated.

Exhibitors Need More Than Leads

The holy grail of ROI has, until this point in time, been leads. “How many leads did we get?” “Did we get more than last year?” Back when paper leads were a thing, the dominant meme was opening a crated exhibit and finding the paper leads from the previous show packed in the exhibit properties. Within the unfortunately typical company, many departments don’t view trade show participation as a strategic initiative and are satisfied by numbers of leads. In my experience, that fact alone can prompt exhibit managers to direct staff to scan everyone who enters the exhibit, whether or not the visitor is a viable target.

Data Collection Facilitation—A Long Time Coming and Still Not Here

As paper leads disappeared, disparate vendors sold their services to show management for lead capture. The fact that these lead systems did not “talk” to one another became increasingly problematic.  And while this situation has been a proposed advocacy topic for decades, nothing appreciable has happened. The old badge on the lanyard approach hardly speaks “trade show intelligence.” In fact, many, if not most, associations are struggling as they look for ways to compete with the digital universe. Until associations mandate uniformity for data input from their contracted suppliers, the problem remains. Larger exhibitors or exhibitors with aggressive show schedules can justify the cost benefit of a proprietary lead system, one that either bypasses the show-supplied mechanism or works with the show supplier to format the data.  In an industry where millions of dollars are spent at a single show, standardizing data would appear to be a ridiculously small concession to exhibitors/customers.

Plumbing the Data-Based Depths

A very smart man, Michael Kelly of Kthree Partners, asks this question: “How about measuring ROI for tradeshows by the data-based depth of identifiable engagement, intelligence gained and shared across the organization, and the depth with which convention assist in building business?”

Among other things, this would necessitate an omnichannel approach to marketing and the sharing of intelligence across the enterprise. If your company has a well-maintained CRM system, you already have a start in intelligence gathering. As Kelly says, “Other channels collect large amounts of data—why not as much in the event space?” What he refers to as the “event conundrum” is rationalizing overall event spend with data-driven approach vs. balking on a data-driven approach because the spend is too high—which will only lead to increased negative scrutiny of the value of trade shows.

Kelly tells us that it’s time to integrate event intelligence with other data in the CRM system, and what he recommends is quite simple: Take the data with you, append the event data, then put it back. Most CRM systems allow this type of overlay. The internal investigation is worth the time because it protects the trade show budget and the viability of face-to-face marketing.

The Nuts And Bolts of Data Integration—We’re Not There Yet

According to the recently released survey, “The Power of Live Event Data” from Cvent and Event Marketer, 81 percent of event professionals say integrating data from attendees’ digital and physical footprints is extremely/very important– but only 20 percent feel their organizations are extremely/very effective at data integration. The interest is very high, but the execution is not. Event professionals need the right data platform and education on how to do this effectively.

Kelly asks, “What if exhibitors brought select CRM data with them to events?” and he answers his own questions:

  • Conversations on the show floor would be more contextual and optimized.
  • Event floor interactions would be a continuation of a conversation with the exhibiting company, not a cold start.
  • “Take the profile,” he recommends, “then put the profile back.”

The fact that a real live person has an encounter with a prospect or customer almost certainly influences preference. But who would know about this interaction if the information is not in the CRM system? Trade shows can connect and deliver incomparable value via data to other channels. Eventually, this data lands in the hands of the salespeople.

“The Power of Live Event Data” indicates that 67 percent of event professionals say they currently or would expect to find value integrating attendee data with their CRM systems while 66 percent say they see value integrating data with social media. A top goal, and challenge, for event professionals is integrating various platforms to provide a full picture of their events and attendees in one platform.

We are Purchasing Access to the Market—Not Floor Space

We are at a point where the technology exists to collect compelling data from shows. If associations and show management don’t work with exhibitors to enable that data capture because of outdated vendor relationships, we all suffer. After all, exhibitors aren’t buying space on the floor; they are buying access to the market—and these days, access to the market involves access to data, not just lead collection.

Pat Friedlander is an accomplished marketer, published writer, and speaker in the exhibit industry, particularly in the healthcare segment. She has developed programs; marketing strategies and campaigns, websites and social media tools; sales aids; product introductions; and branding/corporate identity initiatives for clients—many of them award-winning—over the past 25+ years. She has participated in many industry associations including TSEA, CEIR, EDPA, HCEA, E2MA, and BMA as a speaker and the author of content. She has received HCEA’s Distinguished Service Award as well as EDPA’s highest honor, The Hazel Hays award. Her client list includes Forest Labs, Bausch & Lomb, Boston Scientific, American Medical Systems, Celgene, Genentech, St. Jude Medical, Berlex, Siemens, Fisher, Hitachi, Novo Nordisk, Waters Corporation, and many other companies. She won a Focus Award from TSEA, Exhibitor Magazine’s Best of Show award for exhibit programs, Business Marketing Association’s prestigious ProComm award for integrated marketing and Tradeshow Week’s Best Interactive Website award. A former college professor, she holds an M.A. from the University of Wisconsin and has done post-graduate work at the University of London, the University of Chicago, Loyola University (Chicago) and the Kellogg School at Northwestern. This story originally appeared in the March/April issue of Exhibit City News, p. 76, http://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/mar-apr_ecn2018?e=16962537/58622195.

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