How to Beat the Trade Show Noise with Digital

When it comes to trade shows, social media presents one of the biggest opportunities but also one of the greatest challenges for businesses. Sending out a few tweets the month before an event like CES, RSAC, or even Black Hat USA is not enough — businesses need a digital strategy that encompasses all parts of an integrated PR program if they want to cut through the trade show noise.

It’s no surprise that we are seeing more companies take advantage of modern marketing tactics at events. Social media is no exception; statistics show that 96 percent of marketers use social media to increase awareness around events. More than half find the biggest challenge is how to use social media effectively.

Social media is not a new phenomenon. The questions we as marketers, social media managers, and PR professionals need to ask ourselves is, how can we cut through the clutter and elevate our clients’ messages? How can we make the most of an integrated PR program, while tracking towards target KPIs?

I wish I could say it is as easy as sending out a tweet, but thankfully there are a few tricks to the trade if you are just getting started implementing a trade show social media strategy:

Goals, Goals, Goals

Just like any other marketing or PR initiative, the key to success is setting goals. Do you want to increase brand awareness? Do you want to drive revenue? Define your goals early on and determine how social media tactics can help you get there.

Highwire recently worked with a security company during Black Hat USA 2018 and RSAC 2019. While our focus during BHUSA was to spark conversation among practitioners and increase engagement around the many talks and presentations of the company’s thought leaders, our goals for RSAC were centered around brand awareness and increasing foot traffic during the many partner and company demos in-booth. No matter the trade show, get aligned on business goals and don’t treat this part of your strategy as an afterthought.

Get Creative

When I was at RSAC 2019, I stopped at a booth where a man had his arms strapped to his chest while riding a unicycle. I’ll give them major bonus points for creativity and drawing in a huge crowd, but it seemed a little out of place and I wondered how many bystanders stuck around to learn more about their products or services.

It’s easy for your message to get lost. Dance mobs and men on unicycles can certainly draw attendees, but how does this help you meet your goals? Is your creative activation all flash and no substance? What do you want attendees to walk away with when they leave your booth?

When we work with our clients during ideation, we always shoot for the moon, but we spend time narrowing down ideas to those that we can execute and those that land results.

We love big ideas, but we’re also keen on simple tactics that drive engagement and brand awareness: live streaming demos, Twitter giveaways, authentic on-the-ground videos, and capturing content that we can leverage during and post-trade show. Recently, we did this at RSAC with one of our technology clients. A quick and simple in-the-moment video of the company’s CEO landed more than double the engagements compared to other organic posts, generating plenty of positive sentiment on Twitter. Plus, we shared it again post-RSAC as an #ICYMI post to garner additional engagements (bonus: we didn’t even need to ride a unicycle).

Rinse and Recap

Besides a little R&R, the debrief with your team and client is arguably the most important part of the post-trade show work. Get together with your digital and PR team and talk at a high-level of what worked and what didn’t. If you ran a contest, how did participants respond? How did your content perform? Did you hit target KPIs? What could you do next year that you couldn’t do this year? What did your competitors do and did they nail it?

Collecting this data is incredibly valuable, and this knowledge might be useful for your current social media strategy. Did you learn something new about your core audience? Did you attract any new audiences to your booth? Did attendees respond well to live video or images? Turn those insights into action.

If you’re looking for a partner to bring your messaging front and center to the next trade show, contact Highwire’s Digital Studio at digital@highwirepr.com to learn more about our services.

Analyst Trade Shows Standout in an Increasingly Digital World

For all the talk about marketing’s digital transformation, a heck of a lot of people are still attending physical trade shows. More than 42K attended the largest B2B security show, RSA Conference, in March 2019. More than 180K were in Las Vegas in January 2018 for CES, the massive consumer electronics show.

Many years ago, I believed that trade show popularity followed an inverted arc curve. At the apex of the curve– when a given show reached the peak of its popularity– is marketing saturation. Attendees would realize that a given show’s vendors all said the same thing, or, even worse, that the only people attending were non-practitioners. The show’s popularity would then see a precipitous decline.

My theory is easily disproved, given the longevity of certain shows I have attended for the majority of my career. But also disproven is a belief conditioned deep in my mind that the importance of physical trade shows will ultimately wane, given 1:1 marketing and the internet.

In truth, the concept of the trade show is amorphous and resilient. Alongside horizontal trade shows, such as CES, are a variety of other types of shows, such as user conferences. They commence as gatherings of peers to learn best practices for a specific solution but morph into living, breathing communities of their own.

A similar morphing might be underway among events run by industry analyst firms, which often prove to be wise investments by my clients. Incorporating industry analyst trade shows into a marketing mix is important for any B2B technology company, as long as those companies ponder a few key questions:

What’s the objective of your attendance? For companies interested in branding, a larger horizontal show avails you to a wide audience. Sponsoring trade show happenings, such as receptions or parties, creates buzz. Vertical and industry-analyst-driven events are more precise in their audience, and they should be considered if the objective is equally more narrow, such as driving customer acquisition.

One reason for attending an industry analyst event is to earn an audience with the analysts themselves. Regular communication with them is key to understanding the conditioning of the market and to teach the analyst as to why a given solution is ideal for where an industry is headed.

What is the target audience for the organization running the event? Certainly it’s important to know who is attending a given show, but a better way to look at this is to evaluate the audience that the show’s organizers care about. The more zeroed-in an organizer is on a target audience, the more zeroed-in that organization’s event is on that audience.

Evaluating the audiences an analyst firm cares about is not hard—simply review published research. However, organizations sometimes are misled by the credibility of a given firm and blindly sign up for that firm’s events, even if the firm doesn’t write for the correct end-user audience and has not defined a research area for those users. Most analyst firms place tech vendors in categories; if a given firm doesn’t have a category for you, it’s probably a wasted investment to attend that firm’s events.

Are there desirable outcomes beyond visibility and high-level lead generation? The right analyst trade shows gather a targeted list of influencers that matter to marketing efforts. Today’s digital world presents wide-ranging opportunities to leverage them.

Influencer dinners during the events are an informal setting to discuss trends. If they are positioned as such they have long-tail benefits. Dinner guests are more likely in the future to engage with the host’s content, act as a reference for marketing campaigns, or, obviously, mention the company in online comments or stories.

On-site social efforts by an exhibitor demonstrate that company’s commitment to the target audience. Visuals and short YouTube-quality videos from the events drive better engagement numbers than general thought leadership content.

Physical trade shows remain an important part of an organization’s marketing mix. And increasing the investment in shows run by analysts can deliver a nice return, as long as the audience and potential impact of such an investment are carefully weighed.