January 27, 2021

Trade Show Tradeoff: Time for Re-Evaluation

Marketing Topics

Refocusing Your Marketing Dollars for Digital Engagement

As a building materials manufacturer (BMM), you know the drill. It is one you have likely conducted every year when it came time to lock down your marketing budget. Carefully select which industry trade shows make sense for your company. Then, determine the size and scope of your exhibit or your booth, design it, build it, and ship it.

Next came the other questions. Will you sponsor something at the trade show – the “bag” everyone carries on the show floor, a banner in the exhibit hall, or perhaps a hospitality event? What announcements or news will you make on the show floor? Who is attending from your organization? How will you capture leads?

A 2018 study by the Center for Exhibition Research found that B2B exhibitors spent more than 40 percent of their budget on trade show exhibitions. A previous survey conducted by Forrester Research found that in-person trade shows accounted for the largest portion of a B2B company’s marketing budget.

For years, trade shows and conferences for stakeholders across the industry – building products manufacturers, architects, specifiers, contractors and more – created a platform for forging relationships, exploring new partnerships and learning about new innovations. They were part of the business development equation. Even before last year, BMMs of all kinds began to more closely scrutinize their investment in such events. What benefit was the organization getting by attending? How many leads did the show generate? How much business could be tied to participating in the show, and how much did it cost to secure that business?

Then came the global pandemic.

COVID-19: A Turning Point?

The Coronavirus effectively shuttered in-person trade shows in 2020, because they represented too much risk for the spread of the disease – in-person gatherings of large numbers of people in enclosed spaces centered on one-on-one interaction. How do you make that meaningful while wearing a mask? Are you ready to replace the handshake with the elbow bump?

Plus, you have to travel to get there, which presents another set of circumstances leading to potential exposure – plane rides, car services, hotel stays, meals in a restaurant.

Trade show organizers of every stripe and color responded. They pivoted to digital and virtual engagements, following the lead of the work-from-home movement that took shape early in the pandemic. Remove the risk, and reinvigorate a platform for dialogue and an exchange of ideas. Bring people together online to learn about new products and advancements, hear from engaging speakers, and meet new prospects.

As 2021 gets under way and the rollout of multiple COVID-19 vaccinations begins, the future of in-person trade shows is unsettled, and the validity of moving such activities online is being put to the test.

Traditional trade shows will likely return in some form once the nation has effectively defeated the virus. That being said, should they remain a part of your marketing matrix? How much should you invest in them?

Now is the time to evaluate the changing landscape and make informed decisions about what makes sense for your organization.

Diving Deeper into Digital

Global management firm McKinsey and Company conducted a survey early in the pandemic. Their findings: The nation had “…vaulted five years forward in consumer and business digital adoption in a matter of around eight weeks.” That digital adoption has only accelerated as the pandemic has maintained its grip on the nation, affecting every facet of American life. It has changed how we work, how we shop, and how we live.

For building materials manufacturers, the message is simple and clear: Digital engagement can and should be a growing facet of your marketing efforts as 2021 takes shape.

For your company, perhaps it means you consider more readily attending virtual events. You acknowledge the new normal by protecting your team and avoiding travel, yet you maintain a company presence and a voice amongst your peers. Your sales and marketing teams are still given the opportunity to learn new things and meet new people, and you are able to achieve cost savings as well.

Or maybe you host your own virtual event, bringing your prospects and customers to you and putting your brand front and center. In doing so, you get to set the agenda and the terms of engagement for maximum ROI, which can be powerful for an important company announcement.

For in-person trade shows once they return, the next logical step is to cast an even more discerning eye toward investment. Perhaps you only attend one show a year, and you change it up by attending a different conference each year. Maybe you also establish a presence at a series of regional ones for more targeted prospecting. You also create a litmus test for exhibiting at a trade show – when you have big news to share or a product rollout to execute. With each trade show, you track the activity connected to it digitally to verify the flow of leads – pre-show, during the show, and after it.

Systemic Change: The Digital Ecosystem

Reinvest the dollars you save on the trade show front into developing a digital ecosystem for your building materials company, and you will drive much higher levels of engagement and achieve greater ROI for your organization.

It begins by fortifying key assets that include your website and your content marketing program. Ensure that you have a compelling home for your brand and that it is constantly populated with timely, relevant, impactful content that tells your company’s story – about your people, your building products innovations, and your role as a thought leader in the industry.

Next comes an integrated strategy to engage your prospects and customers. This can include a marketing automation initiative designed to turn prospects into marketing-qualified leads and then ultimately sales-qualified leads through drip campaigns and a lead scoring system. For certain initiatives, a landing page delivers a specific, targeted message, and it serves as the rallying point for efforts across owned and paid media channels. You can then engineer your marketing automation and eMarketing efforts to drive traffic to this landing page.

When it comes to paid advertising, programmatic digital advertising campaigns are highly effective at targeting desirable prospects, and they are much more cost-competitive than traditional paid advertising tactics. Programmatic campaigns target your prospects where they are on the Internet based on their profile and their behavior. When matched with creative that has stopping power, your programmatic ads – for a new building product, or for a recent innovation you’ve introduced – will get your message in front of the right people, and it will drive potential customers to your digital asset. This leads to dialogue that can uncover a lead.

The right kind of media partnerships can also contribute to a healthy, active digital ecosystem. Paid advertising programs that enable you to share your content directly with a trade media outlet’s audience – via a case study, an authored article or an eBlast – provide you with a way to deliver your story in your voice to the outlet’s readers, leveraging the publication’s reach and credibility.

Incorporate a search engine marketing program that marries your brand and your online presence with key search terms, and you now have a well-oiled digital machine that is firing on all pistons to deliver results for your brand.

No expensive trade show booths. No travel budgets. Instead, a carefully crafted ecosystem that is trackable, measurable, and primed for better results.

Digital Engagement: A Smarter Investment

Recent research shows that key stakeholders in the building and construction industry – designers, architects, contractors, and others – begin their search for new ideas and recent innovations online.

As the trade show industry sorts out what it will be during and post-COVID, now is the time to conduct an analysis of where your marketing dollars can have the most impact.

Development of a digital ecosystem primes you and your company to spend smartly and produce ROI that contributes to the bottom line in a meaningful way.


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