One of the more common drivers for web site launches is the big tradeshow or user conference. While this can be an effective approach to doing integrated marketing, more often than not, the push is to have the web site somehow BE the marketing hook at the trade show.

As strange as it may sound coming from someone who lives and breathes the B2B online marketing world, the reality is that trade shows are and should remain focused on the face-to-face connections you make. What I’ve found after years of dealing with the trade show driven deadline is that the reality is far from expectations, and often have the opposite of the intended impact.

  • There is no evidence to support any uptick in site visitorship before, during or after a trade show based on metrics we have for hundreds of B2B sites.
  • Often, the additional work load required for preparation for a trade show or user conference means that the web site gets even shorter shrift leading up to and often after the event.
  • The rush to launch sometimes actually ends up torpedoing an accomplishable launch date, when the consequences of all the steps that were skipped to make a rush date possible show up during QA.
  • Finally, having laptops set up at your trade booth to show your web site, or forcing users at a user conference to watch a walk through is not a valuable use of space and time. Announce it, promote it, but let it speak for itself enough that users find the value on their own time.

That said, there are ways to make your site an effective partner in your trade show marketing, but the actual ROI versus perceived ROI may surprise you.

Plan, plan, plan

Get your site started 9-12 months BEFORE your target event. Waiting until what would be a more typical 4-6 month build cycle means that your staff is going to be rushing at the last minute to get everything done.

Tie in your web site to your normal event promotion

Get some measure of how your prospects and clients are responding to your offline and online marketing by running some promos. This can be as simple as having a sweepstakes give away tied into the event, or by offering some free pre-scheduled consultations on site, limited-time offers associated with the event, or a space-limited event. Doing give aways or scheduling online means one less item to print, less print materials to haul or ship, digital info that can be imported or feeds directly into your CRM, and the ability to set up an event oriented email drip weeks if not months in advance of the show.

Have your opt-in and lead qualification plans in place before you get your leads, not after

This ties into one and two above, but if you don’t have a specific plan, content and promotions in place before you go to further qualify any leads generated through integrated online promotions or registrations, you might as well just bring paper forms. If you don’t have an integrated online marketing plan that includes opt-in, waiting until after your big face-to-face event is too late. Most eCRMs will give you very fine tuned control in how you set up your lead qualification process from creating the lead to closing the sale. The earlier you think through and set up your approach, the more successful you’ll be. Even if this is your first time, having the baseline metrics will make each successive year more and more successful.

Use QR codes

While somewhat antithetical to some of the face-to-face you’ll do at the tradeshow, many of your technical buyer prospects will appreciate the opportunity to grab and go. It sounds simple, but make sure you test your QR codes before, during and after the show, especially if you want to get some baseline measures of what your customers and prospects are scanning, and what they are responding to. Don’t overcomplicate this though – having a QR code for every product offering, versus product categories for example, may be overkill. If you are running event-specials off your web site, make sure you have QR codes available as well. If you save prospects who are busy evaluating vendors from stopping and typing in a web address, you’ve started your branding off on the right foot.

Use your lessons learned

If you do all your planning months in advance, have your new site up well before the trade show, promote the heck out of a new product or service offering, and your metrics show a luke-warm response compared to some other lesser offer, use that information to inform your marketing and sales. The opposite can be true of course, but it can be harder to swallow your pride and take a close look at what your prospect and customer metrics are telling you, even without a large aggregate.

The main thing to keep in mind is that your web site is a critical tool in your marketing arsenal, but it only enhances your trade show/user conference marketing. It’s not the end all be all. And the benefits may be more indirect in the way an integrated approach:

  • Increases the quality of your business intelligence.
  • Improves your responsiveness to your prospects and customers.
  • Decreases printing time and materials costs.
  • Integrates leads immediately into your eCRM.
  • Gets more people more information more quickly and easily in the ways that they want to receive it.

If you need help developing a comprehensive integrated marketing approach, eMagine can be your guide there in addition to redesigning your site.