Tradeshows are expensive and as a startup our participation is completely unaffordable. The ROI for B2B events is uncertain. Does this sound familiar? As a B2B focused social media marketing agency we at Midas Touch get pulled into this argument often but somewhat contrary to expectations our response is not always an outright rejection. We believe that there may well be a case for B2B focused startups to seriously consider tradeshows as a part of their marketing mix.
Why should my startup go at-all?
The benefits of participating in Tradeshows are well known. For starters – where else can you access such a large, reasonably homogenous group of target customers together? The opportunity to engage with them and start the long process of relationship building, what old timers called networking, is apparent. Such a focused gathering also offers a great opportunity to craft a very specific message and broadcast it in a “gatekeeper” free environment. There are also undeniable benefits to visibly being a part of a community your target customers obviously care about. In most cases merely attending the event can also deliver acceptable returns provided some tactical steps are taken.
The importance of specific content
First understand that a lot of preparation is involved – generally the larger the event the longer the time you will have to spend in the groundwork. The first step starts well in advance of the actual event – define the message likely to appeal to the audience at the event and start creating high quality content to reflect that. This includes informative blogs on your website, thought-leadership oriented articles in online publications that target the same audience and more salesy “hard-copy” collateral.
The next step is to start a structured effort to get that content in front of the people it is intended for. The aim should be to associate your startup with the chosen subject in the minds of the target audience and the best way to do this is for them to “find” your content as they go online to answer their questions or to seek information. To do this we can turn to social media as well as some more “direct” action.
Getting the content “found” – social media
Twitter and LinkedIn are the weapons of choice in the B2B Social Media space. Most trade events these days invest in building a social trail – on Twitter this may take the form of a dedicated Twitter handle and a hashtag associated with the event and on LinkedIn long running events may have Groups of past and prospective participants. This presents startups an opportunity to become a part of a conversation larger than their own circles by associating themselves with these online properties.
One approach would be to start with teaser mentions on Twitter about the event that use the appropriate hashtags and in the period leading up to the event increase the mentions. Live tweeting impressions and opinions of proceedings during the event will grab some eyeballs and continuing the tweets in the immediate aftermath of the event will help your startup stay in the eyeline and linked to the event.
On LinkedIn the approach has to be different – updating your company page to reflect your participation is important to inform those who already follow your startup. Going into the LinkedIn group associated with the event and in other groups of people likely to be similarly interested is also worthwhile but has to be approached sensitively. These forums are not the place to shamelessly promote oneself or one’s participation – a more subtle approach is called for. For eg. a mention of something newsworthy from previous conferences or your own expectations from the upcoming one is a good way to invite opinions from other people who would also be in attendance.
Direct action- The role of email campaigns
Email campaigns should be planned as the tradeshow approach. Here step 1 is to identify the people attending the event that you would like to connect with. The list of the speakers at the conference could be the first port of call. The next stop could be the list of sponsors and exhibitors – chances are the top people in those companies will be in attendance. A carefully crafted email to these people referring to the tradeshow in the subject line stands a better chance of being read than other “cold” emails. The email should set out crisply what you hope to achieve from attending the event and seek an opportunity for a conversation while there. Following up, both with people who have confirmed meetings and those who have not, is critically important but a fine line has to be toed here so you don’t cross over into spammer territory. The timing of the emails is important – too early won’t work and too close to the show won’t do.
Following this script in prep should both improve your chances of meeting people that matter at the event and also in getting the word out to the rest of the people attending about your startup’s relevance in the space. After that it’s off to the races – make sure you have loads of business cards to hand out!