In 2013, I questioned whether businesses should continue a traditional trade show strategy and shared the need I saw to integrate other marketing activities with trade show and conference strategies in my article Trade Shows: A Necessary Evil?

Two years later, I am still asking the same question. I still believe trade shows are a necessary evil and should be integrated with other marketing activities. But now I’m going to add another requirement to a successful show strategy. The need to engage your audience online prior to the show or conference is a must.

What does pre-show online engagement look like?

Next week, several members of the Quintain team are going to attend HubSpot’s INBOUND15 conference in Boston. This is a large and growing conference that attracts thousands of attendees every year. Below are several examples of how different groups and businesses are engaging INBOUND15 attendees online and positioning themselves for success before the start of this year’s conference.

1. Use the event hashtag in your pre-show marketing

Use #Hashtags when sharing the trade shows you attend

Does the event you are planning to attend or sponsor have a hashtag? Monitoring the event #hashtag is a great way of listening to conversations to get a feel for hot topics and trends going into the event. If your event sponsor hasn’t created a #hashtag, why not do it yourself?

2. Invite your connections to an event in conjunction with the conference

Some of the trade shows and conferences we attend have thousands of attendees. This can be overwhelming for many. Marcus Sheridan and George Thomas of the HubCast understand this. That’s why they have invited their podcast listeners to a “fireside chat” each night of the INBOUND15 conference. This is a great way of fostering connections within their podcast community and demonstrating their selflessness and desire to connect on a personal level with other inbound marketers.

HubSpotters are invited to Fireside chats with Marcus Sheridan

3. Provide other attendees with a ready-made content strategy

Sharing pre-show content ideas can increase booth traffic

More and more business (9 out of 10, to be exact) are using content or inbound Marketing to get found online. It’s no secret that we are big believers in the power of this strategy and tools like HubSpot (disclaimer alert – Quintain is a Platinum Level HubSpot partner). A common challenge faced by businesses using inbound marketing is how and what content to create. Offering a ready-made content strategy for an upcoming event is a great way of helping attendees get the most of their show investment, and your connections will thank you for making their life that much easier going into the show!

4. Share LOTS of pictures

Share photos of your booth

INBOUND15 is active on Instagram

Not all of your information has to be written. Given that 65% of the population are visual learners, sharing images and videos on Instagram, Twitter or other platforms is a great way to connect with attendees.

5. Give people the inside scoop

Share your local knowledge with attendees

Everyone likes likes having the “inside scoop.” You know – getting the down low from a local. If your upcoming event is in your hometown, share what you know with out of towners. For example, I make a point of eating breakfast at local diners when I attend conferences. I love a good mom and pop, greasy spoon (and if you have a recommendation for Boston, Tweet me @Marketing_Hack) and regularly share tips on great breakfast joints near trade shows and conferences.

6. Meet up with other attendees from your local area

Create geographically based groups

I know Brooklyn is a hot spot these days, and man are the folks in the Brooklyn HubSpot User Group brilliant! If I was with any business targeting inbound marketers in the New York City metro area, I would be all over this. Think about it – the group is made up of your local prospects and they’re all coming together in one place during this conference.

How will you connect online?

The six examples I’ve listed above are all potential differentiators for you and your business. Look at it like this, if you’re an exhibitor and could choose between engaging someone walking past your booth when they were the only one in your aisle or when they are one of thousands, which would you choose? If it were me, I would choose when they are alone because there would be more time to talk and I’d be able to give them my full attention. Striking up a conversation before the show online is a great way to connect with your trade show audience without the distraction of others around.

My takeaways are these:

  • For most businesses, it still makes sense to attend and exhibit at trade shows and conferences.
  • If you are not measuring the results of each of the events you attend and exhibit at, you need to. The day your budget is challenged is not far from today and you want to be in control of what, if any, shows you need to eliminate.
  • If your marketing department does not have an online pre-show marketing strategy to get your business in front of show attendees, you are missing out.

As the marketing landscape continues to evolve and new ways to connect with potent buyers emerge, marketing and sales professionals need to examine how best to reach their desired audience. This examination will challenge the status quo and the “business as usual” marketing mentality within many compaines. Traditional marketing strategies should not be abandoned just for the sake of adopting something new simply because it is new. When it comes to attending or exhibiting at a trade show, all businesses must plan, evaluate, measure the results, and integrate their trade show strategies with their overall marketing strategy to achieve the greatest return possible on their marketing spend.