Trade shows can be fun, right? You find a conference related to your target market, purchase booth space, and go "network" with all the attendees in the hopes of getting some leads. Trade shows can be fun and "feel" like good marketing activity but are they really worth it?
I would argue that it's usually not.
Before you get your pitchforks and torches out, let's analyze the trade show process starting with your audience.
At a trade show, your maximum reach is limited to those in attendance, and in reality, limited to those that walk by your booth. At a larger show, this could be a few thousand and a smaller show might be in the hundreds. Not a lot of people. Even if it's one of the massive shows with tens of thousands of people there is a limit to how many of them you can talk to during the show.
Next, let's think about where these people are in their buying cycle. Some of them might be close to making a purchase of a product or service like yours. Others might just be "tire kickers" and might not have any intention of doing business with you. Others may not even be decision makers or influencers.
Finally, let's look at how you interact. At most trade shows, exhibitors tend to stand at their tables, give away pens and other trinkets, and just network. This may have some value but in general you're just hanging out at the bottom of theinbound marketing funnel. While some attendees might be ready to engage at the bottom of the funnel, the majority are likely not ready which leaves them without too many other options beyond taking a pen and walking away.
Even if you get their contact information all you can really do is "follow up" and see if they want to jump into your sales cycle.
So to recap, the elements of a trade show are:
Maximum reach limited to subset of attendees (usually a few hundred to a few thousand)
No specific ways to filter audience by buying cycle or interest
No real value offered to leads and no way to create a marketing process from it
Trade show campaigns are limited to one-time event
In contrast, Inbound Marketing offers the following elements:
Maximum reach is limited only to entire target market (huge)
Inbound Marketing is ongoing and has no campaign end date
Scalable, adaptable, and process-driven
Filtering, scoring, and reacting to buying cycles and interests of leads
So why would you choose a tradeshow?
Often, trade shows (and other "offline" marketing campaigns) simply feel good because of the hype that comes with it. There is lots of activity involved in setting up for a show so it seems valuable. However, when you look at the numbers and the scalability of exhibiting, it just doesn't add up.
Are there ways to make a tradeshow pay off? Absolutely. For example, SpinWeb is exhibiting at theGo Inbound Marketing Conferencein Indianapolis and we are putting together a combined inbound + offline campaign that is process-driven, unique, and measurable. You'll want to register and attend the event to see it!
So if you can't get your organization to stop doing trade shows, at least create a unique campaign that ties into your Inbound Marketing system. Set up targeted landing pages. Gather blog subscribers. Run a contest (something more exciting than drawing for an iPad). Do somethingdifferent.
Side note: for some ideas on how to make the most of your booth, you might want to listen to "Are Tradeshows Still Worth It?" by Scott Stratten and Alison Kramer over at the UnPodcast.
Can you get value from a trade show? Perhaps. But you're typically working a lot harder at it when compared to the scalability and ROI of Inbound Marketing.
What's your take on trade shows. Good for business or waste of time? Let us know in the comments.