In the digital age it may be surprising that events and trade shows still hold a strong foothold in terms of brands achieving awareness, new customers and even the signing of new business deals.
The total yearly economic contribution from the events industry is approximately $565 billion. In fact, trade shows and events are the biggest industry you’ve probably never leveraged. They add more to GDP than film, music and even spectator sporting industries.
Which means that exhibiting at trade shows is a route many startups and SMEs take when looking to gain customers, investors and brand exposure.
Consider Mobile World Congress, one of the biggest technology trade shows in the world, it takes place each year in Barcelona where thousands of investors, startups and potential customers flock to find out what’s new.
It is at shows like this where many acquisition stories bloom. It’s where news of acquisitions made by companies such as Uber are discussed and which others attribute to raising seed rounds starting at $200K up to $1.5 million.
With this in mind, here are five concrete reasons why trade shows could be your startups’ golden ticket.
1. Customer acquisition
Customer acquisition is simultaneously the biggest painpoint and the biggest marker of success to investors and board members. Pick the right trade show and this problem could be solved with an influx of potential leads.
Depending on your product or service, many new leads can be signed up at your booth, boosting your MRR and every other growth measurement within just a day or two.
The highly targeted marketing that trade show organizers do in the lead up to an event allows you to segment based on interest, company or any other data that’s made available to you. If the trade show offers a hosted buyer system, you can prebook appointments with visitors who look like potential leads, allowing you to spend more time with less people and set yourself up for a higher conversion rate.
Events and trade shows offer a huge exposure opportunity: pre, during and post-show. The social media interaction is often vast, with a dedicated event campaign, hashtag and event handle as well as Facebook pages and live social media coverage during the show.
Additional exposure can be achieved through guest posts on the event website, industry comments and email communications, allowing you the chance to share expertise and become known. Many events will also allow exhibitors to become speakers, multiplying the opportunities you have to share your company mission.
Trade shows also present the perfect platform for marketing campaigns that are low on budget, but high on effect. With a little thought, you can create a guerilla campaign that will make your startup stand out from other exhibitors. You can hijack the event hashtag, create an innovative exhibition stand design or use it as the platform through which to launch a new product or service.
The heightened sense of community surrounding an event environment means you could end up trending on Twitter, reaching national news or securing key interest in your company, all from a single event.
3. Relationship building
As well as gaining access to a pool of customers, trade shows also give you exposure to industry influencers and journalists. An event like SXSW or Mobile World Congress will have its own media village, press rooms and all of the top industry journalists looking for stories, news and innovations to cover.
This opens the door for you to gain coverage for your startup in a way that is timely and relevant – without you having to hunt out opportunity on your own.
The relationship becomes mutually beneficial; you gain coverage for your startup, as well as web traffic, social media followers and quality inbound links to your site, the journalist receives an exclusive story to make their publication top of the reading list for that show.
Trade shows are also your meeting point to find those elusive industry influencers you’ve been trying to meet for coffee. Within an event environment, industry visionaries could be much more receptive to your advances, allowing you to build relationships, increase exposure and make long-lasting industry connections for your business.
4. Multiple target audiences
You may think you have one key cohort in your target audience, but perhaps there are two or three others that you just haven’t heard of yet. Events are generally broad in sense, with deeper pockets of different audiences and personas all in attendance at the same time.
This may mean that your current customer base focuses solely on millennials who work within digital marketing, but your presence at a trade show might uncover another cohort who work within a similar vertical.
Having conversations and being present on the show floor will undoubtedly open the gates to opportunities you didn’t know existed. Surrounded by others in your industry, you could find cross-channel partnerships in your niche that expand your offering and open you up to a pool of new users.
5. Market feedback
Feedback is a crucial part of the product or service development process of a startup, helping to move from minimum viable product to something more inline with product-market fit.
Trade shows and events give you a way to collate a huge amount of data and feedback – both quantitive and qualitative, within a short period of time. To get 1,000 new customers to try your product could take months of work, coercion and marketing. While at a trade show, that number of customers could walk past a booth within a day.
Trade shows also allow you to test your products or services out within a different environment, allowing you to locate bugs within a real world application and allow your visitors to “break” your product in ways you may not have envisioned. All leading to a more defined, longer-lasting roadmap.
Events and trade shows are undoubtedly a top marketing tool to help startups get out into the real world, find key influencers and acquire customers at a quicker pace. Will you be brave enough to embrace them?
This article has been edited.
Suzanne Malhotra has 25 years experience as a marketing strategist and consultant, specialising in exhibitions, events and brand activations. Suzanne is Client Director at 4D, a specialist exhibition design agency that works with ambitious global technology, IT and telecom companies and startups. Suzanne has a passion for continuous exploration into new and creative means of design, marketing and brand environments. Connect with @4D_Design on Twitter.