I recently attended a trade show with one of FutureNow’s clients, and was reminded of how valuable this type of experience is to online marketers who want to improve their online conversion rate and marketing/sales results.
Before I dive into my 3 1/2 reasons why you should attend your company’s next relevant trade show, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about what a “trade show” is. There are many industry-centric gatherings that I’m NOT focusing on. An example might be a training seminar. Another might be a show where only vendors gather.
These are not the trade shows I’m talking about. I’m referring to public gatherings where your target customers are present en masse. Vendors are OK too, but the key here is that we online marketers need to get out of our “virtual” environment on a regular basis and attend public shows where our prospects can be studied and learned from. For example, if you run the website and/or marketing for a company that sells recreational boat trailers, you need to be at the next, nearest “Boat Show” that you can get to.
I’ll present my non-exhaustive list of reasons why online marketers should be at trade shows more often than (I perceive) they are. Feel free to add your own reasons to the comments, or share good insights you’ve gotten at trade shows.
Eavesdropping: Online marketers should be engaging in “active listening” at trade shows. Roam the trade show floor, stand in line for coffee, and sit with strangers at lunch. Assuming your target prospects are there, it’s pretty easy to get direct Voice of Customer data without paying any extra money. The things you hear might inspire new product offerings, promotions, or campaigns. Or, the way your target customers use language can help you flesh out your marketing personas [Free PDF download], come up with headlines to test, or figure out who your next spokesperson should be.
Interviewing: If you can get even five minutes to interview your target customer, you can learn a ton about them. Offer them a free gift if they’ll take a few minutes to answer questions about your products and services. Most trade show attendees are very cooperative if they know that you’ll use their input to improve your offering or your website. Make sure to ask open-ended questions and leave time at the end for them to give any feedback that’s on their mind. You’ll likely be told of issues with your website or your marketing that are real turn-offs, and you would never have known about them unless you asked.
Live User Testing: Bring your laptop or set up a desktop somewhere on-site. Ask your visitors to step through your checkout or lead generation funnel. Also ask them to complete more open-ended tasks like “Find information about X service,” or “Find the shipping weight of product Y.” If the tester goes somewhere you don’t desire or weren’t expecting, go with it. Encourage them to explore, talk, and answer their own questions or concerns. The data you collect may be painful (if your site isn’t as usable as you thought), but it will lead to straightforward improvements to your site’s conversion points.
Card Sorting: If you have a website with a complicated system of categorization (often an issue with online retailers), your way of viewing and structuring categories may actually be hurting your conversion rate. Card Sorting is a simple, low cost way to collect data on how your target audience would organize your site categories, and how they would find products or services. We recruited 15 target customers at our recent trade show and had them perform card sort exercises. The resulting data is going to efficiently drive a redesign of the client’s information architecture.
If your competitors are going to be at a trade show, you can learn a lot by observing how their booths are set up, what they’re giving away, or how they’re positioning themselves in the market. For example, you may be giving away candy bars at your both, while your competitors are handing out filet mignon While I would be comfortable loitering around a competitor’s booth and listening to target customers, I would NOT recommend you pretend to be a prospect just to get competitive intelligence. It’s a question of ethics, and if you beat your competitor, I want to know that you played fair.
Let’s face it; trade shows often involve dinners with prospects, after hours parties, and general debauchery. In the corporate world, I feel that our counterparts, the Sales folks, always “work hard and play hard” at trade shows, running up huge tabs at dinners and partying until the wee hours of the night. My final “half reason” is that online marketers need to step up and show those Sales people that Marketers can work hard and play hard, too*. You never know, if you show up at a trade show, work hard, and play hard, you may find you get more marketing budget next quarter