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Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2010 at 6:40 pm

3 1/2 Reasons Why Online Marketers Should Attend Tradeshows

By Brendan Regan
August 3rd, 2010

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.

Reason #1: Gathering “Voice of Customer” Data

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.

Reason #2: Improving Website Usability

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.

Reason #3: Competitive Analysis

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.

Reason #3 1/2: Parties

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 :)

*The author, and FutureNow, do not condone any dangerous, lewd, or lascivious behavior at trade shows or otherwise. Play hard at your own risk!
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Comments (41)

  1. Competitor analysis is so true. As an online marketer, I have always been keeping an eye on my major competitors, do whatever they have done and be better. And hi5 @ the party reason! This is what marketing is all about – networking!

    Very nice post indeed. I have dropped you an email, hope to hearing from you soon ;)


  2. You think that parties are only a 1/2? SMXEast through a pretty wild party last year! I would give more than a 1/2 :) Just my two sense!

  3. Great advice.

    As online marketers we often forget just how powerful face to face marketing is.

    You can probably get more leads and business from a trade show than from a ppc campaign.

  4. This is a great post on something most virtual marketers don’t even think of doing. When I worked in the corporate world, trade shows were seen pretty much as a social networking venture and a view of the next best product. And it is to a point. But marketers could learn so much from watching and listening to their core audience and get a dose of reality you don’t see behind a computer screen. Thanks for pointing this stuff out.

  5. I agree to everything here. It is always good to step down from whatever pedestal you are in now and for sure you’ll learn something that you never would have known about. Mingle, socialize, it’s the best thing to do to gather precious feedback.

  6. This article is very inspiring and this is a practice that all business marketers should do. Trade shows can also give you a great idea on what to promote the next time you get online.

  7. To my shame I’ve never actually been to a tradeshow, I just don’t have the time… Maybe I need to find time!

  8. Events like this are good to find JV’s, partners, super affiliates,… But there is just one thing wrong with all this events – There isn’t any good over here in Europe.

  9. Reason 3.5 is my favorite! I once went to a trade show and the thing almost turned into a swingers party! =P

  10. Indeed! I feel internet marketing is different from offline marketing just in the pace and medium of interaction between marketers and customers. Tradeshows are the best way to keep tabs on the changes in the marketing world for sure!

  11. It’s a great decision for Internet marketers to get out and mingle at these types of trade and industry shoes.

    I think that holds true for just about any type of job where you have to sell a product or service. It’s too easy to get caught up behind the keyboard, reading posts, writing posts, refining strategy and staying locked up online that it can cause you to become stagnant.

    If for no other reason than to get out and really engage your target audience and communicate with physical people for a while, these types of events are a great benefit.

  12. When we live in an increasingly online world, it is easy to forget that transactions get done by real people and meeting, communicating, interacting with prospects, strangers and partners is one of the fastest way to get things done successfully. Thanks for the reminder on why we should be attending trade shows.

  13. Honestly I think website usability is absolutely crucial and you make a good point connecting it to the tradeshows. These can really be a huge benefit to almost any company. Thanks for the awesome information!

  14. Networking is definitely key to success. While at these shows, the potential business contacts that can be obtained are priceless.

    Plus, seeing what your competition is doing will really help the internet marketers improve their skills.

  15. Online Marketing is almost similar to live marketing, so if we get a chance to go for such Trade Shows, we get to learn a lot about mood and demands of customers, and can plan accordingly our online Marketing Strategy. Thanks for sharing Sir.

  16. I would add, 3.51:
    Although you sort of covered it in 3, there is also the in thing, what tools the industry is using in marketing, perhaps is social media, mobile, or giveaways, or whatever the trend, and you don’t want your marketing to be stuck in the old ways when everyone else is moving in a new direction.

  17. I guess you assume that most online marketers don’t attend many public gatherings anyway because they get used to the screen of their computer too much and everything happens on screen for them. I think it’s a very useful assumption

  18. I’ve never attended a trade show since I started my online business ten years ago. I did my online marketing work you mentioned, Gathering Customer Data, Improving Website Usability, and Competitive Analysis behind my computer. It worked! But I missed the face to face Live Human interaction. You article has definitely convinced me to go out and attend trade show. Thanks, great job!

  19. [...] Before I dive into my 3 1/2 reasons why you should attend your company’s next … Conversion Rate Optimization & Marketing Blog | FutureNow [...]

  20. I love this article, it’s so true! Getting out of the virtual world and into the real one at trade shows opened up my eyes to several things I hadn’t thought about when creating my marketing agendas. Great article!

  21. geeat advice , as an online marketer i never thought of face to face marketing , my only focus was on internet buyers , but i should give it a go in real world too

  22. I am surprised that a marketing site would only rate parties as 0.5 of a reason.

    Zalman, I thought the SMX east party wasnt interesting enough to attent. Maybe Ill try this year.

  23. I agree with you about attending trade shows. As online marketers we lose a lot of human interaction. It is good to put a face to the name when you can meet with business partners at a trade show. Through these interactions we can often get insights into cutting edge techniques and meet with customers to see what drives them in their decision making.

  24. finding JV’s is great for this as you have meet them face to face, you stand more chance of them opening an email when the see who it is from

  25. To my shame I’ve never actually been to a tradeshow, I just don’t have the time… Maybe I need to find time!

  26. I really do want to attend trade shows.

    But has anyone in the Internet Marketing Industry noticed that CES never approves your registration. I mean, it’s kind of a slap in the face = /

    Hopefully this year won’t be the same, really hoping to go!

  27. “Live User Testing” is such a good idea. I’ve developed my own applications since I was at school, but only recently Ive been selling them commercially. Ive been on forums asking for beta testers but it has never actually occurred to me that tradeshows are an IDEAL place to get beta testers.

    Thank you very much for this suggestion, Im going to implement this.

    I just need to work on my people skills now =$

  28. Take it from someone who has attended over 300 trade shows that there is one other 1/2 reason. You need a leg massage after you’ve walked or worked one of those things.

  29. It is so true that online marketers doesn’t play hard enough late in the night,it could increase productivity and creativity.

  30. Trade shows are made for meeting complementary skills,customers and capital.

  31. SESSF was fun this year! I don’t know if you were there or not but I had a great time enjoying the sights and sounds of San Francisco, as well as getting some good insights at the sessions by day. Can’t wait for pubcon in Vegas!

  32. Competitive analysis is the most important reason to attend conventions, especially in the travel industry. Every year you have new trends, and you need to understand your strong points all the time. After attending the last convention, we decided in our vacation rental service offering quality apartments was more important than proposing inexpensive accommodations, because there were too many of these. Today we work for fewer clients, however they are satisfied, and we can focus on their requirements.

  33. I always found the competitive analysis the best part of the event. It is easy to build upon a great idea you see. Of course competitors are doing that everyday to me.

  34. i can see how these tradeshows can really help. not only does it helpw ith competitor analysis but who knows what you will learn. its so hard to learn new strategies when your tunnel visioned from your computer

  35. You forgot the Booth girls….jk! (well, kind of). Seriously though, I would rate networking at the best reason to attend – which can lead to opportunities and knowledge sharing.

  36. By meeting ‘competitors’ in person, you sometimes realize that you can also work together. There is absolutely NO way you would be able to asses and accomplish this if you don’t meet in person (i.e. via email). So basically networking is the most important aspects of trade shows.
    I am curious to hear how you keep ‘track’ of any prospects and leads from trade shows…

  37. I’ve actually been to a few trade shows where coincidentally, I ran into a then-competitor, talked about non-work related issues for a bit and then proceeded to discuss our professions, websites and so on. Within a couple months, the fellow was working with us and it’s been a great business partnership ever since. Hence, I couldn’t agree with you more on attending trade shows.

  38. I like the first reason Gathering “Voice of Customer” Data. it will tell them what are search terms or keywords they are searching for

  39. I thought this was interesting I have been curious as to what to look for and what to do as far as trade shows were concerned not sure about reason # 3 1/2 but I could see that as being part of your voice data collection time too right!! Nice post

  40. Being stuck behind a computer all day you become more like a hermit. So I agree, I’ve been having to force myself to start going to tradeshows, just to get back in front of people.

  41. I have always met good contacts at trade shows – and have landed some of my best gigs over cocktails after trade shows! It is all about face-to-face. You will always be your own best advertising.

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