So most of the traditional or event marketers out there are calling BS on the title, but in the next couple paragraphs I want to talk you through why I believe the ROI in trade shows comes mostly from the digital marketing surrounding participation.  I also want to do a little bragging about how a relatively young digital marketing agency (ahem) is winning awards amongst brands like Dell, Education Dynamics, Danaher Corporation and Canon, so please forgive me if I am a little proud of my team.

The truth about modern trade shows and conferences is that a lot of the people who attend are influencers who are not really focused on business as much as the break they are getting from their day job to attend. This makes what you do before, during, and after the show the best opportunity for you to make these shows a success.

The attribution and versatility of Digital Media gives you the best opportunity to collect data necessary to prove the impact, engagement and market penetration to those who hold you accountable to the spend to get you and your team there (or create the opportunity to go back).

What To Do Before the Event

You need to leverage the contract and the exposure of the event as much as possible. Be sure to consider the normal provisions such as signage, space, and inclusion in promotional materials, but also look for the link to your site from every digital implementation of your logo. Look for inclusion opportunities in the social media blasts and look for the opportunities to present with objective and data-supported content.

Develop a Social Media strategy that includes a Hashtag for Twitter, a series of sneak peeks for Facebook and LinkedIn, and even a series of preparatory images to leverage on Snapchat, Instagram and other visual platforms.

Be sure the elements are specific to your company according to the event, and use it as a reciprocal with others who will be attending. Reach out via social media to large and small brands as well as the venue and organizer to build interest, but also to arrange meetings and introductions at the conference. I can tell you that this is as good of a strategy for prospecting for clients as it is to prospect for talent, so leverage your LinkedIn prospecting skills to arrange for the best use of your time on both fronts.

With my team, we showcased our talented marketers and our skilled developers by working with a new video racing game. We had teams from both sides of our company work together to develop a custom skin for the race car that co-branded the event coordinator, the event logo and our logo. The idea of using the digital aspect of the video game to get the interest and then also using the competitive nature of playing the game to create a competitive environment takes the pressure off of the pitch and places the focus on our logo and branding with the opportunity to allow visitors to ask us questions.

It’s more comfortable for everyone, but it also creates an opportunity for digital asset creation that supports the multiple stages of the total campaign.

What To Do While You’re There

Take advantage of the exhibitor time to reign in the buzz on Social Media with visual expose of setup, tweet about the excitement that is building and mention the people you are looking forward to meeting (including the keynotes and presentations you will attend), and also be sure to make connections with other exhibitors to allow them to share their leads that will be mutually beneficial as you do the same.

Once the event begins, become the PR and paparazzi on social media that shares the attendees, any updates on your contests, and those keynotes that are making statements that should be shared.  Real Time Marketing can be a challenge, but it is the one way you can bring the insider info to the masses in advance of any wrap-up after the event is over.

It is also a key way to create engagement and authority with those who are truly interested in the space or are presenting.  With the race car example, we live tweeted updates on the leaderboard, and actually elevated one of our booth visitors who held the top spot all day on our first day to a topic of discussion at the evening party.

The famous “Lee G.” shared with us the next day that others at the bash were coming up to him to talk about his score on the game and even foster competition in trying to unseat him the following day.  When you are the topic of conversations like this, you build up the attendees experience, you build your brand and you become more valuable as an attendee for the event coordinators.  The benefits just keep coming.

What To Do Afterwards

Make sure to leverage social media to thank the venue, presenters, and event coordinators for a great event.  Wrap up the theme for your booth.  If you had a presentation, offer the wrap-up for download.

If you collected information on attendees, be sure to send the appropriate follow-up emails to the various categories of people for whom you have information. If you had a meaningful conversation with someone you encountered, make your follow up genuine and personal.  No one likes to be mass marketed, so if they engaged with you, you owe it to them to be timely, genuine and personal.

If they visited your booth or attended your presentation, allow them to engage with you by receiving more of your content (RSS Blog subscription, Newsletter sign-up, whatever) until they are ready for you to engage with them again. If they were an attendee, but didn’t get a chance to meet you, recognize this is still a cold call and you should reach out appropriately. Maybe recognize that you missed each other at the event, offer a quick overview of what may be of interest to them and get them to your site to investigate.  At that point they can lead the nurturing next steps.

As you can see above, the attendance and chachkies are nowhere near the requirement to make an event successful, but if the digital marketing surrounds what you do at the event appropriately, the event becomes more than just airfare and handshakes.

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