Today’s guest post is by Allen Mireles

Have tradeshows become obsolete?

Our digital world makes so many things possible today.

Online and mobile tools facilitate communication and help us meet new people, develop relationships, and share information.

We now reach across geographic and cultural boundaries easily and inexpensively–in real time.

Makes old-school marketing tactics such as events and trade shows seem…almost outdated.

We don’t need to be face-to-face in the real world any more.

Or do we?

Actually, we do, though people have been asking these kinds of questions for years.

It’s human nature. With each innovation, earlier practices are reexamined and retooled to perform more effectively.

The More Things Change

During the mid-80s and 90s, I worked with industry events on both agency and client sides. In those days the format of the traditional trade show was being challenged, forced to accommodate radical innovations such as portable displays and modular exhibits featuring computer terminals and continuous-loop video.

Yet the objective remained constant: To create events that allowed attendees to connect, engage, network, and learn (and often purchase). Technology enhanced the events but didn’t replace the benefits of face-to-face encounters.

That hasn’t changed.

Depending on your industry and marketing strategy, a trade show may be just what your company needs. Consider this: A trade show can offer valuable opportunities to meet decision makers face-to-face, scope out your competition, scope out what’s new and trending in the industry, connect with trade media, build new relationships, generate leads, and build brand awareness. Add social media and digital tools to the mix and you can turbo charge your efforts.

Now wait a minute. Don’t just go racing out into cyberspace and flail about tweeting and Facebooking wildly. Think strategically. Plan, even. Know what you hope to accomplish before you get started.

Plan for Before, During, and After

So think about it. What do you need to do to get their attention before the event, attract their attention during the event, hold their attention while they are in your booth, and maintain their attention after the show has ended?

Before the event:

You already know where your customers and prospects hang out online, right? Use social media before the event to promote your company’s involvement and generate buzz. Focus on the benefits to your customers and prospects–why should they visit your booth? What’s in it for them?

You can:

  • Blog about the upcoming event and your company’s involvement
  • Set up Facebook and Linkedin event listings and invite customers, prospects, and members of the media to visit your booth
  • Use Facebook and Linkedin ads to promote the event and your booth number
  • Make your booth a Foursquare checkin location
  • Create a hashtag on Twitter and tweet about your upcoming event
  • Take the event’s listing of attendees, vendors, and media and build Google+ Circles
  • Upload a video about the upcoming trade show to your YouTube and Vimeo channels
  • Share images of your booth (and a map highlighting your booth’s location) on Flickr and your other social networks
  • Integrate all of your company’s social networks so your prospects can follow you using the platform they like most

During the event:

Step out of the booth and meet people. Look them in the eye and listen to what they are saying. Exchange business cards or v-cards. Find out why they are attending the show and what they hope to get out of it. Remember what your strategy is and what you hope to accomplish by attending the event.

You can:

  • Have someone in the booth to live blog the event using your event hashtag.
  • Offer incentives for people to check in at your booth on Foursquare.
  • Tweet special offers throughout the show using your event hashtag.
  • Create a QR code at your booth that visitors can use to download a white paper.
  • Do short video interview of industry experts attending the show and live stream or upload to your social networks.
  • Get creative. Add something fun to your booth that enhances your visitor’s experience.

After the event: 

Trade shows and industry events wear you out. The work that goes into getting there, setting up, working the booth, tearing down, and getting back to the office is exhausting. Often, people drop the ball on follow up after they get back to the office. You don’t want to do that.

Follow-up is critical:

You must:

  • Add the people you met to your Linkedin and Foursquare networks, G+ Circles, follow them on Twitter. Check to see if they are using YouTube or Vimeo and add them.
  • Use Twitter to thank the people you met and let them know you appreciate their having stopped by your booth.
  • Email the hot prospects with something of value, such as a valuable or educational article or blog post.
  • Recap the event on your blog and share that to your Facebook, G+, and Linkedin profiles.
  • Write a white paper about the event with the  highlights and industry trends you observed and make it available to attendees.
  • Take the content from the white paper and turn it into a PowerPoint presentation that you can upload to Slideshare.
  • Acknowledge the hard work of the people who helped you make the show a success. A simple thank you creates a lot of goodwill.

Old fashioned tactic alert: Send handwritten thank you notes to people with whom you connected on a deeper level. In today’s digital world, a handwritten note can really stand out. Think about it, when was the last time you got something in the mail with a hand addressed envelope?

What has always worked about industry events and trade shows still works today. Create the chance to meet people face-to-face and demonstrate your sincerity, expertise, and interest. Be memorable. Follow-up afterward to build on what you’ve started.

The technology, the social networks and forums, video and images, QR codes, and checkins are all fabulous. They all add value to the attendee experience. But you make the difference. Your enthusiasm, creativity, industry knowledge and people skills can help boost confidence in your company, build brand awareness and differentiate you from your competitors.

So are trade shows obsolete? Not in today’s world.

Allen Mireles is vice president at Arment Dietrich and is based outside of Toledo. She has diverse expertise in healthcare IT, manufacturing, and education. You can follow her on Twitter  at allenmirelesadd her to your circles on G+, link to her on LinkedIn, or friend her on Facebook.