During the past two months I’ve attended both live and virtual trade shows. As a marketing consultant I worked the booths and made contact with other show attendees. While on the surface the experience might read the same, in reality there was no comparison.
Let’s start with booth experience. In the live trade show, I worked in a worst case scenario. Our booth did not show up. We just had a table on which to put our information. No signage behind us.
In the virtual show, everything was in place – our graphics, our downloadable material, even our video.
Guess which one engaged those who came by?
The live trade show – by a mile.
To begin with, people walked by and actually noticed no graphics. There was also this thing called eye contact, which has been proven over the last few millennia to work pretty well. And when contact was made, conversations flowed.
In the virtual event the only way I could make contact was by sending an invitation to booth attendees as they arrived, offering to give them information. They could ignore, accept or decline. Approximately 10% of those who entered our booth space accepted, and of those, 70% said that if they had any questions, they would ask. There were only a handful of meaningful interactions, and that’s the combined total of 3 virtual trade shows.
Why was that?
In a live event, people dress up and are completely focused on the event at hand. In a virtual event, people are in their offices or their homes. They are easily distracted. One guy actually put on his video cam, and I saw him in his t-shirt surrounded by the books and papers of his home office. That would have been OK, but even while we were conversing, I could tell he was distracted by other things going on. And he was on camera. Imagine the concentration of those who aren’t.
In fairness, most of those who attend virtual events go for the educational webinars. But I’m not talking about attendees and their experience. I’m talking about exhibitors who pay to be in the show.
So in the end, what’s the ROI difference?
Going to a trade show and setting up a booth can be pretty expensive. We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars, depending on your size and the number of people who people your booth.
Having a booth in a virtual trade show still costs you money, but you don’t have to deal with any of the travel, lodging and meal expenses. So it’s a lot cheaper. You also can work out deals where no matter how many people actually show up at your booth, you can get the list of all attendees and email them after the show.
Let’s say that list is 3,000, and let’s give the send a generous 33% open rate, and a respectable 5% click through rate. That’s 50 people who make it to your landing page. Now compute a normal conversion rate for your company, and you’ll see that you might get a handful of warmish leads.
In a live event, you may get several hundred leads. Of those, most of them have discussed your products with you. You may even have been allowed to email or mail to the attendee list before and after the show. You probably also talked at length with existing customers – so you can add retention marketing into the mix.
I’m not saying that a live trade show has good ROI, but compared to a virtual event, at least there are some sales to measure against cost. Yes, there are other factors to consider with having a booth at a virtual event – brand awareness, association with a newish technology etc. But ROI? Based on my experience, limited as it is, I’d still opt for a bricks and mortar live event over a virtual one.
What do you think?
I spent two days at this year’s Natural Products Expo East, asking marketers of all different size companies to participate in a benchmark study. The study will hopefully reveal marketing practices for the natural products industry, how marketers divide their budgets, and what works for them and what doesn’t in the world of marketing communications.
Almost all of them agreed to participate (we’ll see how many actually do when they get the email link). Many of them saw the benefit of having such a report, while others shrugged. Even though the information gathered will be completely anonymous (those taking the survey will not be asked for their company’s name), several sited their privacy as the reason for not participating. All of this was to be expected.
There were several marketers who volunteered information – none of which was particularly promising: Information like “We only advertise with the distributors,” or “We don’t do hardly any marketing.” Only a select few mentioned social media (tended to be the bigger companies) and hardly anyone mentioned SEO.
The natural products industry, which has more feel good stories to tell than almost any industry I know, which has the potential to create devoted online communities, still is stuck in point-of-sale and trade-oriented marketing. For so many of the small companies I visited, they still believe that the power of their product will be enough to break through the clutter and find its loyal following.
While that was the case 15 or even 10 years ago, just having a good product that’s new to the market is not going to cut it. There are a few companies that have burst onto the market in the last couple years, and they did it with the combo of new and a concerted marketing effort.
But those little guys in the single booths, I worry about them. Many of them have this mindset that they can’t afford marketing. That’s because they think of it in terms of spending ad dollars. And if they don’t get an immediate bang for their dollars, they stop – and all that precious money they spent is wasted.
If only they put the ingenuity that helped make their products into some creative marketing, they might have a chance. I’m talking about creating an organic web presence, one that combines best practices SEO and social media. I’m talking about using the internet cleverly to get to those all important store buyers. They are right about the fact that they need to get onto the shelves. But it takes marketing to bring their products to the attention of those buyers, and it takes marketing to keep their attention as well. Yes, it will cost money, but unlike advertising it will have a lasting effect. It’s the difference between owning and renting: Advertising is like renting and SEO plus social is like owning. One is a place holder and the other is an investment.
What these small companies have that really differentiates them is their unique story and their honest desire to do good things for people and their health. If their product is all they say it is and if they start building a small community, then they will see steady growth in awareness and loyalty, and that will translate into increased sales.
I can’t wait to see the results for the 2011 Marketing in the Natural Product Industry Benchmark Study when it comes out in January. I’m hoping that it will encourage the smaller companies to commit to smarter and creative marketing. What do you think?