Regardless of its nature and frequency, participating in an event generally provides business owners and marketing teams with a tough decision to make. In addition to the usual anxieties about budget allocation, staff resources, preparation , the impact on existing workload and self-promotion comes the more fundamental questions of, is does it have the right ingredients to want to participate in, and if ‘Yes’, what questions do you need to consider for evaluation to enable some measurement both pre and post-event.
There are a limited number of reasons why a business would choose to participate. These can include some or all of the following:-
- Increase brand awareness amongst target groups
- Extend brand positioning amongst customer groups
- Migrate target groups from a level of modest awareness to brand engagement
- Elevate your business above that of the competition (differentiation)
Whichever of these apply, event attendance provides a unique opportunity for mass stakeholder engagement and this can often provide a compelling enough reason for most businesses. But before you commit, what can you do to increase the possibility of a decent return on your investment.
Brand awareness – Knowing that your ideal targets are amongst the event attendees should be an obvious place to start. Speak to the event organisers and check any historical data to establish the visitor types and numbers who have attended previously. For example we’re currently preparing for a very prestigious event on behalf of our clients which takes place in the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Their visitors are most likely going to include export/import consortiums, international trade delegations, UKTI, ambassadors or their advisors, and possibly members of many Royal Households. Knowing this helps us immensely as we can tailor our communications for this audience; we can also prepare on-duty staff through better informed briefings so that they know what to expect on any given day. Having a good idea of the visitors for each day is an even bigger bonus to help create the right brand impression.
If possible establish that the event has actually been run before and then see if the visitor patterns are up year-on-year, not just as a whole but also within your target groups. Consider the venue, its size, location and access. See for yourself what communications may have influenced visitor’s attendance and establish that the same methods are being used again. Look closely to try and establish patterns too e.g. do visitors at certain levels of authority attend yearly or only once every 2 or 3 years? Ask the organisers for this information and if they don’t have it, ask why. Check the ticket prices (if there are any) to see if they have gone up. Look at any social feeds around the event to establish from the delegates what their thoughts were. Review the exhibitor list, establish trends within your competition and perhaps even speak to some former exhibitors (non-competing of course) to see what they’ll tell you. Asking for their advice might help to form a new relationship with a potential client, so select them carefully they’ll be impressed you went to the trouble to check!
Consider co-sharing a stand with suitable non-competing but complimentary exhibitors, doing so will mean you can pool your resources for a larger presence; perhaps you can even pool your prospect data to increase the possibility of a stronger return on investment, well ahead of the doors opening.
Brand positioning – It is simply not good enough to create brand awareness and expect that to automatically lead to a sale. Brand positioning is therefore the point at which a client, or potential client, is aware of your brand’s attributes and judges its value to be beneficial to them, prior to placing an enquiry and subsequent commission.
Start this phase by considering precisely what it is that makes your business different to that of your competitors (to do this you may need to undertake some further market research). Make sure that the levels of differentiation are actually of value to your target markets, it’s no good simply changing the design of an item or its packaging if those characteristics fail to bring about tangible or intangible ‘benefits’ to the customer.
Remember that prospects gravitate towards businesses that share their ethos, whether you are dealing with smaller businesses or multi-nationals. If it is the larger of the two, don’t be intimidated by them, in the long-term you may find they place a financial value on buying more than just your products. Large corporates build relationships with like-minded companies, regardless of their size. Doing so enables them to extend their credibility and attractiveness and that ultimately leads to increased power.
To improve your chances of success get to know your competition well, carefully look to incorporate identifiable differences in order to find sufficient areas for discussion. This may be one area so small, that from a casual perspective you may not even notice it exists. It is your job to exploit these differences for your own gain.
Brand engagement – Once you’ve concluded a review of all the elements listed above and you are happy with the information you’ve gathered, then you are one step closer to making the most of your participation.
Next, take time to consider the length of the conversion from enquirer to customer/client. How long did it take others to ‘walk this path’? What communications were clear and were proven to have worked well? What can be adjusted? If the process is anticipated to be a long one, decide early enough what the core messages need to be and how much reinforcing you will need to do to it. Be absolutely clear in your own mind what time frame you are likely to need to convey this information to any prospect, and be sure to include a realistic budget for this before you commit to any attendance. If you can’t, it’s better to withdraw any interest in the event sooner rather than later, otherwise it serves only to distract.
Decide where in the information process each of your likely delegates might be and ensure you know precisely which is the most appropriate information to share with them. Don’t simply give them everything you have, that shows you haven’t entirely considered their specific needs and that is not an ideal point for any mutual engagement.
Consider too, that after the event you must be able to segment your discussions between your ‘cold’ and ‘warm’ prospects, because it is unlikely you will recover your costs from the former group solely through attendance. Their brand engagement is most likely going to take quite some time to filter through to a sale, particularly if your product or service is a high value or complex purchase. As these are often bought through decision making units, just be prepared for that long lead-in, and remember to credit the event for a proportion of the sale, often many months later.
Differentiation – Simply because a prospect is engaged does not mean to say they will ultimately become a customer/client, other factors may still be present that obstructs this process.
Up to this point you’ve only gained modest interest and walked them through your business model, your products and your services. Now you have to show what really sets you apart putting the tipping point in your favour.
In the summer of 2013 we will have been working for nearly a year on a process that brings four of our clients (all Royal Warrant holders) together to exhibit in the gardens at Buckingham Palace. The event called the Coronation Festival will showcase over 200 Royal Warrant holding companies. With the eyes of the world watching, nothing can be left to chance. No misunderstandings about what is expected of us, no second rate communications to our guests and the media, no insurmountable hurdles with stand design e.g. disabled access, inclement weather or rigging issues. Everyone, whether they are clients, potential clients or even members of the public, will expect to see the very best of each of these businesses and in so doing will see for themselves what areas of differentiation they have over their competitors. Yes, you could argue that such an event is very different to any annual trade event, of course it is, but that should not mean that the processes you adopt are any different. By treating every event you attend as if it were the Coronation Festival it will help you focus your efforts in a way that your competitors may not.