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Upselling In The Trade-Show Marketplace

By Julia O’Connor, Trade Show Training, Inc.

I go to trade shows—a lot. I am handed "stuff"—a lot. Through the years, I have collected and tossed a lot of "stuff," such as t-shirts, caps, bags, mugs, candy, emery boards, mouse pads, pens, pins, koozies, kooshies and an occasional icky or really weird thing. So, I have opinions about the use of promotional products in the trade-show arena and have asked a few PPB readers for their insight.

Maybe I’m more aware than the average attendee, but these days I see fewer items just tossed at those of us walking the aisles. Is it the economy? Sure, budgets are tighter but the trade-show market is opening up. I agree with Marty Bear, Professional Marketing Services, Inc. in Fairfield, Connecticut, that we will "never get back to the funny money days of dot.com and high-tech surges. Business has increased but so has the competition, sources and price-driven markets."

From my viewpoint, I still see lots of wasted money and opportunity. For all the talk about client relationships, I still see trade-show giveaways purchased without reference to the exhibit theme, sent via FedEx to the show loading dock (yeah, big buck drayage charges there), only to be swept away afterwards.

As the provider, you may think your effort stops at the purchase order. Wrong. Trade shows are part of the marketing continuum driving to sales. The right promotional product is an opportunity to help your client extend his or her firm’s budget, image and bottom line. The wrong one? You may never hear about it nor get another order from that firm.

Trade Show Training, Inc. has identified three types of events that fall under my definition of what is considered a trade show. In addition, I estimate there are approximately 175,000 opportunities each year, just in the U.S., to use promotional items in this type of face-to-face (F2F) marketing.

B2B Marketing
Business-to-Business Marketing Shows range from local tabletop shows and regional programs to national conferences and international expositions. At the majority of shows, direct selling from the floor is not the primary intent. These trade shows are marketing opportunities for potential buyers and sellers to get together, investigate problems, talk about solutions and advance the sales process.

B2B Sales
Business-to-Business Sales Shows are selling shows, usually where the buyer is a direct retailer or involved in the retail chain of distribution, such as a wholesaler, dealer or distributor. When the sales process is driven by having a special season, it is a retail-oriented show.

B2C Sales And Marketing
At Business-to-Consumer Shows, the audience—the people who come—are the end-user buyers or the target of specific information. Examples of consumer shows range from state fairs, home-and-garden shows, flower shows, boat shows, car shows, health fairs and other events open to the general population or a demographic public.

What is a trade show? Much depends on the client’s attitude. If the client thinks it’s a trade show, then it is in his mind, and he needs the appropriate materials to promote his business.

I offer some tips on how to sell—and upsell—to this big trade-show market. It doesn’t matter what the budget is, the principles are the same.

A trade show isn’t just the show. It includes the months prior to the show for pre-show promotions and assistance to sales after the show. Bill Jones, MAC Promotions in St. Louis, Missouri, says "When working with clients, consider the full sales cycle of the product, with the trade show as the spike in the timeline. Then bring out your best creative problem-solving."

The sales cycle may be a few moments for an inexpensive product or years for heavy-duty products and services; therefore promotional products can have an extended marketing life.

The Whole Event
Maybe the client wants to focus on the trade show and not the timeline. Great. There are opportunities for different levels of promotions beyond the show floor but within the show environment. From greeters in logo shirts and hotel key cards during the show to the send-off package, clients can use a broad brush or discrete demographics to package their messages in a short, intense time.

It’s important to recognize the importance of branding rather than just sticking a company name on an item. Branding is more than a buzz word or marketing jargon. This is one of the best definitions I know— "Branding: the specific identification of an entity, product or service by which it becomes known, used, trusted and quoted by the consumer." Source: The US Fish & Wildlife Service, http://sfbpc.fws.gov.

When done right, the brand is easily identifiable, has a corporate or product personality and reduces the competition. Be smart and help your client make the brand not only have an identity and lead to sales but also measure sales. Being able to assist the client in the quantification of the "where-did-my-money-go factor" is important.

Quality Versus Quantity
There are shows where everybody expects something, and generally the bag stuffers are happy with a cheapo item. But Bear makes the point that some clients are cutting back on the quantity and pushing quality for key potential and existing clients.

Personally, I don’t want to carry much with me on the plane. Security concerns have made it more difficult to lug extra stuff, and we seem to be flying on smaller planes with less space for these items.

As an attendee, I expect the exhibitor to shake my hand, be polite and answer my questions. How nice it would be for exhibitors to offer to send me something as part of the follow-up process. Actually, this will have more impact and not get tossed at the end of the show, as do an estimated 50 – 70 percent of items. Even if the show bag does make it home, it might sit in a corner for six months before somebody opens it.

Gifting Versus Giving
I find there is more importance attached to a gift than to something just thrust at me. The value really doesn’t matter as much as the thought. Remind the client that you can drop ship to the provided mail list for arrival after the show—this is a great service for you, the client and the recipient.

No matter the level, there should be some connection between the promotion, the show and the exhibiting company. This goes beyond branding and into the realm of why this promotion fits the trade-show message. Golf tees from a tractor manufacturer? This is better if it is tied to a secondary promotion such as "Sign up to win a chance to play golf with the company president." Aim for items that stay with the office, whether it’s doored, cubed or mobile.

Tie-In To Exhibit
I’ve seen it. You’ve seen it. You have probably sold it. What is it? An item that looks out of place with the exhibit, such as a wooden spoon at a Star Trek convention. Ask to look at the physical exhibit or the plans, review colors, graphics, storage capabilities on the floor (always less than they think there is). Messages—corporate, show, product—should trigger the right promotional products. Help your buyer tie it all together.

Faster, Faster
Whether we like it or not, "Made in China" drives this industry. Clients have accepted outsourcing because of innovation, price and quick turnaround. Ken Arch, MARCO in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, finds clients may order a certain quantity; and then just before the show, "they call up and say they an extra 500 pieces are needed." They expect items to be available on a quick deadline because their decision-making time is shorter. He advises that items not be dated for quicker processing and broader use. However, he says to be careful if your item is perceived as a collectible, such as pins, because then you have to continue to offer it.

It makes me cry to see items tossed at the end of a show. Too few attendees? Over ordered? Maybe. Depending on the industry and what the attendee expects based on past show history, a trade-show average for giveaways is 10 – 20 percent of the total attendance. So, if the expected attendance is 10,000, then 2,000 items should be more than adequate. You help your clients save money and become a real expert in their eyes when you offer the following options for leftovers:

  1. Help them order a reasonable amount to use throughout the promotion and the sales cycle.
  2. Take those leftover items back to the office and
    • Use as a thank you to clients.
    • Send as part of follow-up program to leads.
    • Distribute to staff as part of team building.
    • Send to clients or prospects who did not attend the show.
  3. Sell online or in a company store.
Hospitality industry trade shows generally run a short time frame—maybe just a half-day—with an up-beat excitement to rush down the aisles. Exhibitors are eager to show off their best, with goodies, baskets and giveaways for meeting planners.

I spoke at a hospitality event, walked the aisles for the three-hour show and gathered—nay, it was all forced on me—so many goodies that I went to Goodwill and bought a $5 suitcase for the return trip, then donated the suitcase to Goodwill when I got back to Richmond. Oh, the salsa from San Antonio was so good.

I flew out on a little plane to a small airport to speak to a marketing association near Chicago. The speaker gift was a big basket of milk chocolates. Because the basket wouldn’t fit in my luggage or in the overhead bin, I straddled it on the return trip so it wouldn’t be lost. The chocolates were so good but so awkward to carry.

"A desk calendar. Bags are good for the beach. And, something for the kids. My dad started MARCO in 1964, and I always looked forward to him bringing me something from his trips."
–Ken Arch, MARCO, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

"A leather weekender wallet. It was quality, functional and easy to carry."
–Marty Bear, Professional Marketing Service, Inc., Fairfield, Connecticut

"A 20-year planner from a well-known hotel property. It’s something I reference on a regular basis. It comes in handy when planning long-range events for some of our clients."
–Bill Jones, MAC Promotions, St. Louis, Missouri

"I still use the leather portfolio MPI gave to conference attendees in 1983. It’s embossed right on the front!"
–Julia O’Connor, Trade Show Training, Inc., Richmond, Virginia

Trade shows provide you the opportunity to upgrade from the "Seller of Stuff" to the "Expert of Experience," the branded product guru your client appreciates. PPB

Julia O’Connor, president of Trade Show Training, Inc., is a speaker, author, consultant and expert in the psychology of trade shows. She may be reached at 800-355-3910 or you may visit her website, www.tradeshowtraining.com.

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