As temperatures rise, communicators in advanced manufacturing also feel their stress levels begin to rise. This time of year heralds their crunch time for planning exhibitions at fall trade shows.  

But this summer, we won’t be examining the soles of our favorite trade show shoes as closely to see if they will make it through another fall circuit. With the industry hitting pause on these marketing hallmarks amidst COVID-19, marketers will not have the opportunity to network and build customer and media relationships in-person.

Many B2B communicators pivoted their spring trade show plans, quickly deploying digital tactics to turn planned events into virtual experiences. Their efforts were an attempt to capture the value that trade shows offer: building relationships, elevating brand awareness, launching new products, generating leads, and leveraging a platform to position technical representatives as thought leaders.

During this unique time, the virtual trade show life can still offer an opportunity for communicators. Whether you’re planning a webinar, virtual trade show booth, or story-based landing page to represent your trade show presence, now is the time to launch and test digital focused approaches before, during, and after that point-in-time event. Where you see success, you can apply a similar digital communications strategy that lasts beyond the trade show season, particularly as you navigate the persistent need to utilize communication budgets more efficiently.

Here are a few digital communications strategies you can deploy as part of your promotional efforts, both to maximize your virtual trade show presence and to encourage sustained engagement with your brand:

  • Build a landing page. Establish a landing page for your virtual event that clearly articulates the value proposition of attending. Increase the credibility of your event by highlighting key speakers, including quotes and bios, and incorporating any relevant social activity to drive engagement ahead of the event. Be sure to include a registration form that encourages visitors to sign up for the event to receive updates and key information, and make sure the form includes more than just contact information, to aid in your future segmentation efforts. Gathering information on job title, department, company size, etc. will help you qualify leads more quickly and customize your messaging more effectively post-event.

  • Promote organically on social media. Encourage your existing follower base on social media to register for your event. The contacts that already follow your company’s social channels can act as evangelists for your brand and may share the event with their followers. Inspire engagement and help your content stand out by including polls or short promotional video snippets that preview what attendees may experience.

  • Advertise on LinkedIn. Reach new audiences and prospects by advertising on LinkedIn, both leading up to the event to encourage registration and after the event to drive traffic to relevant materials on your landing page. With the need to reach niche audiences across the value chain, advertising on LinkedIn allows you to target individuals by job titles, geography, company, industry and more, ensuring that you get your message in front of the right people. Additionally, LinkedIn advertising can help you identify new audiences who match your criteria for potential customers.

  • Amplify via brand ambassadors. Reach both new and current audiences by engaging internal and/or external brand ambassadors to help amplify your event and relevant materials with promotions on their social channels. LinkedIn notes that posts shared by employees generally receive twice the engagement as those shared by companies, so it’s important to leverage both to cover all bases. You can also encourage ambassadors to join and post to relevant LinkedIn Groups to help expand your reach to others in your industry. Regardless of your approach, make sure your ambassadors are armed ahead of time with the right information, materials, or training to be true brand champions.

  • Run a Paid Search or Display campaign. Target those audiences who are searching for key terms related to the information you will be sharing during or after your event by executing a Paid Search campaign to drive traffic to the landing page. Paid Search, or advertising that shows up on main search engines like Google, works particularly well when paired with an industry challenge for which you offer solutions. Display campaigns can also help drive the right traffic to your pages, thanks to Google Ads’ volume, reach, and targeting capabilities.

  • Email your existing database. Be smart about how you target your existing database through email. Make your email messages less generic by tailoring unique content to each audience receiving them. Avoid blasting content to an unfiltered customer list – these mass emails won’t resonate with a majority of your audience, and your click-thru rates will suffer as a result. Consider offering incentives to qualified leads that can only be acquired through emails, such as samples of products, one-on-one consultations, etc.

  • Get your sales force involved. Encourage your sales force to use LinkedIn’s Premium account tool, Sales Navigator, to introduce themselves to key contacts via InMail, connecting with them and encouraging them to attend the event. These tools offer a personalized approach, so be sure your messages describe the value each attendee will receive and offer an opportunity to schedule a meeting with them directly.  

  • Utilize powerful data. Leverage the data you collected from the registration form to develop more personalized follow-up content. Consider developing your relationship with these contacts over time by introducing nurture campaigns, newsletters, and key updates from your organization.

While the pandemic has transformed our trade show venues and influenced the tactics we can use to engage key audiences, this doesn’t mean we can’t extract the same value from digital and virtual means of engagement. Try applying some of these strategies to ensure that your virtual trade show experiences are just as successful as last year’s in-person events – and use them as an opportunity to learn what successful tactics you can apply to your marketing strategy year-round for sustained engagement.

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