The notion that simply giving stuff away at a trade show is effective promotional marketing may be one of the biggest myths … one of the biggest bottles of snake oil ever sold to business owners and marketers.
In order to craft a more effective trade show program you must first divest yourself from “giveaway” thinking. To that end, it’s vital that you understand the difference between a giveaway and a promotion.
A giveaway is a one-way street. You basically spend your money to fill up people’s junk drawers. A business gives away some cheap “doodad” thinking it will create goodwill and effectively promote their business, mindless of the fact that the item is irrelevant to their business or the wants, needs or desires of the person to whom the item is given. The recipient takes the item home and:
1) puts it in a drawer,
2) gives it to the kids,
3) throws it away,
4) uses the item but never does business with your company,
5) is so beholden to you that they fall all over themselves to do business with you and they go out of their way to tell everyone they know about your existence.
With a giveaway you cannot measure your return on investment. You gain practically nothing meaningful, certainly nothing you can actively follow up on. And as far as building business? Few will say, “Wow! They gave me a cheap piece of junk with their name on it! I’ve really got to do business with them.” Seriously. #5 rarely happens as a result of handing out inexpensive “giveaways” at trade shows.
A promotion is a two-way street. It allows you to impact the recipient’s life in a manner that’s meaningful and relevant. You give thought to what you want your prospect/customer to do – then you determine an appropriate way to get them to do it or, at least, keep you in the forefront of their mind. And, you attempt to get something in return such as a business card or other actionable data that you can follow up on later. With a promotion, there’s a connection between you, your promotional product and the current or near-future want, need or desire of the recipient.
I have a friend, Ken, who breeds champion toy poodles. He gives people who show toy poodles a ruler with his contact information on it. Also printed on the ruler is the line, “Call me when your dog gets to tall.” The ruler is relevant to the fact that when a poodle owner’s dog gets to a certain height, they can’t show it anymore. Is there any guarantee that everyone he gives a ruler to will call him? No. But, very few will turn down his request for their business card in exchange for the ruler. That’s the beginning of the two-way street. And here’s what makes this so meaningful:
Ken has opportunity to keep these people informed of his dogs’ standings, when he has pups available and when his males are available for stud.
The ability to communicate with his target market puts Ken in a much better position to benefit from the relevancy of his promotional product to the wants, needs and desires of his prospects.
Here’s another example. A Financial Planner that’s giving pens to everyone at a trade show would do better to offer an imprinted booklet titled “Managing Your Finances” to those who fill out a short interest form. Sure, the booklet costs more than the pens. BUT, the Financial Planner obtains follow-up information. The return on investment is measurable and, the prospect has a meaningful item that is relevant to their interest. That means it’s less likely to end up in a drawer, given to kids or thrown away. And that’s money well invested.