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Episode 176 Exhibiting at AIA: 5 Strategies to Help Brands Prep for Trade Shows

Exhibiting at AIA: 5 Strategies to Help Brands Prep for Trade Shows

Trade shows have started up again with gusto, and we’re looking forward to the AIA Conference on Architecture coming up at the end of June. This week, we talk about what building materials brands can prepare when it comes to a solid trade show strategy and came up with five ways sales and marketing teams can plan ahead.

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Photo of Beth PopNikolov
by Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov
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More About This Episode

The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insights on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.

Steve Coffey is Venveo’s Director of Growth, and he’s also our resident expert on trade shows. We brought him on again to talk about the best strategies for manufacturing brands that want to make a splash at their next industry event.

What’s Going On In Trade Shows Today?

This image shows a tradeshow with various booths.

We covered the International Builders Show with him earlier this year because Steve is sort of a trade show enthusiast.

“I can remember the first time I went to AIA. It was actually my first trade show in the building space,” he says. “It was at the Vegas Convention Center, and I just stood back and took it all in and it was so much energy there. It was a really positive show.”

Steve gets excited about trade shows these days — especially considering most were virtual just a year ago — because they’ve allowed brands to grow and connect with their customers in ways we couldn’t expect. “The way that trade shows have changed has impacted the way that people research … what they're looking for, what they're looking to get out of it.”

So what do trade show attendees want today? We knew Steve would have some thoughts. “I still think audiences want to see manufacturers. They want to engage with them. They want to walk in the booth. They want to talk to somebody. They want to experience it,” says Steve.

Builders, architects and other building professionals are motivated to find solutions for some of the industry’s longest pervading issues. “I think that excitement needs to be taken advantage of. I think companies should approach AIA this year in 2022 with a strategy,” he says.

Steve emphasizes the importance of strategy because the building materials industry, like other industries, has changed since the pandemic. “The hourly wage growth and its moderate output has declined in Q1. Real disposable income has dipped for a lot of consumers. Payroll continues to be an issue. Inflation continues to be an issue,” says Steve.

If you’re a manufacturing brand, those issues will need to be addressed for your customers because they’re going to come up when you meet them in person. So your trade show strategy should be in place before you set up a booth.

“Be ready for those tough conversations, right?” says Beth Pop-Nikolov with Venveo. She talked more with Steve about how to prepare for some of those conversations.

How to Prep For Your Next Trade Show

We’ve talked directly with builders before about what they want from manufacturing brands at a trade show. “I was talking to a builder, actually, at IBS, and he said that he would go into a booth, and he would not tell the company that he was a builder — because he didn't want the generic sales pitch,” says Steve. “He was worrying about availability. He was worrying about pricing and labor and all those different things. He wanted the truth.”

There’s an opportunity for brands who want to use trade shows to reach and engage with builders like Steve’s friend. “I have a lot of optimism about the attendance rate this year. I think it'll be really good. But, having a plan is so important — and I think there are a few things that are specifically important that the plan needs to consist of outside of just the normal.”

1. Start With Your Follow-Up

Steve suggests reverse-engineering your trade show strategy and having a follow-up plan ready before the show. “Think about the follow-up first. A lot of people will think about the follow-up after,” says Steve. “Think about the follow-up first: What do you want your customer to walk away with?”

Whether you’re trying to grow brand awareness or are launching a new product, think through what you want your booth visitors to remember most about your booth. “When you have an effective follow-up strategy in place before you go, it makes your floor experience a little bit easier, in my opinion,” says Steve.

The follow-up strategy is something a lot of brands neglect after trade shows, which is something Steve noticed in his career as a trade show enthusiast. “I don't have the exact number, but ... I would say it's probably between 20 and 30% [that follow up].”

“I think every follow-up at a minimum, right, should consist of a solid campaign, a cadence of emails,” says Steve. “Ask questions. How did you feel about the show? Did you learn anything? Did you get any new products? How did your education go, your CE classes, etc.?”

Finally, he recommends a call to action to keep the engagement going. “There needs to be some next step that you've already anticipated them taking and developed for them to go through,” he says. That might be a landing page or downloadable guide that’s relevant to your conversation.

“If you have that strategy and plan already in place, then it makes the data collection process a lot easier to track,” says Steve.

Speaking of data collection…

2. Don’t Skimp on Data Collection

“Oftentimes, [booth reps] don't have any way of collecting the information outside of just retaining it as sales teams, and that can often get lost,” says Steve. But the data that’s collected at a trade show, from the conversations you have with potential customers or partners, is highly valuable.

“If you're crafting marketing plans, the information that you gain from individuals on a trade show floor is paramount,” says Steve. “You have to be collecting and retaining that.”

Whether that’s writing notes from your conversations afterward or typing up information in your phone, you’ll get tons of insights from these individuals. “Collect that all into one document and then sift through it … You'll bullet point the commonalities in all of the conversations and things like that, and you'll typically get a really good pin on how people are feeling.”

3. Craft the Right Questions

Steve points out that you can’t just wait for the conversation to come to you. “You should be asking as well: What are architects feeling? What are builders feeling? What are they asking about? What are they wanting to look at? What are the major points that they're considering?”

The 80/20 rule is always a good standard to live by in your conversations. “That means 80% should be listening and 20% should be talking,” says Steve. “Be willing to talk to people who are in your booth. Don't just try to figure out, ‘is this my target audience?’ and then just dismiss them if they're not.”

Some of the people you meet in your booth could be leads, or they could greatly influence your future. “What if you learned that there is a huge multifamily development going up in an area that you're the rep for? What if you learned that as a takeaway?” Beth points out. “Or, asked about an issue that they're having with a competitor that you haven't heard before. There's so much opportunity in the questions that you can ask versus just being there to answer questions about products.”

“For a company to take advantage of that and then input that and make sure that it comes through, the information is actually fed through the proper channels to impact marketing, to impact sales, to impact product,” says Steve. “That's pivotal for a company to really get a pulse on the industry and how people are feeling.”

4. Focus on Brand Awareness

One of our favorite topics on this podcast is brand marketing, and a company that can bring brand consistency to their trade show presence will win big, especially in our books.

That means having a strategy in place before the event, and “thinking very carefully about how you want the audience to perceive your brand as they walk away from the show,” says Steve. “Your audience is right there. So, you can engage them in conversations, but you should strategize and plan: ‘How do I want this person to perceive my brand when they walk away from the booth?’”

Your follow-up after the event has a massive impact on that experience, as well, and Steve drove home this point further. “Your willingness to actually engage someone in conversation as they're walking through the booth, making them feel special, asking them questions — that goes a long way into making them say, ‘Hey, these people care about me.’”

5. Engage With an Attention Grabber

Your messaging needs to be consistent at a trade show, and from the banners in your booth to the follow-up email you send to leads, you want to keep their attention with your brand’s story. Steve calls this an “attention grabber.”

“I think the attention grabber is really important and similar to how you would approach a digital messaging strategy,” he says. “You need to make sure that the attention grabber is consistent, whether they're right in front of you or they visit the site or they visit the landing page or the campaign that you've crafted in the follow-up.”

The attention grabber is about engaging your booth visitors, whether they’re an architect or have never tried your product. “They want to have a conversation,” says Steve. “If you don't treat them with respect when they walk in your booth, that may be the first time that they've interacted with someone in person for two years.” Find out if they use your product, if they have any projects they’re working on or how long they’ve been in the industry.

There’s opportunity in these interactions, and Steve reiterates how much potential these opportunities have. “I don't think ever before the willingness for a builder or an architect to engage new products and brands has been as prevalent,” says Stever. “So, that's an important thing that companies need to take advantage of.”

Want Even More Insight?

There are a lot of other ways that brands can make a great first impression with visitors, and it’s really about creating an inviting experience. “Have more snacks and an espresso bar in your booth. I have a rating system for manufacturers and the snacks that they have, “ says Steve.

Beth explains that these kinds of engaging interactions at trade shows are really just a focus on brand consistency: “What they see in the booth, what they hear in the booth, what they find online, what they get in your follow-up emails — all of those things need to be beating the same drum,” she explains.

It’s really just taking your booth visitors into consideration, from start to finish, in your strategy. “Think about when they walk away, when the show is over, everything is back to normal, what do they have to interact with?” says Steve. “Also, make your dinner reservations because those are going to go quick.”

Be sure to check out the full interview with Steve.

Will you be attending any trade shows this year? Check out our other podcast episode on what builders want from manufacturers at industry events.