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How to Use Digital to Win at the Builders' Show

Get the most foot traffic and the best ROI on your trade show investment.

January 23rd, 2019



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More About This Show

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 insight on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.

In this episode, Zach and Beth give actionable steps to drive more traffic to your booth with warmer leads.

They share smart ways to integrate your digital efforts, plus how to take advantage of new ad targeting capabilities from Google and YouTube. Spoiler alert: It’s a game changer for how you reach leads at trade shows.


Trade show season is just around the corner. If you’re a building material manufacturer exhibiting at events like IBS this year, you should absolutely be using digital marketing to be more successful in these efforts.

There will be around 1,500 companies exhibiting at IBS alone this year. Digital marketing can help you stand out in such a crowded playing field and drive more foot traffic to your booth. By planning ahead, you can educate your audience in advance about what they’re going to experience from you when they get there. Before you even get to the trade show, you need to know your positioning and messaging for your brand.

When you do this, you’ll be much more successful and can interact with warmer leads who come in with more specific questions about a specific upcoming project. After all, the more information you can pull from someone at the booth, the better you can prioritize your sales follow up afterward.

Most building material manufacturers spend tens of thousands of dollars or more to get to a tradeshow. Simply put, just waiting and hoping for people to stop by your booth is not a winning strategy and will not get you ROI.

A holistic digital campaign implemented before, during and after the tradeshow can help you get more people to your booth, help you have more informed conversations, and close more sales afterward.

Understanding Who’s at Trade Shows and Why

Before you build your digital marketing strategy for trade show season, make sure you really get why your target audience attends each year. Whether you focus on architects, builders, contractors or a combination, understanding their motives can help guide the way you position your company while you’re there.

First and foremost, attendees don’t want to be sold. They’re at IBS or any other trade show for education, networking and relationship building with their existing manufacturers. They are also looking for inspiration for new potential projects.

Knowing those goals, figure out how you can help guide them in one or more of those areas rather than pouncing on the sale. When you focus on giving value, you’ll make your sales strategy more effective.

Think of it this way. Each person who walks into your booth is someone with a pain point. They probably have specific questions about your product category that you can help with before offering them the value proposition. If you position yourself as a helpful resource, you’ll have a much more productive conversation than if you solely focus on your product.

Another thing to consider in advance of the trade show is whether or not it’s worth purchasing an attendees contact list from the event organizers. There’s definitely value there; however, before you commit you need to confirm what information they’re able to give you and what you’re allowed to do with that list.

Are you getting emails or mailing addresses? Can you segment the list by occupation? These are all things to think about to see if the cost justifies the impact you can make using that attendee list.

When thinking about how digital marketing can help support your trade show efforts, it’s important to look at it from a few different angles: pre-show, during the show and after the show. We’ll explore each one and show you step-by-step how to completely change the way you approach trade shows as a building material manufacturer.

Pre-Show Digital Marketing Strategies

Before you even get to the trade show, start gearing up interest through email, social media and search engine data.

#1: Email

Email allows you to segment your potential audience so you can send tailored communication at different stages of the customer journey. The easiest way to start doing this is segmenting your lists into existing customers and potential customers. Personalizing your emails this way is a much more effective approach compared to sending everyone the same email.

The more segmentation you can use, the more impact you’ll have. Think about reasons each audience will be attending the trade show and offer relevant value to get them to your booth. That’s what pre-show emails should focus on. Throughout the entire process, you can track how successful those emails are in terms of response and attendance, then use that information to tweak your strategy the following year.

#2: Social Media

Before you even get to the trade show, think about the message you want to deliver and how you can demonstrate the value your booth will deliver while you’re there. You can even geo-fence the trade show a few days in advance as people arrive. For example, you might target individuals interested in architecture within a 3- to 5-mile radius of the convention center.

Also, try to use video if possible in your social media posts. Explain why you’re going to be there and be sure the entertain your audience. The point of social media is to educate people about your brand in a way that captivates them.

A great example is a recent Venveo client who wanted an upbeat video to target people at a trade show they were attending. One of the team members grabbed their product and literally balanced the tool on their head. The video used tracking to tell viewers where their booth was and the best part? It got 10,000 views in three days and only cost $150 to promote.

The bottom line is that an awesome social campaign for a trade show doesn’t have to be expensive, but you do need to plan ahead.

#3: Search

Using search engine data is another effective way to help target prospects before you get to the trade show. Even better is that new capabilities between Google and YouTube help you reach warm leads more than ever before. Here’s how it works.

If someone is on Google and searches “IBS hotel” or “IBS trade show,” you can now access that information to target ads on YouTube. Before this change, you could only target based on what they searched or watched directly on YouTube. It’s an incredible opportunity because now you know their intent to go to the trade show and can target them with a video on YouTube.

Using Digital During the Trade Show

Once you get to the trade show, focus on social media and geo-fencing.

#1: Social Media

No matter how you feel about it any other time of the year, Twitter shines at live events. We recently did an exhaustive report for one of our clients reviewing five years of social media data. They’re very active with a large following on all platforms. On Twitter, however, engagement was lacking.

When we looked at the top tweet for each of the five years, it was always at a live event. That’s because Twitter revolves around live action and in-the-moment news update. If your building material company is already on Twitter, then you definitely want to take advantage of your presence at a trade show. Use hashtags with the trade show name, like #ibs2019 for IBS, to help connect with people.

Trade shows are also a great time to start doing Instagram stories. An easy idea is to make a quick video during your booth set up to give people a behind the scenes preview. If you’re hearing a consistent theme during the event or hearing the same question a lot, address those on-site as an Instagram story as well. You could also film someone who stops by your booth with a cool testimonial. Instagram stories are short and only need about 30 seconds of video to organically captivate your audience.

#2: Geo-fencing

Geo-fencing allows you to set up ads shown only to people in a specific location. You can get it down to a pretty tight radius, meaning you could do just target the convention center or a couple of blocks surrounding the building.

This tactic delivers your ads to highly qualified leads. If you can do this with advertising through social media, search and YouTube, you’ll have a very finite group to reach with an ad spend that’s not outrageous. And the chances of that person being a potential customer is very high.

Post-Trade Show Digital Efforts

After spending all that time and money at the trade show, the most important thing is to follow up with those leads afterward. A lot of it has to do with coordinating with your sales team, but you can also start by using digital platforms to engage leads that aren’t quite as warm.

#1: Email

When working with leads who aren’t ready for immediate follow up from your sales team, it’s time to take things back to email segmentation. Create a plan for the type of communication you want to send to different groups of people you met at the trade show.

Challenge yourself to go beyond a simple, “Thanks for stopping by the booth.” That’s what everyone else is sending, and you won’t stand out. Instead, think outside of the box about what kind of information or education aligns with each segmented group you’ve identified. You can also include a thank you but the email really needs to be elevated in order to truly engage those leads.

You can then work that sequence with your automation or email tool you use to move those leads through the customer journey.

#2: Social Media

Whatever narrative you choose for your post-trade show email campaign should also be supported via ads on social media and other platforms. Delivering ads that follow the same narrative can drive people to the actions you want them to take.

This strategy isn’t difficult to accomplish and not many manufacturers are doing it right now. Ads that reflect the message of your mail campaign give the impression that you’re a big company that has it together and will service your customer well. Instead of feeling annoying your leads will feel impressed because a fully integrated digital marketing strategy demonstrates that you have your game together.

Final Thoughts

When you’re prepping for trade shows this year, break down your efforts into pre-show, during and post-show strategies. For more resources on how to segment your audiences in 2019, check out our episode on 2019 digital marketing predictions. Segmentation and personalization are going to help your efforts go much further and get you a better ROI.

Any information you send to your leads should address what they’re looking for. That perspective paired with timely communication within a few days of the trade show can have a huge impact.

If you have a lean marketing team that can only choose one of these strategies, you should definitely focus on your post-trade show efforts. Have that follow up email sequence ready and paired with those social media ads. Create a vision for how you're going to deliver value and develop your content around those goals.

For more insights on how to maximize your trade show results, check out episode 7 of our podcast: “3 Data-Driven Winning and Losing Strategies for Building Materials Manufacturers at Trade Shows.”

Have questions or thoughts on this week’s podcast? We’d love to hear from you! Email us at [email protected].

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