ello, I'm Dave Newcorn, Sr. VP/Digital & Data of PMMI Media Group. I wanted to share some thoughts on promotion as it relates to a virtual event--in this case PACK EXPO Connects. You may have recognized me from one of our webinars (and that's my dog Hopper, who did not make the webinars).
If you're reading this it means you've made the decision to exhibit at PACK EXPO Connects. We are glad to have you onboard!
But it also means you're leaning against investing in the outbound media necessary to promote your presence at the show. You may believe your presence at the virtual event is enough to draw a crowd, or maybe you are thinking that because the outcome is more uncertain vs. a physical show, why invest? Or maybe it's because you want to focus on creating the best content you can for your demos; after all, lighting, videography and mics can add up.
It very much reminds me of the immediate response by companies in the Spring, when COVID-19 first hit and they were faced with cancelled events, going it alone. Companies would spend untold thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars on private virtual "shows" yet not spend any time or money promoting it to audiences outside their database. I've heard first-hand from some of these companies that the results were lackluster. And that is before you throw in the fact that they were not even competing against hundreds of other companies at a real virtual trade show.
There are a number of things that make this NOT business-as-usual from a trade show promotion perspective:
1. We must compete against attendees' day jobs.
We don't have the benefit of extracting attendees from their daily work life and isolating them in Chicago or Las Vegas while they walk by your booth and stop in when your exhibit catches their eye. With a virtual show your competitors aren't just the other exhibitors; rather, you're now competing against the 10 am meeting with the operations team, the 11am meeting with the boss, lunching while catching up on emails, and the 1pm brand meeting. Luckily, based on the research I have personally conducted with attendees, I believe our live demo format gives us more than a fighting chance. But none of us should be under the illusion that attendees will spend 8 hours in front of their computers for two or three days straight. It will be two hours here, three hours there. This raises the bar, making outbound marketing much more important and an influential factor in the success of your virtual showroom.
2. Lack of incentive for commitment in advance.
With a physical show, most people decide in advance whether to go. (Though there are always last-minute stragglers too!) Time must be requested from superiors, and travel arrangements made. With a virtual show, there is no such imperative. People can defer on making a decision to attend a virtual show right up until the last minute. This puts the onus on outbound marketing versus waiting for them to show up and find your booth. As the show organizer, we need to over-promote, early and often, to command precious attendee time and attention. That burden also falls on you, the exhibitor, to push out your demos in advance to give them a reason to attend. Indeed, promotion is a significantly higher percentage of our overall show operating budget (more than 50%) relative to a physical show. It should be with yours as well.
3. The level of "newness" requires a higher promotional bar.
As humans, we don't do "new" very well. Think about when your favorite website or software tool comes out with a totally new interface and you must learn everything over again. Virtual shows are new and totally different than physical shows, and I would go so far as to say PACK EXPO Connects will be far different from any other virtual show that people have attended before. Promotion cannot be business-as-usual, for us, or for you. This is yet another reason all of us have to go outside of our standard frame of reference when it comes to show promotion. We, as the organizer, and you, as the exhibitor, need to over-promote to overcome the "newness" factor and make the show comprehensible. And we all have less than 12 weeks to do it. No sweat, right?
4. Scheduling repeat demos increases exposure and hence leads, but results in a lot of listings for attendees to wade through.
If you only offer a given demo once, your target audience may have a conflict with something else at work at that time. Or worse, it forces them to choose between your demo and someone else's. The solution is to repeat each of your live demos once or twice throughout the week of the show. The downside is that it creates a "multiplier" effect requiring attendees to comb through multiple instances of the same demo when perusing the schedule. Even with features like category filters and keyword search, there is inherent duplication, resulting in pages and pages of search results. That's why PMMI Media Group's Live Demo Planner cuts through the duplication, boiling demos down into very succinct listings that are tightly organized by major product category. And we deliver it to the would-be attendee on their terms, not on yours or ours.
5. When it comes to hundreds of anything, cyberspace is inherently more difficult for humans to navigate than physical space.
When there are hundreds of companies, products, or demos, it's really difficult for us human types to diligently sift through all of it. The floor of PACK EXPO in Chicago or Las Vegas? Overwhelming, yes. Doable? Yes. Though it's a lot of walking! On a computer screen? It's easy to get lost, even with all the steps we're adding in to help users find you on the virtual event site. I worry about taking a passive approach and simply waiting until you appear in the search results. Proactively pushing out your demo listings will inherently draw more interest, generate more engagement and, ultimately, more leads.
6. Outbound marketing is the only thing that breaks through the wall of indifference.
For all the reasons above, you have to take the fight to the attendee to get on their dance card. In fact, to convince them whether to even make a dance card. We have designed a thoughtful portfolio of complementary media products which are designed to break through and create a call to action for attendees to engage with your company. By being in their inbox and their mailbox with your specific demos multiple times over the next several weeks, you will maximize the chance that they will see it. With products like Live Demo Planner and Game Plan, we are going to be in people's faces early and often, putting your demos at their finger tips, on their terms, in advance of the show. Our outbound newsletter, PACK EXPO Connects Exhibitor Preview, will add an extra layer of coverage with real-time lead reporting.
7. On brand names and level playing fields.
If you work for a company with a solid brand name, or you are used to a commanding booth size and location at the physical show, there can be a temptation to skip outbound marketing, and take a "If we build it, they will come" approach. You are at an active disadvantage to those companies that are advertising in PMMI Media Group's outbound marketing products, who are very much not taking a passive approach and instead are taking advantage of extensive outbound promotion of their demos. If you DON'T work for a company with a big brand name, PMMI Media Group's outbound marketing products are a chance to finally level the playing field and get in front of people in a way that's never been possible before.
A final note. We recognize that budgets are tight. We've deliberately kept the price of our outbound marketing products as low as possible. In addition, we've taken steps to increase delivery/reach far more than we might during normal times. I strongly encourage you to connect with your PMMI Media Group sales rep and take another look at our offerings. The cost of some of these products will be lower than what your hotel bill alone would have been in Chicago!
If you made it to the end of this post, thanks for your time, and thanks for exhibiting at PACK EXPO Connects. Regardles of what you decide about your marketing, I wish you a very successful show!