I believe that trade shows and conferences, as we know them, are dying a very quick death. It’s no secret that trade show attendance was down even before the economy tanked and now, with the advent of Twitter, you don’t have to attend a conference to get all of the great content you used to have to pay to receive.
But that doesn’t mean trade shows are going to go away entirely; people still need a way to connect in person, see customers at industry events, and prospect for new business. That is why I think trade shows will evolve into partly in-person, networking events and partly online, paid content events.
For those of you looking to buy a franchise, local and regional franchise trade shows are a fantastic place to go talk to franchisors, get information, ask questions of current franchisees, and prioritize your options. (And for those of you who are already franchisees, trade shows are a great way to connect with other franchisees in your system, as well as people in your corporate office.) Franchisees will also find that consumer-oriented trade shows can be a good place to meet potential customers and increase your brand awareness.
Whether you are a franchisor exhibiting in search of new franchisees, or an existing franchisee exhibiting to attract more customers, here are eight ideas you can use to harness the power of trade shows to help build your franchise presence.
1. Ask the trade show coordinator to create a Twitter hashtag for you so you can tweet specials, contests, promotions, and content directly from your laptop or phone. When you arrive at the show, set up a TweetWall to project the hashtag from your booth and/or during your speaking engagement/panel discussion.
2. Distribute branded Zip drives with company information, videos, podcasts, white papers, and other value-driven content included on them. Keep in mind that people want content from you that isn’t self-serving, but gives them a reason to want to engage with you. In a world of “freemiums,” it’s especially important to make them feel like what is on that Zip drive really is valuable to them. Give them a way to distribute the content to their communities by including “share this” icons on everything on the drive.
3. A few months before the show, start using Twitter and Facebook to drive interest in stopping by your booth. Through these sites, you can crowdsource a new booth design, what you include in the booth, what you give away, or your trade show contests and promotions. This allows people to feel like, when they do visit your booth, that they had a say in your presence there, which gives them ownership in your brand.
4. Create a post-event contest for all those you met during the show, encouraging them to visit your Web site and/or social media channels after the trade show to win a prize.
5. Host a TweetUp in the host hotel’s lobby or bar. It doesn’t have to cost you anything. You can invite your Twitter followers to meet you at a certain time; everyone pays for their own food and drinks. This is a great way to meet your Twitter followers in person and put a face behind your brand. If you’re not on Twitter or don’t want to have a TweetUp, you can take the same idea and invite vendors, media, partners, customers, and prospects.
6. Encourage visitors to take pictures or video from the trade show, the breakout sessions, and the parties and upload them to your social media channels, making your trade show participation even more interactive and engaging.
7. Create podcasts and white papers before the trade show, then distribute special passwords to booth visitors, allowing them exclusive and free access to your content.
8. Once you know you’re going to participate in a trade show, start promoting the event in your e-mail signature.
These are all free ideas (all they cost is sweat and maybe a few prizes) that will help you engage your communities and create brand loyalty. Try one or two of them at your next show and see what happens!
Gini Dietrich is the founder and chief executive officer of Arment Dietrich, Inc. Gini is not only a communication professional, but also a business owner who understands how results affect the bottom line and year-over-year growth. She takes this expertise and combines it with traditional and new media to brand and revamp a company’s image, network, develop new business, and grow the company. To encourage dialogue about the use of communication through leadership, business growth, and social media, Gini founded a blog, The Fight Against Destructive Spin.