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“Mending the Message” to Improve Event ROI – Part 1

The next time you are on a trade show floor, ask yourself, “Can I tell what these companies do by looking at their exhibits?”  Better yet, “What is their primary selling proposition?”  And, “Can I spot a clear message that is strong enough to compel  prospects to actually enter this booth?”

Chances are you will end up more baffled than educated about respective offerings. In fact, the sales message – that clear and distinctive call-to-action, one that will compel prospects to wake up and take notice – will too often be buried under the “hip” graphics, clever (but vague) ad themes, and too-complicated interactive engagements.  All of the money spent on various aspects of the exhibit will actually serve to decrease the trade show return on investment (ROI) if the prospect doesn’t get the right message.

A good message must be built into the trade show or event strategy from the start. Spend more time on crafting the message up front. Also, work to get total buy-in from executives, the sales and marketing teams, and everyone who will be a part of the booth staff.  Work with others involved in strategy implementation, such as advertising and PR agencies, to make sure messages are on track with their efforts.

A good exhibit floor message must answer one question: “What (magic message) do I need to tell you (prospect) to get you to do (desired behavior) what I want you to do?”  It is equally important that the message encourages a behavior on the part of the prospect that is measurable, so that you can quantitatively evaluate your event’s ROI. Branding is important, but if your exhibit, pre-show marketing, advertising and at-show activities only create fuzzy, warm feelings about your company, these interactions with prospects are not going to yield the results you want.

The Culprits

Most companies begin the event planning process with all the right intentions, including preparing a written message document. Nevertheless, these good intentions often break down during implementation.  How many times have you shown your “finished” exhibit to management a couple of weeks before the show and ended up scrambling at the eleventh hour to make last minute changes that compromise the original intent?  Failure to get management buy-in up front, or to keep them informed at critical times in the process, often can de-rail the process.

Another culprit that prevents the intended strategy from being realized is “design by committee.”  To satisfy all, the end result could be a watered-down compromise.   Also, failure to brief agencies on the precise message to be communicated can cause a disconnect with what they are tasked to produce.

Finally, boastful, self-serving clichés, such as “best-of-breed” or “state of the art,” say nothing about the customers needs or pain-points. A good event message should explicitly state how your company solves the prospect’s business problem better, cheaper, faster… 

The Solution

How do you avoid wimpy messages and the costly false starts, revisions and organizational angst that are all too common in the event planning process?  Here are four introductory tips below.  Our next Metrics Monday blog will offer additional advice on mending your message.

  1. Appoint a “Keeper of the Message.” This is someone who is part of the original development team and can make sure that the intent is part of any changes that are suggested, and that management and other stakeholders are informed throughout the process.
  2. Develop a workflow process map. Process is key. There’s a time for research and input, a time for planning, a time for reviews and approvals, and a time for implementation. Appropriate personnel need to be involved at the appropriate times. Lay it all out for everyone to see, and then ask for commitment to the process.
  3. Put together a market/message matrix. The matrix should include prospects by industry and job responsibility down one side and messages that will compel to interact with your company along the top row. The matrix should take into consideration the varying needs of different target market segments for every event, including where the prospect is in the commercial persuasion process – meaning “unaware” versus “knowledgeable about the market.”

For example, what do you need to tell purchasing agents in the healthcare industry to take notice? How can you recraft the message to impress CEOs in the same industry? What is the message that will create a buzz about your company among VPs of automotive manufacturing? Sit down with your sales and marketing teams, work through the message matrix, and use it when you put together your annual trade show strategy.

  1. Incorporate customer input. Don’t assume you know what will be attractive to a prospect or customer. Integrate market research by interviewing customers in the planning process.  Don’t be afraid to get customer feedback on such things as a pre-show mailer.  Do some “reverse-engineering” of the commercial persuasion process.  Sit down with a few customers  and have them retrace for you the various  steps, including messages that they heard during the sales process that ultimately led them to your company.

Be sure to check out the next #MetricsMonday blog that provides additional tips to make sure your messaging gets the results you want.  Also, contact Exhibitus’ Results Division for information regarding measuring your messaging success.