Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Exhibitor & Sponsor Marketing Engagement: Why not go social?

It (almost) goes without saying that the investment Exhibitors and Sponsors make in an event does not end once ink is dry on the contract. Exhibitors’ marketing budgets – in both pre- and on-site promotions – are substantial. According to a survey published by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, respondents spent, on average, $32,000 - and up to $50,000 - on these activities per event. Add to this costs in human capital and the challenges measuring ROI and it becomes clear why the events budgets are prime for cutbacks when corporate marketing budgets are put under the magnifying glass.

It also begs the question: Why the lack of social networks as an inexpensive, effective marketing channel for attendee promotion?

According to the CEIR survey, Effective Methods for Visitor Promotion Part II: Exhibitors, less than half of the 218 responders reported using personal social networks (LinkedIn, Facebook) for visitor promotion (and this was the highest use of SM tools reported.) If, as I noted last week, the name of the game is engagement, Exhibitor Event Marketing leaders need to grow the use of Social Media tools as effective and cost-effective means to driving booth traffic.

Ironically, a key benefit cited in the survey, access to an attendee list (84% of the respondents said they wanted a list of pre-registered attendees from the event organizer), is one which Event Marketers can develop using these very tools. Social media tools provide the ability to develop these communities and networks as a way to not only drive booth traffic but to engage attendees, potential attendees, and your booth visitors on a year-round basis.

Using social media and networking tools strategically also provides you a voice before the event – and alleviates your not just being another face at a booth an attendee stops by on site. Ask yourself: as an attendee, would you rather visit a booth where you’ve connected with a representative of the company, or visit a booth cold? Getting a handle on and using social media goes a long way in humanizing what can be the large, industrial feel of many a show floor.

This can – and, I suggest – should be handled collaboratively between Exhibitors and Event Organizer marketing teams. First, Exhibitors should ensure that they, as sponsors, have access to and with attendees via a community or network managed by the organizer pre and post-event. [In this engagement, exhibitors of course should be sensitive avoid using such network or community to “push” booth traffic. Instead, use it to engage in conversations, answer questions, and listen.]

Secondly – and to step out of the event arena for a moment – exhibitors need to ensure they are utilizing the social media assets your corporate organization may already have in place. Use this as a way to not only reach out to event attendees, but to raise awareness around the event and your organization’s participation in the event. Your company’s blogs, gated communities, and networks are prime areas to include your presence at events as part of your overall corporate communication and branding initiatives.

Possibly the most telling item on the survey: While one of the lesser tools utilized by exhibitors, Social Networking was cited as the 3rd most effective exhibit promotional tool (behind Hospitality Suites and Guerilla Marketing) … and more effective than traditional avenues such as handouts, email, print, and premiums. Again pointing to social media that, as Event Marketers, we need add to our arsenals.

Good luck!


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