Measure the ROI at Trade Shows (Using the Right Mix of Creative and Promotional Products)
Editor's note: This piece was originally written for end-users, but the advice can be applied to distributors as well.
You're going to a trade show, and you've decided you need some promotional products to give away. So what's new, what's cute or what's novel, you ask? "Well there's this," your sales counselor responds. "Sorry, we've done that," you say. "Well, huh, have you tried this?" he retorts. "That won't work, our competition did that last year," you reply. Sound familiar?
First, if your promotional products sales professional is doing their job, they will be asking some very direct questions prior to making a presentation of product, packaging and method of distribution. With 300,000-plus items to choose from, picking the right thing is nothing more than a crapshoot. The person in charge of your trade show events should be asking questions like these:
- What is the purpose of this show?
- What is your objective by attending?
- What do you hope to accomplish with the promotional products you select?
- Have you ever evaluated your return on investment (ROI) from your shows?
- How many people will be attending?
- Are they all your buyers or clients?
Every year more and more products are being introduced into the market, and after a while it all looks the same. What if a program was developed that helped you generate a true (ROI) return on your trade show investment? During my tenure as a promotional products consultant, I was absolutely amazed at how ineffective most marketing managers were at effectively managing the results of their trade shows.
Did you know that, if done correctly, promotional products can easily be used as a channel to measure your success or failure at a trade show?
Several years ago, while attending an apparel show I watched as two women stood at the end of the trade show booth, stuffed shirts into a bag and handed them out to a long line of people. I stood there in amazement because their sales pitch was nothing more than a smile and "there you go, see ya," and so they went. Never did one recipient hear a sales pitch. They never stepped foot into the booth. A business card wasn't even requested in exchange for the shirt sample, but when the shirt stock was depleted I heard one of the young women say to the other, "Wow! that was a great show; we gave out over 1,000 T-shirts." Did I miss something?
- What was the purpose of the shirt?
- Was the recipient the key buyer/decision maker?
- Do they even sell shirts?
- Were they an embroiderer? Screen printer?
- Who were their clients?
- What was their sales volume?
- What products have they used I the past?
- Did they know anything about the quality difference? Availability? Cost?
- Or, were they there shopping for their kids or grandkids?
(Don't laugh. I had a gentleman tell me that at a show: "I'm shopping for my grandkids, I don't sell this stuff, my son does. Can I get another free one?")
Companies spend thousands of dollars a year on promotional items to use as giveaways at trade shows, but to what end? Does your promotional products consultant ask? I mean really ask? Most don't, so it is incumbent upon you to find the right distributor that knows what questions to ask in order to build the very best program to maximize the success of your show. Promotional products programs developed for trade shows that have a built-in form of measurement have a far greater chance of tracking ROI then just handing out product like the company described above.
Here are some excellent qualifying questions that will help you determine a baseline from which to start:
- Does the show management have an overall theme?
- Do you have a theme that coincides with the overall show theme?
- What are your specific objectives for doing the show? (Just need to be there because the competition is there? Launching a new product? Increase sales? Develop leads?)
- Who is your target audience, specifically?
- What is the demographic profile of your ideal client?
- How many of your target audience will be there?
Not everyone that attends a trade show is your client. Point blank. Trade show statistics state that roughly 12 percent of show attendees are your potential buyer, and this is true for various reasons:
- Do they want what you offer?
- Do they need the product or service?
- Can they use what you offer?
- Can they afford the product or service?
- Do they have the ability to pay for it?
So let's look at a scenario: Let's assume your company sells electronic scissor-lifts to the construction trade, you are attending a show and you need "stuff" to give away. You believe you have been asked all the right questions and with that, the show management has informed you that the projected attendance for this show will be approximately 2,000 buyers. That said, you have budgeted $2,000 of logoed merchandise to hand out at the show. Now, when doing the math that means you need something around a dollar. Do you honestly think that you'll attract your key buyers with a dollar Item? So what is the purpose of the gift you plan on handing out? Your promotional products professional searches out the newest thing, but is it the correct product to gain the results your looking for?
Several years back a client came to me and wanted $700 worth of $0.39 pens. The purpose was to flood the show to everyone that attended. After discussing the show stats with them, and furthermore, the challenges they faced in the past, we unveiled a few challenges. Before, they had given a ton of product away with little-to-no response. They noticed that more times than not people just came by the booth to pick up the show freebie. They were not able to qualify the individual but rather spent the majority of the time at a show handing out stuff and not focusing on the real task at hand—getting information in the potential client's hands.
It was agreed we would try a different approach the next year. We explained that if you feel that something must be given out to everyone, then make it inexpensive. It was decided to do imprinted wrapped mints, and 3,000 pieces were ordered. In addition, the client selected leather business card cases, and these were placed under the table and only given out to someone who spent the time to hear the sales pitch. After the presentation, the presenter would say, "Thank you for stopping by, let me give you a token of our appreciation." The product had been gift-wrapped to give it a more personal appeal. If walkers-by saw the gifts being given away and requested one, the salespeople were instructed to invite them in first. If they refused, then they were told they were interested attendees only. The client managed to spend only 75 percent of their budget but informed us that they had experienced a 60 percent greater success rate at this show and were able to take one less person (savings), and their follow-up was more succinct and effective.
So ask yourself, will a person who is buying a $20,000 scissor lift need, want or care about a $1.00 item? Who knows. However, let's look at it another way: same scenario, but using the 12 percent statistic.
There will be 2000 buyers attending the show. If 12 percent of those buyers want, need, can afford and have the ability to pay for that scissor lift, that's 240 real buyers. If you can get the majority of those buyers to come through your booth, has it been more cost effective? If you divide 240 (12 percent of 2000 attendees) that gives you a budget of $8.33 per recipient, and you can do a lot more with that budget than you can with $1.00. That $8.33 can be used for pre-show invitations, nicer gifts at the show and a follow mailer that is consistent and theme driven. You can evaluate your criteria and see the measurable results:
Send out 240 pieces/invitations. At the show 120 buyers came in as a result of the invitation (50 percent response rate). You take your leads and do the needed follow-up and:
- Of the 120 buyers, 60 buyers purchase (that's 25 percent of the 240)
- If you then divide the $2,000 by 60 actual purchases, that means your cost to reach (cost per objectives met, or CPOM) and sell each buyer was $33.33
- Now, given in this case the average cost of this model scissor-lift is $20,000, multiply by 60 and that's $1.2 million in sales
Would you spend $33.33 to gain a buyer of a $20,000 piece of equipment? To get a firm number on the total trade show costs and the true ROI you would need to obviously include all of the associated trade costs: drayage, booth rental, electric, shipping, meals, lodging, etc. Divide that number by the total number of purchasers and there is your true ROI of your trade show experience.
A more involved program was presented to my firm by an up-and-coming Internet Service Provider. The client was attending the COMDEX show in Las Vegas and they wanted to make a serious splash with the show attendees. They were interested in getting their name on everything possible and also creating a mystique about the company. The company hired the comedic team of Penn and Teller and created a mock auditorium on the show floor. The people that they wanted to come to their booth (their 12 percent) were invited via a custom-made personalized laminated press pass, along with custom lanyards. These were pre-mailed to the recipients with the specific time to stop by and see a 30-minute show.
Each participant was instructed to be there at the booth 20 minutes before show time or they would lose their seat, so they could make their presentation prior to their seating. Knowing that their target audience had a liking for Chinese food, (something about tech people I guess) they had 5,000 branded chopsticks made with their name and booth number imprinted on them. They were given to every Chinese restaurant in the area free to use during the week-long show. In addition, thousands of taxi-cab receipts were printed with the company name and number along with booth information. These were handed out free to all of the taxi companies to use during the same period. While the chopsticks and receipts drew tons of prospects, the Penn and Teller show, posters, press passes, lanyards and custom T-shirts were a tremendous draw to their booth as well. The client reported that of 500 special invites that were sent out, over 92 percent of the recipients visited the booth, and more importantly were wearing their special press pass. The whole program created such a buzz and envy among the other show attendees that many came by to see if they could get in, and of course several seats were left available for qualified walk-ups.
Remember that you can actually determine the cost per recipient and CPOM if you know your market and track the success. Remember, the measurement at the Penn and Teller show was the fact that the attendee had to wear the press release. As a side note, that badge was special hole-punched to show that the person already attended.
Not managing your show in this manner will cost you wasted thousands. You take your leads, you collate, post, send out literature and information and follow-up to all of those people, and what does all of that cost? Sadly no one measures to that extent. Imagine if you could drive a more profitable and productive show. The next time you set out to promote a trade show, find a sales professional that asks germane questions. Insist that your trade show manager track the overall cost per recipient and CPOM by building in a form of measurement in order to determine the real ROI from your trade show. Go beyond the product, think outside the box and experience the best show ever.
Continued Good Selling - CQ