The Next Frontier in Digital Marketing for Trade Shows

October 8, 2015

By Elizabeth Johnson

Conventional marketing wisdom tells us “go where your audience is.” Recently, Facebook announced 1 billion users logged on in a single day, and earlier this year, global internet usage on mobile devices surpassed internet usage on desktops or laptops for the first time. These signs make it clear trade show planners and marketers need to invest more online.

Beyond email marketing campaigns and social media pages, trade show planners and marketers have a wealth of digital marketing tactics available to them. Many are adding them to their strategies to engage with their audiences and find new prospects. Tactics include social media and pay-per-click advertising, retargeting campaigns, mobile advertising, remarketing campaigns, gamification and many more.

Social Media Advertising

Social media advertising can be an easy first step in adding digital tactics to a marketing strategy. Sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram offer platforms for placing advertising messages to targeted, customizable audiences. The marketer controls a daily budget and can edit or stop the ad at any time.

MINExpo INTERNATIONAL is a quadrennial mega show held in Las Vegas. Ahead of its September 2016 event, it’s using two types of Facebook advertising.

The first is a Page Likes campaign aimed primarily at international prospects and designed to increase the number of people with whom it can share its organic content.  A Website Clicks campaign to drive traffic directly to the MINExpo website to register will follow early next year.

“With four years between shows, social media is a way we can stay connected to our audience and find new people who have entered the industry since the last show,” said Moya Phelleps, senior vice president at NMA.

In the first three months, MINExpo’s Page Likes campaign increased its Facebook page’s international audience by 25 percent.

Instagram is emerging as a strong platform for marketers as well. Nielsen Brand Effect measured 400 campaigns globally and found ad recall from sponsored posts on Instagram was 2.8 times higher than Nielsen’s norms for online advertising. In addition, GlobalWebIndex found 53 percent of Instagram users follow brands (the highest of any social network) and 44 percent conduct brand research on the network. Because 70 percent of Instagram’s audience is under 35 - it could be the right place to target a younger audience.

Retargeting Campaigns

Retargeting campaigns focus on potential attendees who have visited the show site and left. Using a retargeting vendor, marketers show web banner ads to these people on other websites in order to drive them back to the show website and convert them into attendees. It has a high ROI because the audience is more engaged than a “cold” audience viewing a web banner ad placed on a website.

Traction, a digital marketing conference for entrepreneurs, employs a number of digital tactics including an ad retargeting campaign to drive attendance to the conference. It used a third-party URL shortener that ties any content it shares to its ad retargeting campaign.

The retarget links enabled Traction cofounder, Lloyed Lobo, to promote the conference by sharing interesting content from others. Lobo, who runs growth at and is also cofounder of Boast Capital, managed the process. “Eighty percent of the time we share interesting content across our social channels that educates our target audience on how to become better at what they do.”

The retargeting campaign is not a standalone tactic and supports Traction’s robust email marketing campaign.

“Our last conference sold out 45 days ahead of schedule,” Lobo said.

Additional Options

There are many other tactics worth testing. Mobile advertising uses predictive data to target your audiences when they use their mobile devices. Remarketing campaigns combat “empty cart syndrome” by emailing people who stopped in the middle of the registration process. Gamification through contest and trivia can creatively engage audiences.

Digital technology has revolutionized the way planners can market trade shows. It has broken open a world of possibility for connecting with target audiences. All this possibility comes with a learning curve. Show marketers who overcome that challenge and test new tactics can find success in raising brand awareness, maintaining brand relevance, finding new audiences and converting more prospects into attendees.

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