Marketing Alternatives to Tradeshows in the Wake of COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

Marketing Alternatives to Tradeshows in the Wake of COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted in 2020 It was updated in 2021.

With COVID-19 (coronavirus) impacting people and businesses across the globe, the futures of many events are now in question. PredictHQ reported that February 2020 experienced a 500% increase in significant and major events being canceled or postponed compared to February 2019. The cancellation and postponement rate for March 2020 compared to March 2019 was 875%.

Tradeshows were among the events most impacted. Many shows were postponed indefinitely, if not canceled altogether. For many marketers, a giant wrench was thrown into the marketing plans for the year.

Why? Because tradeshows play such a huge role in those plans.

A survey by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) published by in February 2018 found that exhibitors estimated that roughly half of their marketing budgets were spent on exhibitions. Most of the marketing spend was allocated for B2B events (40.7%). An additional 6.9% of the budget was spent on B2C events, and 4.7% was used for corporate events.

B2B Marketing Exhibitors Budgets

Tradeshows definitely aren’t cheap, either. The same survey reported that the median amount spent per exhibition was $20,000.

With a huge piece of the marketing plan in limbo for the foreseeable future, marketers are left with some difficult questions. Could the tradeshows we plan to attend get postponed or canceled? If so, does it make more sense to reinvest our tradeshow budget somewhere else? Where should we reinvest that budget?

Just how valuable are tradeshows to your company? You can use the current uncertainty as a case study. You may find that tradeshow attendance really is vital to your company’s success. Or, you may find that using alternative marketing tactics produces similar, maybe even better, results.

This article will present some marketing alternatives to tradeshows and guide you through effective ways to reinvest your tradeshow budget in the wake of uncertainty caused by COVID-19. With more people now working from home or potentially on travel restrictions, this is the time for digital marketing to take center stage and drive your lead generation and sales efforts.

Digital Marketing: A Collection of Marketing Alternatives to Tradeshows

Whether you need to find marketing alternatives to tradeshows out of necessity or just curiosity, digital is a natural place in which to turn. It offers a variety of different options, addresses all levels of the sales funnel and is affordable — especially in comparison to tradeshow attendance. By taking a chunk of your tradeshow budget and reinvesting it in digital marketing, you can put a hearty campaign together that will attract, nurture and convert leads throughout the year. Below are some examples of tactics that you can implement at your company.

Ramp Up SEO

Whether your typical targets won’t make it to a show due to circumstances out of their control or by choice, they’ll likely turn to the web to get information instead. If you don’t have a top-ranking website, address it and make it better by hiring a marketing agency or SEO company. According to HubSpot, 66% of buyers don’t go past the top 5 Google listings, and 75% don’t go past the first page of listings.

There are three key areas on which to focus when it comes to SEO. The first is on-page, which involves optimizing meta tags, URL structure and page content to improve your chances of getting a high ranking from Google and other search engines. It also includes making sure your website is user-friendly, which includes characteristics like:

  • Fast load time
  • Easy navigation to other pages on the site
  • Responsive for mobile devices
  • Easily sharable on social networks

Then, you have off-page tactics. These include building backlinks to your site from other websites, increasing citations for your business and creating and optimizing social media pages.

Content and keywords come into play for both on-page and off-page SEO. Your site needs to provide helpful content that includes the right keywords used an ideal number of times in order to be rewarded by search engines with a high ranking.

For more on improving SEO, click here. And while you’re at it, make sure you’re reviewing and acting upon the vast amount of data collected by Google Analytics. If you need help, read this article to learn how you can provide your marketing partner with access to your account.

Advertise on Social Media

Love it or hate it, social media is important and it’s here to stay. According to Statusbrew, close to half the world’s population (3.03 billion people) are on some type of social media. It should come as no surprise that Facebook is the top social platform. The company reported having over 2.89 billion monthly active users worldwide last year. And closer to home, Pew Research Center found that 69% of American adults use Facebook, with 70% of them logging on daily.

What does this mean? That if you’re going to be missing out on speaking to customers and leads at tradeshows as a result of coronavirus, chances are you can make up for it by reaching them (and thousands of others like them) on social media.

Social media ads are key components of digital marketing campaigns because of their versatility. There are different formats designed to cater to different objectives. They can also be utilized at all three levels of the sales funnel. They can promote brand awareness and helpful, non-salesy content at the top of the funnel, nurture leads with low-commitment offers and more in-depth content in the middle of the funnel and drive conversions with quote requests, lunch & learn opportunities and “contact us” submissions at the bottom of the funnel.

There are seven primary reasons you should be utilizing social media ads. You can learn about them in detail in our article 7 Reasons to Start Using Facebook Ads Today.

  1. Your Audience is on Facebook
  2. Organic Reach is Minimal
  3. Facebook Ads are Affordable
  4. Campaigns Can Be Highly Targeted
  5. Facebook Ads Work
  6. Facebook is Constantly Evolving
  7. Setup is Simple
Digital Marketing

Get & Stay in Touch with Marketing Automation

Unless your salespeople really go above and beyond to get in contact with every prospect whose information is collected at tradeshows, you can have just as much success, if not more, using digital means such as marketing automation. That’s because SiriusDecisions found that the average salesperson only makes two attempts to reach a prospect.

That statistic isn’t all that surprising when you consider that buyers today can be up to 70% of the way through the buyer’s journey before considering talking to a salesperson. Additionally, it makes more sense for salespeople to focus their time and energy on closing leads who are ready to buy… not ones who are just in research mode.

Marketing automation is an ideal tool to fill the void because it works 24/7 on repetitive sales and marketing tasks like sending out emails and integrating with actions on social media and the company website. It can also be set up to assign lead scores based on a user’s digital behaviors and alert sales when a lead is ready to convert.

Here is a summary of some of the primary benefits of marketing automation:

  • Opportunities don’t slip through the cracks
  • It keeps your company top-of-mind and appeases modern buyers
  • It accommodates a variety of workflows including:
    • Demand Generation
    • Nurturing
    • Upsell/Cross-Sell
    • Pre/During/Post Tradeshow… for any shows you decide to keep in your marketing budget
  • On average, nurtured leads make 47% larger purchases than non-nurtured leads

For more on marketing automation, click here.

Take the Group Experience Online with Webinars

You can never replace the in-person interaction tradeshows enable between your company representatives and customers or prospects. But with social distancing efforts in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, face-to-face meetings aren’t as feasible as they used to be. Luckily, there’s a marketing alternative that offers close to the same experience… just online — webinars.

A webinar is an online event in which your company rep(s) deliver a presentation online. Depending on the format of your particular format, event attendees may be able to ask questions, vote in polls or participate in other ways. Webinars are a natural fit if you already had plans in place to do presentations or demonstrations at a tradeshow.

You can (and should) promote webinars in much the same way you should promote tradeshow attendance — before and after. This is where it’s helpful to integrate with marketing automation. Before the webinar, you can send out one or more emails to contacts that direct them to a landing page to register. Then after the webinar, you can send out one or more additional emails thanking them for attending the webinar and inviting them to seek further information by contacting a sales rep or downloading or requesting additional content. Depending on your setup, you may find it helpful to have a separate post-webinar landing page.

To find out more about webinar marketing, click here.

48 Proven Workflows to Plug a Leaky Sales Funnel

Stay Top-of-Mind with Retargeting Ads

A big advantage digital marketing has over traditional marketing is its ability to “follow” targets wherever they go (online, at least). I’m sure you’ve experienced a scenario like this before… You research a product online, leave the website to go to a totally unrelated site and you see an ad showcasing the company or product you looked at earlier. That’s a retargeting ad at work.

There’s not a traditional marketing channel that can match that experience, including a tradeshow. Once visitors to your booth leave the show, they aren’t likely to come across your company again unless they go looking for it. Even if you send them a direct mail piece afterward, they may look at it once, file it away or discard it and forget about it.

Retargeting ads can be displayed on the web thanks to Google, and if you’ve installed the Facebook Pixel or LinkedIn Insight Tag on your web pages, you can create retargeting ads on those platforms as well. In addition, the pixel and insight tag offer these benefits to help you improve your social media marketing:

  • Creation of lookalike audiences — audiences that share attributes with people who have viewed your content
  • Creation of exclusion audiences — audiences that you can exclude from your campaigns to improve your campaign targeting
  • Optimization of ads — get the most ROI

Through retargeting, you can put your company’s brand and messaging in front of prospects as they surf the web or their favorite social platforms. This will increase brand awareness and make it more likely they’ll consider your business’s solutions when they need to make a purchase.

Prove ROI with Greater Certainty

It can be hard to measure ROI from tradeshows. The mechanisms necessary to definitively link a sale to a tradeshow are limited. That isn’t the case with digital marketing, which offers a variety of tools for capturing and reporting data.

While you can never 100% account for every behavior of a buyer as they go through your digital sales funnel, you can get fairly close. This is especially true if you utilize UTMs, which are modifications to the URLs you drive traffic to as part of your digital marketing efforts that allow you to track which efforts were directly responsible for the traffic.

When you use UTMs, you will know not only if someone accessed your website via an email blast, social media ad or retargeting ad but also the specific campaign from which they came. This is invaluable information that will enable you to focus more of your time and budget on the campaigns and media that are most effective at attracting, nurturing and converting leads.

To learn more about UTMs and how to use them, click here.

Ready to Implement Marketing Alternatives to Tradeshows?

Intrigued by digital marketing now? Think you can succeed at marketing for your company without a heavy focus on tradeshows? We’ve presented numerous examples of digital marketing tools that can increase your leads and boost your sales. Now, it’s up to you to give them a try and find out for yourself.

If you want one more piece of information before you decide, read How to Create the Perfect Digital Sales Funnel [And What to Avoid].

Have additional questions about digital marketing or want to learn even more? Call us at 815.431.1000 or submit this form to contact us.


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