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In-person shows and the return of live event marketing

by | Jun 17, 2021 | Traditional Marketing

As the country (and world) re-opens, we’re seeing the return of live event marketing with in-person trade shows and conventions. Several of our clients are in industries where big gatherings like these were once the norm. Virtual events took over during the last 16-plus months – and they’re not fading away just yet.

Events – in-person and virtual – are opportunities for small- and medium-size businesses to introduce new/updated products, showcase services and get a look at what competitors are up to. Many of us are itching to get out there and do…just about anything. The appetite for live events is there, which means you may need to consider opportunities for live event marketing.

How do you feel about returning to events?

While the CDC’s recommendation that people fully vaccinated for COVID-19 no longer need to mask inside or outside, not every city, town or specific location has lifted mask requirements. There is still a large number of unvaccinated people across the country. And there are some people who are vaccinated but still wary of being around a lot of people.

That raises some pluses and minuses about attending a convention or show, vending/having a booth and doing some sort of sponsorship.

Plus: Fewer attendees could generate more meaningful conversations with those who are passionate to be there.

Minus: Costs to produce booths and swag add up. You’re paying for the space and an eye-catching presentation. Fewer attendees means fewer people stopping by to learn more about your organization.

Plus: Sponsorships may be less expensive as live shows return. Maybe you’ve been a lower-tier sponsor in the past (getting your logo out there and some content in the show’s digital and traditional marketing material). You may be able to negotiate a higher level of sponsorship for what you’ve spent in the past. This brings better visibility and more opportunities for interaction with attendees (and even non-attendees who visit the show’s website). It doesn’t hurt to ask the show’s organizers about a better sponsorship level for your regular investment. The worst they can say is no.

Minus: Sponsorships can be expensive and if there’s miniscule attendance, that means fewer eyes on your logo, your booth, everything related to the show. This isn’t “Field of Dreams.” It’s unsure if we build it that they will come.

We mentioned earlier that many of our clients are past attendees if not vendors at shows and conventions. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question, “Should we go back this year?” We advise looking at risk-return.

One client attended a show earlier this spring that seemed to be generating some online buzz about attendance enthusiasm. However, the show didn’t attract many attendees and our client’s organization was exposed to far fewer people.

That was before the CDC’s recommendation, however. The unmasking news for vaccinated people was timely for the LGBTQ+ community as all Pride festivals went virtual last year. The summer months traditionally feature a wide range of events for that community – and we’re seeing news of in-person events locally and regionally.

Another of our clients plans to have a booth at a nearby LGBTQ+ event, and we’re assisting with the messaging and tactics. One sort of surprising marketing tool that saw a resurgence during the pandemic is the QR code.

The resurgence of QR code marketing

You’ve likely seen Quick Response codes – they look like square Rorschach tests. Smartphones scan them and they take you to a web link, be it a landing page, a video, a poll – many of us have seen it go to online menus in the past year. Marketers tried to encourage QR codes to take off years ago, but many people didn’t have a simple way to scan them on their phones.

Today, there are multiple free QR code scanner apps that make it easy to scan. And, some smartphone cameras have built-in QR code functionality. When outdoor dining returned in 2020, many restaurants used QR codes in place of physical menus. (Remember when we wouldn’t touch anything without dousing our hands in sanitizer?)

QR codes popped up outside shops and kiosks and you ordered directly on your phone. It meant less contact with servers, and to some, felt like a safer option than handling traditional menus.

Our client plans to use QR code marketing at the booth to direct people to a landing page built specific for that event. A QR code is a less expensive investment than printing materials that may only be good for that one event. Attendees can click the code, bookmark the page and visit it once they’re back home. That may be a better option than a postcard or brochure that may not even make it to the car.

We don’t know what events will look like exactly this year or even next. We bet you’re going to see some people masked the entire time; others not.

Virtual components, such as panels and presentations, will likely remain part of live events for a while at least, as they’re often less expensive to produce. You don’t need as much tech for a big event or the space for a lot of attendees to physically be together.

While we’re old pros at live event marketing, we’re going to take it event by event for our clients as we get back to the world of large gatherings.

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