B2B Marketing Plan: Replacing Trade Shows for Better ROI

B2B Marketing plan

Trade shows are gone! So, how do you reach your customers now? According to a report from Thomas Industrial Network, 87% of trade shows have been canceled or postponed since the start of the pandemic, while others have gone virtual (we will discuss this more later in the article). This has disrupted more than 2/3rds of all B2B marketing plans where the average company spends about $20K per show and attends 3-10 shows per year. This is creating huge gaps in most marketing strategies and a surplus in those same marketing budgets.

Therefore, the question becomes, where can you redirect those funds? The answer for a lot of business-to-business operations is to look for your customers where you already know they are: trade publications.

Replacing trade shows with trade publications for better B2B Market Solution

Before the start of COVID-19, a report from MediaGrowth Research cited that 92% of engineers and top decision makers are regularly reading industry trade publications. Some reports are currently upping that to more than 95% post-COVID. Contributing to the rise in readership, at least in part, is due to the lack of trade shows. Not surprising considering this is where many companies would go hoping to find solutions for the problems they were facing.

Additionally, in that same report from MediaGrowth, readers revealed they were making about 97% of their decisions based on what they read in those trade publications. This creates a huge value proposition for companies that can produce content that gets published. It creates an even bigger one for companies that can get published numerous times each month.  

Will trade shows ever return to your B2B marketing plan?

There is a compelling case to be made on the effectiveness of trade shows for B2B marketing in the first place.  The question is, who is really benefiting from trade shows? The trade show industry raked-in almost $16 billion per year prior to 2020. So, the argument could be made that the biggest benefactor is the trade show industry itself.

Obviously, the trade show industry will make every attempt to ensure its own survival. However, for attendees; diminishing returns, low attendance and a lack of substantial leads are often identified as the top reasons trade shows are no longer worth the investment.

The fact remains, trade shows may be one of the most unnecessary expenditures within a B2B marketing plan and 2020 will help determine that. As companies begin to take their trade show spend and apply it to other forms of marketing, they can better evaluate what works best.  

You have to go to trade shows or others will wonder “what’s wrong!”

I attend at least a couple of major trade shows each year. What always gets me is the very extravagant displays and booth set-ups. Some cost more than what the average American spends on a house.

However, when you talk to those manning the booths, you hear a lot of the same things, like: “this is the biggest waste of my time every year.”

Or: “we have not gotten a single solid lead from this show.”

My response is always the same. “Well, if this show is not helping your business, then why do you keep coming?” Again, the answers are eerily similar, like they’ve all been shown the same propaganda film. 

“If we don’t show up, we will look conspicuous by our absence,” or some version of this is repeated.

So, you mean to tell me that the trade show industry makes $16 billion per year by making you think you have to show up each year or people may wonder what happened to you and that your company must be in financial trouble? Yikes!

COVID’s effect on manufacturing and how that impacts B2B marketing

COVID-19 is affecting much more than trade shows. According to the same report from Thomas, about 90% of all manufacturing has been adversely affected by the pandemic. A major portion of that disruption is with supply chains, where manufacturing has been moving overseas for decades. However, with delays, travel bans and trade tariffs, 70% of U.S. companies now say they are either likely or extremely likely to consider re-shoring all or significant portions of their manufacturing process. This creates a major need for US-based suppliers.

When sourcing new suppliers, industrial buyers overwhelmingly cited just four things that routinely come into consideration. The good news is you can actually make a huge impact with all of these.

When sourcing suppliers, what impacts buyers?

At the top of the list was a pretty obvious one – your website. I would be surprised if anyone did not already know this but it is worth stating. Your website is your business card, your store front, your customer service agent and your sales team rolled into one. Not to mention, there are no business hours. It’s up and running 24 hours a day. Yet, look around the internet and you’ll see plenty of sites that are now way out of date. So, if your website is not up to par, stop reading this and get to work on that. Until you do, everything else is secondary.

Okay, so if you are still reading that means your website is at least pretty good. Obviously you are always looking for ways to make it better.

The next few areas where industrial buyers are gaining critical information about you may actually have a larger impact on sales. They are in order: market presence with almost 70%, brand reputation at over 60%, followed by what others are saying about you (often presented in reviews, testimonials, feature articles or case studies). 

These can all be combined into one B2B marketing effort by generating earned media in trade publications.

The case for trade pubs over trade shows for B2B Marketing leads

“Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room.”
Jeff Bezos

As I mentioned earlier, trade publications are being consumed by your target audience at a very high rate. However, the value of articles in trade publications goes well beyond your company name simply appearing somewhere within the article.

The value of feature articles is that you can control the entire process, from the content to who is doing the talking.  This is where it is hugely beneficial to find customers who you’ve solved problems for and have them do the talking for you. What struggles were they facing, what challenges did they overcome, and what differentiates you from other options?

These articles can also publish online, where they are available on search engines for years. You also benefit by generating backlinks from these high-authority sites when they include a link back to your website. This one of the best organic SEO strategies you can employ. 

To go virtual or not

Oh yeah, I promised I would cover this early on. There are a number of trade shows that have decided that they can’t afford to miss out on your money, and are taking their shows virtual. I have had several clients, friends and associates attend these and the results are clear. They simply DO NOT WORK.

One of the positive aspects of trade shows was the traffic that would walk past your booth. Maybe your signage or collateral would catch their attention and they would stop by to see what you had to offer. Maybe they liked your solution, you traded business cards and poof you had a solid lead.

This benefit is gone.

While they may figure out how to make this work someday, right now it seems to be a mess. Instead of a booth, you become a link in a long list of links – often thousands or tens of thousands. You man your booth, just like before and wait for someone to click on your link and enter a chat or zoom-type meeting room.

For our clients, this delivered nothing, yet they paid thousands for the “booth,” wasted time manning it for several days, not to mention the long hours spent creating collateral to hand out to all those visitors that never showed up. The good news is they did save on travel, hotel and food. So, there’s that.

If you are looking for the biggest bang for your marketing buck,  feature articles in trade publications should be at the top of your list. You can do it yourself or call someone like us to help. Click here to set up a free call to learn more. 

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b2b marketing plan