Overheard at Infosec 2015…

Getting to grips with the sales and marketing RoI of big industry events

As the biggest Information Security event rolled around for its 20th year, and exhibitors piled on the three storey designer stands, product news, and where they could – the charm – it felt like the perfect opportunity to see whether these type of marquee industry shows are providing the RoI they once were from a sales and marketing standpoint.

So I donned my sturdy (flat) event shoes, and in-between analyst meetings, PR duties and catching up with industry contacts, took to the Infosec show floor to ask exhibitors what their main drivers were for attending the show this year. Their opinions went a little like this…

There were those in the marketing camp:

“…I see Infosecurity as a branding exercise first and foremost.”
“…It’s a good opportunity to get our proposition and new updates out there, in the right industry-led environment, and in front of the right people.”
“…There are a few vendors that are noticeable by their absence, that tells you a lot I think.”

Some in the networking camp:

“…It’s an invaluable opportunity to mix with our customers and partners outside the day-to-day, and get some new debates going with others in the industry.”
“…These events are all about networking with peers and customers, getting the industry together, debating topics and learning.”

And, the all-important sales view:

“…There’s always those visitors just looking for free-stuff, discounted small purchases, but in the first few hours we had some really high-quality conversations with large enterprises and blue-chips; genuine prospects. So it still remains a good sales platform.”
“…Infosecurity can be quite generalized in its audience, as we’re focussed on highly regulated industries and large multi-national organisations it’s not necessarily the right environment for us from a sales point of view.”
“…We’ve got a hundred pre-booked meetings for the show. It’s the date in the calendar when everyone is focussed and in one place, and we make the most of it.”

In reality we all know the exhibitor’s raison d’etre for spending large amounts of hard-won marketing budget on stands, sponsorship and branding is the event database – the influencers’ and decision makers’ eyes, ears and budgets.

They say if you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product, and that is certainly the case for visitors of these events. And don’t they know it.

It’s a fine line the organisers must balance between ensuring visitors are still compelled to attend – and return – despite the knowledge that the mass of exhibitors are purely there to market and sell to them.

“Can I just quickly scan your badge,” said everyone, on every stand to every visitor.

The nature of captivating that single audience, over one short time period, is what makes these events and exhibitions such a competitive environment.

And it’s why pre-planning integrated marketing, sales and PR strategies is vital to success.

With marketing budgets so focussed on delivering tangible RoI, it’s easy to see why an increasing number of would-be exhibitors are questioning future spend and resource on marquee events, with many looking closer at more niche, focussed get-togethers which offer, arguably, a higher return on audience-specific lead generation.

Yet it’s only these big trade shows that offer the combination of brand exposure and lead generation opportunities with such a significant portion of the marketplace. If you get it right, that is.

We’ve been involved in a fair few of these in our time, and whilst it would be wrong to suggest there’s a single magic formula to getting it right, here are a few insights on putting your best event feet forward for a RoI…

1. Start early

Plan early and get your theme and your proposition together as soon as possible. This gives you the foundation you need to set your data acquisition strategy and outreach programmes straight, so you can work to engage with, and invite, prospects and customers to pre-book sales meetings way in advance of the show itself.

That chap I spoke to that had over 100 pre-booked meetings for infosec, he got it right. For the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, it sometimes feels like planning starts immediately after the prior event closes, and we’ve been known to begin social, content and email campaigns to incentivise prospect meetings up to 5 months in advance of the event.

2. Engage for quality over quantity

With a coherent and compelling sales proposition from the outset, you can then turn product stories into creative marketing initiatives that engage your event audience – giveaways, incentives, competitions, speaker sessions and so on – for purposeful lead generation.

You want to be telling the people that matter what you’re doing, send and communicate teasers across the channels that work for them, whet people’s appetite and then do something more than offer a free iPad mini or Apple Watch in exchange for anyone’s business card.

All those badge scans and business cards given freely for some low-quality, bean to cup, free coffee mean very little when you get back to the office and start running through the CRM and into your content marketing efforts. Be sure to be targeted in your lead generation and look for real engagement opportunities to qualify your conversations before and during the show, to result in quality (not quantity of) conversations afterward.

3. PR is for more than show day

For event branding and PR, some may say anything goes, but we’ve all witnessed high-profile examples on how that has gone wrong over the years! The only specifics I’d tout here is to get creative, stay relevant and think beyond the opening day.

Often, pre-show news and PR activity can make as much, if not more, of an impact than from the showfloor itself, supporting your all-important objective of getting people to the stand when the gates open.

Whilst it’s not always possible, best practice says to plan to promote your news and content over a few months pre, during and post show to get the upmost traction and interest for your stories. Of course making that genuinely new and interesting, and in tune with the event theme and your show proposition goes without saying.

4. Get creative

cohesive-blog-image-infosec
Barracuda Networks engaged InfoSec 2015 attendees with a virtual golf machine

With all that hard work on the sales and marketing efforts early on, when it finally comes to the show floor don’t skimp on the bit that gets you noticed on the day. This is the part that shouts your message from the mezzanine, so don’t be shy and endeavour to stand out. For the right reasons.

The days of the booth babe may well be over (and rightly so) but savvy organisations are having success, and some a lot of fun, with smart PR stunts that get you noticed and more importantly, your message understood.

You don’t have to break the bank for this either, it’s as much about smart, creative campaigning as it is spending on the big, shiny and celebrity.

We’ve had the lot – live jailbreaks, paparazzi invasions and football freestylers – over the years, all working to get hold of tired trade-show eyeballs, generating a ‘buzz’ and engaging prospects when telling the client’s story. Don’t underestimate the value of raising the odd smile either; we all need a bit of humour when event season comes around and that’s often the part visitors remember when they leave the show.

It seems that these giants of tech industry events still provide great sales and marketing platforms, but only for those willing to put in the hard work and effort upfront. From my conversations at Infosec, it certainly sounded like a lot of exhibitors felt they were getting it right and the event was an investment worth making.

It wasn’t all positive from the exhibition floor mind you; there were the usual groans of the ‘WiFi is rubbish!’ ‘Call that coffee?’ and ‘It was better when it was at Earls Court’ overheard too. So next time Olympia, because let’s face it we know we’ll all be back again for more in 2016, maybe get the Lavazza in, and please get the air-con working!

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