How to Apply Organic Marketing Principles at a Trade Show or Conference

The beauty of organic marketing is that the principles stay the same no matter the format, the medium, or situation. The same theory applies: remove the artificiality and stick with natural, intuitive concepts that will convert a passerby to a lifelong customer. If you strip away the flash and dazzle, a tradeshow or conference can be thought of us a farmer’s market. How do you distinguish your product or service, what can you do that will create a lasting impression? It’s more than handing out brochures, chip clips with your logo on them, or sitting at a space fairly larger than a corner cubicle.

Every weekend in Portland, OR, farmers from all over the state converge to sell their fruits and vegetables at the local food market. It’s an exciting open-air bazaar with artists, music, food carts, and the freshest produce you can find. As you walk along the booths, you’ll notice one with purple carrots. Every weekend, farmer Gene Teal drives over 300 miles to sell these carrots and other produce for the hungry residents of the city.

I was first introduced to Gene at the TEDx Conference. Food critic Karen Brooks was talking about what made Portland such a special food destination. Purple carrots were handed out as she told the story of a dedicated farmer who would drive six hours every weekend to stand on hard concrete, even in his late 70’s because he loved knowing that people were eating his food. When he gave the reason of why his carrots tasted so good, he said “Because I talk to them.” Now, I can’t walk look at another carrot, purple or not, without thinking about his incredible story (the carrot really was the best I’ve ever had too).

The best way to be remembered at a trade show or conference is to create a connection. Cool giveaway items might have your name on them but does it lead to sales? When was the last time you visited a company website because someone gave you a free pen? No, the key lies in basic sales principles: letting the customer talk and finding a way to provide them with a solution, finding a way to connect with them at some level. The swag should serve as a reminder of that conversation, not substitute for any interaction at all. Tell your unique story in a way that will have people thinking about your proverbial carrot. You can draw people in with the flash and dazzle, but you want people talking about your amazing new product or service, not just how cool your booth was.

Here are some best practices you want might to incorporate:

  • Don’t just take business cards and stash them away. Write notes on them about your conversation, personal information traded, or follow-up actions as quickly as possibly (perhaps during a lull in traffic). When you collect dozens or hundreds of cards, it can be difficult to remember each interaction. This way, your follow can be more personal and have a greater impact.
  • Stand up. If you’re sitting, looking distracted, or appear uninterested, attendees will be less likely to engage.
  • If foot traffic is low, sometimes the further away you get from your booth, the better. Start talking and networking with others who are showcasing. If you do have giveaway items, walk around to direct traffic to your booth.
  • Focus on quality. Don’t worry about filling every bit of space that you have available but whatever you have available; you want to be of the upmost quality. This partially branding control.  The items you are giving out free, brochures, the overall experience (including the attitude of representatives) all reflects the organization.
  • Step out of your industry. The best appearances my music group has isn’t at music industry conferences, but at anime conventions. Nordic Track’s success doesn’t come from fitness expos, but dental exhibits. Sometimes the out of market events have less competition and more interest because of the surprise factor.
  • Get the buzz going before setting up. Create some anticipation for your arrival: contact local press or industry representatives, get some attention and excitement about your brand’s appearance at the show.
  • Be proactive. Don’t just sit at your exhibit all day. Participate in workshops and panels. Try and be selected as a speaker if you can, to give more credibility and visibility to your message.
Learn more about Organic Marketing by subscribing to this blog. The book, Organic Marketing, will be available this Fall.
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