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Tradeshow Advertising - Why It Matters Now More than Ever

By: Andy Marken

In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

Corporate management and marketers have constantly asked themselves and their communications people how much does advertising matter? With the slower economy and tight budgets the question has been raised even more frequently.

Ad budgets become an irresistible target for budget-slashers.

When companies look even more closely at their marketing budgets they often feel that there are shows they must attend because they are pivotal to the industry but since they are participating in the show, pre-show advertising appears to be a needless added expense. The common reason is, "they are already going to be at the show so we'll get the time in front of them we need without the added expense."

But an August cover story in BusinessWeek points out that people who starve their brands now will be paying for it in the future. At the same time both allbusiness.com and about.com, two business information sites point out that going to a trade show without pre-show promotion is a waste of time...and money.

Advertising in Bad Times
Kevin Keller of Dartmouth University notes that in an era of wide customer choices with roughly comparable products and services, people rely less on a list of features and more on a relationship that is built and maintained by the company's consistency.

While the research isn't conclusive, Keller - and others who study the subject - see indications that the best way to gain marketshare is to sustain advertising spending during a downturn as rivals cut back. In fact, Donald Uzzi of Electronic Data Systems (EDS) says, "Smart companies look at these environments, when other people go darker, to advance their position."

Marketeers outside traditional consumer goods have shown less willingness to support their brands. As a result, Keller and other industry watchers say they risk losing their pricing power - and more important, their connection with their customers. Skittish customers need reassurance that the investments they have made will pay off and that the supplier will be there to support them. IBM for example has firmly indicated that they would absolutely stay on course. This long-term thinking may be one reason why the firm lost only 1% of brand value last year while other high-tech firms suffered much larger declines.

Keller says that firms that tamper with their core commitment to their brands are at grave risk. Those that stay on a steady advertising course usually find their good names are worth a lot more when the tough times end.

Advertising Around Shows
Michael Zane, president of Kryptonite Inc. (producers of U-shaped bicycle locks), says that even though the tiny firm's ($30 million in annual sales) is almost a household word, the company still maintains strong visibility around the major trade shows. "It's vital that we reinforce our commitment to our products to our channel partners," he noted. He also emphasized that in his and every market there is a constant turn of key personnel and prospective customers. Advertising prior to the show helps attract these prospective channel partners specifically to his booth.

Post-show promotion is equally important because it provides reinforcement to people who visited the booth as to the new products and ideas they saw at the show. It also captures people who missed the unveilings at the booth as well as those who didn't or couldn't travel to the show.

While the failure of hundreds of dot-coms has tarnished the image of Web advertising, it still provides the best combination of broad and selective reach as well as measurable results when used properly.

Scott Bedbury, CEO of BrandStream, notes that despite the fact that the Internet has in many degrees leveled the playing field for B2B companies, price is not everything. "Manufacturers must also recognize that they can no longer make one product and ship it to anything that walks, on or off the Web, and then turn their back on what happens next, he commented. "The value proposition is becoming increasingly important. Firms that create undifferentiated products eventually go out of business without the real or perceived value and enhanced customer relationship."

Web Evolution
Regis McKenna, chairman of The McKenna Group, emphasized that the Internet has changed the course of many businesses but not advertising and branding thinking. "It's not a broadcast medium like television," he said. "It's much more of a service medium where you have people interact and exchange information with you. Because of this Web advertising becomes increasingly important but you can't rely on traditional banners to attract and inform buyers. Trying it once and not producing results only means that you were doing it wrong. That isn't a valid instant conclusion. It takes the experience of failure and time to learn and evolve to produce success. It's too important to your future not to."

Banner ads that sit like a valance atop your screen are still the most popular form of Internet advertising though not very effective. Despite this marketeers cling to them, unwilling to take risks and venture into other tactics.

AdRelevance suggests that marketers try other ad shapes and technologies such as the button or the form of the ad which includes text boxes or drop-down menus. Under and overlay web ads are also proving to be increasingly effective. The Internet and Web are in the formative and evolutionary stages today. Creativity will get more attention than a fleeting mix of pixels. The key is to use the strengths and benefits of the Web to your best advantage rather than continuously banging your head against the banners.

Keep in mind that Web advertising can offer scalability, online community demographics, targeted messages, deep content and detailed tracking and measurement data. It cost-effectively provides companies with the ability to extend the transaction. Most important is the fact that new online advertising technologies are emerging that will produce a new generation of ads that use animation, video and even built-in e-commerce capabilities.

These techniques can move prospects more easily to your company to learn more about you, your products and services and your unique selling propositions.

© Copyright 2001, G.A.Marken, Marken Communications

Other Articles by Andy Marken

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.

 

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