3 Keys to A Killer Marketing Plan

Do you have a marketing plan? For many firms, the answer is no. According to a study by Outbound Engine half of small businesses don’t have a marketing plan.

It is not unusual to hear small business owners say they don’t do marketing because they get most of their business through referrals. And while referrals are a great source of new business, in reality you have little control over when and how many come in.  In fact, many business owners and managers view marketing as a “luxury” … something to be done when things are going well. To this group, marketing is a cost that should be minimized rather than an investment that should be maximized. Many of these business owners probably agree with John Wanamaker, the father of modern advertising, who famously said, “I know half of my marketing budget is wasted, I just don’t know which half!”

So …why should a business have a marketing plan? What are the benefits of having such a plan and can it make a difference?

3 Keys to a Killer Marketing Plan

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”– Benjamin Franklin

There are many choices business owners can make to grow their business. In a resource constrained environment, the challenge is to make the most cost-effective choices.  A marketing plan is a documented road map of data driven, strategic and tactical choices with clearly defined metrics. This distinguishes a formalized plan from an ad hoc, seat of the pants “throw a lot of mud on the wall and see what sticks” approach. A killer marketing plan is:

  • Data-driven
  • Actionable
  • Measurable

Data Driven – Build Your Plan on Data Not on Instinct

“Most of the world will make decisions by either guessing or using their gut. They will be either lucky or wrong.”- Suhail Doshi, CEO, Mixpanel

On the popular cable TV show, Bar Rescue, struggling bars are given advice and a solid plan to turn their business around. The show’s host, John Taffer is a seasoned expert, who has “rescued” hundreds of bars over the course of his career. He could easily rely on his intuition, experience and “gut feel” to develop strategies and tactics. Instead, Taffer relies heavily on internal and external data to develop a customized rescue plan. Like John Taffer, you should also use internal and external data to build your marketing plan. But what is internal and external data and where do you get it?

Internal Data Sources for Marketing Planning

Internal data is especially valuable because it is a free information source that you control in terms of the mechanics and timing of how it is collected and reported. Customer data is critical for marketing planning because it provides real time insights about who they are. A thorough understanding of your customers will make it easier to target prospects that have similar characteristics.  Your customer records will tell you: 

  • Long-term customers (Tenure, Satisfaction)
  • Who buys (Demographics, Psychographics)
  • What they are buying from you (Products, services)
  • Where they are buying (Online, brick and mortar)
  • Which marketing appeals had the most/least impact
  • Your most effective sales channel(s) (Click, Call, Face)
  • Their most frequently asked questions

Internal data sources include:

  • Accounting– Sales, cost and cash flows.
  • Operations – Production, shipments, inventory, customer satisfaction ratings, service levels.
  • Sales – customer reactions, competitive threats, sales by channel, price point, profit margin, geographic area, customer type and sales person.
  • Marketing– lead generation, lead sources, web traffic, inbound call rates, social media activity, customer demographics, psychographics and buying behaviors.

External Data Sources for Marketing Planning

External data provides context for your internal data. It helps you understand  market dynamics with regard to the  size of the market, your share of the market and your competitors. External data sources are useful in assessing:

  • Demographic/socio-cultural forces
  • Political and legal forces
  • Competitive forces
  • Science/technology factors

You have little control over what external data is collected and reported. It requires time and effort to determine which data is relevant and applicable to you. Fortunately, there is a ton of “free” external data from FederalState and Local sources that can be used for marketing planning.

Applying your intuition and experience to analyze and interpret internal and external data results in fact-based decisions that are tailored to your business situation.

Actionable – What You Will Do to Make it Happen

“Vision Without Execution is Hallucination” – Thomas Edison

An “actionable” marketing plan lays out:

  • Who the actions will be focused on (target markets),
  • What the actions are (inbound or outbound), and what they are expected to accomplish (specific goals)
  • When the actions will occur (dates of execution)
  • Where the actions will take place (social media platforms, geographic areas etc.)
  • How much each action is expected to cost (budget)

It is critical that everyone in the organization is aware of and familiar with the marketing plan, especially customer facing employees and support staff. It is a mistake for the organization to assume that sales and marketing functions have sole responsibility for growing the business. Ultimately, the degree to which the plan is successful is a function of the discipline used in its execution. Without enterprise wide commitment and discipline to execute the plan the likelihood of success will be compromised


“What gets measured, gets done” – Peter Drucker

It is critical to establish upfront what you want to accomplish with your marketing. A clear set of goals makes it easier to develop metrics that will accurately track your performance. Key performance indicators (KPIs) are actionable metrics tied directly to your bottom line that can be used to track progress against goals. Establishing KPIs  is one of the most important steps in the marketing planning process.

KPIs must be:

  • Clearly defined – everyone should be able to understand them
  • Quantifiable – you must be able to measure and report on it
  • Adaptable – easily modified if conditions change
  • Crucial to achieving organizational objectives – things that must be done to reach a specific goal

Sales and Marketing Key Performance Indicators

Marketing KPIs

Sales KPIs

Sales Revenue

New Leads/Opportunities

Cost Per Lead

Client Acquisition Rates

Customer Lifetime Value

Sales Volume by Location

Inbound Marketing ROI 

Competitor Pricing

Traffic-to-Lead Ratio (New Contact Rate)

Existing Client Engagement

Lead-to-Customer Ratio

Employee Satisfaction

Landing Page Conversion Rates

Upsell/Cross-Sell Rates

Organic Traffic

Net Promoter Score (NPS)

Social Media Traffic (and Conversion Rates)

System Touches

Mobile Traffic, Leads and Conversion Rates

Sales Cycle Length


Final Thoughts

  “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence—it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”- Peter Drucker

One of the constants in business is change. Therefore, when executing your plan, you must be prepared to deal with unanticipated changes. Let’s face it, stuff happens, and a new development could render planned action items irrelevant. Even though the marketing plan is documented on paper, it is not written in stone. When new things occur, the plan can be used as a decision-making filter to compare alternatives, judge trade-offs and decide on the best approach. This approach brings discipline to what can be an emotionally driven response to new developments in the marketplace.

A killer marketing plan provides a level of control over the success of your business that cannot be achieved by simply relying on referrals. It is built on a set of data-driven actions that are continuously measured and monitored.

While it is unrealistic to expect to complete 100% of your marketing plan, commitment and discipline to the plan’s execution is essential for its success. This is more likely to happen when the entire organization is aware of the plan and understands that everyone has a stake in growing the business.


What are your thoughts on having a marketing/growth plan? Are they effective, what other ways can they be improved? We look forward to reading your feedback and perspectives, via comments below, or let’s connect on LinkedIn for further discussion.

gL Marketing Consultants develops inbound and outbound marketing plans and specializes in digital marketing strategy development, implementation.

What is the Difference Between a Business Plan, a Strategic Plan and an Operating Plan?

What is the Difference Between a Business Plan, a Strategic Plan and an Operating Plan?

Planning is an important and necessary function in businesses and organizations. The ability to implement- execute- track- adjust and execute again on a well-developed plan distinguishes those that are successful. Tracking and adjusting to changing business conditions is often what leads to achieving plan goals.


Some business people use the terms strategic plans and business plans interchangeably and while there are common elements in both there are also distinct differences. For the sake of clarity, we make the distinction between the types of “plans” an organization can have.

Business Plan

Start-ups and existing organizations seeking capital or partners need a Business plan. Its function is to describe their purpose, viability and profitability in a way that will attract the support it is looking for. A business plan is produced only once or on an as-needed basis. Unlike strategic and operating plans, a business plan is for limited public consumption and is essentially a marketing piece written to attract the attention of specific audiences. The success criteria for a Business Plan is getting the required financial and/or human capital you seek.

Strategic Plan

A strategic plan is, in most cases, a senior management or board driven initiative that provides focus, direction and actions to move an organization from a current state to a future state. Strategic plans are future oriented with outlooks of 3 to 5 years. It is a big picture view of what the organization will be in the future.  It is built on internal and external data that helps to objectively identify and define the organizations’ strengths, weaknesses opportunities and threats – a SWOT Analysis.


A strategic plan provides a road map for an organization to maintain and increase its strengths, minimize its weaknesses so that it can take advantage of opportunities and avoid threats. Carefully selected key performance indicators (KPIs) are necessary to ensure progress toward the organization’s desired future state. A strategic plan serves as a benchmark that the organization can use to build on and adopt for subsequent planning purposes. 

Operating Plan

An operating plan outlines specific tactics an organization will focus on for the upcoming year. It provides the focus, direction and tactics to move the organization to achieve daily, weekly and monthly goals that support and execute the strategic plan. Like a strategic plan, an operating plan is primarily for internal use only not to be shared with the public.


Middle management and staff are responsible for implementing the Operations plan. Managers and supervisors are responsible for allocating the duties and functions needed to carry out day to day operations.


Operating plans are short term, usually for one year. Operating plans help in running the day-to-day activities as efficiently as possible. It ensures that you do what needs to be done to achieve the tactical objectives of the business. The annual operating plan must support, execute and deliver on the goals and objectives detailed in the strategic plan.


Strategic and operating plans are designed to run a business, while a business plan is designed to describe and promote a business.

A Plan’s Value

Strategic and operating plans are not written in stone. Things will happen that require course corrections. New opportunities come up, expected results are not met. However, this does not mean that these carefully built plans should be shelved whenever the unexpected occurs. In fact, this is when a plan’s value becomes evident as a tool to evaluate new opportunities. A plan represents a set of choices an organization has made. It is as much about what an organization will not do as about what it will do. So, when a new choice comes up, the organization can use the plan as a filter for comparing new opportunities with planned opportunities.


Best practice strategic and operating plans have a laser focus on delivering the result measured by key performance indicators. Companies and organizations that find it difficult to determine if they are getting an appropriate return on their planned investments (ROI) should establish KPI’s if they don’t have them or reassess their KPI’s if they do. The effectiveness of your planning will be severely compromised if you neglect to monitor and adjusting tactics during the plan period.

Illustrate the differences between plans

What are your thoughts on business plans, strategic plans and operating plans? What other kinds of information should these plans include, how can they be improved? We look forward to reading your feedback and perspectives, via comments below, or let’s connect on LinkedIn for further discussion.

Add Video to Your Marketing Mix

Web 2.0 has facilitated a dramatic change in the way that organizations and businesses communicate with customers and other stakeholders. One of the fastest growing communication tools resulting from this change is online video.

In this digital world where people express themselves in 140 characters or less, video is becoming a preferred way to communicate. Cisco estimates that by 2018, 84% of Internet traffic will be video.

One minute of videoThat’s because video is one of the most efficient ways of getting a message across. According to Dr. James McQuivey of Forrester Research, one minute of video is worth 1.8 million words. While this seems hard to believe, his statement is the result of a simple formula based on the notion that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Clearly, video can deliver complex messages in an engaging way through the combined use of sight and sound.

Who is Using Video?

Even though it has been in existence for just 10 years, YouTube has over a billion users. They watch more than four billion videos each day. YouTube processes more than 3 billion searches a month and is now the second largest search engine behind Google which handles 100 billion searches per month. And while some YouTube viewers can’t get enough cute baby and funny pet videos, there are many more who are looking for information. It is possible to find a video on just about anything on You Tube.

The organizations and businesses that are using video are as diverse as the viewers themselves.  Advance Auto Parts, a provider of quality car parts, truck parts, advice and accessories uses online videos as “how to” guides for customers that self install their auto parts. Advance Auto follows a disciplined strategy that produces videos tailored to provide the right information at the right time for the right customer. The emphasis  is on serving the customer rather than being self serving.  Using this approach, they have experienced an increase in conversion rates (sales).

New RulesIn his book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR David Meerman Scott cites the example of Mary McNeight. She is the owner of Seattle based Service Dog Academy, a provider of private training sessions for service and pet dogs. The Service Dog Academy website features instructional videos McNeight produced with an inexpensive video camera and software on her Macbook. These educational videos  generate high search engine rankings. By Ms. McNeight’s own admission she went “…from barely having any students to getting anywhere from 20-40 emails per day requesting my services and advice…”Her first instructional video “Best Dog Food Puzzle: The Kongsicle” is on the Service Dog Academy website and their branded YouTube channel. The Service Dog Academy You Tube channel has nearly 1,000 subscribers and over 95,000 views since 2010.  Like Advance Auto, Service Dog Academy videos are more about helping customers than direct promotion.

Light Speed, is aLight Speed 2 Connecticut based eLearning and Multimedia development firm. Carlton O’Neal, Managing Partner said, “We saw the potential of leveraging the power of video many years ago and made a conscious decision to transition away from consulting, facilitator led training and development to eLearning and multimedia.

Light Speed’s video marketing, has enabled them to secure numerous appointment with senior leaders of major corporations by asking, “What if we can show you everything you need to know about Light Speed in 90 seconds and be out of your office in under 15 minutes?” Time after time, this approach has led to business for this cutting edge firm. O’Neal says, “We are true believers in using video in our marketing and promotional mix.”

What is being done with video?

Videos can be posted on several different platforms, 24/7 at little or no cost. In their 2014 State of Video in the Enterprise Report, Kaltura found that a majority of businesses use video for customer training (65%) and customer webinars (60%). Videos are also increasingly being found on company websites, in email campaigns and on social media.

Website: Videos can help generate high search engine rankings for websites. That’s why a website should be one of the first places to post videos. You have the flexibility to post videos anywhere on your site – home page or landing pages. Research shows that adding video content to a text heavy web page can increase customer engagement. Mist  Media reports that the average consumers spend 88% more time on a website with video.  Diode Digital found  that 60% of viewers will watch video on a website before reading any text. A landing page with a video gets up to 800% more conversions than a page without a video. (Source: Orion21).

Email: More marketers are using videos in emails to improve the performance of their campaigns. Incorporating videos into email marketing campaigns can increase open and click through rates dramatically. Research shows that emails with video have a 5.6% higher open rate and a 96.4% higher click-through rate.

Social Media:

Why is video a better option?

Video is a better option because of lower costs, more control and human nature.

Cost Effectiveness

Many business owners and executives mistakenly believe that video content is an expensive option.  However, their beliefs are based on the old paradigm where highly polished corporate video took months to produce and cost thousands of dollars. Today however marketers have low and no cost  options of creating or curating video content. Do it yourselfers can use smartphones to produce low cost videos that are stunning. While it is true that high quality multimedia video can be fairly expensive, animated Power Point presentations, white board animation and flash animation offer ways to create affordable video content at significantly lower costs than a television commercial.

For those that are less daring and creative, curation of video content is a viable alternative. Content curation is the process of collecting, organizing and displaying information on a particular topic. Basically, you are sharing content produced by someone else on your own digital mediums and platforms. Essentially when you share the content of others you are endorsing them. It is therefore a good idea to make sure that their views are consistent with yours. Also, it is a good idea to give credit to those whose content you have shared.


Unlike TV ads, businesses have complete control over when, where and how long a video stays on and where it is seen. Companies can also control costs by selecting lower cost options or even by deciding to share the video of others, an even lower cost option.

People Are Rational and Emotional

As with any marketing solution, a clear understanding of targeted audiences is a key prerequisite. When determining the appropriate mix of video and text content to use in  digital marketing, keep in mind that people are both rational and emotional in their decision making. Video and text content combined can accommodate both sides of the human mind.

While studies show that people are more likely to remember a video, there is ample evidence that people are more intellectually involved when reading text. Video content can engage the consumer who is at the top of sales funnel deciding whether to buy.  This is an ideal opportunity to connect with prospects on an emotional level. As the prospect progresses along the sales funnel the intellectual side kicks in and they are more likely to read text content.

The use of video for marketing will only increase in the next few years. The data supports this increased use. It is a proven viable communications alternative that offers benefits in terms of lower costs, control and customer engagement. Savvy businesses can jump start their results by adding video to their marketing.

Got an idea for a killer app?

So, you’ve got a great idea for a killer app.  Now all you have to do is find someone to build it and then just wait for the big bucks to start rolling in. Well, hold on now, it’s just not that simple, but then nothing is.

This point was made at a recent seminar by Tim Laubacher, owner of Sound Web, a CT based web and mobile applications development company. Since 2009, Sound Web has been helping people turn their digital ideas into reality. 

“The more complete the documentation, the more accurate the quote from developers”.  

During the seminar, Mr. Laubaucher recounted situations where clients came to him with little more than an idea. With not much to work with, he has to help his clients figure out what they really need their app to do. This often results in clients spending more time fleshing out the idea. In the service business – time is money -which can lead to an app that ends up costing more than the original estimate. According to Laubacher, “The more complete the documentation, the more accurate the quote from developers”.  You could save money and end up with a better app if you start by developing a detailed description of your app. The question is what should clients provide when it comes to documentation?  

6 Items to Include in Your App Documentation

A new app is essentially a new product. A successful new product meets customer needs in a way that sets it apart from the competition.  Its foundation is a product concept, a vision, goals and insights on users and competitors. 

New app documentation that addresses these issues will inform the app development process and allow the focus to be on building the app. It’s also a necessary requirement for the post-development phase when the app is released to the market and must achieve scale.  Here are six items to include in your documentation.

  • What is your app and what will it do?
  • How much are you willing to invest in your app?
  • What is your end game?
  • Who is your target market?
  • Who are your competitors for this market?
  • What features and benefits will your app need to provide?
  1. What is your app and what will it do?

This is typically as far as many new app ideas get. While it is critical to have a high-level concept of what your app is, your developer needs more than that. However, even a conceptual understanding will make it easier to identify and define potential users and competition; data that will be instrumental in creating a marketing plan for the app. 

2. How much are you willing to invest in your app?

If you are like most, you are working with limited resources, so determine what your walkaway point is. How much of your time and money will you spend? Be specific and be prepared to track so you’ll know when to pull the plug.

3. What is your end game?

This is your vision statement for the app. Describe what you want your app to accomplish over the next 18 months. What are your goals and objectives in terms of:

  • Social benefits and impacts
  • Number of downloads 
  • Revenue 
  • Other

You will need reporting to help track the app’s performance against these goals.

4. Who is your target market? 

Describing your users will help your app developer focus on creating features that will resonate with your targeted group. This is absolutely necessary for enabling the app to stand out from the competition.  Describe your target market in terms of:

  • What does your target (ideal) user(s) look like?
    • Age
    • Income
    • Education
    • Sex
  • How many targeted users are in the market?
  • Why would prospective users need your app?
  • Why would they choose your app?
  • What pains or problems does your app solve for them (benefits)?
  • How many people with similar pains or problems are there?
  • How do target users find out about new apps?

5. Who are your competitors?

According to Statista, through the 3rdquarter of 2018, the number of apps available for download totaled over 4 million.

With so much competition, it is likely there are several apps in your category that are very similar to yours. It will be important to know:

  • Who are the top competitors in your app category space?
  • What key user benefits do the top competitors provide? 
  • How is your app different from your competitors?
  • Are there competitive offerings that offer similar benefits? 
    • What has been their impact in the market?

6. What features and benefits does your app need to provide?

Even though new app entrepreneurs may be unfamiliar with the technical details of app development, they should be able to describe the features and benefits they want their app to deliver. This will be the basis of their pitch when promoting the app.

Armed with the knowledge of who your prospects and competitors are, you can describe that unique set of features and benefits that only your app can deliver. Your features and benefits documentation should detail:

  • How should the app engage users?
  • What functionality should it provide?
  • How should that functionality be delivered to the user?
  • What is the desired user experience?
  • What data is needed for the app to work for you and the user?
  • What data is required to report the app’s performance against goals
  • What data will the user need to provide?

Tremendous competition in the app market is giving users a vast number of choices. Turning a killer app idea into a reality can be a daunting task. Working with a professional mobile applications developer will make the task less intimidating. If you provide your app developer with the information we have discussed, the road to reality will be easier and less expensive to travel. Good luck!

What are your thoughts on mobile application development? What other kinds of information should you provide developers, how can they be improved? We look forward to reading your feedback and perspectives, via comments below, or lets connect on LinkedIn for further discussion.

gL Marketing Consultants specializes in digital marketing strategy development and implementation, WordPress websites and web content production.

How to Mobilize Your Website for Success!

Up until a few years ago, if you surfed the ‘Net you used a desktop or laptop computer.  Now people are more likely to use a mobile device – smartphones, tablets and phablets – to go online.  Nearly every US adult (95%) has a cell phone and according to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans owning smartphones increased from 35% in 2011 to 77% in 2016. In addition, 51% of US adults’ own tablets.

Consumers are primarily using mobile devices for mobile applications (Apps) and mobile websites. The time they are spending there has increased significantly since 2013. To keep up with this trend, businesses must have a mobile presence. The question is, should you have a mobile application, a mobile website or both.

Mobile Website or Mobile Application

A mobile website is a website designed to work well on the smaller touch-screen displays of mobile devices. It can be accessed using any mobile device browser.

A mobile application is a type of application software designed to run on a mobile device. Device owners go to online outlets such as the Apple App Store or the Android Market to download and install the app that works with their mobile device operating system.

Since most businesses already have a website, it makes practical sense to make your site mobile-friendly and use it as a key component in your mobile strategy. There are several reasons to opt for a mobile website including:

  • Cost – Because of new web design techniques, you can create a mobile website that will run beautifully on all devices. It costs more to develop a native app that will run on different operating systems (e.g., IOS, Android etc.), requiring you to develop multiple apps.
  • Broader Audience More people can access your mobile website quickly across a variety of devices. Mobile apps on the other hand must be downloaded and have to be compatible with a specific operating system.
  • FlexibilityYou can change and upgrade content quicker on a mobile website. Those changes appear immediately. With mobile apps, you must push the updates to users, which they must download for the updates to appear on their devices.
  • SEO – Your mobile website pages can be optimized for search, making it easier for your target audiences to find you. You will need to promote your mobile apps, directing users to the appropriate store for their device.
  • Shelf Life – Because your website resides on a server and not on the users phone it cannot be deleted.

A Superior User Experience

For a superior user experience, a mobile website must be intuitive, easy to read, easy to navigate and load quickly.

Responsive and adaptive design techniques have become the standard method for creating mobile friendly websites that can adjust dynamically to any sized device screen. Unfortunately, most small businesses (60%) are not mobile friendly. Mobile visitors to these sites may find the content more difficult to access, read, and interact with, creating a not so pleasant user experience.

Websites not optimized for mobile also have lower SEO rankings making it harder to find them on search engines. That is because in 2015 Google changed its search algorithm to give mobile-friendly sites higher SEO rankings. If you have a website and never updated it,  Google has developed a tool you can use to determine if your site is mobile friendly. Just enter your URL and if your site is mobile optimized it will notify you.

Making your website mobile friendly improves the user experience and increases your search engine rankings.


Mobile optimization will make content easier to engage however, the content must be engaging. Because of the way that mobile devices are used and the inherent limitations of their smaller screen there needs to be a different approach for developing content for mobile websites.

Mobile devices, especially smartphones, are used on the go. Because they are on the go users want to do quick searches for specific information. Speed and ease of use are key requirements of mobile website content. Forty percent (40%) of consumers will abandon a website that takes longer than 3 seconds to load.

To make your mobile website more engaging:

  1. Start articles with short, bold attention-grabbing headlines that convey the         article’s benefits.
  2. Use short-form content in bite-sized pieces, including links to the full-length piece.
  3. Keep text to a minimum and use clean simple fonts
  4. Use as few words as possible to get your point across.
  5. A picture is worth a thousand words – use bold dynamic visuals, attention-grabbing photos and videos.

Mobile websites must compete with social media apps that capture attention with dynamic, easy to engage content that users come back for.  To mobilize your website for success, focus on creating a great user experience, deliver valuable content and make it easy for people to find you.

What are your thoughts on the role of websites in the mobile age? Are they still relevant, what other ways can they be improved? We look forward to reading your feedback and perspectives, via comments below, or lets connect on LinkedIn for further discussion.

gL Marketing Consultants specializes in video production, WordPress websites and digital marketing strategy development and implementation.


Why B2B Marketers Use LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the Number 1 social media platform for business to business (B2B) marketers. It helps build brand awareness with the right audiences, generates high quality leads and is by far the most cost effective social media channel. This video, based on data from LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, makes the case for using this channel in your B2B marketing.

Reasons to Use LinkedIn for B2B Marketing.vfinal.12.13.16 from gL Marketing Consultants on Vimeo.

How to Have a Winning Trade Show Strategy

Trade shows are a great way to promote your business to a targeted and captive audience. They allow you to get in front of a lot of interested prospects at one time. Trade show participants are there with a purpose: to learn and seek out what’s new in their industries. With a little planning these events can be productive networking and revenue generators.



I have been at trade shows where companies set up their booth displays, spread out their trinkets and sit behind their display tables waiting for show attendees to stop by. This passive approach can lead to a tchotchke fest where attendees scoop up as much free stuff as they can with no intent of doing any business with you. If your trade show objective is to give out as many pens, key fobs, zip drives, coffee mugs or other promotional gift items, you can stop reading now. If you are looking for a return on your trade show investment, here are a few recommendations to make your next event a winner.


Develop a Strategy

Trade shows should be a key component in your overall marketing plan because they are an ideal way to showcase your brand and your company. Taking a strategic approach based on carefully selected shows with specific goals, objectives and a budget, allows you to implement a more streamlined and focused effort that puts you in front of the right people and yields a positive return on your investment.


Pick the Right Trade Show

Selecting the right show is the first step to achieving your goals. Across all industries, there are countless trade shows to participate in. The most popular are often the most expensive, so with a limited budget you are challenged to select the show that will give you the best bang for your buck. Use your brand as a filter to decide what show fits best with your business.


It is critical to understand the way that your customers make purchasing decisions, as it will also help you narrow the choices of shows to participate in. Look for shows that decision makers or those that may play a role in the final decision will be in attendance. Realistic goals for your investments in trade shows are to:

  • Build your brand
  • Expand and broaden your audience,
  • Establish, improve and maintain customer relationships


 Build Your Brand

The people representing your company personalize your brand and are crucial in delivering a memorable and engaging experience.  They must be courteous, friendly and knowledgeable. If you have more than one person staffing the booth, take time well before the show to train them on their pitch. Develop a script for them to follow and master to ensure that each of them provides consistent messaging to visitors. Make sure your show employees are “pitch” perfect before you put them in your booth.


It is preferable that your show employees dress in company logo wear, if not they should at least wear similar colors. After all, you want to present the visual of a cohesive team, not a disorganized group. A tricked out booth with all the bells and whistles can certainly draw visitors, however, you must rely on your staff to complete the experience. That interaction will have a major impact on your success.


Booth displays come in all shapes, sizes and configurations, from custom high end modular exhibits to simple table top and pop up displays. Deciding on what’s right for you depends on your show objectives, your brand strategy and your budget. Go for the largest investment your budget can handle, keeping in mind that the more you invest in the show the more you must get out of it as a return.


When selecting a booth location, register early and try to not to have direct competitors near your booth. Early registration may get you better choices for your locations. Select high traffic areas for the most exposure. High traffic areas tend to be near the show entrances and exits, food concessions and major show sponsors.


Promotional gift items (aka tchotchkes, aka trinkets) are an unavoidable necessity at trade shows. However, going for the cheapest items may not be the best thing. Your brand strategy should inform your decisions about promo gift items. Your giveaways should be consistent with your brand promise and image.


Select items that effectively communicate what you stand for. Tying your giveaways to your brand will make a stronger impression on your prospects. Go for the highest quality item that your budget will allow. The more unique the item the better it is for getting people to your booth.


In a previous business life, I worked at a home show where we gave away branded fluorescent colored yardsticks. It was both practical and unique and resulted in several hundred people promoting our brand. It became a mainstay and a signature giveaway for several years.


Expand and Broaden Your Audience

While you can set up your booth and hope for show traffic, there are things you can do before the show to ensure that you will have visitors. Bring your audience with you. It benefits you and the increased show traffic would be viewed favorably by the show/event provider.


Prior to the show/event, try to obtain the list of registered attendees. Some associations make this information available. If it is an annual event, use the list of attendees from previous years. Use that list and your list of customers and prospects to recruit attenders for the current year’s show. Consider mailing to your customer and prospect lists an offer to redeem an enclosed coupon for a “special gift” at the booth or an invitation to a hospitality suite as your special guest.


All company outgoing customer communications in the weeks leading up to the show should promote the fact that you will be there. Give your booth number and invite customers to visit you. You can track the effectiveness of this tactic by telling them to mention a promo code or attaching a coupon for them to bring. It is important to be able to measure the effects of all your trade show tactics.


Customer Relationships

If you want to establish, improve and maintain customer relationships, give some thought to the type of experience you want attenders to have when they interact with you. When participating in a show/event you want to make meaningful contacts, set up future appointments or if at all possible make a sale. Your actions at your booth can determine the visitor experience.


Adopt a “no sitting” policy for your show and event employees. Have them get out from behind the booth and engage with the show attenders by making the first contact and giving people a reason to stop and talk.


Trade shows sometimes include seminars and workshops as part of their daily programs. This is where a business can build their brand and establish itself as a thought leader. Take advantage of any opportunities to make a presentation, sit on a panel, or conduct a workshop. Provide branded reference materials that participants can take with them at the end. You should also videotape your presentations for use as content for your inbound marketing efforts.


Be sure to get a count of the number of attendees. Also, if the show does not do it, you should provide a short survey for attendees to fill out. The feedback can be used to improve the workshops and could help identify future topics. It’s also another way to record the number of people in attendance.


Within 48 hours, follow up with the contacts you made at the event while it is still fresh in their minds. This is a good way to build customer relationships that could lead to sales.


Competitive Intelligence

Take advantage of trade shows to find out what your competitors are doing. Mystery shop your competitors exhibits. Find out what they are offering, how their booth is set up, what giveaways they have, and how big of a presence they have. Listen to their pitch and see how it compares to yours. Which benefits do they highlight? How do they position themselves against their competitors? All of this information can be factored in to future marketing plans.


The Bottom Line

The high cost of participating in trade show requires a strategic and goal oriented approach in order to justify the expense.  By picking the right shows, executing your strategy and measuring results, trade shows can provide a boost to your marketing effort. It’s not about how much free stuff you give away, but how much did you build your brand, expand and broaden your audience, and positively impact customer relationships. These are the metrics that matter when it comes to trade shows.

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