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Give your franchise show story the happily ever after ending it needs


Mark Siebert

Illustration by Jonathan Hankin

It’s that time of year again when you’ve completed your summer reading list and are ramping up your marketing strategy around budget talks for next year. What story are you telling with your business? And what tools are you using to tell it?

Trade show exhibitors have been around since medicine men peddled their goods by carriage, but the idea is far from out of date. Today’s trade shows, especially global shows like the International Franchise Expo in New York, are bustling events with hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of prospective franchisees all jammed together in the same place at the same time. They have changed with the times and serve as a true lead generating and nurturing opportunity.

“These shows aren’t what they used to be, so exhibitors can’t behave like the used to,” says Tom Portesy, CEO of MFV Expositions. “There was a time we did 70 shows a year because that’s where people went for good information on franchising. The internet changed everything. Prospects who come to our shows today are more informed. They are in step three or four of the process and expect to be treated as such.”

Every good story has a beginning, middle and an end. Utilizing trade shows as part of your marketing strategy is no different.

The beginning

Start the planning process early by evaluating and deciding which trade shows are right for you and your budget and what you want to accomplish. Like any marketing strategy, your strategic growth goals should drive your marketing spend—you don’t want to attend trade shows in Japan if your goal is sales in the Mid Atlantic. Trade show producers will have kits that provide the statistics on each of their shows, whether franchise-related or industry-specific, and by matching those stats with your target audience and desired geography, you can determine if a particular show is the right fit.

Lay out your goals for trade show participation. If you’re strictly looking for franchise sales, some of the better shows will consistently deliver 100 to 200 leads or more to a well-worked booth. And those numbers more than pay for the cost of participation with a single franchise sale. There are ancillary returns as well in the form of brand awareness, social media engagement, and opportunities for publicity from print, bloggers, TV and other influencers.   

The beginning of your trade show story should focus on pre-marketing efforts. A call to action should be the central focus of messaging. Perhaps you’ll want to create a dedicated landing page for an upcoming show that offers something of value in exchange for contact information, and then invite prospects to that page through digital campaigns as well as on all marketing materials.

Have you been courting a few specific individuals via email or social media campaigns? Think how you might make their visit to the expo a customized, VIP experience. Free passes? A one-on-one briefing/behind-the-scenes experience?

The middle

This is where the magic happens. Walk through an expo like the IFE and you’ll notice booths displayed in a myriad of ways. Sure, some have a table, a banner and printed brochures next to a stack of business cards. Don’t be that boring booth!

How might your booth become an experience for each visitor? Round out your cast of characters with well-prepared staff who are trained on how to deliver your message and enhance the booth experience. What graphics can you use to present the excitement of your business? How can you display your products or services in an engaging way?

Visitors want to be able to scan a code, or at the very least click an action link, either on their device or yours. What else can you do to entice visitors to not just stop at your booth, but linger and engage? Offer seating or a charging station. Set up a VIP section for highly qualified individuals who show a keen interest to allow for more detailed dialogue (always being aware of appropriate legal disclosure requirements, of course).

The importance of the staff you send can’t be stressed enough. This is not the time to send a veteran of the brand just because of their seniority. This is no place for the shy or the meek. The faces and personalities behind your brand sell it. They are your main characters. Period. It doesn’t matter how masterful your messaging is; if the people in place aren’t personable, knowledgeable or on message, all the time and money you invested into the show will be for naught. Likewise, Portesy recommends keeping conversations short. You are collecting leads, not selling the entire system. Prep your staff and arm them with tablets or notepads so they can document key points of interest or recognizable traits to utilize later during follow-up.   

When it comes to social media, don’t forget how many opportunities there are to market your franchise beyond the venue walls. Trade shows are rich with material to post, share and tweet. And in the age of digital media, all events will have a hashtag—use it.

If a goal is to network with industry professionals or scope out your competition, schedule downtime—but never at the expense of leaving your booth without representation.

The end

Trade show participation doesn’t stop once the expo hall hours end. The number one rule for follow-up with prospects is timing. Be prompt. Statistics show increased conversion rates when follow-up occurs within a week of the show. Review your notes, find a unique moment or exchange for reference and pick up the phone. Even better, stay in town and meet with local, qualified attendees.

Secondary marketing efforts should take place at a later date, toward those who did not attend. ”

Portesy notes a franchise show allows prospects to meet and shake hands with the people they’re getting involved with. In today’s all-to-impersonal digital world, there is a huge value in creating a real relationship early in the process. But remember, there were hundreds of competing franchisors at that same show, and your prospect probably had others on his or her short list. Your ability to stand out from the crowd will be largely determined by how well (and how fast) you connect, even after the lights go down.

Mark Siebert is CEO of franchise consulting firm iFranchise Group. Reach him at 708.957.2300 or info@ifranchisegroup.com.

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