I was fortunate to attend the B2B Marketing Forum (#MPB2B), where intelligent and inspiring marketers shared powerful insights about B2B marketing today. During #MPB2B, over and over we heard examples of powerful storytelling, tips for creating good content, and ideas for communicating with our audiences as "real people."

My company, Live Marketing was a finalist in the first-annual Bright Bulb Awards, honoring excellence in business-to-business marketing. To my surprise (and delight!) we won "Best B2B Marketing Project" for our marketing efforts at a tradeshow.

As I thought about the B2B Marketing Forum and our campaign, I couldn't help but notice some common themes. So here are four of my takeaways from #MPB2B and our award-winning program. Any marketer can apply those inspirations to their own tradeshow efforts for brilliant success.

1. A Great Story

First, we had to get the attention of our audience at the tradeshow—savvy, and extremely busy to boot (sounds familiar, right?). Considering that this project was for an industry tradeshow where we didn't have the largest booth on the floor and every other exhibitor was competing for the same attendees' attention, we needed a different messaging tack.

Our main message/theme became "What Kind of Marketing Monster Are You?" To learn the answer, we invited attendees to visit our booth and take a short quiz.

Aside from a provocative question with a light pop-culture tie-in (think "Monsters University," the movie, and Lady Gaga's "little monster" fan base), a visual theme was critical.

We created three original whimsical characters—the Tech Junkie, the Storyteller, and the Buzz Builder—that were integrated in all program elements. The marketing monsters reflected common challenges that exhibit marketers face with their programs: successfully integrating the latest technologies, telling a powerful story, and creating buzz.

Your inspiration:

  • B2B doesn't have to be conservative. We're communicating with real people who have feelings and emotions. Your story has a better chance of resonating if you take a road less traveled.
  • Consistently repeat a clear call to action in every communication. In our case, the most important action was driving booth visits (where No. 3, below, became critical).
  • "A picture is worth a thousand words" is especially true in a visually oriented society captivated by memes, Pinterest boards, Vines, and Instagram. In our case, with visuals the story and tone became intriguing and playful.

2. Let's Get Social

It was a given that social media would be part of the project, but what fresh ideas could we apply?

As highlighted by #MPB2B keynote speaker Teddy Goff, digital director for the Obama 2012 campaign, we tried to create new kinds of content to share via social channels.

We turned to our established social marketing channels and fan base to generate additional buzz through a variety of fun and entertaining content.

For weeks on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and even LinkedIn, we shared the Monsters' event preparations as well as their journey to the final destination. We experimented with the newly launched (at the time) Vine to bring these two-dimensional characters to life in a different way. We even conducted a video "interview" with the monsters and real team members who would be on site to provide tradeshow attendees with a preview of what they'd learn by joining us at the show.

Your inspiration:

  • Integrate tradeshow-related social media campaigns with your existing corporate presence for maximum reach. Even if all your followers aren't coming to the event, it is still beneficial for them to experience your core story.
  • Social media is constantly changing. Don't wait to try trends or new platforms until they're established; instead, experiment with emerging tools using your overall social media strategy as the guiding framework.

3. Activating the Experience

Here's a little-known secret: People don't use just Google in their B2B buying process; 69% and 66% attend face-to-face events to shop and learn, respectively. (Source: CEIR, "What Attendees Want from Trade Exhibitions")

To deliver on those expectations, we designed tactics to provide information that attendees wanted to learn—while also providing education about how our solutions help marketers generate more leads, sales, and results from their tradeshow programs. (Sounds like the makings of good content, right?)

First, a quick interactive quiz at the booth helped attendees answer "What Kind of Marketing Monster Are You?" The activity also provided a hook for inviting passersby into the experience.

Then, through a series of interactive learning labs staffed by team members, we shared tradeshow marketing best-practices paired with mini case-examples of those ideas in use. From prior audience research, we knew getting such information was a primary reason for attending the tradeshow.

Your inspiration:

  • Attendees do their homework, and they have specific questions they want answered when meeting face to face. Find ways to create a personalized experience that delivers content relevant to their careabouts. (In our case, content that was shared was tailored to their "Marketing Monster" personality.)
  • Especially in B2B, and before making a serious investment, buyers want to test what it might be like working with your company. Give them a chance to ask questions and interact with your team so they know the real people they'd be dealing with.

4. Metrics Lift

With tight budgets and greater accountability demands, you still have to justify the project with business pay-offs. In our case, we increased lead generation dramatically over our goal—surpassing last year's number of booth visitors by 55%—also driving qualified leads.

Because attendees want to shop and learn, in our pre-show marketing efforts we specifically asked, "Do you want to set a time to meet at the show?" We surpassed our goal for one-to-one meetings held at the show by 85%—a tremendous spike.

But we didn't stop there. We measured our social media engagement. We put in robust lead tracking for opportunities generated throughout the sales process. As a result, we're able to measure closed business from this project. (And who doesn't want to show their boss exactly how their efforts are paying off?)

Your inspiration:

  • Get consensus from key stakeholders on what's important to measure before you start program development. Throughout the planning cycle, use those goals as a benchmark to evaluate whether or not to include potential program elements.
  • Research tells us that, on average, 76% of tradeshow attendees decide what exhibits to visit before they even attend the show. So give interested visitors a way to raise their hand/show interest (just like a CTA in a content marketing piece)—ultimately making the face-to-face opportunity productive for all parties.

* * *

Having a great story, capitalizing on social media trends, creating personalized experiences, and establishing what you want to measure up front will make your next tradeshow program shine even brighter!

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Four Tradeshow Marketing Takeaways From an #MPB2B Bright Bulb Award Winner

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image of Kristin Veach

Kristin Veach is chief communications and growth strategist at experiential marketing agency Live Marketing, where she is responsible for driving results using online strategies for live events.

LinkedIn: Kristin Veach

Twitter: @Kristin_Veach