The Art of Trade Show Excellence: Planning, Presence, and Follow-Up

In this episode of Cybersecurity (Marketing) Unplugged, Jennifer also discusses:

  • How to set clear objectives and plan your trade show presence to align with your overall marketing goals.
  • Innovative ideas for booth design and activities that attract and engage visitors.
  • Crafting compelling messaging and content that resonates with your target audience and highlights your brand’s unique value.
  • Best practices for scanning and capturing leads effectly to maximize your ROI from the event.

Industry trade shows and conferences represent crucial opportunities to amplify your brand’s visibility, capture essential leads, and directly engage with your target audience. However, making the most of these events requires meticulous planning, innovative strategies, and effective follow-through. Understanding the best practices for trade show participation is key.

Join us for a new episode of Cybersecurity (Marketing) Unplugged as we explore the strategies that guarantee the best returns from your marketing and sales investments at trade shows. From initial planning stages to effective post-event follow-ups, we’ll be shedding light on tactics that ensure your trade show impact is both powerful and productive.

Leading this discussion is Jennifer Baker-Johnson, Director of Commercial Marketing – Network & Cybersecurity Services at Rockwell Automation. With a sharp focus on driving business impact, Jennifer is at the forefront of deploying strategic marketing initiatives with a heavy background in pioneering innovative approaches to trade show engagements.

Prepare to dive deep into the art and science of trade show marketing as Jennifer shares her extensive expertise and practical tips to ensure your next trade show is not just attended, but remembered.

"Setting clear goals and objectives is really the foundation to ensuring that you get the most out of your trade show experience. There's nothing worse than going to a trade show and spending valuable budget dollars on an event that doesn't meet your business needs. I like to define how I'm going to raise awareness, demonstrate the value of our solution, and of course, drive demand," says Jennifer.

Full Transcript

This episode has been automatically transcribed by AI, please excuse any typos or grammatical errors. 

Mike D’Agostino: [00:26]

Welcome everyone to another episode of Cybersecurity Marketing Unplugged. I’m your host and General Manager with CyberTheory, Mike D’Agostino. I hate to start by dating this interview, but just like every company that touches on cybersecurity, we’re gearing up for the bellwether of cybersecurity events – the RSA Conference. Every year, hundreds of cybersecurity vendors pull together unfathomable resources as they look to capitalize on the cybersecurity industry’s largest event of the year. There are so many people at the conference, so much education and information and networking, and ultimately opportunities to make connections and move business forward. It’s not just the RSA Conference, it’s Black Hat, InfoSec Europe, the Gartner events, and the hundreds or possibly 1000s of other trade shows and events in the cybersecurity industry where marketing and sales teams come together to move business forward. However, the dynamics of effectively presenting your brand in the bustling environment of a trade show can be quite challenging. Today’s discussion will focus on illuminating the strategic preparations necessary to not only survive but thrive in these high-stakes events. I hope to cover everything from the nuances of creating compelling on-brand messaging that resonates with attendees, to best practices for capturing and nurturing leads post-event, and everything in between. Who better to convey experience and provide guidance than Jennifer Baker-Johnson, the director of commercial marketing for networking and cybersecurity services with Rockwell Automation. JBJ – as I know you are referred to – great to have you with us and welcome to the show.

Jennifer Baker-Johnson: [02:17]

Hi, Mike. Thanks for having me.

Mike D’Agostino: [02:19]

I hope I did your background justice, and maybe just for our listeners, why don’t you give us a few tidbits on your background with events and trade shows, and what your main focus is at the moment with Rockwell?

Jennifer Baker-Johnson: [02:34]

In my current role, I manage the global marketing for our network in cybersecurity services. I’m excited to talk about today’s topic on the art of trade show excellence. I have more than 20 years of experience in this area, I have worked on both the show management side as well as the exhibitor side of trade shows and have managed booths as small as 70 square feet to as large as 12,000. Trade shows have been a part of any marketing role I’ve had, and I’m looking forward to sharing with the audience my insights and the techniques I’ve learned over the years.

Mike D’Agostino: [03:18]

I can’t wait and I’m sure our listeners can’t either. I know when you and I had a discussion in the planning call for this, you conveyed a lot of your experiences. Hopefully, we can touch on them throughout the conversation. Just to kick things off, we have a bunch of talking points we’re going to try to get through in the next 10 to 15 minutes. Let’s start at the beginning. As you’re getting ready to embark on an event, how do you approach the initial planning and the goal setting for a major trade show? Can you walk us through your process and your initial strategy?

Jennifer Baker-Johnson: [03:55]

In my opinion, setting clear goals and objectives is the foundation to ensuring that you get the most out of your trade show experience. First and foremost, I determine how a trade show supports the business objectives and what outcomes our company can achieve. There’s nothing worse than going to a trade show and spending valuable budget dollars on an event that doesn’t meet your business needs. I like to define how I’m going to raise awareness demonstrate the value of our solution, and drive demand. Next, I like to set specific metrics for success that align with the outcomes I want or can achieve. If I’m looking to achieve increased brand awareness, my metrics are booth visits, number of new contacts generated, number of media mentions, web and social media performance, confirmed future media opportunities, or it could be either the number of people who attend one of our sessions and/or watch it online. However, if I’m looking to generate sales, my metrics include a combination of the number of sales generated the number of newly created opportunities, and our close rate. In most cases, my objectives are a combination between generating brand awareness and driving demand, so I’ll use a mix of metrics. By choosing a few key trade show metrics for success, I can turn my trade show data into meaningful information to gauge the company’s success and improve our trade show performance going forward. The last thing I like to do is ensure that there is alignment between all stakeholders on the plan, I find that when there is alignment, I get the most out of a trade show. In my experience, that is alignment between sales, marketing, product development, and company leadership.

Mike D’Agostino: [06:20]

That was a fantastic response, Jennifer. I hope everybody was taking notes on that, because you went through a playbook of priorities for trade shows, and the two items that my ears picked up on were the focus on brand awareness, and what I’ll file under lead generation or demand generation, which would ultimately fall into sales and pipeline revenue attribution. Those two goals are spot on when you’re at a trade show, there are inevitably going to be people that might not know about your brand, and just having your presence there, and the way that your presence is conveyed, can do a lot to generate brand awareness. Like any marketing and sales exercise, one of the main goals is to produce sales and contribute to the pipeline. Two noteworthy goals there. One of the big things because it’s a physical event – we’re focused on in-person events here – is the physicalness of your presence, which is the booth. What are some of the most innovative or – maybe effective is a better word – booth designs and features that you’ve implemented? How did they reflect your brand and ultimately attract attendees and contribute to the goals that you outlined?

Jennifer Baker-Johnson: [07:56]

I have been doing trade shows for more than 20 years, and over the course of time, it has been interesting to see how booth design has evolved. Long gone are the days of having a skirted table with a sales representative talking about the company’s products. In today’s world, attendees are looking for an experience. They don’t want to hear about your product they want to be immersed in and feel how that product is going to help them. Every year, Rockwall hosts an event called Automation Fair. It’s an opportunity for us to connect with like-minded industry professionals and showcase the value and power of our expertise. One of the most engaging and innovative booths we’ve had at the event is our Cybersecurity Operations Center. I’m responsible for marketing our network and cybersecurity services. One of the challenges I faced at any trade show is making something intangible, tangible. A few years ago, I set out on a mission to revolutionize the way the team showed up at the event, I wanted to put our audience in the middle of a cyberattack that affected operations. I wanted them first to feel the distress of the attack, and then provide the relief and show them how the proper resilience methods could help them get ahead of any prospective threats. In the booth design, I created an in-booth auditorium where they were walked through an attack scenario and could see firsthand the controls the hacker was messing with and how the hacker’s involvement could cause damage not only to the operational environment but also to those individuals working on the manufacturing floor. After that, we were then able to show them how our SOC team identifies those threats before it becomes an issue. The result? We had an engaged audience for the entire duration of the show with standing room only. It also shaved several months off of our sales cycle, the demonstration aligned with the challenges of our audience, and also put into perspective for them how easily a cyberattack can happen, and the lasting damage that can result.

Mike D’Agostino: [10:34]

What a great answer, and I’m not just saying that, because beyond the design of the booth, which is important, you’re picking up on something that we try to preach at CyberTheory all the time, which is the emotional connection with marketing, and I think you hit the nail on the head when you brought in the experience. You referenced that you want the attendees to feel the distress and feel the relief. That’s creating an emotional connection, and that’s going to form the strongest bond with your brand. Moving beyond the actual design of the booth, and you touched on this a little bit. Could you share a little bit more on the messaging and content that you’re bringing in? I know you gave a scenario, and that’s like a theater-type of presentation. What else have you done that’s created a good experience for the attendees? How do you ensure it resonates with your various target audiences?

Jennifer Baker-Johnson: [11:44]

In my experience, I find that trade show messaging is most effective when it’s planned with a specific goal in mind. Messaging from a new company, as an example, that’s just trying to get noticed, is going to be very different from an established business looking for long-term customers. There are a few things I like to do when developing messaging for trade shows. First and foremost, I like to focus on a few key points and keep it simple and straight to the point. I am a firm believer that high-impact imagery and a simple catching message will go a long way and draw people in on the show floor. Second, I look at what my target market’s priorities are, once I understand what their pain points, needs, and interests are, the more I can tailor my messaging to appeal to them and address those concerns. The last thing is understanding the value of my service and what it delivers, and what differentiates it from the competition. To ensure the messaging lands with the audience, I do like to test it. I’ve done this a couple of different ways. I’ve done it through agency partners, much like CyberTheory. However, I’ve also done it through special interest focus groups. I find that testing the message provides, as a marketer for me, some peace of mind, but it also provides some longevity and ensures that the message is landing and connecting with the audience.

Mike D’Agostino: [13:33]

Absolutely, when you’re at a trade show, especially something as busy as the RSA conference, or the Automation Fair for your team, you only have so much time, it’s a sea of noise, there are so many people, there are so many booths! It is a sensory overload. You only have some flashes of moments where you can hope to stand out. If your messaging is not straight to the point, and I don’t want to use the term simple, that’s not what I’m trying to say. But, if it doesn’t capture somebody’s attention, and have them understand almost immediately what you’re trying to get across, they’re gone. They’re on to the next booth. We’ve covered the planning, we’ve covered the booth, and we’ve covered some of the messaging. It’s only as effective as the people that you have there trying to get this across to the attendees. In terms of staffing, how do you select or put an emphasis on your team for the trade show? What roles do you think are crucial and what are their different responsibilities that you found to be the best strategy overall?

Jennifer Baker-Johnson: [14:55]

A good practice has been understanding first and foremost who the audience is and what their needs are, and matching that with a team who can speak confidently and clearly to those needs, and can easily engage with people. I look at what the needs are for that particular trade show, as I often have needs that are being on the show floor, I may need team members to meet with customers, investors, analysts, or even the media. I like to match my staffing needs with the right team members and communicate who is going to be responsible for what. Additionally, I can’t stress this enough, the importance of engagement training. Working a trade show and engaging with attendees from the aisles is outside of most people’s comfort zones, and what they do on a day-to-day basis. I found a lot of success in preparing my team in advance of a trade show, with tips and tricks they need to know to feel comfortable and confident going to the show. I train them on everything from how to welcome someone into our booth to understanding why they are visiting the booth and presenting to that visitor’s identified interest, and then finally getting a booth visitor to commit to the next action. I’ll also train my team on each of the demos, and – this might be a little bit more than a lot of people like to do – I prepare a robust demonstration and messaging guide for them to leverage in their preparations. The final element of training is putting what they have learned into practice through role-playing exercises. When I implemented my engagement training program years ago, I thought my teams were going to be resistant and not engaged in the training. They have enjoyed it, and they also depend on it. As a result of preparing my teams, I’ve found that they have a deeper appreciation for the value a trade show delivers. They are much more comfortable working a booth, and they do a fantastic job of qualifying opportunities on-site.

Mike D’Agostino: [17:30]

You hit the nail on the head. All of this that you described revolves around preparation. One thing that I’ve learned from years of doing this – and I’m sure you’d say the same thing is that – especially with real-time in-person events, once you’re there and the bell rings that the expo hall or the doors are open, you’re not making any changes, there’s no more planning. It unfolds in real-time. If you’re not preparing to the nth degree in advance, it’s going to feel like you’re not making the most of the opportunity. There is no winging it.

Jennifer Baker-Johnson: [18:14]

Exactly. Absolutely.

Mike D’Agostino: [18:15]

I’m reminded of this because as we’ve gotten closer to the RSA conference, for some vendors and companies that have booths, the realization starts to set in. Some of them start to panic, “How am I going to stand out? How am I going to get people to our booth? How are we going to generate traffic? How are we going to be in a position to ultimately scan badges and have conversations and everybody starts reaching out to us? Can you send out emails and tell people about our booth?” You’ll see lots of LinkedIn promotions. I’ve come across the ultimate easy answer for this. I don’t know if you have one either, but, in your experience, what are some effective strategies that you’ve employed to generate the traffic to your booth, especially in a super competitive environment like the RSA Conference?

Jennifer Baker-Johnson: [19:22]

I think trade shows aren’t naturally competitive. As marketers who manage trade shows, we have to stretch our creative muscles to come up with those ideas to acquire our desired booth traffic. I’m someone who likes to push boundaries and try some of the more unconventional tactics to generate booth traffic. I don’t want to give away all my secrets, but some of the most successful tactics I’ve leveraged have included enticing attendees with some highly desirable giveaways. In one of the booths I’ve managed in the past, the success was based on how much product was sold, and what revenue was generated. For each trade show, you would bring in professional athletes. If you bought a product, you could get an autographed baseball or football based on whatever sport that athlete played. The more product you bought, meant that you could upgrade maybe to an autographed jersey or to a picture with the athlete. That tiered model helped us meet our goals. Another tactic that I used was offering up a highly desirable service for free, but leveraging it pre-show to generate booth traffic. In a previous role, I worked for an analytical instrumentation manufacturer, and during the pre-sales part of the sales cycle, we would show a prospective customer how our equipment worked by analyzing various samples. What I started doing was offering attendees the opportunity to run samples prior to the show. They would send us their samples, however, they needed to visit us on the show floor to get the analysis. Then on-site, we would have an engineer or scientist or product manager meet with them, review the analysis, as well as discuss what equipment we use. From those conversations, we were able to then naturally transition to setting up a meeting with them following the trade show to discuss more in-depth how we could help them solve some of their greatest challenges.

Mike D’Agostino: [21:46]

It’s almost like you are qualifying attendees before they even get to the trade show, which I’m sure would lead to way more fruitful conversations than just passersby where they don’t even know who you are, and you’re just scanning their badge and hoping to follow up with them afterward. I’m quite sure that pre-qualification must result in much deeper conversations.

Jennifer Baker-Johnson: [22:15]

It does, and by the time you have a conversation with them, we have qualified them, and they’re eager, they’re engaged, and it’s so much easier to move on to the next step.

Mike D’Agostino: [22:28]

Let’s talk about after the event. Post-event, all marketing and sales departments are on the line, they need to show ROI. What have you found to be some effective strategies for lead nurturing and follow-up? How do you maintain the momentum and interest generated at the event post-event?

Jennifer Baker-Johnson: [23:02]

This has been one of the most challenging parts of trade show management, as there are a lot of moving parts and dependencies. But, it’s also one of the most critical parts to the success of a trade show. You can go to a trade show, have a fabulous-looking booth, have great conversations and stay within budget. However, if all of that doesn’t translate into revenue or market share or meet any of your intended goals, what are you walking away with? I think momentum and interest is maintained when you meet your prospective customers where they are at in their buying cycle. I like to map out my follow-up strategy on the front end of the trade show and determine how I will group and prioritize the leads. In a world where we want to have a better, more collaborative relationship with sales, I find this the perfect opportunity to connect with them and map this out as a team, and then once I decide how I will group and prioritize my leads, I can then build out the nurture streams for each and what tactics within that I will leverage. For those leads that are hot, I will leverage tactics that complement our sales follow-up cycle, providing content at the right intersections to keep them engaged while continuing to build competence in our company and its products. Any communication to the hot leads is very personalized. For those lukewarm or warm leads that you know may not be ready today, but will convert in the future, I like to leverage tactics to keep the conversation going and allow them the opportunity to opt in on communication on future events, newsletter or our social media. With this group, I like to provide them with any content they need in the moment, but allow them the space to continue their own research journey, but make a point to have our internal sales team do regular check-ins. We want them to know we’re only a message or a phone call away, but we also want to respect their boundaries. I think the momentum and interest is maintained when you meet your prospective customers where they are at in their buying cycle.

Mike D’Agostino: [25:36]

We hear very often “what do you do with the scan badges afterward? The response would be, “what do you mean, our sales team picks up the phone and tries to call them?” That usually does not equate to being effective, and what you’ve described by bucketizing attendees and badge scans into different groups and having different goals and follow ups with those different groups, that is a very smart way to approach it. Let’s talk about the future. Looking ahead, what trends are you seeing? What’s out there? I don’t want to throw out AI. I don’t know if you’re designing your booths with AI these days or anything quite that extreme! What are you seeing on the horizon?

Jennifer Baker-Johnson: [26:38]

Even though I would say trade shows have largely returned to the same format that existed pre-pandemic, I think that conversations are going to take priority, and they’re going to be less about presenting your products or services. I also think technology is evolving, and with that we are going to see artificial intelligence and augmented or virtual reality, enhance our trade show experiences. With this evolution show organizers will need to expand their offerings to further complement our tactics. What this means for me and other marketers is that trade shows will continue to be a powerful tactic we can leverage; however, we will need to lean into the various technologies available to more accurately message and connect with our prospects before, during, and after a show. I’d also like to add that the evolution means that we are going to need to put more focus on training our onsite staff to take a more consultative approach, and focus on outcomes we can help a prospective customer achieve.

Mike D’Agostino: [28:10]

I can’t wait to see more technology. You were referencing earlier, to me technology is a vehicle for experience. With in-person events, it’s all about the experience and being there in person at that moment in time and the more novel experiences that you can present to people and the stronger you can make that emotional connection. Hopefully, it leads to more fruitful follow-ups and engagements post-show. Jennifer – JBJ -, what a great conversation. It’s obvious you have an extreme passion for events and events marketing, and you’ve been very successful with it. I wish you all the best at the RSA Conference. We’ll be checking in on you. Hopefully, you guys knock it out of the park. I can’t wait for our next conversation.

Jennifer Baker-Johnson: [29:07]

Thank you so much for having me, Mike.

Mike D’Agostino: [29:10]

This is Mike D’Agostino with CyberTheory. You’ve listened to another episode of Cybersecurity Marketing Unplugged.