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Best practices for pre-show email marketing

Two words – trade show. As an association executive, if the sight of these two words doesn’t immediately send images of making connections directly to your brain, then there’s a disconnect somewhere.

Connections. That’s essentially what trade shows and conventions are all about. Associations should want to make connections with members, prospective members and partners. They should want partners and members to connect; and their members to meet other individuals who have experienced similar situations in their daily dealings.

Sounds simple enough, right? Hold a trade show. Invite people. Watch them connect. The trick is actually making all of that happen, and a significant tool for getting all of the pieces to fall into place is pre-show email marketing.

According to Advertising Age and the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, “marketers seriously under-utilize this highly leveragable option, devoting only 5 percent of their event budgets to pre-show promotions.” That percentage is incredible.

Now, it’s true that email marketing tends to be one of the more inexpensive options associations have at their disposal, so maybe that’s why the percentage is so low. Regardless, with zero printing costs, minimal design legwork, an expedited review process and instant reader statistics, utilizing email marketing for pre-show promotions is a no-brainer.

Excited and not quite sure where to start? Here are a few helpful hints for crushing pre-show email promotion.

Make a plan, and stick to it.
Until arriving at the trade show, associations should always be in pre-show marketing mode. What that means is that even if the show is a year away, they should be hitting their members, partners and associates with something reminding them about the upcoming show. Whether it’s setting up on-site meetings, driving traffic to the booth, announcing the keynote speaker or inviting targets to the annual company blowout, they need to always be thinking about the next email promotion. The key here is to have a plan (or perhaps even a checklist) and follow it. Don’t just send out random emails.

Know the audience and speak directly to them.
As Monica Geller from the hit show, Friends, once said: “You wanna hit ‘em all, and you wanna mix it up.” Since associations have so many different groups attending their shows, they need to be sure to direct their emails to specific groups. For instance, they have members and nonmembers attending the show. They do not want to accidentally send an exclusive “Join our association at a discounted rate” email to a member who is possibly paying a higher rate for membership. That is bad for retention. In the same sense, they don’t want to send an email to attendees offering them an excellent exhibitor space for capturing attendees with purchasing power. An association has to be sure their message is meeting the right audience.

Balance each email’s text to image ratio.
Whether associations are inviting members to awards dinners, or teasing attendees with an opportunity to meet a celebrity in their booth, they need to be sure to they’re utilize the right amount of text vs. graphics. Some emails will work as a save-the-date reminder with just a quick image of the hotel and the pertinent info. Others, they’ll have to creatively grab attention with more text instead of a flashy graphic. The key is finding the balance that works, and this may take a little trial and error.

One extra hint – Leverage your location.
Hopefully, the association has chosen a hot spot for optimal trade show action. The objective is to highlight the amenities and opportunities that make this locale worth flying into. First things first: do some research. Go to the city’s visitors’ bureau and Google local attractions. These results alone can lead to 4 or 5 quick email blasts alone. And the key to these blasts? They should all be significantly different in what they highlight, but they should also all tie neatly into the brand and marketing message of the upcoming show. All routes should lead to the show. (Side note: These blasts should easily translate to social media messaging as well, but that’s a whole other subject.)

So, basically, association executives need to have a plan that hits the right audience with the optimum amount of hits while including pertinent and intriguing information – all before ever getting near the show. Pre-show email marketing is not the cure-all for getting attendees and exhibitors to the show, but it plays a huge role in the process. Seize the opportunity. Capture the audience. Get results.