For building product brands big and small, the tempo of each year often revolves around a core trade show calendar. After all, most manufacturers allocate a significant amount of their annual marketing budget to trade shows — as these events are critically important, not only to the exhibitors of building products — but also to those who use, specify and sell them. In so many ways, tradeshows and conferences serve as the ultimate experience in which stakeholders are able to get a sense of the current competitive landscape. And to excite their customers about what’s in store for the near future.
Just this past week however, two of the industry’s largest trade events — the NAHB International Builders’ Show (IBS) and the NKBA Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS) — announced that they are going completely virtual. As such, the combined “Design & Construction Week” will take place Feb. 9-11, 2021 in an exclusively-online format.
While some may have anticipated this outcome — given the ongoing danger posed by large gatherings in the wake of COVID-19 — the news is a disappointment to many in the building products industry who look forward each year to showcasing their latest products and networking with peers from across the country. And around the globe.
Yes, it is also a sign that our industry may be further still from normalcy… than we had hoped.
A World of New Possibilities
When you consider the integrated logistics of a trade show, the cost is significant — for both exhibitors and attendees. Constructing massive, interactive booth displays. Transporting samples of products and major equipment. Providing travel for company representatives — in many cases, from across the world. All are costs that companies traditionally have been willing to shoulder. Why? Simply because the resulting interactive experience has been historically unrivaled. It’s difficult to think of another setting in which people are more singularly focused. And share more excitement about the prospect of doing business with innovative construction products and building solutions.
This year — and who knows, perhaps again in the future — companies will not have the face-to-face attention of customers and prospects that a trade show provides. Instead, that attention will be divided among a fragmented, remote, distributed workforce.
Considering this current paradigm shift, one question all building product marketers should be asking themselves now… is how their brands can recreate via a virtual format the ‘wow’ factor associated with traditional trade shows. And, by fortunate circumstance, how immediately they can re-allocate valuable marketing dollars that were originally slated for trade show event budgets.
Channel participants go to trade shows not just to be informed… they also want to have their senses engaged. While brochures or PowerPoint presentations are useful — let’s face it — they were never, ever really enough. Trade show attendees want to be immersed in a distinct, user-experience. To touch it. Feel it. Smell it. And to consume totally in a unique way, an environment that is guided by one’s own sense of innate curiosity.
Rather than sitting by idly and waiting for the green light signaling a return to the “new normal,” building product manufactures should be actively finding new ways — using available digital tools — to capture for audiences what we call, “lightning in a bottle.”
Here are three strategies building product brands may wish to consider to help re-create that energy and engagement:
Adapt to the Changing Landscape
While it may be difficult to completely replicate an in-person trade show experience, brands are experimenting with strategies to present digital and hybrid-digital experiences… that enable potential customers to interact with brands in much more intimate ways.
In America, trade associations are adjusting their tactics to appeal to a wider global audience in lieu of being able to capture smaller audiences at indoor events. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) is currently accepting entries for its 2020 Global Innovation Awards (GIA). The GIA program annually recognizes the most cutting-edge, advanced and original products, services and homes from around the world. This year, the virtual event has added a new category, International Home of the Year. As countries around the world face the same crisis, trade organizations are focusing more on needs of the global building industry.
In Asia, trade groups are completely rethinking the trade expo. For example, the Canton Fair — the oldest, largest and most representative industrial trade show in China — recently converted to an all-digital experience. While the event typically features thousands of exhibitors and tens of thousands of in-person attendees… this year’s virtual event has attracted 26,000 sponsor-exhibitors and some 100 million viewers globally.
Other companies — rather than creating a once-a-year event — are utilizing digital platforms to create recurring events for their audience communities interested in learning about new products and solutions all year-round. Amazon recently conducted a highly successful, full-day online symposium called Amazon Career Day, during which the company brought in career experts from around the country to provide job seekers with valuable advice and tips on navigating the current job market. Amazon accepted a record-setting 384,000 job applications — which not only created brand affinity — but also helped to cement its place in the eyes of the public as a stable place to work in the midst of an ongoing crisis.
As the number of virtual events grows, brands should consider offering incentives for attendees. For example, promo codes and special deals. Or chances to win gift certificates and prizes… all designed to attract and retain the attention of their remote audiences.
Ramp Up Content Marketing
Even during this very difficult year, some $215 billion will be spent on ads in the U.S. — proving that the case for marketing remains strong. Effective content marketing is capable of laser-focused outreach amid virtual distribution capabilities. That can result in greater — and more lasting impact — than the one-off marketing traditionally provided during an in-person trade show. Content marketing also tends to attract more highly motivated prospects — the kind of audiences who are ready, willing and able to buy. And who can influence the contractors and specifiers that manufacturers are seeking to reach. Virtual, “always-on” blogs, YouTube videos, LinkedIn communities, Pinterest and other available social platforms are convenient and engaging forums through which companies can directly engage various audiences with highly relevant and timely content.
What’s more, content marketing consistently delivers useful information to core customers while providing prospects with unexpected, yet much appreciated, value-added services. The strategy also allows building product brands to position themselves as industry experts and thought leaders… to better earn the trust of customers. So, when audiences are ready to purchase a product — they likely will have already selected their favorite provider.
Help Customers With Real World Challenges
Consumers in every income bracket are navigating extraordinary challenges right now. Some are working harder than ever before… while balancing home schooling and infant care in the same living space. Resources that people often rely on to get through their day may not be available. Many are under-employed. Or in transition. All the while, there are still bills to pay. Yet people need products and services — to help them get things done in the real world — however challenging that world may be at the moment.
As such, this is an opportune time for brands to reimagine their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs and determine how brand priorities may be adjusted… to directly help audiences who are facing difficult times.
How about returning money to provide direct relief to your customers? USAA has returned more than $1 billion in insurance premiums to its policy holders this year. Or waiving fees for some of your services or subscriptions? Similar to what software provider Bentley did for its ProjectWise 365 software, in an effort to help customers facing work-from-home challenges. ScaleFactor, a company that assists small and medium businesses with accounting and tax services, tasked its app development team to build a calculator that makes it easier for businesses to apply for government-backed loans for bridging lost revenue.
While these acts of goodwill are not directly intended to increase sales — in the fashion of trade show events — customers and prospects certainly will nevertheless remember your altruistic efforts… when they are ready to purchase a product or service.
For more information on how your building product brand can adapt your offerings to meet the challenges of a virtual marketplace, visit www.kleberandassociates.com or email Steve Kleber at firstname.lastname@example.org.