The Show Must Go On: Alternative Ways to Bring a Product to Market with Trade Shows on Hiatus

I’ve been in PR for a long time, and in the beginning it was all about the trade shows. Sure, products would be launched with a variety of PR tools ranging from satellite media tours to traditional press releases and, later, social media. But the trade show was always special. It was a vibrant environment where brands and press converged every year to network, learn and launch an exciting new product.

This is the world where I cut my teeth and launched a brand of my own. From CES and NAB Show to Comdex and the Global Pet Expo, I would thrive on the energy of trade shows, connecting clients with reporters, seeing the latest and greatest innovations, and exchanging ideas with businesspeople from around the world. It was such a rush, not to mention a fruitful landscape for a PR professional.

It saddens me that these live in-person events have halted amid the coronavirus pandemic, but that in no way lessons the important missions that trade shows served – launching products, amplifying brands, and educating the public. Now that trade shows are on a break, or going only virtual, how should brands rework a product launch strategy?

  • Identify your audience and pinpoint if you are going wide with your launch strategy or just targeting a vertical audience. This is a key differentiator in how you should approach a launch strategy. To reach a wide range of people, basically the consumer, put together a multipronged approach, using influencers to help spread the word, a social media blitz, and a PR campaign to get your word out in full force. The point of a multipronged campaign is to come up with an outreach strategy to get in front of the most people that you can, coordinate the announcement, reach out to influencers in exchange for product or monetary compensation, and understand how your targeted consumer consumes new products. Audit competition and do this research before you move forward with your launch.

If you are going after verticals, there may be a good virtual conference for you to team up with and reach a very targeted number of buyers. There also are key publications in your space that should be targeted. Compile a list prior to launch and send them your news.

  • Look for virtual events that align with that audience and weigh sponsorship opportunities in exchange for a speaking slot. This can be a good opportunity to speak directly with buyers who are already showing interest in your vertical because they are signed up for the show. There are several large companies that have moved forward with virtual conferences, complete with the very best in keynote speakers to still attract a lot of eyeballs. And we are all a little bored looking for outside entertainment, right? Make sure that the conference you are interested in has marketed correctly to the people attending the conference, and that you will have access to those lists of people who joined you virtually. In addition I sourced an article from John Hall, co-founder of the app Calendar, who has identified a few virtual conferences he thinks will help e-commerce entrepreneurs, and there are many other places to research new conferences that will now be held online.
  • Create a strategic PR program to help boost the amount of people who view your launch. Start a launch plan that has your identified audience, goals for the plan, key message points that you want media to share about your launch and research stories or data that support why your product has impact on the overall industry that you are marketing to – and do the same if you are targeting consumers. List press targets and contact information and a detailed timeline for the launch. Also reach out and sign-up with a wire service to launch the press release over the wire to “officially” make your product searchable. There are several companies that offer wire distribution. I suggest using the top distributors in the market such as BusinessWire or PRNewswire. A wire service isn’t totally necessary, and it shouldn’t be the only approach for getting a news release out, but it is a good option when you aren’t engaged with a PR firm that would be handling the majority of the press strategy and outreach. If you have marketing dollars to support your launch, a PR company that specializes in your market is also a good idea, but make sure you vet their tenure in the business by asking for client recommendations or seeing if they are listed on agency ranking sites such as UpCity and Clutch.
  • Another good source for bringing a product to market is to carve out a budget for digital advertising. Spend some money targeting your audience digitally with advertisements and have that money go back into funding your marketing programs. This is a great way to build a sales funnel to support and grow your marketing program. Digital advertising is so effective when done correctly. It can easily double your spend when your ad creative is engaging and interesting, and the targeting is done correctly. Also, if you are engaging with an agency to support these efforts, ask about A/B testing, email campaigns and lookalike audiences. All of these tactics are necessary for a successful digital campaign.
  • Spend the time on telling your story – and most importantly, don’t complicate your message. Get to the point of your brand early on and don’t think it needs to be something that is so wordy that no one can understand your value proposition. If you aren’t the best writer, then outsource the content process. Don’t overlook the importance of having an engaging story that grabs at the core of your company’s existence. Go back to the old, who, what, why and how methodology of writing and create a compelling backstory that will have people understanding exactly what you do the first time they read or hear about you.
  • Don’t wait to launch – people and brands are still consuming – even more rapidly than before the pandemic. Businesses are still running, albeit at different speeds and in different capacity than before, but business is still moving forward. There have been several meetings with clients where we are forecasting the future of their space and the truth is that this pandemic and the change that it has brought, will continue to bring more change to the workplace and how people consume products. We as a society are adapting, and business is indeed taking place. I’m seeing it firsthand. Don’t hold off on your launch despite the virtual move that has taken place. Embrace it and look creatively at ways to bring your product to market outside of the tried and true tradeshow. One thing we know for sure is we still need stuff, now more than ever.

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