Sincerely, I never actually dreamed of managing global exhibitions. The normal digital marketing gigs I usually have are all from the typical product and services based corporates and SMEs mostly. And yes, for the ruling political party too. That’s it. Not yet for trade shows, let alone global ones. As a matter of fact, it never crosses my mind at all.
Towards the end of 2016, I was contacted by the organiser of Malaysia International Halal Showcase or MIHAS 2017 via LinkedIn. It was mid November, I can still remember it. The interactions ended up from LinkedIn’s DM (Direct Message Box) to Starbucks where I was assigned to work on MIHAS 2017 almost right away. There were slightly more than 600 booths all taken up and double-digit thousands of trade visitors flocking in from around the world from as far as Moscow, Chile and Brazil. Fast forward, the trade show was a big success after the organiser exceeded the KPI set by the host. If you must know, Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE), the agency under the Ministry of International Trade and Industry Malaysia is the host of MIHAS which runs annually.
Not long after MIHAS ended, I was contacted by someone from Dubai. I was blessed again. I was assigned to handle the Halal Expo Dubai this coming September 18 – 19. The culprit is again, LinkedIn. You know, it does pay to be active on this channel. I can easily skip all sorts of the filtering or evaluation processes crap altogether. I just know somehow, somewhere there is always someone watching what I am doing on LinkedIn. They are observing it very, very quietly. In fact, these people could be the CEOs of a company, an owner of a brand at least someone way more important than me. And they will surely know the best and the right time to contact me when I am needed. All I have to have is substance.
I had a good experience with MIHAS and working on DUHA at the moment. So, you must be asking me what are the takeaways then? There are 6 actually. I learn 6 great things from both stunts. Some say these are good ‘fortunes’. Come on, these are not fortunate circumstances. Victory loves preparation and I don’t subscribe to coincidence. There is always a plan in everything I do, speak or share.
Here are the greatest things I learned from running the entire end-to-end digital marketing work for the upcoming Halal Expo Dubai, DUHA 2017 and the recently concluded Malaysia International Halal Showcase, MIHAS 2017:
Website is where we actually sell. Website is the place where the credibility is showcased. This is where a trust is acquired too. To ensure we secure the exhibitors for the available booths and trade visitors’ attendance for the exhibitions, we must conquer their trust first. B2B community is extremely calculative when it comes to the exhibition topics. Why is that? Well, It is very expensive, resource intensive and inconsistent ROI. Not to mention, it is very tiring when involving travelling and logistics matters. To make those decision makers to consider coming to exhibit takes a lot of effort, and time too. They need to see all those fears are covered, and they don’t lose money. They also need to see that this exhibition is reliable, being managed by a reliable entity, who are the one at the back of the organisers, who are collaborating with the organisers and a few other fast facts that tell them that this exhibition is worth investing for. To deliver these critical value propositions online to the world quicker and effective, a powerful website is needed. This is where we sell. What are the elements of a great website? Easy, you will know when you see one.
Others are important but Product, Operations, Marketing and Finance are the most critical. Working under the organiser, I observe how values are being delivered by each department to ensure the ultimate objective of making the exhibition a real success is met. No doubt every single department is deemed important, yet these departments really stand out. First, the product. This is what the exhibitors and trade visitors will purchase at the end of the day. This is the ultimate consideration they will make prior making the decision to participate. If the exhibition doesn’t have what it takes for them to say yes, then we will have a problem. Second, the operations. The operations is among the busiest team among all. They cover the exhibition hall, survey of the place, process flows, registration counters, name tag and door gifts, you name it. They also are the ones responsible for the booths details, logistics matters, post-exhibition packing, everything. Their work covers from the pre-exhibition day, during and post-exhibition day which indeed tiring. Third, the marketing part. This is the team who handles branding, promotions, shouting out, creating hype, building the right content, making the host city colourful, awareness and all related activities to ensure people know about the event and indirectly persuade them to come either to exhibit or visit. The initiatives include the online and offline works. Fourth, finance. Without money, nothing will move. Period. From the marketing perspective, we extremely rely a lot on these teams to complement our work.
Without a unique selling point or USP, things will get complicated. Basically, the exhibitors and trade visitors need reasons why they must come to the exhibitions. The organiser and host must know the unique selling points of their exhibition so that these potentials know why they must choose to be here and not somewhere else. Again, those USP points must answer the list of fears I shared earlier. As long as the exhibition can answer the question of Why Us, then all will be good. This is what branding is all about.
The pressure against time was enormous. Despite the pressure, everything must be done authentically and with quality. Yes it will take time to build the trust, yet with the right content, target markets, message to send across and budget for awareness, we can offset the waiting time and make the news spread quicker.
While other social channels are being used to establish awareness, LinkedIn is still the best place to hunt for trade visitors and exhibitors. We always emphasize the usage of LinkedIn Page to the organisers, as this is where the potential exhibitors and trade visitors are. LinkedIn is known for its B2B community and owned 500 million members around the world. Majority of top professionals are here, including almost all global brands, top universities, all C-level executives, relevant senior management people, SMEs and business owners too. On LinkedIn, we know who they are, their designations, the company they are attached to, their decision making authorities per se and who they are connecting with. This is extremely valuable for us, which other social media channels do not offer.
Email Marketing and PR, these are two must-have for us too. We use the right tool to executive all the digital work, and have presence on all mainstream social media channels available. The only problem with these is that, it takes time. We overcome the pressure by utilising email and PR which to us offer the fastest conversions ever. Email is a platform which we can control fully, without having to pay to those social giants. The message will go across directly to the target recipients without having to pay for boosting or ads. It is cheap, reliable and stable. On top of that, we also work with Public Relations or PR team, and deal with the members of the press and traditional channels too. From mainstream newspapers and magazines to blogs, we design and write the best possible advertorial and editorial pieces for publication purposes. You must whisper quietly, why traditional media channels, aren’t they dead already? Well, they are well alive and kicking. Many didn’t realise that majority of decision-makers are in their late 40s onwards and they lead a balance online-offline reading life. They browse internet via their mobile devices, and they also spend good time reading business newspapers and magazines as well. This Baby Boomer and Gen X people have the most money to invest among other generations. And this is the ultimate reason we’ve got them covered.