As a rule, we counsel our startup clients to avoid trade shows in their first year of existence. First off, a trade show can cripple a startup, since it consumes a young company’s lean resources, human and otherwise. Second, the most they can usually afford is a 10’x10’ booth (usually a rental), which hardly communicates a sense of leadership or longevity.
We normally recommend going to shows where every company gets the same booth and the same opportunity.
How a startup does it right
But there’s an exception to every rule. And in our case that exception was our client Trifacta, the new Big Data player. Five months ago, when we started working with them, and we built the marketing launch timeline, making the annual Strata Conference in February a focus made perfect sense to help scale the company. Along with our PR firm, Lewis PR, we formulated a strategy where we created buzz and expectation during January, launched Trifacta in early February and capped it off at the Strata Conference the following week with a strong mix of investments that would normally run counter to best practices.
Go big or go home
The showcase of the company at Strata included:
- A 90-min tutorial by two of the founders, luckily sandwiched right before the opening of the exhibit showfloor
- A sponsorship that included a 10×20 booth and a 40-min speaker session and demo before a capacity crowd of 100+
- An opening keynote for one of the co-founder and VP of UX before a capacity crowd of 500
- Special “office hours” for two of the co-founders
After each speaker session the booth was packed, sometimes up to five deep. And the team was able to leverage the annual conference to set its own events: private customer briefings, a private customer dinner, partner meetings and briefings with the media and market analysts.
Press coverage grew exponentially, and social media exploded. The client was justifiably ecstatic.
Critical benefits for sales focus and team training
Some of the under-reported benefits of a tradeshow that every experienced marketer appreciates is that a tradeshow catalyzes the team in ways that bring long-term benefits for the company. For example, the Trifacta team is now much better versed at social media best practices after being rallied to use social channels to share new content and market feedback at the tradeshow. Additionally, all of the one-on-one interactions with prospects in the booth have helped to turn a team of mostly engineers into much more sales-focused team. .
So has all of the above changed our minds about trade shows? Not really. Given the limited resources—financial and otherwise—that startups have, we don’t find the ROI there to justify the participation. But there are always exceptions, and in Trifacta’s case we all agreed that we had the opportunity to maximize a ‘perfect marketing storm’. And we did.