By Megan Hebert, Trade Show Coordinator for Foster Marketing

At the recent EXHIBITOR Conference and Exhibition in Las Vegas, it was comforting to find myself amidst a group of professionals who understand why you need a budget for Velcro … and a storage bin for duct tape.

This annual show draws thousands of attendees who want to learn the latest trade show industry trends and collect the neatest new goodies.

When you spend days coordinating trade shows as I do, you learn the value of face-to-face marketing efforts, not just as an occupation, but also as a tried and true marketing method – one that must be kept alive among the rapid increase in email, virtual events and social media.

Some attendees were concerned about their industry, and I realized how blessed we are in the oil and gas industry because our industry understands the value of face-to-face relationship building and what it means to a company’s success.

To gauge trends across industries, EXHIBITOR Magazine recently conducted a survey asking exhibit managers to rate upper management’s support of exhibit- and event-marketing programs. The results were encouraging for those of us in the trade show business.

More than 80 percent of respondents said upper management gives average or strong support to their event programs; and nearly 84 percent indicated similar support for exhibit marketing efforts.

One respondent explained that face-to-face marketing could be growing in importance because of “an increasing desensitization to impersonal marketing methods.”

Another remarked, “As email and online symposia become more and more prevalent, face-to-face marketing will become more valued. One cannot underestimate the power of a personal relationship when it comes to building trust with clients and prospects.”

These two respondents value trade show marketing, but not at the detriment of a total mix of marketing tools to reach customers and get results.

It’s not about choosing one marketing method over the other, it’s about understanding the importance of each and, many times, ensuring they work together. The trade show floor is the optimum platform for combining the incredible technology we have at our fingertips with the opportunity to look someone in the eye and earn his or her trust.

Yes, trade shows are about the ever-important relationship. However, they also are effective for numerous other measurable objectives, all of which can be identified before the show and measured after.

Barry Siskind, president of International Training and Management Co. in Toronto, offers this short list of objectives that can be accomplished at a show in addition to lead-generation efforts.

• Obtain customer feedback. Trade shows provide an easy opportunity to gather information from customers on various topics. Perhaps you’d like to know how customers feel about the sales staff’s customer-service skills, or how they rate your new exhibit design or product demonstration. These questions can be easily answered through in-exhibit surveys, informal polls or in-booth focus groups.

• Gather competitive intelligence. No other venue is as valuable as a trade show for gathering competitive and industry intelligence. Walk the show floor, attend seminars and network with customers to assemble valuable industry data to use to your advantage.

• Introduce employees to the industry. Trade shows serve as a microcosm of an industry, making them a great venue for new employees to get their feet wet and to meet key individuals, build relationships and gain valuable knowledge.

• Meet the press. And meet them face-to-face. That isn’t something that you can do just any old time. Hosting a press event or conducting an interview within your exhibit can give a company an inside track with a trade publication.

• Find partners and form strategic alliances. Explore outside your exhibit space. Especially in the oil and gas industry, some of the best leads can be found from your fellow exhibitors.

• Provide customer service. You can provide great customer service by being prepared to answer customer questions or complaints. This goes a long way in building credibility and customer satisfaction.

• Identify potential employees. We’ve all seen them walking around the exhibit floor … the potential employee. If you have positions that need to filled, take these attendees seriously. One might just make the cut.

Trade shows can be overwhelming – in many ways. By nature, trade show planning and event coordination is a detailed, time-consuming process with countless variables. With years of experience on the trade show floor, countless events under our belt and a list of partners across the globe, Foster Marketing can provide your organization with strategic trade show and event marketing plans based on specific goals and objectives, while saving you valuable time and helping you avoid potential pitfalls.

The oil and gas industry, perhaps more than any other, has been built on relationships. Long before email, virtual events, social media and texting, the industry was fueled by face-to-face familiarity. This trend continues today making relationship building and face-to-face marketing essential.