January 25, 2021 - By Ralph Cartwright

The Digital Handshake

Imagine this: It’s 2019, you’re at a conference or trade show surrounded by hundreds of potential business leads and revenue opportunities. Your stand is looking great, there is collateral on-hand containing tons of valuable information for your customer, and you’re confident in knowing how to communicate the benefits of your business to anyone you meet. Even the brief conversations that only go moments beyond that initial handshake have the potential for meetings, calls, negotiations, as that person, now a new prospect, walks away with your business card in their pocket.

The Covid pandemic took that all away. Critical face-to-face networking opportunities have essentially vanished along with the chance to establish relationships and develop rapport. Like me, you’re probably hearing or reading the phrase “new normal” or “next normal” almost daily – with the meaning of each changing just as often. While (like me), you may be tired of the phrase, with the second wave making its way across the U.S., it’s time we settle in and take control of how this environment affects our business.

One of the questions I hear most frequently from clients is, how do I sell my business without that face to face pitch that’s worked so well up until the pandemic struck? How do I reach my customers and get the same level of engagement when I’m not able to meet them in person? All hope is not lost. The new normal, while certainly an adjustment, is an opportunity to fine-tune the digital outreach strategies that possibly should have been in place before Coronavirus threw us all for six. 

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as moving all your touchpoints to Zoom. Sure, Zoom calls are going to help, and while one-on-one conversations are incredibly valuable, they’re not scalable – and there are only so many hours in a day. By supplementing these conversations with layers of digital marketing you’ll help to ensure these conversations ultimately become conversions. And because there’s nothing like a drawn-out analogy to convey pearls of wisdom, here are some of the ways your trade show/conference strategies translate to the digital world:

The stand. 

Translation: Social media

Social Media Blocks

Utilizing social media is fundamental to your marketing strategy. The longer we’re away from commonplace interactions and water-cooler chat, the more we’re going to look to our social networks for ideas and feedback. According to Valassis, 39% of consumers are spending more time on social media than before the pandemic. (https://www.valassis.com/infographics/changes-in-consumer-behavior-amid-covid-19/ ).

In the same way, your stand catches the attention of those directly approaching you as well as those who pass by with a quick glance, on social media you get the attention of those who actively engage with your posts with a share or a click/download, you get those who pause momentarily and continue scrolling; who knows, maybe next time they pass your post they’ll engage.

Make sure you have an eye-catching and memorable image; more importantly, use those precious characters to share something of value with those passing by. Running paid ads on social channels also offers targeting opportunities to ensure your brand and message is getting in front of the right people. Consistency in tone and frequency is also crucial to getting the most from this critical channel.

Elevator pitch.

Translation: Content

Content Rocket Ship

Your elevator pitch is about getting your value proposition to your listener in the most efficient and persuasive way. It’s informative, it addresses your buyers’ needs and lets them know how your business better meets those needs than your competitors. Good content does the same thing. Be it a report, blog, white paper, or webinar, tell your story in a way that is compelling and keeps readers engaged as they move through the funnel. Exploring new types of content such as videos or podcasts will also ensure higher levels of engagement. 

What’s important to note here, is that your pitch itself will now be different. The needs of your buyer have shifted in these ‘unprecedented times’ so know the difference between content that is evergreen and that which speaks to a particular trend or moment in time.

The long line.

Translation: Testimonials

Remember the unusually long line at a single stand while the one next to it is empty? Part sheep-mentality, part testament to the quality of what’s being sold, you know they’ve got a good thing going. In the same way, this line acts as a visual cue to show you how well-received a business is, testimonials, case studies, press releases, partnerships, and online reviews can let people know that your offering is in high demand and has proven to be successful. 

Testimonials are particularly effective when it comes to building authenticity by presenting opinions and stories from credible and unbiased sources. building credibility in an authentic way. A potential customer looking to verify your legitimacy is more likely to trust their word than that of yours alone. Think of it as the five-star review for your business, something that is an increasingly important part of most purchasing decisions.

The post-conference cocktail (or beer).

Translation: Email

It’s fairly easy to argue that trust is harder to build online. But digital interactions have been more common in the past eight months than ever before so it must be possible. Email marketing offers the perfect opportunity to not only share valuable information with your buyer but also let them get to know you/your brand. Don’t be afraid to show the human side of your business; just because your audience is interacting with you behind a screen, doesn’t mean it needs to feel robotic. Make it honest and make it personal. Having a segmentation strategy, an up to date CRM, and an automation tool, allows for personalization of your email content will help convey your authenticity while being scalable. It’s a tricky balance but done right, email can take your buyers along a journey all the way to conversion.

You’re certainly not alone when thinking about the intimacy of pre-Covid business strategies with a nostalgic longing. And there will likely come a day when we’ll be able to set up our booths at trade shows once again. Until then, it’s important to embrace the new normal and think holistically about what digital channels offer in place of traditional interactions. With internet traffic (unsurprisingly) at an all-time high, it’s more important than ever for your business to utilize and combine digital outreach tactics. The more touchpoint you have with your audience, the more that virtual handshake will feel more and more familiar, like greeting an old friend or colleague, rather than a stranger.

Not sure where to start? Run a health check on your growth plan as discussed in this blog.

Ralph Cartwright is a Business Growth Director at Hawke Media.