10 Online Advertising Tips to Drive Trade Show Attendance

August 23, 2023

Cristopher Levy

Cristopher Levy runs Encore Media Partners, a Los Angeles-based media strategy and buying agency that specializes in exhibitions and events. He has placed millions of dollars in advertising for local, national and global show organizers, including American Film Market, Emerald, TEFAF, Informa, Ski Dazzle and The Armory Show.

More than 90% of digital display dollars in the U.S. will be transacted programmatically in 2023, according to eMarketer estimates. 

What is programmatic advertising? The use of automated technology for media buying, as opposed to traditional — often manual — methods of digital advertising.                                                                  

Programmatic online advertising offers trade shows massive reach across millions of websites, videos and apps. Understanding all the solutions under the programmatic online umbrella, best practices in execution and the changing privacy landscape will help you maximize attendance from your digital media investments.

As a media strategist and buyer, I’m involved in programmatic trading daily, and in this blog, I share insights from hundreds of millions of online ads that my agency has run around the world for major exhibitions and events. 

1. Don’t overspend on retargeting

Retargeting can be a very effective tool for going after the low-hanging fruit. It’s a great lower-funnel activity, but overspending on retargeting can cause you to waste money and miss out on reaching new potential attendees, as it is tasked specifically with targeting people who have already engaged with your show brand. If retargeting is your only programmatic tactic, diversify to better leverage programmatic capabilities and address the next point.

2. Pursue privacy-first solutions 

The inevitable phase-out of third-party cookies means big changes are coming to online advertising tactics, such as retargeting that rely on third-party cookies. Embracing a privacy-first mindset now so you are prepared for a third-party cookie-less world will help you avoid a disruption to your visitor marketing. Consider alternative solutions, such as fully activating your first-party data, shifting ad spend to contextual targeting, increasing use of walled gardens, using publisher-created segments and adding new addressable channels. 

3. Use multiple targeting tactics 

Leverage programmatic buying’s rich set of targeting options, including location, demographics, interest, behavioral, contextual, CRM, placement and search, to best reach your attendees. Use negative targeting/exclusions, too. Keep in mind the targeting/reach trade-off. For example, the more granular you execute, the less scale you will have so strike an optimal balance here.   

Online ad for the Armory Show

4. Tailor your buying/bidding strategy to your needs 

There is no one-size-fits-all programmatic buying/bidding strategy. If you want to maximize your ad spend, understand the different programmatic buying types and bidding models, such as cost-per-mille (CPM) also called cost-per-thousand, cost-per-view (CPV) and cost-per-click (CPC). Then determine which ones best meet your objectives and set your bids based on the value of the target audience. Different purchase strategies will work best for different situations. 

5. Layer paid social on top of your organic placements 

Paid social strategies enable you to scale reach quicker and generate much more visibility than you can with an organic-only strategy. Use social media platforms’ programmatic buying tools to leverage their rich first-party data to target potential attendees in ways not possible with organic social.

6. Try digital audio to reach audiences in new ways

Podcasts, digital radio and streaming music enable you to engage attendees and prospects in an immersive environment. Due to increasing content, granular targeting filters and programmatic solutions, digital audio offers exciting opportunities to reach your audiences in new ways. Consider both program-level ad buys, as well as programmatic audience buying to scale reach.

7. Employ a mix of creative assets

Campaigns running at high-frequency levels that use multiple sets of creative assets outperform those that use the same ads over the entire flight window. Refresh your creative assets to avoid ad fatigue, which occurs when people are consistently exposed to the same ad over and over. Also, people attend shows for different reasons. A larger creative asset portfolio enables you to communicate different messages. 

Online ad for AFM23

8. Capture your audience’s attention with video 

Adding video is a great way to enhance your creative asset portfolio. To get the most out of your video, do not make it any longer than it needs to be to tell your story.  Frontload key points and pursue a visual-first strategy. For example, make sure your message gets across even when sound is turned off. Experiment with different video ad formats, such as in-stream, in-feed and in-banner.

9. Manage the number of times attendees and prospects see your ads

Frequency is necessary to drive ticket purchases but if you deliver too many ads to the same person, you will waste ad spend. There is no magic frequency for maximizing attendance. What works best for your shows will depend on multiple factors, so use programmatic buying tools to control frequency, executing against different frequency caps and fine-tuning your campaigns based on your results. 

10. Track, analyze and optimize 

Programmatic dashboards provide robust data sets. Use this intelligence along with metrics from your analytics software to analyze ad delivery and performance. Then use the granular levers programmatic buying offers to optimize your advertising campaigns on a real-time basis and quickly adjust if something isn’t working the way you want.  Rarely does a “set it and forget it” strategy give you the best results.

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