Information, education and communication are critical in any industry, but perhaps more so in the payments arena. Businesses must not just look inward in their planning, but also externally. Tradeshows are a crucial tool in this endeavor.
Several electronic payments industry tradeshows are held each year in the United States. For exhibitors, tradeshows are opportunities to present new products, technological advances and innovations, as well as make contact with thousands of potential new clients. For attendees, it's a chance to learn what's new and exciting in the industry, attend seminars or workshops to hone skills or learn new ones, and to network face-to-face with others in the business.
A tradeshow is also an opportunity to obtain intelligence about the industry and the competition, helping business owners gauge their own standing and competitiveness against others in the same market. Everyone checks out competitors' booths and offerings. Ultimately, this sharing of ideas and innovations raises the bar across the industry as everyone learns and improves together.
For exhibitors and attendees alike, tradeshows save money. An attendee can, for the price of admission, find in one place everything he or she needs to help a business prosper through electronic payments, saving countless hours on the phone or the Internet. Buyers can inspect and compare products side by side in a way that is not possible from a distance.
Likewise, a business with a well-appointed booth and a good product can attract hundreds or thousands of potential customers for a fraction of what it would cost to seek those customers out individually or in a mass-marketing campaign. The people who attend tradeshows are your clients - all together at the same time in the same place - like a salesperson's dream come true.
But tradeshows don't happen on their own. Much time and expense is required to produce these events. Sponsors of tradeshows are invaluable not only to the existence of tradeshows but to the progression of our industry as well.
Many businesses have decided to take the next step in generating tradeshow visibility by becoming not just exhibitors, but sponsors of either the entire tradeshow or a special event or portion of the show. A sponsorship can lift your company's visibility and impact to greater heights in the eyes of attendees.
Sponsorships provide creative opportunities that go beyond staffing one booth amid hundreds. Most tradeshows offer different levels of sponsorship to accommodate a company' s goals and budget. A business can sponsor anything from show signage and badges for attendees, to printed programs, special workshops, keynote addresses, catering in the exhibit hall, luncheons, golf outings, and even evening parties or cocktails.
But before you invest your company's cash in a sponsorship there are several things to consider. A tradeshow sponsorship is, in effect, a short-term partnership between your company and the tradeshow organizer, and you want to be sure the partnership is fruitful. The Green Sheet spoke with several payment companies that have sponsored tradeshows in the past for their thoughts and insights on the value of tradeshow sponsorships.
For Heather Foster, Vice President of Marketing at ControlScan Inc., a company that provides compliance and security solutions to small and midsize merchants, it's simple: "We sponsor tradeshows to increase our visibility and business opportunities with our target audience, and to support key industry associations."
But, according to Foster, they do their research before laying out the funds required to become a sponsor. "The first time we attend an event, we are typically not sponsors," she said. "This gives us an opportunity to gauge the quality of the audience and content and determine the potential value a sponsorship may bring. When we do decide to become a sponsor, we start small at first, and go bigger in future years based on our success."
It's also important to be sure the event your company is sponsoring is going to reach your target audience before investing. "We look for sponsorships where we can provide value-added content and thought leadership materials that can help educate our target audience," Foster said. "It is much more valuable than simply placing a logo on a bunch of signage. We want to be remembered.
"We also find that some associations and events do a better job than others to increase the visibility of the sponsorship, so we take that into consideration to make sure we get the most out of the investment. And most importantly, we need the event to provide valuable content that keeps the right attendees coming back year over year.
"It's important to make sure that you have established goals for your sponsorship and to look for creative ways to promote your sponsorship on your own in a way that ties to what the event or association is doing to support it. The more visibility you can get, the more results you will see."
Andrew Nuss, Marketing Manager of The Strawhecker Group, a management consulting company focused on the merchant acquiring sector of the payments industry, agrees that it' s important to do your research before becoming a sponsor.
"TSG looks at what provides the best bang for our buck," he said. "We compare the visibility of different options with the various price points to determine which will get the most ' impressions' with individuals and serve as a means to reach new potential clients." According to Nuss, it's not always about being in front of the biggest audience; it's about the quality of that audience.
"When companies consider sponsorships, they must be aware of the potential reach with each opportunity," he said. "If event X has 500 attendees while event Y has 5,000, which will provide the most exposure? Generally Y, but what if the 500 attendees at event X are high-level decision makers compared to Y? All the variables need to be analyzed to make sure your company is seen in the right light by the right people.
"Over time TSG has certainly learned what resonates and what doesn't with our target audience. A good measurement is based on how many inquiries or meetings we garner following a marketing push via a sponsorship. Sponsoring undoubtedly increases associate event experience by providing an extra tool to make potential clients aware of who TSG is and how we can help our clients."
Nuss also pointed out that part of the onus for helping companies make good sponsorship choices is on event organizers, who need to be clear about what is being offered and what potential results sponsors can expect. "Event organizers must make all of the advantages clear to potential sponsors because oftentimes it is difficult to determine what a company is really getting for their money," Nuss said.
Mark Dunn is founder of Field Guide Enterprises LLC, a consulting company for the merchant bankcard industry, and serves on the board of the Midwest Acquirers Association show. He said sponsorships offer benefits to a company that go above and beyond just renting booth space.
"Sponsors have their company's name put front and center," Dunn noted. "At the Midwest Acquirers Association show we highlight our sponsor' s company logo and name on our website and on signage at the show. In the exhibit hall we project their logo on the upper wall.
Our sponsors get the best placement on the exhibit hall floor, and the top sponsors get booth space, not just table-top display space, giving them the ability to make a greater creative statement about their products, services and relationships. For a company eager to deliver a message, this is ideal." Most experts agree: success in sponsorship depends on exposure. Naturally, a company will do better by taking advantage of opportunities that put their offerings in front of the highest number of qualified buyers. Once a company has vetted an event' s audience and made the commitment to become a sponsor, it pays to be showcased where the traffic is highest in the most visible manner possible.
But exposure is only part of the equation. Engagement is the other side of the coin when it comes to making sure show attendees notice and, most importantly, remember your company. There are lots of creative ways to engage a tradeshow audience and have your company stand out.
Tradeshows are hard work. After visiting dozens of booths, attendees can start to burn out. Sponsors can help enhance the effectiveness of their investment by offering a fun, interesting, engaging activity that will not only keep attendees around longer, but help them remember your company. Music, games, oxygen bars or hands-on demos of new technologies - these are all ways to actively engage potential clients by showing them something they haven't seen before and allowing them to learn about the sponsor naturally, while playing or using a new demo.
John McCormick, founder of the Southeast Acquirers Association suggested that sponsors can get more out of their sponsorship by taking an active role. "We love our sponsors to give us ideas on how to help promote their sponsorships," he said, adding that some of the organizations best ideas have come from its event sponsors.
"If they have an extra banner laying around their shop, we'll help them display that; if our sponsors have a creative idea they'd like to try, we'll try to make it happen," he said. "We're always willing to listen and help them find ways to get more visibility." Collin Mangum, Product Marketing Manager at SecurityMetrics, a provider of merchant data security and compliance, said his company sponsors tradeshows to build rapport with industry organizations and increase brand recognition.
"Before we decide to become sponsors, we evaluate who is attending the event to be sure they fit our target audience," he said. "We then determine the appropriate level of sponsorship based on the total volume of attendees, and dissect that total by how many total attendees fit our target audience specifications. We have found that sponsorships that include speaking opportunities have been the most effective for us, as they provide an opportunity to both be heard and seen as an industry expert."
Yes, becoming a tradeshow sponsor can boost your visibility and give people a reason to remember your product or service, but doing your homework before committing is paramount. Keep these things in mind before taking the plunge:
And most important, remember that if you do take the sponsorship plunge, you will be joining a select and valued group of companies that are committed to helping payment professionals stay abreast of new developments, connect with one another and innovate so the industry can continue to provide opportunities for all of us going forward.
Many types of tradeshow sponsorships are available - all the way from full event sponsorship to providing bottled water - and creative sponsors and organizers are always coming up with new ideas. Following are some of the many options available:
Areas to sponsor
Events to sponsor
Other eye catchers
Types of signage
Are you ready to become a sponsor? If so, contact the following organizations to see what sponsorship opportunities are coming up:
Northeast Acquirers Association,
Southeast Acquirers Association,
Midwest Acquirers Association,
Western States Acquirers Association,
The Electronic Transactions Association,
Also, some payment companies hold periodic partner meetings, as well as sales and training events. Check with your partners to see if you can sponsor something at one of those events. Soon you'll be on your way to becoming a sponsorship star.
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