Designing media messaging for a trade show takes strategic focus and meticulous preparation. Companies would do well to prepare corporate, product and thought leadership messages.
Whether you are a healthcare information company preparing for HIMSS or a 3-D printing software company gearing up for attendance at RAPID, the trade show you are preparing to attend will offer plenty of opportunities to engage with trade journalists. And, in order to maximize the potential of media outreach, you would benefit from preparing your messages thoroughly.
At the start of every decision on what the media messaging should look like, is – or should be – a reflection on what the company is trying to accomplish at the time of the trade show. Is it aiming to calm the water after rumors of a take-over? Is it wanting to show off a new product that makes for a welcome proof point for the strategic pivot it communicated just a few months ago? Or is there another objective that is being pursued?
Having a clear view on what it is that you are trying to accomplish will allow you to keep your eye on the ball when designing your messages. Companies that prepare for a trade show do well to prepare both corporate messages, product related messages and thought leadership messages.
It is recommended that an overarching theme for the trade show is selected in order to provide the narrative glue for the corporate messages that you want to communicate. This theme will then permeate the design of the booth, the marketing collateral, and media messaging. Different tropes are available to realize the desired narrative cohesion: “a new start with X”, “doubling down on X” and “expanding into X” are some examples.
The corporate story should be told over time in a way that exudes consistency. In order to accomplish that, your theme and the messages that form part of it need to connect to both your most recent narrative and your future narrative. The future is not yet known, but can be at least partially anticipated.
One way to create stepping stones for future messaging is through the priming of your audience. This priming can pertain to either good or bad news to follow. If you are expecting to have to close a manufacturing unit in the near future, you might want to communicate consciously about the dire economic conditions in the market that is being served by the company. If you are expecting to be able to launch an exciting new line of products in the foreseeable future, you might want to “tease” your audience by lifting the veil somewhat (but not enough to cannibalize future announcements).
To structure the corporate messages, “message maps” are developed that provide key messages (up to three), proof points, and quotes. It is useful to create a message map around the theme you will be leading with at the trade show and have other message maps ready to help you answer any questions that might come up on tangential topics.
Product messages are formatted differently than corporate messages in that they do best to follow the for / who / provides / unlike / only schedule.
The “for” part of the product messaging talks about who the customer is. The “who” part talks to the pain of the customer, also called the “problem to solve.” The “provides” talks about both the features and the benefits of the product or service. The “unlike” part discusses how different the offering is from competitors, and the “only” part talks about what only your product or service can accomplish. Conceptually, the “unlike” and the “only” are closely related of course – you could say that the “only” is the inward-looking version of the “unlike” part.
Finally, thought leadership in the form of commentary on current trends will help you position yourself as an expert. There are two different kinds of thought leadership: market thought leadership and product-based thought leadership.
Thought leadership that is grounded in your offering will be the most persuasive in converting prospects into clients. A company that can drill down on how certain needs can best be met through the kinds of products that it offers is more credible in the market place than one that is an expert in merely commenting on what is happening in the market.
One way to structure product-based thought leadership messages is to identify the different current “pains” of your buyer personas insights in the form of commentary or opinion that is grounded in your experience developing products or services that cater to that pain. These messages are then, just as is the case for the corporate communications messages, structured in a way that you have key messages (up to three), proof points and quotes.
Proactive vs reactive communication
Not all media conversations at a trade show are about the topics that you would like to talk about most. Unwelcome questions do not disappear by wishing them gone, so you will have to prepare for the questions you would rather not receive and have either a credible answer ready for them or a credible reason why a question will be left unanswered. In order to be able to manage these “tough questions” the topical message maps are best complemented by Q&As.
Messages on products can occasionally come with a “Q&A” that talks to tough questions if, for example, there has been an issue with the launch or performance of a product or service.
Finally, at the thought leadership level, you might want to have messages ready for instances in which you are asked to comment or opine on topics where you are not in a position to profit from claiming thought leadership. This can be for different reasons.
You might be a food company being asked what your thoughts are on the current clean label trend. If you were a first mover in this matter, you can and should claim thought leadership on the topic. However, if you are lagging behind, you will have to have an answer ready where you explain why you are either not buying into the trend (a risky move if a large segment of your buyers are in disagreement by the way) or why you are late to the game. At any rate, you will need to have an answer ready and the bigger your market share, the more likely you will be receiving questions on everything that is trending. Leading companies are expected to… lead.
Even with all of your messages ready, you still have to find a way to reach out to journalists and catch their attention. But that will be the topic of another blog post.
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