Nothing proves a marketing concept better than monetary results. That's what we all want. And that's why I was especially pleased recently to hear of one contractor's success based on a few ideas that I had been assembling into a manual about trade show marketing.

As a contractor marketing professional, when I want to test new marketing theories, the best place to start is with a contractor's specific need. So I jumped at the chance to lend a marketing hand to John Ward of Applewood Fixit.

Turns out, John had arranged to have a booth — his first — at a large home show in his city. And he was seeking information on how to make it work. Accordingly, I sent him the first 12 pages of my draft manual.

Fortunately, John's not afraid of a good idea, so he was willing to try what I suggested — particularly this very, very important principle.

Give Something Away
We're all in business to make money, but sometimes that works best if we start by giving something away. The fact is, everyone loves to get gifts, and today's customers have been conditioned to expect a reward when conducting business. Therefore, your results as an exhibitor increase when you offer appropriate customer appreciation gifts.

There are practical aspects to a giveaway. First, because people actually like receiving things for free (and because they don't like walking up to a booth and asking to be sold something they don't need), giveaways help increase the sales interaction. They give you a chance to offer something without selling, and they put kindness and friendliness back into business dealings. A memorable gift also makes the exhibit memorable, and thus helps keep the company name in the customer's mind.

In the case of John's company, during the first two days of the show, they gave away more than 6,000 magnetic grocery pads, 3,000 rubber jar openers, and 1,500 potato chip clips — all with their company name, logo, and phone number.

They had lots of fun giving things away, met lots of new people, reconnected with some old friends — and got 170 well-qualified equipment replacement leads to boot. By John's calculations, if they closed just 30% of those leads, they'd gross $204,000. Now, isn't that pretty good for a new experience?

How to Increase the Value of the Giveaway
It may be hard to conceive increasing the value of something you give away for free. But it's truly possible, and here are two great ways to do it:

  1. Don't just stack the giveaways on countertops. Instead, hand them out after a discussion as a way to show your appreciation to attendees for their taking the time to discuss their needs and applications.
  2. Always tie giveaways to some form of registration. Be cautious though. Whatever you give away should relate to what you offer. You want to make real connections with real prospects.

Anyone can give things away, but that may or may not accomplish anything for you. So, before you print your name on every paperweight you see, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the purpose of the giveaway or gimmick?
  • Is it to attract people to your trade show booth?
  • If so, does it really bring people who would not otherwise come?
  • Are they the right people?
  • If your goal is to make sure people hold onto something that has your name and phone number, are you also making sure to give them a reason to call you?

Giving Large
Of course, if you really want to stand out at a trade show, one of your best bets is to offer a big free item that can generate lots of attention from show-goers, organizers, and even the media. For instance, either you or your distributor can donate equipment and use it as a drawing grand prize.

You can especially use this to your advantage if you add an "oldest AC, heat pump (or whatever)" hook. The prize goes to the homeowner with the oldest equipment, with the provision that they pay only for the installation.

The beauty of this giveaway is that you get lots of names of people who are registering on behalf of their old equipment and are prepared to pay for installation. Talk about solid leads!

This giveaway also gives you more interaction fodder. As customers approach your booth to sign up, you can ask questions to get the lead: "How old is your current cooling (or heating) system? What is the condition of your cooling (or heating system)? What are your energy bills like? What kinds of repairs have you had?"

Another approach would be to give a new system to the person with the highest heating or cooling bills. You'll get lots of people with that one, plus you'll get something else pretty neat: the guarantee of a killer testimonial after they've seen what you do for them to reduce their energy costs!

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. Hudson, Ink has introduced the HVAC Marketing PowerPack Version 2.0, a high-performance turn-key marketing system for contractors which offers the manual "How to Hit the Trade Show Target" with its Gold package. Call 800/489-9099 for a free 16-page report called "Get More Leads in Less Time" or visitwww.hudsonink.comfor many other free marketing articles and reports. For a free marketing newsletter, fax the request on your letterhead to 334/262-1115.