Editorial: Who's Really Your Audience

By Len Monheit
[email protected]

While many were enjoying record breaking success and interest at recently concluded Natural Products Expo West and SupplyExpo, others were lamenting lack of interest in their specific offerings or general lack of activity at the show.

And with show expenses pushing $30,000 and more, companies have to continuously re-evaluate their marketing mix and the resource drain of participating in industry events. And that’s only on the exhibiting side. Show attendees also allocate resources to participate, and like it or not, the mix is changing.

In this column and in other pieces we’ve run, we’ve spoken about tradeshow preparation and planning, and how this can increase booth traffic and show productivity in general. But there’s a bigger picture than that. Companies in all industries are being asked to do more with less, whether it’s personnel, cash, other resources and facilities. So even while the show and conference was taking place, marketing managers were beginning their decision making for next year.

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Those on the show floor have realized that almost without exception, quality is more important than quantity when it comes to tradeshow activity. So the absolute numbers become secondary. The key to program effectiveness therefore becomes the type of participant, their buying or influence power, and ultimately, their budgets. For an event such as Nutracon, one can make a case that the actual number of attendees is absolutely irrelevant, and that the total budgets under management, the new product or technology intentions and other metrics are the most important tools to evaluate tradeshow success. And as a participant, the equation becomes, how many of these did you personally or as a company reach?

There‘s a case that can be made that all programs should be measured similarly, although if your intention is to build as broad an interest base as possible, or execute a brand strategy, then numbers of program participants or website viewers may be appropriate measurements.

A common thread that needs to be addressed in any program is audience definition. Whether it’s an advertisement, tradeshow, website, newsletter or correspondence, in order to be effective, as much as you need to know what you’re trying to say, you also need to know who to say it to.

A short-coming of many business programs is inadequate definition of the program target, and this includes tradeshow and event participation, as well as some advertising and many websites. At shows, sales reps and booth staff may be provided with only quotas of materials to distribute, and companies, due to budgets and operating constraints, may end up placing a generic advertisement in the wrong media. And on the web, stale materials, incomplete product information and inadequate viewer information collection capabilities thwart business growth and lead development.

Over the past week, I’ve spoken with four organizations who have wondered how to tell where their site viewers are coming from. These organizations range in size from five people to several thousand, so the concern would appear to be widespread. I suspect, too, that it might be difficult to find someone in the organization with a clear idea of the target audience for the program, making it impossible therefore to really measure program success, or alter the program if it is not delivering as anticipated. On top of this, the ability to make changes in program direction is severely hampered, in some cases impossible, as the site itself may be in the IT group domain, or the period or decision making process involved to make changes is so long that the organization never keeps up.

Some companies have responded to this reality by creating a static web presence, general ‘brochure-ware’ that is low-tech, but always applicable. This approach, combined with an effective lead capture mechanism will work. Other organizations, recognizing that the possibilities for generating serious interest are quite significant, load press releases, product sheets, events, jobs onto site pages, and then fail to implement a system to re-evaluate or add new materials. And few organizations in this industry evaluate web program effectiveness as critically as they evaluate other marketing and business initiatives. I find it interesting to note the number of companies that rethink an entire corporate strategy in preparation for a tradeshow or event, but have their site reflect the ‘brochure-ware’ of two years ago. The irony is that while the event may garner a handful of qualified leads in a two or three day period, the on-line activities, at a fraction of the cost, could interest a target audience extracted from a global audience.

And analyzing site performance can assist the company in preparing for future events. For instance, if 50% of your site viewers are coming from one search engine using two key words, then this could be significant. If 80% of your viewers are coming from South America, or, if through your information capture mechanisms, you have new qualified leads every day coming from the South-East, then you can follow up appropriately and refocus your support. If one of your product pages gets accessed three times as much as the balance of the site combined or if one domain generates 60% of your site traffic (referrals), you can take concrete steps to understand and then maximize the business impact of this information, or at the very least, track it back to the programs you’ve launched that may have generated this activity.

Inside your organization, in print, in person and on-line, it comes back to ‘Who is your audience, and who is doing what with the information you’re providing them.” Failure to answer both of these questions means wasting resources and missing opportunities.

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