From Site Visits to Show Visits

Effective marketing with digital media (websites, email newsletters, social media and videos) can go a long way toward driving website visitors to physically visit you at your boat show booth. And as we all know, getting people into your booth is more than half the battle when it comes to making sales. So how do you use the internet to bring people into your booth?

Banner advertising is the first step in letting prospective customers know that you're exhibiting at the show. Clear, crisp banners with a single-purpose message remind people that the boat show is on, and that you're there with deals. And don't limit your message to a simple 'See us at the boat show' – be sure to include your booth number so they can find you more easily. Adding a show banner to your website makes it easy for your visitor to find all the important information on show location, dates and times, parking and other information that makes it easier for them to come and see your display. You're company name should also be listed on the boat show website, and in the official show guide. Make it easy for people to find you.

The number of email marketing opportunities around boat shows are endless. This is the time to make sure that your email newsletter is up to date, and that all the emails that have been collecting over the last year are input into your system so you don't miss any opportunities.

Consider the message and the timing of your newsletters. Assuming that your newsletter has reached its intended recipient the first time around is a mistake. Weekly emails with different messages up to three weeks prior to the show, and during the show itself, will continue to remind customers that you're there. And this might be the best venue for some kind of contest. Could you build a contest around anyone who promises to come to the show during a special time and visits your booth between a certain time, not only wins a free pair of tickets, but a free T-shirt?

Be sure to update your email signature to include information about the fact that you are attending the show. This includes the signatures on your Blackberries and iPhones as well.

Invest in social media, whether it's Linked-In, Facebook, Twitter, Blogging or all of the above. Social media is the new word of mouth, and helps create a buzz around the show and your booth space. People are already in those venues talking about boats, so  why not add to the conversation? And link to other social media users, so that your conversation has the opportunity to be talked about again by someone else. There's lots to talk about – the products that will be exhibited, special pricing, the staff that will be there – it's all new information on your website.

Internet search engines are really beginning to pay attention to social media sites, making sure that individual tweets or posts are indexed. And remember, the more quality references to your site, the more significant it will be rendered by the search engines.

As odd as it might sound, you can also take your social media to the show. How about taking digital photos to load onto your Facebook page, live from the event? Is there someone on your staff that is interesting in blogging or tweeting? Consider starting a boat show blog to talk about the interesting things that are happening in your space. But don't limit it to shameless self promotion, it's okay to talk about having sore feet or your getting to have your picture taken with Duma the water-skiing dog. Heck, post the picture for your friends and customers – they'll want to see it for themselves.

Take a lead from other industries and bring your website into the booth. The technology industry has taken to providing their sales staff with personal iPads with direct access to their website. Ensure sales staff are really comfortable with the web, and then when they need to go to the website to answer a question on a particular boat – it's there. It also engages customers to understand that you can have a relationship after the boat show as well. Bringing your website to the show floor is another way to engage a potential client. If they find a new tool, a new idea – something that they didn't realize you had, they'll remember it. And since they are there, get them to sign the up for your e-mail newsletter or invite them to join your Facebook Page, right on the spot.

It seems obvious, but you'll need to make sure your website is ready for all of this. A total overhaul shouldn't be necessary, but it's always wise to check for outdated information or broken links. Make sure the contact information is accurate and current. Would this be a good opportunity to update your photos, or add videos from summer events? Did you have a boat this summer that required an interesting and humorous launch? Make sure you include all the details about your boat show booth on your site, and do it in several places. Usability studies reveal that providing critical information in only place on your website is not enough – the important stuff needs to be repeated. Don't limit information about the boat show to just your home page – make sure that all your web page talk about the features and benefits of visiting you at the show. Not all visitors will come to your site through your home page – they may come via listings or an affiliate site.

If you really want to maximize the power of the web, consider setting up a temporary page dedicated to your participation in the boat show. This opens the door to a new revenue stream through Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising. These ads are normally identified as sponsored links, and are located at the top or to the right of the search engine results page. PPC works best with focussed landing pages. PPC ads are similar to individual calls of action and provide great branding opportunities. Connecting your PPC ads with the personalized landing page can and convert visitors into customers.

The search engines have turned PPC into a multi-million dollar business that is generating results. Google, in particular, is interested in getting more website owners to try PPC providing $100 coupons for free advertising. Google has made it very easy to set up a PPC campaign, providing a step-by-step process to finding your keywords, setting up your ad groups and making a few ads. It's very straightforward and you can make it as complicated or as easy as you want.

Digital marketing provides you with a number of opportunities to turn your website visitors into boat show visitors. Taking the time now to think about how you can use the cheap or free tools at your disposal can pay off in extra traffic and extra sales, while your competitor looks on wondering just what the heck is going on.

Heather Robertson is a Digital Communications Consultant specializing in online marketing and communications for small business. Reach her at