Author: Mike Golden

CEO | Brandigo China

As the host of some of the APAC region’s most significant tradeshows, China has always been a vital stop for B2B exhibitions and brand experiences prior to the outbreak of COVID. With the relaxing of China travel and quarantine restrictions, the country is once again ready to roll out exhibitions across the nation – a great opportunity for companies looking to target Chinese consumers or develop B2B opportunities.

During COVID, companies in China learned how to adjust their marketing to take advantage of digital and virtual experiences to replace trade shows. Marketing tactics shifted drastically – as they did around the world – but this especially affected B2B players who had previously relied on face-to-face experiences. Now in this post-COVID period, how can agencies and brands optimize their marketing in a blended online-offline environment?

Changing Tactics during COVID

B2B marketers in China, as with the rest of the world, had to pivot towards digital channels during the COVID pandemic. There was an emphasis on creating opportunities that allowed target audiences to experience brands and maintain conversations, and agencies were using online platforms to create innovative webinar formats and digital events. We also saw B2B practitioners working more closely with relevant industry influencers (“KOLs” in China) to launch live streams, already mainstream for consumer marketing in China.

 Tradeshow Resurgence

Despite strict travel restrictions implemented to combat the pandemic, the country worked hard to ensure that flagship trade events, such as Shanghai’s China International Import Exhibition (CIIE), went ahead each year. Chinese Tier 1 and 2 cities benefit from multiple world class exhibition halls and trade show venues and local leaders have been quick to jump on the announcement to boost international trade, partnerships and give the events industry some much needed additional support.

The new measures included the removal of some of the bureaucracy, paperwork and customs barriers for international companies to attend and display their products and services. There will also be support for organizers who introduce globally influential exhibitions or host international product premiers for multinational brands.

This is good news for both events and exhibition professionals, as well as international marketers and sales managers looking to engage more with Chinese consumers. And as trade show activity looks to ramp back up in 2023, smart global marketing managers will be looking for opportunities to maximize their brand’s exhibition footprint.

Optimizing Your Attendance

However, attending international trade shows is one thing, but how can agencies help the brands they represent make sure they maximize the return on investment? Despite the significance of trade exhibitions in China, many international brands fail to grasp the full opportunity of attending, failing to make a splash that cuts through all the noise and competition for visitor or delegate attention.

The answer is to develop a smart China marketing and communications strategy which uses trade show attendance as a foundation, not necessarily the focal point, and that seeks to ‘supersize’ your footprint and boost brand impact.

Here are some recommended approaches:

Media Outreach – while PR has taken a backseat to social media during the last few years, brands can take advantage of the importance of attending a trade show to push through brand and product information into the press. Journalists from key media will all be attending and looking for great content. Utilizing them to win media coverage is a great way to build brand awareness.

Social Media Campaign – whether you are on WeChat, Weibo, Little Red Book or Douyin (TikTok), your own social media channels should be planned out well in advance, with good photographers or a video team onsite to support your efforts.

Social Media Amplification – whether through KOL (influencers / trade magazine advertorials), China trade shows are great opportunity to spread the word and tell your story to your target audience.

Live Streaming – we successfully broadcast 50 livestream segments at CIIE on behalf of an international state business support group – an exciting and modern way to tell your story and build new customers and fans beyond the exhibition space. Platforms like WeChat Channels are hugely popular in China and provide an opportunity for agencies and their clients to reach an audience beyond their existing followers. Most exhibition stands now feature a dedicated live stream space so that exhibitors can broadcast their presence beyond the trade show halls.

Offsite/Online Event – another advantage of trade shows is that all your industry stakeholders are likely to be in town at the same time. This gives you a rare opportunity to host a streaming event, such as a press conference, or an offline event, such as a media lunch or thought-leader roundtable.

Baidu Search Engine Marketing – Baidu is China’s biggest search engine, and including some well-chosen keywords linked to upcoming exhibitions can be an easy hack that taps into online interest in the tradeshow and help to generate additional leads.

Capture Followers Onsite – growing your social media follower base in China can be a time and resource-consuming effort. Some of the biggest platforms operate as ‘walled gardens’, meaning that only existing followers see your content output. So, even killer content doesn’t necessarily equate to new fans. Quizzes, giveaways, lucky draws, and the like are popular ways to sign up new followers onsite at your booth.

China has frequently been at the forefront of digital evolution, and the online solutions brought in when trade shows weren’t taking place became part of the new normal in China marketing. Many of those innovations will continue to feature as ‘hybrid’ offline/online events. But as China reopens for business and judging by the buzz already surrounding the exhibitions and trade fairs occupying the early part of the 2023 events calendar, Chinese buyers and sellers are keen to be back on face-to-face terms as much as possible and agencies can help their clients make the most of these opportunities.