I've done them in the past but you really need a tangible way to make sure you're getting some ROI from the activity unless you can afford a big branding experience.
The problem is always the same with trade shows which is the shows you can easily afford don't have the kind of traffic you would like and the shows that do, you can't afford :)
Maximize your marketing money if you're going to spend it. If you go, don't do it half-baked, make appointments with local folks you would like to meet and greet, potentially host a suite and pack in a lot of networking in a night. Many of your appointments might fall through for whatever reason which is why the hospitality suite sometimes works well so you can overbook and get all that show up.
If you have anything new to announce those trade shows are always a good time to do that based on my experience and there will always be some press guy snooping around, best to make sure they know you're there in advance and set up a meeting.
With all that said, I haven't done one in about 7 years so check out the current trade show climate before doing it, ask around to some non-competitive attendees if there are any.
As RC Jordan put it: "Well, we all pretty much agree here that the real 'pro' work done at SEO conferences -aside from slipping in a vacation on the company tab- is done at the bar after the seminars let out. Sooo... the Euro faction just decided to cut to the chase and start at the pub. Why waste all that time, eh?"
I was a lone wolf type, Mackin drug me out to one, when I was a real newb. That move cut many, many years off my path, it jump started my progress, hurtling me towards success.
Those relationships built then, bring me non-stop referrals today, and the people sending them to me, don't ask for $ or reciprocity of any kind. They know if you earn someone's trust and respect over time, people are happy to refer you to others.
We're an advertising agency and we don't advertise ourselves, never have - we don't need to - conferences have built relationships that bomb us with too many referrals. We have to turn most leads away, we just don't have the capacity.
I can't imagine where I'd be today, if Mackin hadn't drug my wet lil ears out to Vegas!
Biz (not so) secret = it's the people you meet and serve, they are the key to your current and future success. I believe judging people is a skill, and the immersion of a trade show is some of the best training available anywhere. But it certainly doesn't hurt to have friends like Mackin guiding you on Who's Who at shows!
Mackin knows how grateful I am, and he knows I give back, a lot. "Invaluable" is an under statement to me. The networking at shows trumps everything else you'll do. Since you can't work in a vacuum (that sucks!), you've got to get out and meet people - where else can you reach the numbers and relevancy that shows offer? No where! Go!
Before I ran Pubcon, I was an exhibit booth guy for a large computer company and a conference organizer before that. (so I am kinda biased in favor of conferences)
So much so, we exhbit at other conference 3-4 times a year. Although there are alot of benefits - the biggest benefit to exhibiting is in hearing feedback and gauging reaction to your marketing. You will find out real quick how people perceive your marketing.
>continually SOLD OUT
Or a signal of a conference with poor conference planning skills. (crunch all you want - we'll make more ;-)
> Our main marketing is through social media and word of mouth.
You can really jump start your "word of mouth" campaigns at conferences.
They're absolutely invaluable. With that being said, they take a huge amount of time. A 3 day trade show is three straight days of 12 hour days, minimum. And at least twice that much time for preparation.