Are Digital and Face-to-Face Marketing Frenemies?

Are Digital and Face-to-Face Marketing Frenemies?

by Caroline Meyers

Think about the last time you went a trade show, conference or networking event. There was a hubbub of noise and conversation. You are there to learn, meet, listen and, if you are booth staff, greet and teach.

Imagine that you are approached by someone, or maybe are seated next to someone, and you exchange mutual hellos. A couple of incidental questions and you both find a topic of common interest. You know this because your conversational partner has emoted more energy, maybe turned a little on her seat, stepped a little into your personal space.

Your conversation is enjoyable. Maybe you learn something or are able to engage her with your company’s brand message. You both smile and shake hands. Exchange business cards (which have their own personality) and part.

There are so many nonverbal cues in this scenario that you can sense and use to further the interaction, or cut it off.


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Face-to-face carries a ton of information digital data collection can’t get near.

According to Dr. Albert Mehrabian, the author of Silent Messages, only 7 percent of a message is conveyed through words, while 55 percent of a message is relayed through nonverbal elements such as facial expressions, movements and gestures.

Can digital compete with that?


 RELATED: What Your Body Language Reveals at a Show


Now imagine you are an event marketer, challenged with crafting messages that attract, entice, entertain and delight prospective visitors. You are planning your messaging for your company’s exhibit at an agriculture industry trade show in March. You develop a persona for the ideal attendee for your company and call it “Jake.” Your persona is male, in his 30s, from the mid-west, outdoorsy, is a decision maker or influencer in his company.


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Coincidentally, there really is a Jake. If you met him face-to-face you would find out that Jake is 32 years old, unmarried. He runs, plays basketball, watches The Walking Dead, and lives on a semi regular basis at Taco Bell. Jake’s family’s been in agriculture as far back as anyone can remember.

Jake’s a middle manager at farm equipment reseller in Kansas. He’s been angling to attend the largest equipment trade show in the world, ConExpo 2017 in Las Vegas, for several years and has finally gotten permission to go. (Secret: no one else at the company wants to walk the 2.3 million square feet of show floor.)

Here’s what you can learn about Jake from his attendee registration.

  • First name
  • Last name
  • Job Function
  • Age
  • Company
  • Address
  • Phone
  • Mobile
  • Y/N receive text messages
  • Email
  • How did he hear about ConExpo
  • Number of employees in his company
  • What the primary business is
  • Whether his company is a Contractor or Non-contractor
  • What types of equipment/services they sell
  • What types of activities they engage in
  • What product or service they sell

Since you can only market to a person, not a company, knowing more about Jake would really, really help. And as you see here, registration info on Jake is pretty minimal. The most telling things you learn about Jake (not his company, now) is his age, whether he has a mobile phone and is willing to receive text messages.

That’s a toehold at least. You can do some research on the 32-year old male demographic from the mid-west. Or send him a text message with a couple questions. You could actually call Jake on the phone and introduce yourself. If you are expecting 2,500 attendees to visit your exhibit, this quickly becomes impractical.

Instead, you could spike your exhibit with opportunities for Jake and folks like him to interact and leave a digital footprint about themselves in real-time while enjoying the exhibit experience.


RELATED: 2016 Digital Toolkit to Enhance the Attendee Experience


This is where face-to-face and digital become more friends than enemies. Here’s how it might work.

At the show, Jake checks in at your reg desk and takes a quick survey to see what he’s looking for at the exhibit. He’s rewarded with a coveted company-branded cap. His survey preferences are digitally passed to a tour guide’s iPad in real-time who steps forward calling Jake by name and offers show him around.


Nearly three-quarters of attendees come with a smartphone.

                                                                   — 2016 Digital Toolkit to Enhance the Attendee Experience

Along the way, Jake has the opportunity to swipe his badge and interact with a touch screen media display challenging his knowledge and collecting his responses for alignment with follow up email, which he will get later that day.

A virtual reality simulation gives Jake a real feel for the company’s product and since he must swipe his badge to launch the experience, more data is accumulated in his visitor profile.

By the time Jake leaves the exhibit, at which he has spent 20% more time than he estimated, the company has a pretty thorough idea about who Jake is and what he’s interested in.

Roll back Jake’s experience to the part where he meets the “tour guide.” Being called by name, getting a welcoming smile, being able to ask spontaneous questions or make comments, Jake gets a personal experience he can’t get any other way. Then there’s the feeling of the carpet beneath his feet, the spotlights making the displays gleam, the energy and excitement of the trade show floor – all of Jake’s senses are engaged, his experience is more profound and lasting.

But if you take away the iPad survey, the touch screen, the simulation, the just in time email, what’s left is a limp walk through of the display with nothing beside a welcoming smile and a baseball cap to make the experience memorable.

CEIR’s 2016 study “Changing Environment of Exhibitions” ranked trade shows second only to the company’s website as a primary marketing tactic. That same study found that face-to-face contact nurtured relationships and showed that the preference is to collect those leads in real-time along with other actionable data.

As we’ve seen from our experience with Jake, it’s the combination of the real and the digital that leaves a lasting impression and turns leads into sales.

The bottom line?

Companies using integrated marketing are more successful than those who don’t.

— CEIR The Power of Exhibitions in the 21st Century

For a look at how the real and the digital intertwine on the show floor, I invite you to read our white paper Is Face-to-Face Marketing Old School?

Caroline Meyers is Director, Corporate Communications, MC². Opinions are her own. She can be reached at

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