It’s an annual tradition in American agriculture. Comprising of shiny paint, cheap motel coffee, that oddly springy conference center carpet, matching company polo shirts and business cards. Don’t forget the bags of company swag and scribbled-down notes about the latest new ag products and services. But not this year.

Change underfoot from the COVID-19 pandemic and limitations on large events call on ag companies to take steps to stay ahead of the curve to sustain farm show customer connections. While there’s no silver bullet for providing the ideal virtual farm show experience, there are a few things companies can keep in mind in working toward that goal.


Virtual trade show strategies

The most important thing to keep in mind is the heart of every farm show. The farmer or rancher who has the agribusiness world within arm’s reach. Shows — in-person or virtual — facilitate promotion of and purchase decisions on new machinery, equipment, technology and other necessary tools of the trade, all in a community environment that is often just as important as the potential purchases borne out of show attendance.

It’s sometimes easy to overthink what needs to happen to sustain showgoer interest and farm show attendance ROI. This is especially true with virtual trade shows being a relatively new part of the business. Start the process by first answering these basic questions:

  1. Do I need to hit every virtual show? What farm shows are most important to your company? Many years — especially when the ag markets are bullish and farmers feel more confident to spend on things like new machinery — you’ll see a lot of the same companies at most all of the major shows. But maybe it’s better to invest more in your presence at a smaller number of virtual shows instead of being there every time attendees turn around. That can enable you to possibly free up budget, for example, to produce follow-up materials that extend the resonance of your messaging to potential customers. No matter what you decide, always keep ROI top-of-mind.
  2. What do I want my customers to think and do? Years ago, it was more common to see a farmer walking a trade show floor with his or her hand on the checkbook. Nowadays, farmers are more likely to attend shows to conduct product research, not write checks. So, what do you want your customers to do at the show? Target the most common objective, as there are likely many. Then align that objective with the answer to your first question and start building the most effective virtual farm show strategy. Think in terms of the most frequently asked questions from show attendees, then focus on answering those first.
  3. How can I replicate the community aspect of trade shows? Creating an environment that successfully replicates the community component of a farm show is often the biggest challenge. But you can potentially improve the ROI of your virtual show by providing a mechanism that can enable attendees to interact in ways that bolster word-of-mouth product promotion through follow-up conversations.
  4. How does the farm show fit into my other marketing plans? If you’re introducing new products or services, the trade show is a great way to make a big splash and generate some major customer interest. Consider plans for new product introductions and other parts of your marketing plan for the year in determining how to best build your virtual trade show participation.
  5. Can I still make it personal and fun? For a lot of farm families, traveling to Commodity Classic — usually held in a warm-weather vacation destination late in the winter — is considered something of a vacation. Attending a virtual farm show instead robs farmers of that opportunity. So, can you do something to personalize your show presence and make it fun for attendees? The more a farmer enjoys their time interacting with your company virtually, the more likely they’ll be to remember the experience and, as a result, consider your brand when making a relevant purchase decision.

The virtual farm show isn’t ideal. It’s tough to replicate a farmer being able to climb into the cab of a new 600-hp tractor. Especially while they’re scrolling through your “booth” on their computer, smartphone or tablet from their living room or office. And there are a lot of different virtual trade show platforms, all with slight differences that make it tough to standardize how you “attend” farm shows in this era of COVID-19 disruptions to in-person events.

So instead of getting caught up in the technology, go back to basics. What do you need from your farm show attendance? What ROI do you need to achieve and how do you want to interact with your customers? Start there, then determine the best way forward. If you need assistance with perfecting your virtual trade show strategy, don’t hesitate to contact our Lessing-Flynn team to help you head in the right direction.