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National Starch improves leads with trade show microsite

(The original version of this article appeared in the Lead Generation issue of BtoB and was written by Kate Maddox, executive editor of BtoB. The article is running with BtoB’s permission.)

National Starch Food Innovation, a food ingredient manufacturer that is part of Corn Products International, has improved the quantity and quality of its leads through an integrated trade show microsite program it uses to drive traffic to events.

National Starch launched its first trade show microsite in July 2009, a month after the Institute for Food Technologists (IFT) Food Expo conference in Anaheim, Calif.

“The learning was, even in a good year, only a fraction of your customers and prospects will attend,” said Marc Green, senior manager-marketing communications at National Starch Food Innovation and Corn Products International, noting that the 2009 IFT conference—the food industry's largest event—was held at the height of the recession. “How do you then present information to the people who didn't attend? The internal debate was [about] having a webinar, which is a lot more intense and requires more resources, or a microsite?”

National Starch decided to launch an event microsite, which featured content from the Food Expo conference—such as product announcements, video interviews with food industry executives and highlights from an award ceremony—at which National Starch won an innovation award.

It promoted the event microsite through an email campaign to its internal list of customers and prospects, which garnered an open rate of 16% and a click-through rate of 3.9%.  Re-mailing the message two weeks later push the unique open rate to 22%. Additionally,

But this was just the beginning of a successful program that National Starch has continued to build on over the past two years.

“We went from zero to 60,” Green said, pointing to the differences between the 2009 campaign and the campaign for last year's IFT Food Expo conference, which was held in July in Chicago.

“We went from a one-page microsite and two email blasts to building a multipage site with a 10-week preshow campaign and a four-week postshow campaign,” Green said.

Last year, National Starch used heavy email as well as social media, including Twitter and LinkedIn, to promote the event microsite and drive traffic to its booth at the show.

Over the course of the 10-week campaign, an average of 12% of all emails were opened, and 6% of its customer database clicked through to the microsite.  Of the entire database, over 35% opened one or more e-mails.  For a campaign for a show in March, that number jumped to over 50%, demonstrating the audience’s involvement with the company’s messages.

Green said the success of the email campaign was due in part to writing compelling subject lines and testing different subject lines among the target audience.  The company’s Webmaster, Cathy Merrill skillfully deployed all the elements of the campaign, including constructing the site and testing and distributing all the messages.

Some of the subject lines used in the email campaign included “Cut development time. Improve texture,” and “Improve your texture and your bottom line,” to promote food ingredient products that would be shown at the event.

National Starch also sent out an email survey to its internal list two weeks before the IFT show. “We collected information on potential attendees and their issues, and trafficked it out to the sales force to create a greater sense of intimacy with their issues and challenges,” Green said.

National Starch also used LinkedIn ads to promote engagement with its target audience and drive traffic to its booth at the show. National Starch created LinkedIn ads with four-to-five-word headlines, such as “New food ideas at IFT,” followed by more detailed copy, such as “Want to improve or differentiate your products? Then check out our booth at 4036,” with a link to the trade show microsite.

All of these tactics resulted in increased traffic to the National Starch website in the weeks leading up to the event, and improved leads at the trade show. “It improved the quality of the interaction,” Green said.

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