Attending trade shows is a great way for small businesses owners to stay connected in the industry. Not only do you get a chance to have face time with current and potential customers, you get to see first-hand how your competitors are marketing themselves. It’s a win-win all the way around. However, merely showing up with a booth and a few freebies to pass out won’t cut it nowadays. You need to understand how to effectively market yourself and your company at a trade show to make the investment of time and money worth your while. Check out a few of these trade show marketing ideas that really work and use them at your next event!

Do your homework before you register for a trade show

There are many opportunities to attend trade shows throughout the year, so really do your research before you decide to register. Choosing the right shows to attend can make a big difference to your success level overall.  If you choose the wrong show you could be spending money, time and energy with no return. Skyline Trade Show Tips offers 10 great items to consider to make sure you’re going to the right shows and seeing success:

  1. Decide what your objectives are – what exactly are you hoping to get out of this event?  Are you looking to connect with existing clients?  Find new clients?  Gather intel on the competition.  Find new resources or employees?  Maybe you’re looking for a potential business partnership. Determine what you want to accomplish in attending and exhibiting and keep that in mind as you research each trade show potential.
  2. Make a list of all possible shows – these shows could be industry specific, niche specific, or based around an association. Get a detailed list together of all trade shows so you can make an organized review of each.
  3. Actually review each one and do your homework – really research each show. Who attends? How much does it cost?  What have past attendees said about the trade show?  Good questions to know as you decide if it’s worth your while.
  4. Visit the show as an attendee only – before you lay out big bucks to be an exhibitor or sponsor, attend the show as an attendee only so you can get first-hand intel on how it’s run and how well it’s attended, as well as who is attending and exhibiting.
  5. Check out the location – Skyline’s article states that 40-60% of attendees come from a 200-mile radius. Is that your target audience?  If your business in geo-targeted, this is a big one to consider.
  6. Check the calendar – some of the best potential trade shows have poor attendance because there are conflicting events happening at the same time. Check the calendar and see how those other events might impact the effectiveness of the show you want to attend.
  7. Check out the show-related marketing opportunities – Some shows have exhibitor marketing options available, including links to your website, uploading marketing materials and contact information, showcase events or opportunities for you could present.  Find out what they have that can increase your visibility and use that to determine the overall value and cost for each show.
  8. Schedule and budget – make sure the event doesn’t conflict with your company schedule or is overly costly. Think about the value of new client connections or competitive intel, look at the cost of attending, and do the math:  is it worth it?
  9. Be conservative your first time as an exhibitor – don’t go overboard on signage, freebies, and a bunch of extra bells and whistles until you’ve experienced being an exhibitor at least once. You won’t know what the support system is (electrical, internet access, etc.) until you’ve exhibited yourself.
  10. Negotiate the space – the cheapest booth spot is cheap for a reason. Take a look at the event map and choose a spot with good foot traffic.

Promote your show attendance ahead of time

Once you’ve determined a trade show that makes sense to exhibit at, make sure you do your own promotion ahead of time to let people know you’ll be attending. Share on social media. Write a blog post about what you look forward to when you attend the show. Add it as an event on your website calendar. Create some buzz around the fact you’ll be attending to get people excited. Many smart marketers will actually set appointments during trade shows to make good use of downtime when foot traffic is quiet (like when sessions are happening). The more legwork you do ahead of time to promote your time at a show, the more effective that show will be. You might even consider hosting a small pre-show breakfast or coffee talk for your clients or prospects. Elevating awareness that you’ll be at the show really impacts the outcome so put thoughtful effort into marketing your attendance.

Have the right marketing at the show

I always tell my clients that they should look at their booth at three levels:  from across the room, from a few feet away, and right at or inside your booth. Why?  Big, engaging signage will draw people to your booth from across the room, so be sure your big signage has more than a name so people can see it and be drawn to your booth if interested.  As people draw close, they’re going to look at your booth and decide if it’s worth their time to walk up to the booth and engage, so be sure you have materials that will engage people who are walking by:  promotional items of course are always good. People love free, which is why people love swag at trade shows.  Make sure your company swag is unique and fun, and hand it out. Some people will have a small PowerPoint showing that passersby can see. Still others might be demoing a product or discussing a service. All of these activities will draw in the people nearby if it’s exciting and engaging. If you actually get them to your booth, be prepared!  Have plenty of collateral that you can hand out. Have cool swag that is branded so if people grab and go, they still have your info. Give people a reason to give you their business card. This is HUGE. One of the biggest complaints of those attending a trade show is that they had too many people at the booth and couldn’t speak to them all. Find a way to get a business card so you can still follow up if you weren’t able to chat with them yourself.

Here are a few ideas to getting business cards:

  • Give away a free demo of your product
  • Offer a product discount code that you’ll email to them
  • Send them a free copy of your ebook or case study
  • Offer a copy of your presentation that you will email to them

Offer an incentive that they’ll find valuable enough to give you a card.

Offer more than the other exhibitors

Promotional freebies and candy are great, but many people offer that. Offer something that makes your booth stand out. Free coffee, free Wi-Fi access, a coloring book station…anything unique and different is good! Some exhibitors will sponsor a flash mob or some other over-the-top event. Still others will do video testimonials just to ask people how they like the show. Of course, your booth is prominently displayed in the background! You can’t go wrong with a charging station either. Think outside the box to stand out!

The trade show marketing doesn’t end with the show

The most important marketing tip for trade shows is this: don’t forget to follow up. Most people follow the same routine: they collect business cards, shake hands and make big promises to connect, then get back to their offices and life gets in the way. To get the best return on the time and money you just spent, you need to strategically follow up after the event is over. Take all those leads and enter them into a CRM with name, address, phone number, email, level of interest, etc. Segment your hot leads from your cold leads. Follow up with each lead with a unique message, not just a “it was nice to meet you, here’s info on my company”. Emails should  include the value your company will add to their program, your solution to a problem they are currently having, why your product/service/company is superior, a call to action, and a product/service overview. Make your follow-up memorable; people will be overwhelmed with vendors following up after the show.

One last marketing angle: the after-show wrap-up

Here’s one last chance to promote your company. Write a blog post about your trade show attendance. Highlight what you learned, what you saw, what people missed by not attending, etc. It’s one more chance to showcase your efforts and add value to the marketing investment you just made.

Not sure how to get prepared for a trade show or how to utilize these trade show marketing tips?  Contact a small business marketing consultant like Strategic Marketing Services to help you plan, execute and follow-up on your trade show to get the best results.

Patty Hughes
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