How to ensure a successful trade show – in 12 easy to follow steps.
Trade shows and exhibitions can be a fantastic way of showcasing a company’s products and/or services. But many people get it so wrong. And on so many levels.
Even with the best product or service in the world, to turn up to a trade show without having done any preparation or planning is marketing suicide.
We’ve all met the people I’m talking about. Those who think that all they have to do is turn up, smile and click their fingers. Then, as if by magic a finely targeted audience flocks to their stand and hangs off their every word.
Hmmm … if only it was as simple as that!
TRADE SHOW STRATEGY
Without a realistic trade show marketing strategy, success is never guaranteed.
If you take meticulous planning out of the equation, trade shows can be stressful, unfruitful and swallow up a massive chunk of your marketing budget.
Yet when they are carefully planned and well executed, everything naturally flows in the right direction. You’ll reach the venue on the day feeling more relaxed and you’ll be more approachable to clients and prospects. So it stands to reason that you’ll likely be more successful.
So what sort of things could you do to improve your trade show marketing strategies and increase your chances of a great show?
1. WHY? / WHO? / WHERE? / WHAT? / HOW?
Marketing expert Simon Sinek claims that the most significant question every business owner needs to answer in order to achieve the greatest success is: “WHY are we doing what we’re doing?” According to the world-class guru, every company’s ‘Why’ is all about its purpose. And the fact that ‘purpose’ should be the driving force of every other decision you make.
So, once you know WHY exhibiting is right for you, all the other decision-making questions should fall into place relatively easily:
• Whom are you targeting? (And you should REALLY pinpoint them with accuracy).
• Where would be the ideal venue to capture this audience?
• What is your plan – what do you want to sell/tell/show them?
• How will you execute it?
• How will we gather leads and convert them into customers?
2. PLAN WELL IN ADVANCE
One of the most important things you can do before a trade show is to plan well ahead of the time. Leaving the planning until the last minute and then wondering why you can’t get a stand in the location you want; the furniture you need and the literature there in time is crazy.
Make sure to select your venue carefully and book everything well in advance. Decide what sort of stand you’ll need – shell scheme or open plan. People tend to forget even the most basic requirements when it comes to trade show stands.
Do you need power on the stand and where do you want the lighting rig?
Will you need a WIFI connection?
Will you need a fresh water supply and/or drainage?
What sort of a risk assessment is needed?
Is there a café / refreshment stand on site?
These things might seem trivial, but they can cause so many problems if left until the last minute.
Also make sure to book hotels and travel tickets as far in advance as possible, as once the word is out that a trade show is being planned, prices are sure to skyrocket.
3. HANG ONTO SOME OF THAT BUDGET
Don’t be tempted to spend all of your budget on the exhibition itself. Try to allocate a portion to pre-event advertising and engaging with industry influencers. This will really help to develop your post-show brand awareness. Partnering with other businesses, organisations and trade publications that offer pre-event exposure is a great idea too.
4. HAVE A UNIQUE STRATEGY / THEME
Walk around any trade show and you’ll see your fair share of bland, unimaginative stands. To stay one step ahead of the competition, you ideally need to pre-plan some sort of expo theme. This might be related to your industry or niche, or it could be something completely random and off the wall. Either way, you should try to integrate it into everything you do for the event. The more you integrate your brand with your theme, the more people will recognise and remember you.
5. ENGAGE THE RIGHT SUPPORT
If you’re budget stretches to having a bespoke stand built, don’t just opt for the company that offers you the slickest design or least expensive price. Do your homework, and make sure you select a stand partner with who is happy to share their five-star testimonials from previous clients.
Honest, reliable, trustworthy stand contractors can either make or break a good show. The last thing you need is to turn up the day before the show starts to find they’re still nowhere near finished.
You’ll also want to make sure that any samples or displays are ready and transported to the venue well in advance. Once they arrive, have them checked carefully to ensure they’re still intact and free from damage. If you’re manufacturing your own samples, maybe consider creating a backup set just in case the worst should happen.
6. SHOP AROUND
Just because you get e-mailed a huge list of optional extras that can be booked through the organiser, doesn’t mean you’re duty bound to order directly from them.
Shop around – you’re likely to save yourself a quid or two! Local independent companies continually supply carpets, furniture, plant displays, ICT goods and catering to popular exhibition and trade show venues. Just make sure you tell them that you want ‘unmarked’ items where possible.
Make sure you engage with event attendees before, during and after the show. There’s no point in collecting all those business cards or scanning all of those name badges if you don’t do something with the data!
Before the show – You might advertise your intention to exhibit via banner ads on the organiser’s website, via your own social media feeds, direct mail or e-mail (just bear in mind GDPR laws).
During the show – Generate a social media buzz with all the latest news and gossip. Just make sure to keep it relaxed and even light-hearted. Trade shows are a terrific opportunity for businesses to show off their ‘human side’. Sadly this an area most companies fall short on because no-one has been instructed and no-one wants to take responsibility. MAKE it someone’s responsibility, perhaps a member of the marketing team, or someone who can look at the show from more than just a sales angle.
After the show – Make sure to strike while the iron is hot and follow up promptly. The sooner you can do this, the better. Visitors are more likely to respond if you’re still front-of-mind.
If you’ve collected e-mail addresses – either via business cards, scanning devices (and have the recipients’ approval to contact them, of course), send out personalised ‘it great to meet you’ emails as soon as possible.
And keep your communication simple. Text-based emails and messages work best. Image-heavy, highly formatted HTML emails are unlikely to get read and can look ugly. Remember that visitors are likely to receive dozens of similar e-mails and are unlikely to click the “show images” button over and over again. This is especially important for recipients who usually view their e-mails on a smartphone.
8. ARRANGE MEETINGS IN ADVANCE
Tradeshows shouldn’t be just about new lead generation. They’re also a fantastic opportunity to meet with your existing customers and key decision makers all in one place.
If there’s anyone you would particularly like to speak to, make sure you book meetings in advance. An ideal time for this would be at opening times or mid to late afternoon when footfall levels are usually lower.
Do you have access to the list of attendees prior to the show? If you do, make a point of contacting anyone you wish to meet before show day and arrange a time and place. Remember that this early type of face-to-face communication is all about relationship building.
9. HAVE THE RIGHT PEOPLE ON YOUR STAND
The people you put on your front lines are absolutely critical. They should be confident, knowledgeable and most of all, approachable.
Being a great salesperson doesn’t automatically mean they’re good for shows. So, although you should choose people who know your products/services inside-out; they shouldn’t be overly pushy. Your stand visitors won’t be impressed if they feel pressurised or if their questions can’t be answered. And in the end, they’ll judge you and your company on the calibre of your representatives.
10. KEEP LITERATURE SMALL AND SIMPLE
Your fancy, glossy corporate brochure might indeed look the dog’s doo-dahs. But, handing them out at a trade show can prove costly. Naturally, you’ll want to keep some on hand for those strong, qualified leads, but why not consider creating a much smaller handout, explicitly designed for the trade show. These don’t need to be costly. Perhaps an A5 leaflet or A6 postcard with a specific Call To Action. And use both sides! Blank space is wasted advertising space!
And remember, it’s much better to have a meaningful conversation with fewer delegates and start the relationship ball rolling than it is to hand out literature to all and sundry. If your handouts contain too much information, visitors can feel they know all about you already. Just the right amount and they might just head on over to your website or dial your number.
10. THINK CAREFULLY ABOUT PROMOTIONS & GIVEAWAYS
You’re determined to grab the attention of any potential customers and give them something uniquely memorable to take away. But don’t fall victim to those people whose sole aim that day is to bag as many trade shows freebies as they can! Perhaps keep a small stock of notepads and pens on general display, but consider limiting the ‘real goodies’ to people who are genuinely interested in what you’re selling; and who perhaps are happy to give you their contact information?
11. GET YOUR SPIES OUT!
There’s no better time than a trade show to take a sneak peek at what the competition is doing.
Don’t be afraid to make time to do this. It’s an ideal opportunity, and healthy competition is good for business after all 😉
12. DON’T FORGET THE POST-MORTEM
When the show is over, everything is packed away and all of your prospects have been contacted, make sure to go over the results with a fine tooth comb. Involving the whole team.
What were the things that worked well?
What could have been done better?
What will you do differently next time?
Will you exhibit there again?
This information will prove vital for your future exhibition plans.