Regardless of business sector, there is bound to be a trade show that brings together the leaders and great minds of the industry that your business inhabits. Exhibiting at a trade show can provide countless benefits for the growth of your business. From reconnecting with existing customers and meeting new ones to scoping out the competition, the list goes on. Trade shows are also an ultra competitive battle ground, with competitors from the same sector, lined up in rows one after another, fighting for the finite amount of time that each customer has.

Here are a few general categories to keep in mind as you make your decision about whether a trade show is worth the investment.

Picking the best venue

With a myriad of trade shows available, you will have no shortage of options to choose from. To make the most of a trade show and avoid unnecessary costs, however, it is important that you choose to exhibit only at trade shows that are best aligned with your business.

Deciding between attending consistently successful industry trade shows or less established ones can be tricky. If you are going for the less tried and tested route, then it will be useful to check on past event media coverage, the presence of big name guest speakers, social media activity and the expected attendance for the event.

Plan to succeed

Every successful trade show depends upon a tremendous number of activities coming together seamlessly over several days in a location often far away from the corporate office. The process of preparing for the trade show must therefore begin months in advance and involve multiple departments within a company including product marketing, sales operations and corporate communications.

Bring your ideas into focus: If you want to stand out from your competitors and generate more traffic to your booth and media buzz about your products, then you better spend some quality time on the planning phase. Showing up to a trade show just won’t cut it. Nor will the “If you build it they will come” mentality. You are facing off against the competition so be prepared to come out with a compelling strategic vision to guide your trade show investment decisions.

Spying on the ‘enemy’: Okay, nobody is suggesting you hack the competition to find out if they are going with a red plush carpet or video booth at this year’s trade show but at the very least you would be wise to learn how they presented at past trade shows. While copying the competition won’t get you far, emulating their strategy or booth creatives can give you some fresh ideas on how to build out your trade show presence.

Create a budget:  Before you start spending, be sure to create a budget for the trade show initiative, which will include brand assets, product prototypes, media outreach and booth staffing. Start thinking about whether you want to spend more to create a show-stopping booth, with complex marketing material and a big booth space, or if you want to go for a more utilitarian route – keeping it simple, yet getting your message across.

Find a creative partner:
You may be better served by bringing experts on the team to help you with the trade show strategy planning and execution. While hiring somebody outright may not always be an option, retaining the services of 3rd party experts often is. Some of the main areas you may want to outsource include booth design, collateral messaging and design, booth staffing and media outreach. The good news is that with a well-established 3rd party provider you will get professionals with many years of experience helping companies like yours get desired results at trade shows. You can also hire an agency to work on-demand or possibly consider a monthly retainer in the case of a content marketing & PR agency.

Get the word out

Contrary to popular belief, the bulk of the work for trade shows actually happens before the event itself! Ideally, you should give yourself about 90 – 120 days of lead time to make the necessary arrangements – or in other words, the sooner you start, the better.

Get your signage ready: Instead of cutting on costs, try spending a little more and creating signage that your patrons would enjoy taking pictures of. In the competitive world of trade shows, cheap signage rarely translates into better foot traffic. In fact, if you view your trade show signage as an investment and a chance to make a bold brand statement, you can keep it and reuse it for subsequent events.  

Promote on social media: Assign one employee to take charge of your company’s social media pages for the duration of the event, to ensure ease and consistency in communication. Make full use of the event hashtag when promoting your own marketing material to get the information to event attendees who might not be following your social media accounts. Also, don’t forget to keep your existing followers updated with constant tweets and posts.

While you’re at it, synchronize announcements:
The point of going to a trade show is not just to press the flesh of customers and prospects but also to show off your newest innovations and draw a sharp contrast with competitors. To maximize the impact of your product and/or service announcements you should create an announcement strategy that maps out the timing of announcements across all communications platforms. For instance, an Internet of Things (IoT) supplier to the solar industry announcing a breakthrough product/software solution would likely issue a press release to the industry trade press, while also posting about it on the company blog, launching a product landing page and saturating social media channels with a mix of organic and paid posts. The goal of this well calibrated cascade of information is to reach your customers, prospects, influencers and media on the channels where they are present and turning prospects into leads wherever you can.

Speaking of media initiatives…:
If you are looking to make an important announcement at the trade show, get a hold of the media list from the trade show organizer and send out a release announcing your attendance, where you can be found on the trade show floor and that you plan on revealing a major product breakthrough. As part of the outreach, try to secure one-on-one meetings with your spokesperson(s) to obtain as much media coverage as possible. Developing a media interview schedule based on the availability of your spokesperson will avoid the potential embarrassment of having a journalist show up with the spokesperson on a lunch break.

Spokesperson training:
An often overlooked part of preparations is ensuring your primary spokesperson is fully fluent in the product and company pitch and can maximize the impact of an interview. The last thing you want is for a spokesperson to get a key detail wrong and have a journalist turn around and communicate that to the world.

Be Outstanding

With the crush of competitors at trade shows, you have to make sure that you are thinking out of the box and doing something to stand out so that people remember you.

Set yourself apart: According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), the average time that each visitor spends at each booth is about 5-15 minutes. Thus, to keep them interested and to get them to stay longer, consider setting up video displays, interactive screens, iPad kiosks or raffles draws! Don’t throw things together haphazardly however. Your booth needs an overarching narrative, a dominant theme in which everything needs to fit. 

Staff Selection: Make sure your staff is well versed on product features and benefits. This will greatly affect the quality of engagement with prospects and customers. Your most productive staff in the office are not necessarily the best people for the job. Pick employees who are outgoing and capable of exuding your positive organization culture to leave a positive impression of your business in the minds of visitors to the booth.

Less is more: A trade show is not meant to be a historical display for all of your products and offerings. Instead, highlight 1-3 products/services that you want all of your booth visitors to remember. If you feel the need to talk about more than just 1-3 products/services, perhaps set up a digital display where booth visitors can find out more.  

Don’t hide in your booth: Networking is the game you have to play at industry events. Consider making it a competition among your sales reps to talk to as many people as possible and even award prizes on a daily basis. You can even keep track of level of engagement by tallying points for things such as business cards collected, leads generated and LinkedIn connections obtained.

Post constant updates on social media sites: Physical trade shows and a virtual presence don’t have to be mutually exclusive. By posting constant updates on Twitter, photos on Instagram, and perhaps a mix of both on Facebook, you keep both event goers, and non event goers updated throughout the show. And of course one or more dedicated landing pages will contribute greatly to your lead generation.

Owned event: Make use of the opportunities offered by the venue to own your own events. These run the gamut from a press conference to a happy hour or even a panel discussion with industry experts moderated by your CEO.  

Keep it going

Follow up: Adding a personal touch after the show might just seal the deal. Send the people you met an email or a follow-up note on LinkedIn to let them know that you want to keep in touch. Ask them if it is ok if you put them on your mailing list. Even consider asking for their feedback about the trade show booth to get the customer perspective and discover ways to up your game next time around.

Share media coverage: It’s okay to be proud of your accomplishments and to boast about them on your various platforms. Track all media placements and then share the media coverage on your company website, tweet about it, add pins on Pinterest, or make an Instagram post out of it (but just make sure you don’t break any copyrights)!

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