How exhibitors measure trade show success varies from business to business — and often differs from one show to the next. But however you define trade show marketing success at your particular company, one thing is clear: Advance planning and goal setting are critical. Successful exhibitors don’t just show up and set up. They follow a well-thought-out plan.

Know Your “Why”

Before you head off to your next event, take time to determine WHY you’re exhibiting at a particular show and what your expected takeaways are. Whether it’s a goal of getting “x” number of attendees to sign up for a free trial or simply increasing lead captures by 20% over last year, put that goal in writing to ensure that all sales team members are on the same page and focused on improving your trade show show ROI.

Walk the Show Floor

Whether it’s your first time or your fiftieth time exhibiting, be sure to set a goal of scoping out any new competitors on the floor, as well as taking time to network with potential business partners and/or supply vendors. With trade shows, you never know who you might meet or where that connection might lead!

Focus on Education and Engagement

These days, trade show attendees expect more than just a handshake and a business card. They expect to:

  • learn something new about your company
  • see/touch/experience your product for themselves
  • be given the VIP treatment by your staff
  • feel comfortable in your space

Use kiosks or LED touchscreens to help attendees experience products and services directly, and videos or live demos to educate about features, benefits, and your overall value proposition. In-booth games and activities can be fun and engaging as well … but make sure they align with and reflect well on your brand.
Same idea goes for swag and booth giveaways. If they don’t enhance your brand with an obvious or clever marketing tie-in, they’re just lame.

Boise-based recruiting firm TalentSpark created a unique marketing theme using bundled swag sets. Their “Need Talent? No Sweat” campaign featured a custom-printed t-shirt and mini deodorant to deliver a memorable slogan and branding statement.


Create a Buzz with In-Show Mobile Event Apps

Many mobile event apps feature in-app landing pages or advertising space for exhibitors and sponsors. Check with the show organizers to see if they’re planning on promoting an official mobile event app during the show, and whether they’re selling promotional space. Event app ads featuring limited-time special offers or on-the-floor “flash sales” can help spike curiosity, create buzz, and drive additional foot traffic to your booth.

Choose the Right Booth Staff

If you’re new to exhibiting and you only have a small staff to help man your booth, you may be concerned about how your non-sales personnel will handle a large show … and what kind of impression they’ll make on attendees. (Make no mistake, first impressions are still the most important thing in marketing, and trade shows are no different!)
The good news is that salesmanship can be learned. Whether it’s a group training or a one-on-one session, most employees can be taught at least the basic sales communication skills, including meet-and-greet skills, listening skills, and emotional maturity. Rehearsing and role playing several weeks ahead of time can help to ensure that your staff will present themselves professionally on the show floor.

Provide an Immersive Visual Branding Experience

In many cases, an attendee’s first exposure to your brand comes through visiting your trade show exhibit, so it’s critical that all items inside your booth are ON BRAND. To make a big visual branding splash, set up your exhibit so that every square inch of space reflects your company’s official color palette — not just backwall graphics and banner signage, but also printed brochures and handouts, media presentations and videos, counter accessories, booth furniture and even staff clothing.

Promote the Event to Your Customer Base

The show’s producer normally does a decent job of marketing the event to prospective attendees, but you can’t always count on them to reach your particular target audience. Use your own social media channels and email marketing campaigns to boost show attendance within your own client and prospect base by offering sneak previews of any in-booth activities, presentations, giveaways or contests you have planned.

Example of a Facebook banner from an exhibitor promoting their attendance at a trade show.


Prepare for Disasters

If you’re exhibiting out of town, your chances of experiencing a minor trade show disaster go up exponentially. Simply put, more moving parts = more possibilities for lost shipments, damaged exhibits, forgotten power cords, etc. The wise exhibitor plans ahead and prepares for worst-case scenarios, including how to pack a basic trade show display repair kit.

Take Advantage of Money-Saving Strategies

The more trade shows you attend each year, the greater your opportunities for saving money. Little by little, it all adds up. Trim the fat off your trade show marketing budget by:

  • Reserving your booths early (to qualify for the early bird discount)
  • Using advance warehouse shipping and storage facilities
  • Going digital instead of bringing printed brochures and marketing materials
  • Minimizing the cost of trade show union labor where possible
  • Buying lightweight fabric displays (which are cheaper to ship)

Sometimes It Pays to Advertise

Be sure to look into the cost of advertising in the show’s official printed brochure and/or on the show producer’s website. These can be pricey, but if it’s an established, reputable show that pulls in tons of attendees in your target market, the number of sales leads you could garner in just one day may easily offset the ad cost.

Develop at Least a Five-Touch Post-Show Followup System

Did you know that 80% of salespeople tend to give up after the third lead followup attempt, but that 50% of sales actually occur after the FIFTH contact? If you have a bare-bones staff and can’t devote a lot of time to followup calls, there are lots of alternative (and unique) options that can help differentiate you from competitors without taking too much time, including emailing post-event surveys, sending personalized postcards, creating a private interest-based Slack community, or hosting a Facebook live followup event or webinar. Developing a formal lead followup system that combines both human interaction and automated processes can help to keep your brand on the prospect’s radar longer, while also continuing to educate and engage.

Craft a One-Page Post-Show Report

Trade shows and conferences provide a fantastic window into not only your competitors’ operations, but also into what types of messaging works (or doesn’t) in different markets or different parts of the country. Keep your eyes open and take notes, then document your discoveries and insights in a post-show report so you can be better equipped to stand out at that same show next year.

Bottom Line

As any entrepreneur or inventor will tell you, success doesn’t just happen without hard work … nor does it happen overnight. Your very first trade show likely won’t win you a bunch of new clients instantly, but keep at it. As you continue to show up and stand out with your well-appointed booth and well-trained staff, the dividends will begin to pay out in increased exposure and brand recognition over time. And if you need help, the friendly folks at EXHIB-IT! Trade Show Management are standing by, ready to jump in and lend a hand to ensure that your next show is also your best.

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