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Trade shows aren't cheap - so make the marketing count

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

Budgets become tighter when there are more channels to manage - so it's important you take a sustainable approach to spending to maintain the success of existing marketing efforts while investing in new channels. Trade shows naturally become expensive when you factor in human resources, travel and accommodation costs, so how do you effectively ensure that you can raise your head above the parapet and optimise the return of investment when exhibiting?

This post was updated in August 2021 to consider the current market for Covid recovery. With most events cancelled and postponed, restrictions in travel and the need to consider the wellbeing of staff - many companies may have already cancelled or significantly reduced their investment in trade shows. While virtual alternatives are offered, they by no means provide the same level of networking and visibility as a real-world physical event.

Opportunity in the making

As events begin to return - consider carefully the opportunity in front of you. With much hesitation in the market for investing in conferences and trade shows - this is the time for those willing to build their industry awareness to put significant resources into a couple of primed events that will create the noise which will drive longer-term success.

Although many events have been scaled down and the number of attendees will be reduced - if you can create a sense of attraction and leave a lasting impression - your investment will continue to pay off way beyond the event.

Focus on the FOMO

People always like to know what they missed, and with clever and creative investment your company could be the one they talk about.

Post-Covid, people are looking for experiences and to get real value from the events they attend, especially with less personnel out on the road. So think about how you can create something memorable and useful for attendees, which will inevitably leave them talking about you to colleagues, partners and their wider network.

Sorry - not much of a selfie queen, I alway seem to look rather mean! Here, attending ITB Berlin - 2019, with my "I've got this!" face!

While you have a creative and engaging magnet to attract people to your stand, don't forget to address the following aspects of exhibiting (the advice below still stands and was written in March 2019):

Meetings: Don't expect people to come to you. First and foremost make sure your agenda is packed from the moment the event opens. Focus on new prospects and potential partners; use the event as a chance to meet those that sit behind gated emails.

  • Keep your stand busy at all times

  • Build a buzz and an atmosphere that communicates your company values

  • Get feedback from new leads on what your solution means to them

Invite customers: Give yourself a chance to connect with existing customers and partners face-to-face and build a strong relationship. Keep it casual and invite them to an end of day drink with other customers to give them a chance to share tricks and tips to improving business. For customers with problems, make sure you dedicate time to address their concerns.

  • Develop your ambassadors, recommendation is the best sales method

  • Get product and service feedback so you can improve your delivery

  • Discover what you didn't know - face-to-face conversations can give up so much more

Visibility: Make sure that there is something on your stand that explains what it is you do and how you help your customers succeed. Be careful not to use buzzwords and jargon - keep it simple, when people are passing they need to decide in a second if you're the people to speak to. Time is precious, recognise this.

  • Use a good designer, and make sure you know your marketing aims and key messages

  • Keep any words above waist height

  • Don't over clutter your design, simple is effective

Call to action: Provide all meetings with a call to action, explain what you will do to follow up the conversation so they know what to expect from you, and also so they know what you expect from them. Make sure it is a two-way street, otherwise it's a wasted opportunity.

  • Give them an approximate timeline of follow up

  • Tell them specifically what you will follow up with

  • Get an agreement from them on the action they will take

Stand space: when negotiating the position of your stand, make sure you're in the main thoroughfare where your target customers will pass by. Use your competitors as examples, and don't be afraid of being next to one - this gives you chance to build a relationship with them. Competitors are not enemies, friendly rivalry allows you to innovate, and good rapport allows you to know enough about their product to differentiate.

  • Keep stand build simple with pull-ups, or invest in quality stand builders

  • Use robust materials, these stands need to last - swanky doesn't always cut it

  • Try to secure a corner stand, this opens you up

Trade show marketing: utilise all the free marketing options available to you through the trade show. Make sure you enquire about press releases, journalists, workshops, presentations, brochures and anywhere else that you can have your business mentioned. A strong relationship with your trade show contact will keep you front of mind and allow for better negotiating, especially if you want to move or reduce costs.

  • Put all deadlines in your calendar, and be early

  • Follow up regularly with your contact

  • Place your attendance in marketing literature

Breaks: make sure you and your team get regular 15 minute breaks, plenty of water and snacks - plus a good lunch. Most of these events are air-conditioned exhibition centres, there's plenty of bugs - you need to consider the well-being of your team.

  • Take a shopping bag that includes enough water bottles for the day

  • Take some fruit for staff to munch on

  • Ensure everyone gets a break every two hours

Other Tips

Mints: people need to freshen their breath after speaking all day

Water: dehydration is likely in temperature-controlled spaces

Lip-balm: air-conditioning can really give you chapped lips if you're there for several days

Press releases: start your media campaign at least two months before the event, the week before and during your making noise with everyone else

Marketing campaign: start your campaign a couple of months before so that the event acts as one of the main milestones, ensuring you have multiple steps after to follow up with prospects

Create a buzz: Think outside the box and really get people talking. This year my award has to go to Mews - their Pit Stop with their entire team wearing formula One outfits really captured the eye (but make sure everyone is onboard with the attire).

Add value: Consider ways in which you can work with partners. This year my value-added award has to go to Travel Tripper, for creating a series of seminars to help educate and inform, plus promote the merger with Pegasus and partnership with OTA - showing true collaboration (the evening Network event was awesome too).

Form networks: We don't work in silos, and neither do your customers. Help the industry come together through partnership; Hospitality United is a one to watch. Its evening events for trade show attendees allow sponsors to reach a target audience while allowing hoteliers to network. The brainchild of eRevMax marketing manager.

Open up your stand: Let smaller companies use a space on your stand if you might have it, it's a great way of maintaining a buzz, making it look busy but also creating new connections.

LinkedIn: take photos, loads of photos and tag, tag, tag! Well-done Duetto - doing it again!

What not to do:

· Expect people just to show up without an invite - you aren't THAT special

· Come unprepared with untrained staff, you must look after your crew

· Push PR during an event - it's wasted energy and lost opportunity

· Have too much furniture you can't move

· Use too much description to explain what you do

· Make too much noise you annoy other exhibitors still doing business (to the stand that put a DJ on at 5pm, very uncool!)

· Push for contracts to be signed then and there (unless customer requests)

Most important: RECORD everything you are doing. Use your CRM to log all your invites, all the meetings in order to push your prospects and leads through your sales funnel. You need to know the effectiveness of each trade show.

NEED HELP? Over 30 trade shows we've managed exhibition stand and presence. We can help your team achieve the most from your investment. Get in contact before the next event creeps up on you

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