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What you learn from trade shows - preparing to stand your ground

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

In the last five months I have attended about 12 different trade shows, in my career I have managed exhibitions at in excess of 50 trade shows worldwide. Events have become the foundation to many industries' calendars, a way to bring people together, meet face-to-face, take business offline, do more business in one day, develop relationships and find synergies, and of course a great way to find an audience and market to them.

See how exhibitors use the space differently, and what this means for visibility and brand investment

Events are becoming a big staple of many businesses marketing plans, with many starting to host their own branded events, workshops and conferences. Some of the mega global companies like Expedia host partner and user events that replicate, on a smaller scale, the way trade shows have worked for many decades.

But why is it important to attend a trade show before you pay to exhibit?

As part of any marketing strategy, you have to know your audience, your targets and expectations and the drivers to ROI. With businesses looking to stand out, the blue ocean, you have to first understand whether the event will give you the platform to make the right impact.

So these are the key factors to review when assessing trade shows:

The lay of the land

You need to know how visitors walk around the exhibition, the busy areas, the quiet corners - how it is laid-out, which exhibition stands get the most visibility, footfall and traction.

  • Who are the big exhibitors and how are they exhibiting?

  • What's the schedule, when is the busy part of the day? If it's a several day event, which days are busiest?

  • What options are there to increase visibility?

Trending topics

Spend time looking at the presentation and keynote agenda, what types of workshops are given, and what are the key themes. Keep an eye on the subject matter that is recurring.

  • Visit the presentations, assess the audience, observe how the presentations are given, and analyse the reaction

  • Consider how you can contribute, what do you need to prepare to be featured on the schedule

Presentation content gives you an idea of hot topics, trends and quality

Key talking points

Take time to chat to people at the stands, try to get some feedback on the experience of the investment and type of business they get from it.

  • Why are they there? What are the hot topics? What are the buzzwords for this type of trade show?

  • Eavesdrop on some conversations to get an idea of people's key issues, are they the same as those being advertised or promoted at the Presentation schedule, or are they remarkably different?

Emerging markets

Identify new products, services or market areas that seem to be emerging;

  • What are the new exhibitors doing and how are they doing it?

  • What interest is in the emerging markets?


Spend some time on your competitor stands; listen to conversations to get an idea of the key questions you can help answer. Speak to your competitors and get an idea of how good they think the show is, the value for money and how they would do things differently.

  • Consider how are they exhibiting? How are they managing the stand? What are they doing well? What could they do better?

Exhibitor trends

How businesses exhibit and the type of interest it is attracting:

  • Look at whether are there certain stand styles or layouts? A particular way of interacting?

  • Looking at the busiest stands, what seems to attract people and why are they staying? What makes people want to engage?

  • Looking at the quietest stands, what makes them so empty? What is preventing visitors?

Stand out efforts (be noticed)

Trade shows are costly, and everyone is fighting to get recognised by visitors and industry, it is worth looking at what can be done to get additional value - particularly exhibitors that stick in your mind a day or two after the show:

  • In what ways are businesses going out of their way to be noticed? Are they using additional advertising? Have they brought a game or a competition? Is there team wearing uniforms? Do they have give freebies?

  • Are they giving away free drinks?

  • Is their stand interactive?

  • What sticks in your mind? Is it a positive or negative impression?

Whether to invest or not

When making a decision to invest in a major trade show, you need to be clear your business objectives and make sure you are tackling more than just sales:

  • Building awareness in the industry

  • Finding and sourcing partnerships

  • Meeting customers

  • Finding prospect customers

  • Developing your team

  • Making a positive ROI

Trade shows can be very expensive, and it can be very hard to track a positive ROI in a few months - therefore make sure you have other reasons for attending and exhibiting.

Think about the marketing you can do in the lead-up to the event and post-event to optimise the brand awareness and new relationships you have formed.

Stay aligned to trends to make sure you're not left behind or ostracised, or if you do have a different perspective - don't hold back! Invest all you can to communicate this position, even if it's through pure energy and enthusiasm.

Check out my post on how to make the most of exhibiting

Make sure that your marketing strategy has a good funnel of follow up to convert as many leads as you can. Please get in contact to find out how we can help

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