Timeless Tips for a Successful Trade Show
Many organizations continue to include trade shows as part of their annual marketing activities. Across various industries, companies count on trade show exposure as a face-to-face opportunity to speak to their customers and potential customers. Shows will vary in structure: some may be strictly trade while others may include end users; some industries may have one dominant show while others have an entire circuit of shows. Whatever the case, exhibiting at a trade show or series of shows is no small investment. Over many years of working the show circuit as a brand manager as well as assisting various clients with their show plans, I have identified a few key factors that I believe are crucial to maximizing your return on this investment.
Before the show
Prior to the show, you should have your planned messaging clearly outlined and have your booth staff all on the same page. Beyond simply displaying your product line, what do you want to tell booth visitors?
A very common question in show attendees' minds is "What's New?" so whether or not you actually have a new product or program to introduce at the show, your booth staff should be prepared to answer this all-important question. Lacking something that is actually new to the market, perhaps you can highlight product enhancements or talk about feedback that you've received on something that is relatively new. Never answer "Nothing" to the big question about what's new and strive for messaging that positions your organization as dynamic and forward thinking.
During the Show
Engage booth visitors or those walking by. Certainly, no one wants to come across as a circus barker calling the masses to the big top, but make an effort to draw visitors in for a conversation. This may seem obvious, but I've seen too many booth personnel standing around in their matching shirts talking among themselves (or worse yet, lounging on the furniture in their booth). A big part of what you get out of a show experience is the opportunity to communicate face to face with customers and prospects. Take full advantage of this opportunity, even if what you hear is a complaint. It's a fact that some show attendees will seek you out just to complain. But better a complaint with an opportunity to rectify the situation than a lost customer with no reason given.
If you plan a giveaway or some other attention getting activity, don't let that become the focus of your booth or detract from the accessibility of your booth. I'm always amazed at how many people will line up for a free t-shirt. I've seen these lines overcrowd a booth and make it difficult for actual conversations to take place. Sure, you may scan a lot of badges as visitors stop by to collect their giveaway item, but are these leads qualified in any way? And could the attention you focused on handing out items have been better utilized elsewhere?
Look for opportunities to leverage industry partnerships that you may have with other exhibitors. Cross promotion in other booths can really add value to your display dollars. If your product is a component of or complements those of other exhibitors, ask if you can place a "Featuring X Inside" type sign or graphic in those booths. You'll increase the number of times your name is seen by show attendees and create an impression of endorsement by the other exhibitors who agree to the arrangement.
After the Show
Follow up, follow up, follow up. Any name you've gathered or scanned should receive some sort of follow up from your company. Specific conversations or inquiries should receive a personalized communication or contact if appropriate. This is also a chance to engage in outbound communications to industry members with whom you want to establish a relationship. Reference what you saw from them at the show and what you accordingly have to offer.
With a little planning before, during and after a trade show, you can maximize the return on your investment and ensure that you're fully leveraging the in-person contact offered in a show environment.
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