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Trade shows are evolving from traditional networking events into immersive experiences that excite the consumer.

Companies from all different types of industries are taking advantage of the many benefits of trade show marketing. And there’s no shortage of ways to make an impact.

When starting out, it’s important to define all of your goals and objectives clearly. This is what will guide every decision that you make throughout the event marketing process. You need to give trade show goers a reason to interact with your brand. If you don’t stand out, you won’t reach the full potential of your network.

If you’re building a campaign to increase engagement among your audience, here’s everything you need to know in order to do it. Let’s get started.


“What is tradeshow marketing?”

Trade show marketing refers to an exhibition where companies in a specific industry showcase and demonstrate their new products and services. Trade shows are normally only open to those people who register, company representatives or members of the press. With this type of audience, these events facilitate meaningful conversations between companies, competitors and consumers alike.

Trade shows have often been viewed negatively throughout their history

— events filled with endless booths, folding tables and chairs, desperate salesmen, and cheap promotions. To remedy the problems of the past, innovative marketing strategies have become the main pillar of a successful event. Today’s trade shows offer never-before-seen showcase spectacles. Glitz and glamour dominate as companies invest significant resources to amaze attendees with creative productions.

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Major trade shows around the globe may feature anything, like performances by famous musicians, innovative multimedia exhibits from the largest corporations in the world, keynote speeches from influential tech influencers, and all of the energy and excitement of a Hollywood movie premier to boot.

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Sounds fun, right?

Now that you know some background, let’s discuss how you’ll develop your trade show marketing campaign.

Setting Up Your Trade Show Marketing Campaign

Setting up your trade show marketing campaign can be done in a series of four phases, each with individual steps. If you’re ready to participate in a trade show, use the following steps to put together your campaign.


Phase 1: It All Starts With a Plan

You shouldn’t rush something like this — you need meticulously comb through every detail before launching a trade show campaign. Take a systematic approach your sales goals and marketing objectives. Use the following steps to build a foolproof plan.

1. Use The Information At Hand

Use information gathered from past shows that you’ve attended. Analyze sales leads, conversions and costs to understand which medium of marketing was most effective. Also, ask for an analysis of the trade show layout or floorplan to decide which areas contain the highest possibility for traffic.

2. Develop Your Budget

Budgeting properly is crucial to your overall success. There are plenty of things you’ll need to cough up some cash for. You should leave space in your budget for some of these items:

  • Rent
  • Custom booth design or booth rental
  • Exhibition pavilion layout
  • Vantage point
  • Promotional giveaways
  • Celebrity appearances
  • Event advertising
  • Employee salaries
  • Accommodations, meals, taxis, etc.

3. Run a Cost-Benefit Analysis

Before launching anything, run a cost-benefit analysis of the whole trade show. This will address any major gaps within your plan and let you distribute resources appropriately. Analyze the goal, budget, proposed theme, logistics and competitor’s resources. Compare that to the beneficial outcomes of success, or the cost of floundering in failure.

4. Settle on a Sensible Timeframe

Time management is crucial when it comes to being successful at a trade show. Even just setting up and tearing down your booth may take months, from initial planning to actual production and display. Also plan for crises, such as a delayed flight or an ill-stricken employee, as it could cause you to miss deadlines. Time is money and you don’t want to waste one minute.

5. Conduct In-Depth Audience Research

Understanding your target audience is paramount to the development of your trade show marketing plan. Conduct in-depth research into the key demographics, personalities, characteristics and lifestyles of your target market. How can you build event marketing materials that speak to this audience as you move forward?


Phase 2: Prep for the Show in Advance

When preparing for a show, there are a number of moving parts that need to work together to create a successful presentation. Preparing your team well in advance is imperative to your success. Here are the steps to make sure that you have everything in order.

1. Act Out Scenarios

Plan for every scenario you can think of - from the ideal to the awful - and come up a few canned responses. Practice with your co-workers, one acting as salesperson the other as consumer, and rehearse these lines. Improv at your will to sharpen your wits even more. The goal here is to become a master at leading the consumer through a pitch.

2. Advertise Your Event

There are several solid options for advertising your trade show. For example, you could rent out a half- or whole-page ad in an industry trade publication offering a discounted rate. Or you could get on Google and try targeting some specific conference-related search queries with AdWords.

3. Conduct a Dress Rehearsal

Practice makes perfect. To make sure you’re fully prepared, do a full-on dress rehearsal a day or two before the show so you don’t experience stage fright. Getting comfortable in your clothes, rehearsing your lines, even familiarizing yourself with local dialects and cultural traits, will help you win more sales overall.

4. Outsource Services If Needed

These days, there are many companies out there that you can outsource services to if you simply don’t have the bandwidth. Ensure that the agency you choose has good references and testimonials, and is able to work within your budget.


Phase 3: Shine Bright or Burn Out — Showtime has Arrived

Now is the time to put months of planning to the test. As an exhibitor, you need to be on the ball like never before. Here are the steps you need to take to make sure that your show goes on without a hitch.

1. Make a Good Impression

You need to impress visitors with an eye-catching booth design that piques their interest. Building your brand at a trade show starts with how your booth looks and whether it draws in visitors or not.

The customer’s senses should be heightened when they visit your booth. Use videos, audio, posters and banners tastefully, as you don’t want to overwhelm the consumer with too much. There should be nothing that repels the visitor; present confidently and make sure every object within the booth area serves a purpose.

2. Build a Warm Relationship

As an exhibitor, it’s your job to be the face of the brand. You don’t want to come off as cold, off-putting, neglectful or unfriendly, do you? Try warm selling instead of cold selling. Better engage customers by smiling at them, being animated and approachable, and conversing instead of pitching.

Attempt to meet people who will let you follow-up with them in the future. Once a relationship is established, you’ve created a warm prospect, meaning someone with whom you’ve had prior contact. If you meet a prospect at an industry event, for example, and he asks you to email him to set up an appointment, that would be considered a warm relationship. The stronger the connection between yourself and the prospect, the more likely a sale will take place.

3. Host a Happy Hour or Other Supplemental Event

With a supplemental event, you’re giving yourself more opportunities to speak with prospects outside of the buttoned-up environment of a trade show. You can host a happy hour or cocktail party, enticing people with free drinks and free food, and network to your heart’s desire.

Another idea to consider is hosting a workshop, Q&A or seminar that takes place while the exhibit is being displayed. This gives your brand more exposure while the event is happening, and you can station brand ambassadors there to encourage visits to your booth.

4. Sell, But Don’t Be Annoying

When hosting a display at a trade show, you don’t want to come off as the “used car salesman” type. Open a dialogue with those visitors that show interest in your offering. Don’t pester them with hard sells or desperate grabs for contact information. Likewise, don’t neglect anyone that walks up to your booth. They may be a competitor gathering intel, or someone way outside of your target demographic, but regardless, everyone needs to be shown common courtesy.

Offer feedback cards for those that want to offer criticism or compliments. This will facilitate a transparent and interactive environment that will comfort to the visitor. It also gives you a way to monitor your sales style and see if any improvements can be made.

5. Have a Strong Demonstration

The product demonstration can make or break your buzz at any trade show — there’s no room for error. Cut out the unnecessary information and make your demo exciting. Present one central benefit that speaks to your audience and provide informative supplemental videos, brochures or specification sheets for interested customers.


Phase 4: Don’t Let the End of the Show be the End of Your Relationship

The show is over, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stay in touch with those you’ve met. In fact, this is the most crucial time in turning a lead into a sale. There are a few steps you need to follow to make sure your follow-up communication is effective.

1. Develop a Multiple-touch Marketing Campaign

Audit your leads to understand your target demographics, and develop customized, multitouch content to string them along into a sale. For example, after you’ve met someone at a tradeshow, send them an email with a free ebook download. After a period of time, send them a coupon in the mail. Follow that up with a hard-sell phone call.

2. Follow them on Social Media

With just a name, you can connect with prospects on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and more. Building your online network is just as important as building your physical one. With the power of social media, you can blast out messages to your entire network or get in touch with select individuals that you didn’t have enough time to converse with at the show.

3. Follow-up Fast

Speed matters when flipping prospects. If you don’t get in touch with your leads, your competitors will beat you to it. Send out simple thank you cards or emails immediately after the event, thanking them for their time and offering to answer any additional questions they may have. Quick contact is what will take a relationship from ice cold to red hot.

4. Conduct an Internal Audit of Your Team’s Performance

Now that it’s all done, how did you perform? Zoom out and take a look at a month, six months and a year after the event. How many prospects did you end up capturing and converting? Were the costs associated with participating in the trade show worth the revenue you gained? Compare that to other marketing/advertising campaigns you’re currently running — how does it hold up?

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In Conclusion

As trade shows continue to evolve into fully-immersive experiences, the marketing strategies used to engage consumers are evolving with them.

Brands large and small are taking notice of the huge potential of trade show marketing. Benefits like improved relationships, increased awareness, higher conversion rates and more impactful statements are just a few of the reasons why companies continue to participate in trade shows.

When preparing your trade show marketing materials, define your goals, objectives and timelines upfront to develop, rehearse and fine-tune your whole presentation. Your exhibit’s theme should fit in within the event, while your booth should be professionally designed, attractive, functional and unique. Give visitors a reason to come have fun at your booth, hang out and learn a little more about the brand that’s behind the logo.

Now that you have the tools you need, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting started with your first event marketing campaign. Follow the above steps to make a lasting impact on those that matter.


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