Show Off: How to Make Trade Shows Work for You

Experiential Innovation

Trade shows can be tremendous marketing and sales opportunities, but you need to pay attention to a few key areas.

Trade shows can be distracting, frenetic environments—full of energy and exuberance as companies compete to gain attention for their latest and greatest offerings. That’s why your booth is a critical investment when you’re making a foray into such an event. Your booth differentiates your company from all of the competition on the show floor, so important to make a lasting impression so that your investment is well-spent.

“Too often, we see people go to trade shows, and they’re not really sure of why they’re going and what it is they want to accomplish,” says Justin Hersh, CEO of Group Delphi, a trade show exhibit company in Alameda, California. Hersh says it’s difficult to build an evocative, powerful experience without being laser-focused on what they want to accomplish.

Making the most of your trade show investment requires a thoughtful approach as well as activities before, during, and after the event. Follow these four steps to create a stir at your next show.

1. Spread the word

Pre-show marketing is essential to ensure you reach your show goals and have a successful event, says trade show strategy specialist Robyn Davis. Her company, When I Need Help, based in Charleston, South Carolina, works with companies on improving their trade show presence. Reach out to customers and prospects at least a month or two before the event to invite them to your booth and book appointments with them. The show organizer may also have information on show marketing vehicles such as programs or mailing lists which can give you vehicles to reach attendees you don’t already know.

2. Create a great booth

You don’t need to spend exorbitant amounts of money on your booth. If you want to promote a specific product line, focus on that instead of trying to have a lot of different things going on, Hersh says.

3. Then, pay attention to booth basics

Be sure you have proper staffing, an efficient layout that lets people enter and exit easily, and a place to hold those customer appointments you booked, Davis adds. Also make sure that your brand is easily recognizable so anyone who received pre-show promotional efforts from you will recognize your company.

4. Make it pop

Sometimes, less is more when it comes to getting your point across, Hersh says. Focus on good lighting that will make your booth features stand out as well as eye-catching graphics—even if it’s just one or two focal points. Digital displays can be effective, but so can simpler graphics, he says. Be sure your brand is recognizable to your customers, he adds.

“Pinterest, Instagram, and other social media are now becoming an official story board for customers. They get attracted to a brand and attracted to a certain look,” she says. If you don’t know what your look should be, test various image types and color themes, Schaffer adds.

5. Always follow up

After all of that hard work, be sure you follow up on the trade show leads you generated, Davis says. This is a key area that many overlook. A 2010 survey by Exhibitor magazine found that less than 70 percent of exhibitors have a formalized plan for following up on leads after the show. That represents missed opportunity, Davis says. Track your leads, and have a plan for follow-up and further action after your event is over, which is the best way to measure your return on investment over time.

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