Your Biggest Trade Show Is Around the Corner — Are You Ready?

Oh, shit. Your biggest trade show is just around the corner, and you promised yourself you’d be more prepared this year. And like most small and medium-size businesses, you invest up to 25 percent of your marketing budget in trade shows. That’s a sizable chunk of change, and how you manage the expectations of that spend has consequences. So before you finish your “Oh, shit!” moment and decide to just recreate last year’s experience, consider your goals and craft a better strategy.

Launching a new product or service? Good for you. Your trade show strategy may have higher stakes, but if the goals are clear, the tasks are simpler. If you can’t create 15 minutes of fame with a brand-spanking-new line of business or sparkling rebrand, then you either suck at marketing or you’re releasing a crappy new product or service. What you accomplish in the “off” years truly marks the progress of your brand. Without a new product to promote, your focus will likely be centered around brand awareness, education, or building and strengthening relationships with your brand ambassadors.

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If your strategy focuses on brand awareness, consider using your budget for your booth, sponsorships, and media promotions. High-profile events, additional floor signage, and targeted media buys are smart ways to spend your budget. If your strategy has shifted to education, think beyond demo stations. This is a great opportunity to let your employees do what they do best and generate genuine conversations. And if the goal is to build and strengthen brand ambassadors, it’s time to tailor your show experience to your radical buyers.

Bottom line: No matter the strategy, remember that you’re creating a brand experience through three touch points — pre-show, at-show, and post-show — and that experience needs to be carried through each phase.

Pre-show

  • Identify the one thing you want attendees to remember about your brand when they walk away. Did I say one? Yes, one thing. One.

  • Communicate and align your marketing goals with your team, especially the sales team.

  • Answer every marketer’s burning question: Do I need a concept for this year’s trade show, or should we just stay simple, keep it on brand, and get our main message across in a clear and concise manner?

  • Plan your at-show experience. You can bring your experience or game into the equation with an additive element such as tall popup banners, large game boards, or an espresso machine stand.

  • Make sure your swag or promotional items are useful, so they don’t don’t end up in the nearest trash can or left in a hotel room. Think about it: What items do you still have with a company’s logo on them?

  • The basic marketing channels to hit are email, direct mail, and digital media buys (banner ads). Is that enough, or do you need to go beyond the basic?

At-show

  • Staff your booth with fun, engaging people who aren't afraid to make eye contact and know how to articulate your “one thing” to communicate about your brand.

  • If you give demos of your product, service, or software, the person giving the demo should be a product virtuoso.

  • Take the time to walk the floor and see what other brands are doing. What’s working and what isn't? What better way to get a head start on planning for next year?

Post-show

  • It’s crucial to not let too much time pass before following up on those meaningful conversations you had at your booth, at the bar, or on the dance floor at the after-party.

  • A follow-up email is a necessity, but if you really want to jog some memories, send a nice direct-mail gift to your highest prospects that reminds them of your “one thing.”

  • Upon returning to work, make sure all the insights and conversations you had are transferred to the entire team — especially sales.

With the right planning at the pre-show stage, your at-show experience should be flawless — or at least much better than last year. Most important, remember what you learned from the show and follow up on those meaningful conversations. At the end of the day, every trade show is about making sales and learning from your prospects.