Exhibiting at trade shows can provide some big benefits, but only if you attend the right ones. How do you choose a trade show that offers the opportunities you’re looking for?
What Are the Benefits of Exhibiting?
Trade shows are typically most beneficial for B2B businesses, but there are customers at B2B events as well, and so many trade shows have plenty to offer for B2C businesses as well. Some great reasons to exhibit at a trade show include:
- Networking opportunities abound – Whether you want to make new industry contacts, generate leads, make sales, or just strengthen existing business relationships, trade shows are one of the best places to do it.
- Get a direct line on your audience – At the right trade show, you’ll have a unique opportunity to talk directly with your target market. You have the chance to get valuable feedback as well as make new contacts and generate leads and sales.
- Launch a new business or product – A startup with a unique product or great idea can generate plenty of buzz at a trade show. For an existing business with a new product, a trade show is the perfect time to launch, with the potential for lots of press coverage and customer interest.
- Learn what’s going on in the industry and what your competitors are up to – Exhibiting at big, well-attended shows is a prime opportunity to find out what’s new and to get a heads-up on how your competitors are faring. What are they doing differently from your company, and can you learn anything from them?
How to Choose the Right Trade Show
For exhibitors, attending trade shows involves a huge amount of planning and preparation. There are lots of decisions to make, too, about booth branding, marketing focus, choosing and training staff, and more. But the first—and perhaps the most important—decision is which show to attend.
To reap all the rewards of exhibiting, you have to choose the right show for your business and industry. And choosing the right trade show isn’t necessarily an easy task. Unless you’re operating in a highly niche industry, you may have dozens of trade show options from which to choose. Exhibiting can involve a significant investment of time, money, and planning. Choosing the right show is key to maximizing your ROI and ensuring all your effort isn’t wasted.
How to choose the right show? Make your decision after a careful analysis of your goals, options, and the potential benefits.
1. Analyze Your Current Status
The first step in this process is one that’s often overlooked, especially by companies that have been exhibiting for a long time. This step is all about internal analysis of:
- Your company
- Its place in the industry
- Its goals for the future
For instance, an internal analysis might reveal that some product lines are underperforming relative to expectations. Or you might find out that the marketing department is planning a campaign targeting a new audience demographic. Or management may decide they want the company to take on the competition and win a bigger slice of the market. In each case, it may be that a different show is best suited to furthering those goals.
An analysis of your status is useful in other ways too. It won’t just help you select which shows to attend. It can also help you determine what the focus of your exhibit’s marketing should be and which attendee groups you should target.
2. Survey Your Customers
With your internal analysis completed, it’s time to look outside the company for further information. In this step, you’ll ask current and prospective clients for their views. The most efficient way to do this is with a survey, sent via email to client and subscriber mailing lists. Note: Getting accurate survey results hinges on getting a good amount of data. For accurate and actionable results, you’ll need several hundred respondents.
Relevant survey questions might include:
- What’s your job title/description?
- What shows do you plan to attend in the coming year?
- What shows did you attend last year? (This one is especially useful in the time of COVID-19 because many people have changed their trade shows plans due to the virus, which may mean asking only “What shows do you plan to attend?” leaves you with just one side of the story.)
- What is your main goal when attending trade shows? (E.g. networking, buying, education)
- How long is your company’s typical buying cycle? What does that cycle look like?
- Are you aware of our company and/or products?
- Are you interested in the kinds of products we offer?
These questions can help you determine which shows will be most worth attending. For instance, if a large proportion of your current clients attend certain shows, that may be a good indication that those are worthwhile if you’re looking to attract new clients in the same demographic. If you’d like to attract an entirely new demographic, look more closely at the answers from email subscribers who aren’t currently clients. What shows are they attending, and what’s their level of awareness of and interest in your products?
3. Make the First List of Potential Trade Shows
Once you’ve gathered both internal and external feedback, it’s time to start looking at shows. Make up a list, including:
- Those your company has attended in the past
- Any identified as potentials in Step 2
- Any shows of interest that your competitors are attending (Check their websites and social media for clues.)
- Any you find of interest in trade show directories
- Any show of interest for any other reason; for instance, if management has an interest in a particular show
Use your completed list to make up a spreadsheet, leaving space to add information as you complete your research in the next step.
At this point, you may choose to draw a line through shows you know your company won’t attend, regardless of any potential benefits. For instance, if your company has no plans to exhibit outside of the U.S. or will only exhibit in certain states, you can safely eliminate any that don’t meet the brief.
4. Interview Show Organizers
The best place to get accurate information about a show is straight from the horse’s mouth—that is, from the show organizers. They can provide crucial information that will help you determine which shows are most likely to pay off for your company. Some points to ask include:
- Total attendance and net attendance – Net attendance factors out exhibitors and other non-buying attendees, so it’s a better indicator of audience size than total attendance.
- Is the show independently audited? If it is, its attendance figures are likely to be highly accurate. If not, attendance figures haven’t been verified by an independent third party and may not be scrupulously accurate.
- Number of exhibitors
- Net square footage of available exhibit space and cost per square foot for each booth footprint
- Days, dates, and hours for exhibit halls, and any programs running concurrently
- Currently available exhibit space and its location in the exhibit hall
As well as these, ask any questions that are relevant to the company goals you identified in Step 1. For instance, if your company wants to position itself as a thought leader in your industry, ask about sponsorship or presentation opportunities that might be available.
Ask for copies of previous years’ show programs and exhibit directories. These are valuable because they provide information about the show’s biggest exhibitors. If any of your competitors are among them, it means you’ll have some tough competition to beat at that particular show.
Talking to past exhibitors can also be helpful. They may have useful tidbits of information about the kind of audience you can expect or what foot traffic was like at their spot.
5. Analyze Your List
For the most part, no single piece of information may be enough to push a show off of your list. But it should all be factored into your analysis.
The main thing you’re looking to find out in your analysis is the number of potential prospects you can expect to see at your booth at each show. This is why it’s so important to get an accurate net attendance figure.
Once you know the net attendance, you can calculate what percentage of the net audience fits your target demographic. While some shows provide demographic data, it’s not the case across the board. To approximate this figure, look at how many exhibitors at a given show have products similar to your own. For instance, if a show has 300 exhibitors and 30 of them offer similar kinds of products, assume that 10% of attendees are in your target demographic. For a net audience of 20,000 people, that would give you a figure of 2,000.
Next, calculate what percentage of the result—in this case 10%, or 2,000 people—are likely to be interested in your particular products or services. To do this, look at your company’s offerings compared to the main offerings of the show in general.
- If you have several products or services in that category, assume up to 50% of your target demographic might be interested. In this example, that gives you a potential prospect total of 1,000.
- If you just have 1 or 2, assume a lower figure of 15% to 30%. In this example, that gives you between 300 and 600 potentials.
Cost Per Potential Prospect (CPP)
Finally, calculate your projected costs for each show. Make sure to include expenses such as travel, accommodation, and anything else you have an estimate for.
Once you have both potential prospect and costs for each show, divide costs by potentials to find out the cost per potential. This figure is a rough estimate of the financial estimate per prospect, for each show. For instance, if your costs for the shows outlined above are $100,000, your CPP ranges from $100 in the first example to $333 to $666 in the second.
It’s important to note that these figures are estimates only—especially if you don’t have independently verified attendance data. It’s not a foolproof way to predict how successful a trade show will be. But it is a useful way to compare different shows and figure out which ones have potential.
Careful Analysis Pays Off
The process of choosing a trade show can be time-consuming, and it may feel like more effort than it’s worth. But while there’s no quick-and-easy way to get the job done, it helps you make more informed decisions about which trade shows are worth investing in. Considering how much time, money, and effort goes into exhibiting, it makes good sense to do your homework when it comes to choosing which shows to attend.