Trade shows are brimming with potential. Attending as an exhibitor can earn you new industry contacts and new clients and customers. And it can raise the profile of your company and brand. But you can’t just show up on the trade show floor and expect the leads to pour in. How will people know you’re there? How will they know whether it’s worth it to find you?
To make the most of your trade show investment, it’s important to develop and execute a trade show marketing strategy that meets your specific trade show goals.
Before the Show: Prepare to Succeed
1. Understand Your Target Demographic Inside and Out
It’s likely you did a fair amount of trade show research before deciding to exhibit at the upcoming event. You know how the purpose of the trade show relates to your own event goals, and you know the types of people who will be in attendance. That research will serve you well in your trade show marketing strategy and help you drill down to what your target audience really wants and how to reach them.
Some questions to consider include:
- Who is the event audience? What demographics within this audience are relevant to you? Many trade shows provide demographics and other relevant information on the event website. Some provide this information only to exhibitors and sponsors.
- For each audience demographic: What are they looking to do at the event? What problems and concerns do they have that you can solve?
- Where does your target audience get their information? If they’re purely professional, LinkedIn will be an important part of your trade show marketing effort. Otherwise, Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram are great online marketing platforms. Sending out mailers is another option that could work for you, depending on your target audience.
2. Identify Your Goals
As part of understanding your target demographics, you’re answering the question, “What’s in it for them?” In thinking about your marketing goals, you’re answering the question, “What’s in it for me?”
Figuring out how to get what you want should always start with a clear goal. The SMART framework can help. With this method, you can set goals that have actionable objectives and clear outcomes.
SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound:
Specific: Set goals that specify what success looks like by including the KPIs that you use to measure your success.
Measurable: Set goals with quantitative outcomes. Instead of the goal to “increase sales,” make your goal to get a specific number of sales or to increase sales by a percentage.
Achievable: Set goals that are challenging but attainable. There’s no point in setting yourself up for failure, so avoid goals that are unrealistic.
Relevant: What do you want to get out of the event? Make sure to set goals that align with this. For instance, if you’re attending an upcoming event as part of a product launch, your trade show marketing should put the focus on that product, not brand awareness as a whole.
Time-bound: Measure your results within a specific timeframe or on a particular date. Once you start marketing for an upcoming trade show, don’t measure results from before that timeframe.
3. Set Your Objectives
Once you’ve developed your goals, you can set objectives that help you reach those goals. For each goal, determine what actionable steps are needed to achieve them. Then create an action plan that includes:
- Each major component of the goal – For each component, list the tasks that need to be completed in chronological order.
- Tasks that are critical or time-sensitive – If you have a team, assign each task to a specific person.
4. Finalize Your Booth Design and Use It in Your Marketing Strategy
Your event goals can play a big role in the look and feel of your booth. And booth design is an important part of the marketing strategy you deploy at the show. It defines how you want people to perceive your brand and your products, and the first impression people get from your exhibit is their introduction.
Exhibit design is important even before the show because your booth branding should be consistent with the branding you use in your pre-show marketing strategy. Use the same colors, fonts, and feel. Give trade show attendees a taste of what they can expect when they see you at the show, like virtual reality (VR) experiences, product demos, giveaways, and more.
To define how your exhibit design plays into your marketing effort, think about the following:
- Your booth size and footprint
- Do you have enough space for your needs?
- Do you need to upsize to a larger footprint?
- Your booth location
- Are you in a high-traffic area or a quiet corner?
- Are you next to competitors and need to be sure you stand out even more?
- What strategies can you employ that help your booth stand out? For instance, a hanging sign, lighting, unique flooring or structural materials
- Your booth décor
- Do you plan to hold product demos or other special mini-events? Make sure you allow plenty of room and have any special equipment or décor you need.
- Add interest with interactive features such as a video presentation or VR product demo.
- Attracting foot traffic
- Consider a general-interest feature such as a charging station or a small seating area.
- Entice visitors with free swag, with a limited number of more valuable items as spot prizes. If you want to focus on quality rather than quantity, use incentives that are more attractive to your specific audience. For instance, offer a perk such as a sales discount rather than handing out swag to every visitor.
- Have a grand prize and make a business card the entry requirement.
Most importantly, consider how your booth design supports your event goals. If your goal is to make lots of new contacts, design an eye-catching booth that attracts lots of foot traffic. If it’s all about qualified leads rather than sheer numbers, design an exhibit that appeals to your specific target demographics.
5. Hire Stellar Staff
On the day of the event, your booth staff is a huge part of your trade show marketing strategy. Besides exhibit design, they’re the first things potential clients see and interact with. On the one hand, they can do an outstanding job attracting visitors and converting people. On the other, they can turn people away.
Look for trade show booth staff who are:
- Good salespeople, without being pushy
- Knowledgeable about your product and/or brand
- Excited about your product and/or brand
6. Use Your Email Subscriber List
If you have an existing email subscriber list that you regularly send emails to, use it to your advantage. Mention the upcoming trade show, but don’t spend too much time on it too far in advance of the event. As the time draws closer, include:
- Details about your exhibit, including pictures
- Your location at the event, including booth number and directions
- Anything special you’re planning, such as a product launch, a product demonstration, a raffle, etc.
- A link to event registration
In your final pre-event email, add a reminder about the show, along with an invitation to visit your trade show booth.
Segment Your Lists to Get More Eyes
Every single person on your email list likely isn’t interested in visiting your exhibit, but there are certain segments that are very interested. These correlate to the target demographics you previously identified, and they are the people you should be emailing more specifically.
Once you’ve segmented your email list into a group or groups that care a lot about your brand, your products, or something else related to your company, create an email campaign to spread the word. A campaign sends emails out over time, bringing you to their minds, then hyping up the event more and more until you’ve built a sense of urgency in them. That’s the feeling that they have to visit your exhibit or they’ll be missing out.
7. Schedule Key Appointments
If there are any people you specifically want to get in touch with at the event, reach out to ask about scheduling an appointment. This is a great way to ensure they visit your exhibit.
Another option is to drop a mention in your pre-show emails and invite subscribers who are attending the event to schedule a meeting with you.
8. Develop a Social Media Marketing Campaign
Social media platforms are so widely used that you can find most of your target audience there. For that reason, the majority of your trade show marketing will be digital marketing. Whether it’s LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, or X (formerly Twitter), these platforms are the best places to reach large numbers of people.
Find your audience: To create an effective social media campaign, identify the platforms where your target demographics are likely to be. Once you know where to reach your audience, you can plan what you want to say to them.
Use the appropriate platform: It’s also important to match your content to the platform. What works on Facebook doesn’t necessarily work on LinkedIn.
- On LinkedIn, post on your company page and tag the official event page if there is one.
- On Facebook, post discussion questions about the event to spark interactions.
- On Instagram, post visual content, such as booth photos from past trade shows. If you have anything special planned for the event, post teaser content.
- Post event updates on X. For instance, update your followers about your exhibit location, or share relevant tweets from the official event account.
Use the official event hashtag: For every piece of event-related content you post, make sure to use the official event hashtag to increase your reach.
9. Don’t Neglect Your Current Customers
Trade shows aren’t just for making new contacts—they’re also a good place to strengthen existing business relationships. Reach out to your current customers to let them know you’re attending the event. If you have something in the works, such as a product launch or demonstration, let them know what you have planned and that you can’t wait to see them.
10. Look for Opportunities to Stand Out on the Day of
When your competition is fierce, it can be useful to find ways to make your brand more recognizable. Look for opportunities that help you do just that. For instance:
- Purchase a sponsorship package – Sponsorships offer perks such as prime exhibit locations or additional advertising.
- Take advantage of speaking opportunities – Not all trade shows offer such opportunities, but if you do have the chance to speak and valuable or unique thoughts to share, it can be an effective way to raise your brand’s profile.
During the Show: Keep the Marketing Momentum Going
1. Connect, Connect, Connect
Attending trade shows is all about making connections, so this is what you’ll spend most of your time on at the show. Stay focused, and keep your team focused too.
- Check out other booths – Useful industry contacts aren’t limited to customers, and it’s always worthwhile meeting new people.
- Check out your competitors – This can be an effective way to understand whether you’re keeping up with your competition or if you need to improve your trade show strategy.
2. Try to Make Genuine Connections
Every visitor who enters your booth could be your next big client. You don’t know who you’re talking to until you get to know them a little, so it always pays to approach every visitor the same way: with a genuine desire to understand them and what they need.
You and your team should be:
- Knowledgeable about the company and the products you’re featuring
- Motivated and proactive about engaging visitors
- Friendly, professional, and approachable
Obviously, you want to spend as much time as possible with people who represent possible sales opportunities. Start each interaction with an open-ended question such as, “What are you looking for today?”, or direct them to a feature of your trade show display. You’ll learn quickly whether you’re talking to a potential lead or someone you can direct elsewhere.
3. Stay Current on Social Media
When you get some downtime, take a moment to check up on social media. A real-time livestream, tweet, or Facebook post could be the thing that gets a potential lead to your booth. It’s always worthwhile taking a short break to post a quick update or share something from an official event account. Remind your audience that you have amazing swag or a valuable grand prize, post a video clip of a fantastic product display, or share something cool you saw at another (non-competing!) booth.
After the Show: Follow Up and Debrief
1. After-Show Marketing
The event might be over, but you can—and should—keep the buzz going longer. Some ideas include:
- Writing a post-event email to send out to your subscriber list, thanking them for coming, reminding them of the solutions you offer, and expressing how thankful you are to have met them
- Writing blog posts for the company website describing the electricity of attending the event and what you learned
- Posting highlight reels or photos on social media
- Sharing content from official social media event accounts to your own social pages
2. Follow Up with Leads
Now is the time to follow up with the leads generated from the event. This is important post-show work, but it also counts as effective trade show marketing because you’re creating another touchstone with potential clients.
Phone contacts: Build rapport by calling each new contact. Thank them for stopping by and remind them of the solutions you offer. This gives you an opportunity to take the relationship a little further and possibly take that next step in the sales cycle.
Email contacts: Send an email to thank them for stopping by your booth. Add a CTA with a download link for spec sheets, a free report or white paper, or something else of value. Some people may unsubscribe, but you can integrate those who remain into your existing email campaign.
3. Debrief Your Team
Hold a debriefing to discuss the event with your team. Discuss your methods and analyze your results. Figure out what parts of your trade show marketing strategy worked, what didn’t work, and how you can improve for next time. Did the show itself deliver in terms of the audience you were expecting? Is it worth attending the same show next year? Document important findings so you can refer to them for your next event.
Trade Show Marketing Is Essential to Your Success
Exhibiting at trade shows requires a significant investment, both of time and money. A comprehensive trade show marketing plan that covers all the essential steps can help you make sure that investment pays off, and it keeps you in the minds of your target audience through the entire lifecycle of a trade show.
Contact the team at ProExhibits today to get even more trade show marketing tips!