The Definitive Guide to Trade Show Marketing (2019)

June 27, 2019 / Rick Bannerman

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You've just walked into a trade show.

You're excited to tell people all about your company and get some leads.

But in a sea of new faces and eager competitors, how do you introduce your brand in a powerful way? After all, you want to leave a lasting impression on your listeners. So, how do you build a strategy that maximizes your ROI and moves your brand from visible to credible?

That's what this article is all about. Let’s get started. 👇

But first, let’s find out what trade show marketing is and how it can skyrocket your business growth.

What is trade show marketing and why do I need to know about it?

Put simply, a trade show is a marketing event that brings members of a particular industry under the same roof to display their latest products and build awareness for their services.

In the past, trade shows had a bit of a bad reputation. When people thought of them, they were imagining never-ending booths and sleazy salesmen. There was some truth to that in previous years, but trade shows have come a long way and are no longer a cheap medium for outdated sales tactics.

Nowadays, trade shows are centered around creativity, sharp business ideas and cool tech innovation. They're fun, engaging and, most importantly, effective.

Brand representatives can hold speeches, contests, demonstrations, and other promotions to grab the attention of those who attend. The goal is to market yourself and generate relevant leads that are easy to convert.

Still, you might ask, 'there are so many other marketing channels to invest in, are tradeshows really worth my time?’

Why your business needs trade show marketing

You’re right to be skeptical. Any marketing strategy should be put to the test before making an investment.

So let’s take a look at what research has to say about how effective (and relevant) trade show marketing really is:

  • Trade shows help you stay ahead of your competition: 77% of executive decision makers found at least one new supplier at the last show they attended.
  • Trade shows are a cost-effective form of marketing: The cost of a face-to-face meeting with a prospect at a tradeshow is $142. By comparison, the cost of a face-to-face meeting at a prospect’s office is $259.
  • Tradeshows build strong brand awareness: Given that 4 out of 5 people walking through the show are potential customers for exhibitors, trade shows allow you to meet eager prospects that don’t currently use or know about your product – so you can tell them all about it.
  • Trade shows bring in new customers: Over 50% of the expo attendees are there for the first time. So you can rest assured that you’re not just preaching to the choir. You’ll be meeting people who didn’t attend last year’s show and, with the right strategy, you can win them over as customers.

The reality is, trade shows boost leads, sales, and brand visibility.

They allow you to do research on your competition, build strong relationships with both prospects and other vendors in your industry, as well as to connect directly with your target audience.

They require less of an investment than other marketing strategies and they give you the unique opportunity of receiving real-time feedback from your buyers and prospects.

But the question remains, how do you make your business stand out at a trade show?

How to build a powerful strategy for trade show marketing

The good news is that trade shows give you the opportunity to reach a wide audience and generate leads that are easy to convert. The bad news is that it's kind of a one-shot deal that requires extensive research and planning. This is not an event that you can go to unprepared and "just wing it".

So what do you need to know to achieve tradeshow marketing success?

1. Do Your Homework

Plan your trade show – if it seems easy, you're doing it wrong.

Preparation is the key to your success. Before anything else, you should get to know your audience and learn about what their problems, wants and needs are.

Here are a few things you should take into consideration when preparing for your trade show:

  • What pain points does your product or service solve?
  • Which trade shows should you choose to attend, and how do you evaluate their value?
  • What will your booth look like and who will manage it?
  • What essentials do you need to pack?

All of these questions should be answered before you even step foot in the event room. If you want to read a more detailed checklist with a clear-cut structure (including items that are easily overlooked), you can take a look at our ultimate trade show checklist. You’ll love it, we promise. 😉

2. Make a great first impression

It takes the average person 7 seconds to form an opinion about your brand. It might be unfair, but this pesky cliché is one you can't afford to ignore when attending a trade show.

If you don't know what you're doing in those first few seconds, you're likely to lose many (if not most) of your leads. You want your business to look as awesome as it really is. But how do you achieve that?

Here’s what you need to focus on when it comes to the technical issues:

  • clean and professional graphics (this can't be stressed enough, no amateur work here)
  • strong logo with high resolution (yes, something seemingly small like this makes a big difference)
  • unique booth layout with 40% empty space and good lighting
  • a short tagline that the reader can interpret within 3 seconds
  • demos that showcase your strength as a brand
  • a clear call-to-action (make sure it's mobile friendly if it's a landing page)
  • lastly, keep things simple (stay away from clutter and too many stimuli, it'll tire your audience)

And here’s what you need to focus on when it comes to human connections:

  • be welcoming and show genuine interest in others
  • vouch for your brand, but don't be annoying (remember the bad rep trade shows have because of sleazy salesmen? – no one wants to see that here)
  • create an experience around your brand (successful marketing is about how you make people feel)
  • don't be afraid to use tasteful humor (it keeps everyone lighthearted and takes the pressure off them so they feel safe and able to make decisions for themselves)
  • your goal shouldn't be to sell something but to add value

3. Be selective

Being selective is a smart hack you learn through experience. I mean this both in terms of the tradeshows you decide to attend to, and the leads you choose to pursue further. You can learn more about finding a high-value tradeshow here.

Always bring LOTS of business cards, giveaways, and info to the trade show, but allow yourself to be picky about who you're going to share them with.

Don't just hand out promotions to random attendees so you draw traffic. Instead, save special gifts for people you've contacted before the trade show, those you already know are actually interested in becoming customers.

It's not enough to generate leads, you need to know which ones are worth nurturing and which ones are not.

4. Don’t forget to follow up

Never leave your leads high and dry after a trade show! You don't want all of your work to have been for nothing.

Make sure you send emails before and after the event. This shouldn't take long at all if you have a quick smart automation system in place. In less fancy words, we mean a template.

Remember, there's a template for everything so, why not give it a try – it may just turn out to be something you’ve been looking for and needed all along.

Interested in learning more about trade show planning hacks? Check out our smart marketing tips and tools to stay up-to-date.

About the Author

Rick Bannerman

Rick Bannerman is a marketing specialist with a broad range of experience in web design, inbound marketing, and marketing analytics. As a digital marketing consultant, Rick handles marketing strategy and planning, project management, and the optimization of interactive marketing channels.

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