trade show marketing

Are you a first-time trade show exhibitor? Not sure where to begin? (Don’t freak out.) Keep these four tips in mind, and you’ll have a successful first show!

The Most Important Thing is Engagement

The first time you exhibit, the trade show logistics can overwhelm you: shipping, drayage, internet, electricity, lead software, display mechanicals, the right lighting. But don’t sweat the details. Recruit your company’s shipping manager or production team to help you with these action items. No one wants any unexpected surprises, sure, but use a checklist and delegate as needed.

This way, you stay focused on the objective: to connect and engage with show attendees. Let your brand-to-consumer engagement drive all other decisions. (That should be the only thing keeping you awake at night!)

However cliché, put yourself in your audience’s shoes. What messaging is going to resonate? What type of experience will they enjoy that also connects the dots back to your value proposition? What can they do on-site to feel connected to your brand? How will they respond, and what will they remember about you?

Design an interactive booth experience. It doesn’t have to be flashy or expensive. It shouldn’t take a long time for an attendee to do, but it should be interesting. If you immerse the trade show attendees using multiple senses, they’ll be more likely to remember you! Keep your activation relevant to both your audience and your brand. Consequently, your audience will make the connection, and you’ll have an opportunity to establish a relationship. Keep the show attendee in the center of your trade show experience.

For example, if you’re a travel brand, your exhibit theme could be a certain destination. Use an iconic building from that location in all of your show-related marketing pieces. Offer a virtual reality experience in your booth to allow attendees to virtually tour a hot tourist spot there. And give away a grand prize trip to actually visit the destination. This experience ties back to what you actually do, so everything jibes.

The more interactive the experience, the more your brand will become ingrained to one’s memory. In a way, you place the attendee as the hero of your brand’s storytelling.

While designing a brand experience can be fun and creative, don’t lose sight of your core messaging. Above all else, be authentic to your brand.

Use Trade Shows to Learn

There may be a few performance goals you’ll expect to achieve: number of leads generated, number of samples distributed, number of promotional codes redeemed, etc. As a first-time trade show exhibitor, you might be feeling the pressure. But the best part of trade shows is learning from your audience. Trade shows give you an experiential marketing platform that allows for two-way dialogue. That means as much as you’ll be promoting your brand, you’ll also receive direct feedback from attendees.

Whether it’s understanding their pain points better or learning what they look for in terms of service and support, having one-on-one conversations with your target consumer is priceless. Trade shows are a great place to test new product ideas or perform marketing or product research. Plus, you’ll be able to use the trade show audience to develop your buyer personas more fully.

No need for spy gear; trade shows provide a locale for your competitor reconnaissance. How do you they display similar products? What do their marketing collaterals look like? Are their team members well-trained? Pricing, discounts, new technologies?

Oftentimes, there are educational workshops and networking events associated with a convention or expo. If you have staff coverage in your booth, be sure to take advantage of the sessions available.

While you’re primarily there for others to learn about you, keep your mind (and eyes and ears) open, too. In addition to new business development efforts, the intel you collect from attending a trade show will help shape future business decisions.

Avoid Gimmicks

You need to find a creative way for your booth to stand out. But it should never be at the cost of your reputation. Grabbing attention is great – but ineffectively doing so can overshadow the real reason you’re an exhibitor.

Everyone loves a free pen. But dishing out freebies just to scan someone’s badge isn’t effective marketing if the attendees are unqualified or uninterested. Gimmicks include hiring “booth babes” (please no!) and Elvis impersonators.

Business owners and company sales or marketing representatives are the most knowledgeable about your products. That’s why they make the best exhibiting staff. Questions may range from basic to technical, and you want every booth visitor to walk away feeling like your brand is proficient in your industry.

Remain professional, kind and friendly. Put away the cell phone and never leave your booth unattended. Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes! You’ll be on your feet conversing with show attendees all day, and trade shows can be exhausting. But when they’re done well, they can really impact your marketing goals.

While you’re manning the trade show booth, it’s about representing your brand to its fullest. Be genuine and offer some real value to your booth visitors. In the exhibit hall, stay focused on building relationships.

Like your mom used to say: just be yourself, first-time trade show exhibitor! And you’ll be fine.

Generate Quality Leads

Exhibiting at a trade show is really about growing your business. By connecting with the show attendees, engaging them in a memorable way and providing them value while they’re in the exhibit hall, you’re building a qualified list of prospects for your company.

Lead generation is a value exchange. Every trade show exhibitor is asking for the attendee’s contact information, so it’s no wonder they’re hesitant to let you scan that badge. (Would you want to return from attending a trade show to 500 sales emails in your inbox?) A meaningful engagement paired with a creative way for them to opt-in will generate a higher qualified list of prospects.

If you’re feeling the connection on-site with a highly engaged booth visitor, ask to take them to coffee after exhibit hours to continue your conversation. Your trade show booth isn’t about being overly salesy, though. Engage first, sell later.

Excellent personal follow up is key. The trade show activity doesn’t stop when the exhibit comes down. Be sure to have a set of clear post-trade show action steps to nurture and convert the leads you met.

Remember that quality leads are more important than the number of badges you scan. It’s about building relationships that will move your business forward.