Trade shows have been around for a long time. With the evolution of the marketing toolbox, some companies wonder if trade shows are a worthwhile investment. Like any marketing decision, this should be determined by looking at whether or not the trade show will help deliver against your objectives.
Depending on what stage your business is at, your objectives could be to create awareness, gain distribution, attract investors or find partners, to name a few. Trade shows can help in all of these cases, given the various audiences they attract, such as suppliers, partners, customers and trade media. Some trade shows are so big and noteworthy that they even attract consumer media, such as the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and the Natural Foods Expo West show in Anaheim. But trade shows can be costly, from both a time and money standpoint, so it’s important to think through how to make the most of the opportunities they offer.
Being involved in a trade show typically begins with a space to exhibit your product or service. You will need to determine how you can provide the most effective and motivating experience in your designated space so that it is memorable even after the show is over. In what will likely be a sea of competition, what can you do to grab attendees’ attention so they visit your space? Will there be enough traffic naturally flowing past your booth or do you need to attract more? Will the right type of people come by to see you?
A key part of success at a show is where your space is located. There are usually some areas on the event floor that see higher traffic than others. It often takes experience, repeat bookings and a significant investment to secure the highest traffic areas, but it always pays to ask the organizers as many questions as you can and book as early as possible.
There are typically advertising and sponsorship opportunities offered by the show organizers to help create awareness of your presence and message, before and during the event. If you’re going to spend the money on this type of promotion, make sure you have something compelling to say and, ideally, some type of offer that allows you to measure the impact of this extra investment.
Then, when people visit your trade show booth or space, what’s the best way for you to convey what sets you apart from your competition? Trade shows allow for one-on-one interactions such as demos, sampling, etc. Whatever experience you provide, make sure it really wows your audience. If you decide to give attendees something to take away with them, try to keep it small, environmentally-friendly and, ideally, valuable in their eyes. Otherwise, it could create a negative impact and end up in a nearby trash bin.
And how can you ensure that any impact you create is remembered by attendees after they leave the show? Most events offer some form of handheld lead capturing device. If you decide to pay for one to collect names and contact info, ensure your follow-up strategy is in place before the event so you can act on it quickly afterwards. Decide how you want to categorize leads, who will be responsible for contacting them, and when and what the message will be. Make sure you have an overarching message strategy for the show that flows from any pre-show communications through the show experience and beyond into post-show messaging.
Beyond having a space or booth, there are other opportunities to connect with people at trade shows. These include networking events, media opportunities and sometimes industry-recognition opportunities. Make the most of these, when they make sense for your business. You can also create your own opportunity by holding your own event, such as a customer appreciation reception where current customers are encouraged to bring others who may be potential future customers.
If doing a trade show is new to you and you aren’t sure if your company should invest in it, consider walking the show as an attendee. You can see who it attracts (attendees and exhibitors), the type of exhibits, and other events happening around the show. Another idea is to consider starting with a regional event versus a national one. The costs are lower so you can try a few different things and work out the kinks before investing more.
Trade shows offer many opportunities but the costs can add up quickly, especially if you want to do them well and see results. So it’s worth taking the time to consider if they are a wise investment of time and money to achieve your company’s goals versus other marketing opportunities.