Trade Show Marketing Works If You Work At It
by Alfred Lautenslager

The trade show "business" consists of close to $1billion a year in sales and expenses by companies just like yours and mine. Every day there are a great variety of shows going on in major show cities, convention centers and resorts all around the globe. For most companies, these shows represent a tremendous expense. Getting maximum return for your investment and minimizing waste time and money is key for not only the exhibiting company but also those attending to visit with the exhibiting company.

Whether you are an exhibitor or a visitor, knowing a few tips and techniques about trade show marketing will definitely make your participation more than just another trade show. A lot of the tips of techniques are common sense. A lot of this common sense is experience learned from attending previous shows; what works best, what doesn't; how to be efficient and asking yourself, " How can I bring something of value, back for my company to use or follow up on."

Every conference and/or trade show has a theme. Many times it's the obvious. As an exhibitor you want to make sure those attending will be prime prospects for your products. As a visitor, you want to focus on those things unique to you and your business and stay clear of time wasters that are not related to your business.

Many companies devote departments, staff and a tremendous amount of money to just this one area of marketing. Others are smaller and don't have budgets or resources to do this. Regardless of size, intent should be the same.

Others have written about setting goals, booth appearance, color selection, layout, positioning at the exhibition, etc. I would like to concentrate on the "engagement of the people: customers and prospects." This actually starts before the show.

Trade shows are ideal places to launce new products, new services, new people and new "looks". These are also ideal topics for press releases. They are newsworthy and appealing to editors. Pre-show marketing consists of the following:

  • A press release to announce or inform the audience/target market.
     
  • A letter, postcard or some other direct mail piece, not once right before the show but periodically before the show. Contacting a prospect/customer 3 times consistently with your message will cause them to remember you more, when they see your booth or interact with company representatives.
     
  • Invitations to your largest customers inviting them to an invitation only event.
     
  • Other pre-show marketing can consist of submitting expert written articles on pertinent subjects and issues, advertising in the show program and using flyers or printed door hangers at the hotels of the attendees.

As a visitor to the exhibit, be on the lookout for pre-show marketing. This is usually a reminder to try and obtain an exhibitor list before going. Mapping out those you have to see, those you'd like to see and those you'd rather miss is essential in getting the most out of your trade show visit.

At the actual show interaction is the number one focus. Notice I didn't say presentation. Moving, talking, asking, and having customers participate in demonstrations will do more for trade show exhibitors than graphics will. Nobody likes to walk past a booth and hear, "Is it raining outside?" or "How about that French Restaurant down on the corner". Putting a customer/prospect at ease is one thing but small talk is inefficient as an opening line in this setting. All sales people, senior managers and other boot attendees need to plan, rehearse and focus on their approach with those passing by. It's just like the marketing that we all do in our businesses, everyday.

What's important in obtaining those prospects is creating attention, interest, desire and then action. Think about the tradeshows that you've been to that you liked or the specific booths that you've liked. Those with celebrities, magicians, clowns, caricature artists, etc. really got your attention. If you were interested in the product being displayed or marketed, you usually stuck around to talk with representatives from the company. Then if you really desired what was being marketed, you got serious and maybe went around back to a worktable or a private conference. Action was as simple as setting a follow up date to further discuss the finalization of a contract or as glorious as actually finalizing the contract right on the expo floor. That sounds simple but that is the essence of successful trade show marketing. In fact that is the essence of successful marketing of any kind.

Unfortunately what we find sometimes are several people who stand at the side of their exhibit with their arms folded wondering why customers and prospects pass by. They certainly haven't presented any attention; in fact they have marked their territory and have inhibited prospective visitors. Only aggressive passer bys, prospects that have targeted those particular exhibits or the most needy, approach the exhibit.

Once in the exhibit it is important to control the situation as an exhibitor. Activity and interactivity is key here. That will spark desire and cause the action like described above.

We have discussed pre-show planning, show activity, now comes the all-important post-show activity.

Just like any sales call that we all make or any other important prospect meeting that we have, follow up is key. If we just met with one of our top targeted prospects, we would send a follow up thank you note, thanking them for the time, interest and information and confirm next steps. Trade show prospecting is no different.

Collecting prospect names, company information and contact information is done at all trade shows. Do not let this valuable information go to waste.
The sooner you follow up and send out thank you notes, the more you will stand out from your competitors. Most people wait for weeks and sometimes don't follow up at all. This gives you a tremendous advantage if you are efficient in your efforts here. Consider the power of e-mail as well. In fact some pros will email that evening to really make the impact of timeliness and efficiency. Imagine encouraging a visit the next day with a simple inviting follow up email to those who happen to view email after that day's show. An immediate follow up will make you appear efficient and go a long way in building that trust and confidence that is so key in today's relationships.

Trade show marketing and participation is really not much different than other marketing that we do for our companies, products and services. Being efficient and timely will put your effort above the competitive effort and justify your contribution to this $1 billion industry.

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