While B2B marketers continue to rate in-person events as one of their most effective tactics, a solid strategy is required to make the most of the investment.
If you’ve been to a trade show, you’ve seen the disparity. Half of the booths seem to be lively, attracting large crowds, generating buzz and full of energy. The other half seem to generate no interest and are filled with employees who look bored and envious of the booths around them.
So while some companies seem to benefit from trade shows, many come home wondering whether their time and money was worth it. With some proper strategizing and planning, your trade show efforts can get the buzz and results that you want. Here are 9 steps to revitalizing your trade show marketing strategy.
1. Plan far in advance
Many times companies either register far in advance for the trade show and then forget about it, or they’re last minute and reactive with picking the trade shows they participate in. Either way, to do trade shows right, you need to begin your planning long in advance. Planning for a trade show it isn’t just about booking flights and hotel rooms for your staff. It should be a very strategic process, where every aspect of your trade show—pre-show, during-show and post-show—are all meticulously thought through and tied back to a strategy and aligned with your business goals and objectives.
2. Be a speaker, don’t just exhibit
Having a booth is great, but the platform that being a speaker provides is tough to beat. Speaking on a topic of expertise to a targeted audience provides instant credibility. It also provides a great opportunity to cross-promote your booth happenings as well as giving your booth staff something to talk to visitors about. The slide deck from your presentation can also be used as content to nurture leads and prospects after the trade show. Most trade shows have a process for finding speakers, so you need to look into it and submit a proposal long in advance.
3. Determine trade show goals beforehand
What are you looking to accomplish at the trade show? What is your purpose for being there? For some companies, it may be simply about generating buzz and awareness for the company itself or perhaps a new product or service launch. For others, there might be specific sales-related objectives such as generating a certain number of leads and opportunities or capturing as many target-rich contacts as possible for your email database. Or it may be a combination of all of these objectives.
The point is, determine in advance, long before the event, what it is you actually are looking to accomplish because EVERYTHING you do related to the trade show should be connected back to accomplishing your event objectives. Be sure to set specific, quantifiable metrics for measuring the success of your trade show.
4. Spread the word in advance of the event
Don’t wait until the trade show to start generating buzz, get buzzing before the event. Ways to do this are by hosting a webinar as a countdown for the show, post on social media, or emailing contacts about what your company will be featuring at the show. For larger trade shows, consider writing a series of blog posts as a guide to the event, covering things such as:
- Speakers not to miss
- Sessions to attend
- Breakout sessions that employees are leading
- What you’re featuring at the show
- Other important event info
In addition, take the opportunity to personally invite prospects and customers to meet you at the trade show. Based on what you’ve planned for the show (presentation, promotion, new product launch, demos, free consulting time, etc.), give them a good reason to show up to your booth or session. Also, work ahead to schedule appointments with qualified leads for consultations, presentations, demos, or other meetings in advance of the event. Face-to-face meetings are a great way to nurture leads or even close a deal.
5. Select an ideal booth space and make it open and inviting
Booth location plays a critical role in the success of your trade show efforts. As part of your planning process, you should understand the layout of the exhibit hall and choose a location that will be best suited for high traffic and engagement opportunities. This will require registering for the conference far in advance, as last-minute registrations will almost always lead to less-than-ideal booth locations. With most trade shows, especially larger ones, you’ll pay a premium for larger spaces, and larger spaces are typically located in ideal locations. You’ll also want to know your booth setup in advance: the dimensions of your space, ceiling height, access to lighting, internet access, electricity, etc. This will determine how you set up your space.
One way to immediately engage with potential customers at a trade show is by setting up a space that makes them feel welcome. Having a table across the front of the booth space can make it appear closed off and uninviting. Instead, create a space where people can enter without feeling trapped. You can create different stations in the space for people to learn about your company and products or services. This subtle practice in “feng shui” will decrease the chance of having people pass you by and increase the likelihood that they’ll step in and make a connection with one of your representatives.
6. Design your booth, messaging and giveaways to make an impact
In a sea of booths, often on either side of crowded aisles, you have mere seconds to attract a passerby to your booth. So creating a powerful visual impact with simple and clear messaging is very important to lure people in. Your booth is intended to be a backdrop, not a brochure. This can’t be overstated: people walking by should be able to instantly recognize who you are and what you do. It’s your booth staff’s job to take it from there. Also, be sure your brand is prominent and consistent with your other marketing materials.
And when it comes to SWAG, be sure to select giveaway items that stand out from the norm. Sure items like ink pens are a staple, but in addition to those, choose other items that attendees will actually want to keep for themselves, not just collect to give to their kids when they get home. Remember, even your giveaways are a reflection of your brand, so choose items that are both unique and desirable.
7. Develop an engagement plan
Your booth should be staffed with energetic and enthusiastic employees that connect with trade show attendees and are implementing the strategy you defined long before they arrived. Working on laptops or tablets, scanning emails on smartphones and sitting down in chairs is sure to send negative signals to a passerby. Your staff is there to work the booth, so that should be the primary focus.
In addition to having engaging conversations, consider something else to lure in and engage an audience. Motion graphics, videos and demonstrations can be powerful vehicles for drawing interest and succinctly (and entertainingly) conveying more about your services and/or products.
Contests, promotions, giveaways and other creative methods can also be used to help companies create some hype and achieve their trade show goals. But think beyond just swag and Apple Watch giveaways. Consider packaging your own products or services as the giveaway that you promote and that attendees want. Be sure to have a plan of action for generating conversations, identifying legitimate prospects and capturing their contact information through a scanner or landing page. This will be helpful when implementing a lead management process after the event.
8. Create a post-event follow-up strategy
Just because the trade show is over, doesn’t mean that your work is done. This is where many trade show efforts miss the mark. Follow up with the attendees that visited your booth and gave you their contact information. However, don’t mistake all these contacts as warm leads and try to immediately sell to them. Send them an email to thank them for stopping by, offer them a free download of your presentation and try to gauge their interest. By the number of unsubscribes you get from your initial email, you’ll pretty quickly know who was interested in your company and who just wanted that iPad you gave away.
For those contacts remaining, set up a lead nurturing campaign. This will help determine which prospects are worth pursuing and save your sales team a lot of time and energy. Keep the buzz going by generating post-trade show content on your blog and social media channels. And lastly, measure the results of your efforts according to the goals you set for the show and do so for several months after the show is over.
9. Set up a post-mortem debrief with the sales and marketing teams
After you return from a trade show, it’s critical to promptly set up a post-mortem debrief meeting with members of your sales and marketing teams. It’s important to get a 360-degree download of the show: successes, failures, shortcomings, the good, the bad and the mediocre. The reality is that sometimes your best ideas may fall flat when put into practice or your team is forced to improvise or adjust for one reason or another. Post-mortem debriefs are helpful to identity any lessons learned and action items that need to be taken to improve the success of the next trade show.
Plan your work, work your plan
You don’t have to have the largest booth in the hall, hire celebrities to man your booth or give away a BMW to achieve trade show success. Any company on almost any budget can be successful at trade show marketing if they take the time to develop a solid strategy, execute it and follow through on post-event activities.