Trade shows done right: Your guide to planning

Karl R. LaPan, President & CEO, The NIIC
Photo by Shutterstock

It’s that time of year when many business builders are gearing up for spring trade shows. Each is a potential opportunity to market and gain customers and partners. But do you know how to approach it to maximize value and ROI from the experience? Trade shows are a big investment of time and money so here are some tips to consider when preparing for one.

Start with the budget.

Make an overall budget calculation for the event, including costs from the organizer, handling of exhibits, travel/accommodation, costs for booth staff, insurance, marketing materials, and promotion. Aside from the booth space rental, these other hidden expenses can add up fast, so plan accordingly. Also, evaluate the market segment you will reach at the show, and ensure it aligns with your target market.

Make the display your own.

Consider using attention-grabbing graphics and a promotional giveaway of some kind to bring attention to your area. A giveaway, game or an interactive tablet or monitor can get people to stay longer at your booth and engage more with you and your brand.

It probably goes without saying, but make sure your presentation reflects the image you want to portray. If something needs to be ironed or replaced, do so before the event. A sloppy tablecloth or cluttered booth does not project the right image. Your image also extends to you and your employees’ personal appearance. Make sure everyone is on board with company-branded shirts and creates a welcoming environment.

Think engagement.

Think beyond the go-to promotional literature of business cards that often get ignored or simply thrown away. Instead, think utility. Branded business card holders, pens, mousepads, water bottles, or bags that can be used throughout the trade show are typically well-received.

One caveat: You don’t want to give people so much stuff or information that they leave feeling overwhelmed. Instead, decide how you will measure success and design your booth around that goal.

Don’t forget the follow-up.

Your efforts will be fruitless if you don’t follow up in some fashion. If you collect emails or phone numbers at the event you might send a follow-up email/text campaign with a promotional offer. At the very least you should have some way to qualify leads and benefit from your time at the trade show. You also should crunch the numbers to determine if the trade show was worth your efforts. You might not experience an immediate ROI but some initial calculations like cost-per-visitor reached and total trade show attendance can offer some insight.

If you’re a seasoned trade show exhibitor, what tips do you have to maximize your efforts? What are some of your do’s and don’ts?


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