In the digital age, the idea of heading to a trade show may seem a little old-hat – but there's no doubt about it; they still offer incredible potential.
The numbers don't lie. CEIR's recent 'The Changing State of Exhibitions' report revealed trade shows to be almost unanimously beloved by marketers, with 99% stating that they offered 'unique value' that couldn't be unlocked via other marketing mediums.
But, with trade shows making up such a large commitment in both time and resource, the challenge is clear: you need to do everything possible to maximize your return.
So, in our latest article, we want to talk about how to make the very most of your trade show presence.
Follow these steps and you'll get the right types of leads flocking to your booth, unlocking the many advantages of trade show marketing – networking, building new relationships, generating valuable, impartial feedback and, of course, driving more sales!
1. Do the work in advance
One of the most common (and avoidable) mistakes you can make is to simply rely on random traffic heading to your booth.
Did you know that 7 out of 10 show attendees actually plan their booth visits before the show? They usually know who'll they be visiting, and in what order.
45% of attendees visit only one exhibition per year and – while the good news is that this clearly offers you access to a unique audience – it also means that they'll typically be just as focused as you are towards getting a return from the event. So, in all likelihood, they aren't just going to turn up at the show and head to the booth that looks prettiest!
The bottom line is that you're taking a huge chance by simply assuming the right people will find you on their own.
That's why it's really important to conduct pre-event outreach.
The first step is to get the word out to your existing contacts and prospects. Tell them that you'll be heading to the event and that you'd love to meet up with them if they're in the area or attending themselves.
But you also want to liaise with the event organizers to target confirmed show attendees who might not have heard of your brand yet. Often, you'll find that event organizers are happy to help you promote your presence at the show, and – if you're lucky – they may even share the attendee list with you. This allows you to reach out directly via email, phone calls and direct mail. One tactic that often works well is to send out postcards with exclusive offers or discounts – but only if the lead brings the postcard to your stand. This encourages them to hold onto the postcard and to actively seek you out when they arrive.
Start the conversation before the event – social media is a great way to do this – and continue throughout the show. Trade shows are a great platform to generate visual content and great photos – share pictures of your stand, your team, and attendees on Facebook and Twitter.
By taking this approach and essentially 'making appointments,' you can ensure that – even if you enjoy less foot traffic than you were expecting – the event is far from a bust for you and your business.
2. Location, Location, Location
Having said all that, a high volume of quality traffic at your booth clearly has the potential to turn a good event into a great one. And one of the key deciding factors is where your stand is actually positioned.
Clearly, the best location will vary by venue, but there are some positions that tend to be highly coveted – particularly main aisles, entrances, ends of rows and corner spaces, which give you access to traffic from intersecting aisles.
Interestingly, experts have suggested that, while Europeans tend to first visit booths positioned on the left, Americans go first to those located on the right. It sounds like a mediocre joke, but, remarkably, yes, this is linked to the side of the road we drive on! This is definitely worth considering.
Of course, as we'll touch on in more detail shortly, it's not all about driving huge crowds to your stand. You want quality foot traffic and qualified leads, not congestion and chaos. So stay away from exits and entrances, concession stands and restrooms. Instead, you want to be at the heart of passing traffic. A good way to do this is to aim to be positioned along the major route to seminar rooms or exhibitions.
3. Invest in look and feel
It's not the single most important factor, but the look and feel of your booth definitely matters. Of course, an awesome stand will help attract passing traffic, but – more fundamentally – that booth is a direct reflection of your brand, and needs to send the right message – welcoming, professional, slick, and on-message!
There's plenty of exhibit design inspiration out there to help, and a plethora of stand design companies who can create solutions to fit most budgets. It's interesting to note that modular exhibit systems have become particularly popular in recent times, largely since they weigh 60% less than a traditional custom exhibit, making them much cheaper to transport.
The look and feel of your stand extends, of course, to those who work on it. And here, it's all about common sense; stay stood up, ready to greet your prospects. Smile. Make eye contact. These rules should apply across everyone manning your booth.
4. Demonstrate your products
Trade shows offer a great opportunity to physically demonstrate products to potential customers. 92% of trade show attendees say that their primary reason for attending is to look for new products – and, in fact, it's been the number one reason for 25 years.
As an online merchant, this is clearly a rare and powerful opportunity to show off your products in person.
It's particularly powerful if you have a new, exciting product to launch. Many attendees see trade shows as an opportunity to keep on top of what's happening in the industry, and you can create a real buzz by rolling out a new product in front of a potentially huge audience – boosting brand awareness and drumming up orders.
5. Harness the power of technology
Technological advancements have changed many areas of business in recent years, and trade show marketing is no exception.
The potential for technological additions to your trade show are almost limitless, and can help you deliver an unforgettable experience – from basic stuff like social check-ins and digital signage, through to interactive touch screens and even proximity marketing.
A trade show represents a great opportunity to represent a demo of your website or product on a large LED monitor, or even provide a walkthrough demo - always a successful tactic at a trade show. If you carry electronic products, you'll want to have a demo of the actual products on hand.
6. Offer promotional giveaways and perks
While you want to avoid cheap gimmicks (see point 7!) promotional items remain a go-to technique for many trade show exhibitors. After all, who doesn't love free gear – pens, t-shirts, bumper stickers et al?
Clearly, there's a risk of handing out items to freebie-seekers who have no interest in buying your product – but industry stats suggest these people are generally in a clear minority. Apparently, across the board, as many as 81% of trade show attendees have buying authority and 46% occupy Executive or Upper Management roles.
Ultimately, these are generally very inexpensive items. And, because they can give you a valuable head start when it comes to establishing conversations and building relationships, offering them is a no-brainer. They'll usually pay for themselves and that's why they're enduringly popular.
There are other creative ways to bring people into your booth. You could consider offering working space and laptop charging points – always in short supply at a trade show – to bring people in. This seems counter-intuitive but will be appreciated by attendees and is an unlikely way to make a positive impression.
Related: 11 ideas for cool giveaways
7. Avoid gimmicks
Having said all that, you really do need to tread carefully when it comes to established trade show 'gimmicks.' 'Booth babes'...free popcorn stands......ugh.
You have to remember that it's not just the size of the crowd, but the number of prospects in it. You may attract a crowd of hundreds wanting to get some free popcorn, but will they remember what you were exhibiting? Do they even care – or do they just want popcorn?
Gathering a crowd at a trade show is very similar to running a competition online. You really need to structure and craft it carefully to reach the right type of people.
8. Generate Leads
It's a great feeling when the traffic is flowing to your booth. But the next step is every bit as important – you need to get their details and turn them into leads. We could write another article altogether on this topic – but here are a few ideas to get you started.
Of course, there are trade show staples like the business card in the bowl. Contests are a great way to entice people to part with their details, and choosing a tailored prize will help ensure you gather the right type of leads.
One of the quickest and easiest ways to capture this information is by using badge scanning software. Many exhibitions provide attendees with badges which contain their essential lead information - this can easily captured either by stand-alone badge scanners or using badge scanner mobile apps.
Many of the principles of online lead generation can be re-thought slightly to make them potent offline tools too. Most of us would accept that one of the best ways to generate leads online is to trade free knowledge for user details – and there's no reason why this same principle can't work at your trade show.
If you're already investing in content creation – ebooks, white papers, guides, etc. - then why not hand them over to leads you generate at the trade show? You can send them the content by email or put it on a USB drive and hand it out physically.
In recent years, we've seen an explosion of new, fashionable ways to market your business. But trade shows – an old favorite – remain as successful as ever.
Following the basic rules in this article is going to give you a great head start in driving relevant, targeted foot traffic to your booth.
Make sure to spread the word about your presence at the trade show, both before and during the event – 'build it and they will come' is never the best policy! Do some research into the ideal location for your stand, and create a physical presence that is befitting of your brand. Show off your products. Use technology to deliver memorable experiences that really help you stand out. Give out freebies – but be sensible, and remember that, generally, quality comes before quality. Finally, share knowledge at the event.
Check out our free downloadable checklist to make sure you're ready for the trade show!