Trade shows are the top B2B marketing spend to support sales — but they are only as good as the strategy that you have in place. To see a return on your investment, you need a plan for every stage of your engagement strategy: pre-show, during the event and post-show follow-up.
The benefits of exhibiting at a trade show can surpass any marketing or growth technique. Trade show success is measured by how much effort you want to put into it. Here’s what you can do before the show to ensure success:
1. Set Goals
The first step in preparing for a trade show is to define why you are going to the show and what success will look like. There are several different types of goals that you can and should set when creating your trade show strategy, such as brand awareness, lead generation, customer engagement and upsell, thought leadership and education, image enhancement, driving sales, increased visibility, VIP relations and more.
Assess the proposed opportunity against these goals and then ask yourself how your trade show presence will help you achieve them. As with any goal, the key is to set clear and measurable objectives for success. Depending on the goal you are measuring, metrics or KPIs for success may include booth engagement, new leads, sales, downloads, signups for your event, etc.
2. Build Your Booth
It takes only one fifth of a second to form an opinion of a brand — and 94% of that opinion is design-related. Creative trade show booth ideas can give you a huge edge at any event. Not all companies have a big budget, but one thing that should never be left to chance is your exhibit’s design.
Make sure your booth presentations (PowerPoint, video, etc.) and/or demos are also professional-quality with relevant content. Those who start the process of preparing for a trade show early have the most success. This includes things like reserving space, designing your trade show booth, building your booth, details about how it will be shipped and installed, etc.
3. Obtain Show List
Look on the trade show website for a complete list of participants or download their brochure for the list. If the list is not there, contact the show organizer and ask for the complete list. Most organizers will give you access to the show list if you are a sponsor or even a high-level attendee. Sometimes the list will be private before the show but released after. Other times the list will be made available to select sponsors before and others after. Reach out to the show organizer with specific questions.
Once you have the list, conduct some outreach to attendees — or a specific segment of that might be interested in you — either through direct mail, email or even by phone. Ensure that you do it soon and that you frame your communication in context of the show. With email, for instance, send them one-to-one emails before the show (from your own email account; not from MailChimp, HubSpot, Emma, etc.) and invite them to your booth.
4. Create Content to Leverage via Email
You can use content to leverage your trade show participation online during the months leading up to the show by creating infographics, writing blog posts and producing video assets that target event attendees. Rich content, such as white papers or webinars, position you as a thought leader in their space. When used in pre-show email campaigns, your content will also contribute to inbound leads through downloads. Here are some content types to help maximize ROI:
Video: Trade shows don’t afford you time to dig deep into your product benefits with each booth visitor – a quality video can get your value propositions to event attendees quickly and set you apart from the brand in the booth next to you. Plus, you can share it online ahead of the event to get people interested and reach those who won’t be in attendance.
White Paper: You can demonstrate your industry expertise with a well-developed white paper that takes a deep dive into a relevant topic for trade show attendees. An asset such as this should be leveraged in the months leading up to the trade show you’re attending rather than at the event itself. Putting this asset behind a gated form on a conversion landing page will allow you to easily promote it on different channels — and attribute leads to this campaign.
Infographics: An infographic clearly outlining your proprietary software or your business’s approach to problem solving will resonate with trade show attendees, especially when you have it professionally printed and displayed proudly at your booth, allowing visitors to quickly understand your product’s unique value proposition.
Blogs: Use your company blog to interview experts within your business, provide thoughtful commentary on relevant topics and create helpful educational material in the months leading up to the trade show. All of this information should pull from the themes of the trade show itself and provide value to leads.
Create a landing page for the content that educates, engages and develops your leads prior to the event. It will be a 24/7 sales tool before, during and after event. Recipients can access it whether or not they attend. Further build up your audience through paid social ads, Google remarketing and other digital advertising options.
5. Send a Pre-Show Mailer
In preparation for the trade show, build up an audience to send targeted content pre-show so that they will have a point of reference for your brand when they arrive. Examples of a pre-show mailer could include a colorful postcard, something special for your top prospects, a free ticket to the show, an invite to an exclusive event your team is hosting or a unique incentive/giveaway that is functional. Remember quality over quantity to get the right people to your booth.
Use a pre-show mailer to give attendees your booth number and a reason to come to the booth. Picking up an invitation to a party or reception, hearing about a new technology or entering a contest are all good "hooks" to get the customer into your booth. Mail your creative letter or postcard two weeks before the first day of the show (to arrive in prospects’ hands a week before the show). Take into account the call to action on your mailer and determine if attendees should receive them sooner.
6. Schedule Meetings
Schedule pre-show booth meetings in advance. Many companies reach out to attendees 4–6 weeks before the show. Collecting email addresses and phone numbers of past attendees also comes in handy for this type of trade show preparation. Email special customers or hot prospects and tell them to come to your booth for a special gifts. Set up meetings with them at your booth before the show starts. Make it about networking, not selling: you want to hear more about what they do more than you want to talk about what you do.
E-mail all your customers who will be attending and let them know your booth number and if you have any special events happening (party, reception, product launch) you would like them to attend. Send invitations if needed. If your best clients are not already going to the show, buy them a ticket. It’s a way to show your appreciation of your clients, build loyalty and built repeat business. Additionally, by stocking your booth and events with advocates of your product, you create another avenue for winning over prospects.
Innumerable business deals are done at trade shows every year, but your trade show ROI depends on your foundational strategy and the level of preparation you put in.
If you have a trade show coming up, the guide below will help you map out your trade show strategy and timeline for before, during and after the show. It is a step-by-step guide to creating an effective trade show strategy, taken straight from our playbook.