Article Handshake.pngDespite the fact that a significant portion of business marketing has gone digital, trade shows are still a common tactic – 9,000 per year in the United States alone. They can be particularly valuable for owners of smaller businesses who may not have the budget to travel to widely dispersed customers but can benefit from seeing many of them in one place.  If you’re grappling with how to allocate your marketing budget, perhaps it’s time to consider “putting on a show.” 

 

Here’s some direction on how to produce your show to ensure your time is well spent:

 

Be a good “Producer”

 

The right Setting: Any gathering that includes your target audience and relevant media

The right Timing: Concurrent with a new product launch or offering, change in strategic direction or major personnel change

The right Cast: Senior executives, sales people and the product marketing staff;

Supporting cast: Public relations representatives and administrative staff

 

Don’t forget “Rehearsal”

What you do before the trade show’s doors open is perhaps most important.   Considerable thought should be put into the messages you broadcast in your trade show booth signage, relevant news stemming from the previous year and what your main “news” will be for customers and prospects.  Bear in mind that 70 percent of trade show attendees plan which booths they will visit in advance so you should send out invitations to your booth and arrange speaking appearances to key customers.  This will ensure that you maximize your time at the show talking to the people with whom you want to build business relationships.

 

Put some thought into “Set Design”

Whether you have the budget for an over-the-top booth with a lot of bells and whistles, or a simple 10x10 table and chair set up, you need to make your booth as inviting and user friendly as possible.  Signage should use a large, easy-to-read typeface with one simple benefit-oriented message per sign.  Any decorations or gimmicks should dovetail with brand attributes.  Tables and chairs should have a use and not block entrance to your booth.  Particularly in a crowded or loud section of the trade show floor, having a booth that is welcoming and interesting can draw people in.

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Give an award-winning “performance”

Be sure to staff your booth with your best and most engaging representatives.  Booth staff should be trained to deliver a scripted customer greeting, pull off a convincing “elevator pitch” on your company and key products, and utilize techniques for getting information on customers’ business issues. Remember that, for every 10 square feet of space you have, you only have four seconds to engage a customer.  Once you’re involved in a conversation, quickly find out who the person is, what they are looking for at the show and whether there might be a synergy with your company.  If it’s a good match, steer them toward booth personnel designated to do product demos or provide additional information on your business services.

 

Don’t overdo the “props”

In today’s budget-conscious world, corporate giveaways without any value are considered wasteful.  If you are set on giving something away, keep a few thoughts in mind: Perhaps you can keep the tchotchkes hidden and only give them to prospects with whom you’ve had a conversation.  Alternatively, invest in a giveaway that will do some free advertising for you, e.g. a well-made tote bag that can be carried around the trade show floor, or one that highlights your brand’s best qualities.

 

Earn “good reviews”

To garner media attention, be sure to work the show’s media list and find out what stories are already planned so you can be part of them, if appropriate.  Consider giving advance notice on a major product announcement to one or two key publications that can break the story on the day your product is unveiled.  Don’t forget to study the editorial calendars of key trade publications to see if your product announcement might be included in any roundups they’re planning.  And be sure to target the show magazine or newspaper with new product and service launches.  Finally, don’t forget to prepare media kits that include key product announcements, company backgrounders and fact sheets.  These can be handed to select media at the show, or housed on a trade show-specific website connected to your company site.

 

Make sure the show’s “a hit”

The difference between a successful trade show and a waste of money lies primarily in the follow-up. Collecting business cards, scanning badges and getting prospects excited about your company are all of limited use if you don’t make contact after the show.  For particularly hot prospects, you may want to follow up with a gift or a special offer within a few weeks.  For others who say they may need your services in the future, keep following up on a regular basis for up to two years.

 

If trade shows are a dedicated part of your marketing budget, remember that you can’t just show up and hope for the best. Do your homework and come prepared to make the most out of your time.   Do you typically attend trade shows? Why or why not? Share your thoughts with the SBOC community below.