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How to Get the Most Out of a Tradeshow


Jessica Devaney
Published on April 28, 2016
By Jessica Devaney
It doesn’t matter if you have a 10x10 booth, a kiosk or a 20x20 booth, if you don’t set yourself up for success at a tradeshow, you will not see the return on investment. Tradeshows are expensive, but they can give you a chance to be part of an event that represents your industry, and network in person with new prospects, partners and your customers. It is important that you take full advantage of and maximize this opportunity as much as you possibly can. Here are some tips to help you do just that.

A blurred image of a crowd of people gathering at an exhibitor booth at a tradeshow or conference.

1. Determine your objectives for the show. Once you’ve booked your space at the tradeshow, it’s important to sit down as a team – both marketing and sales (and anyone else who is staffing the event) – and determine exactly what are you hoping to get out of the show. One of my clients was going through a full rebrand (new company name, logo, etc.) prior to a major tradeshow and wanted to really make a splash. Their objective was awareness – they wanted to make sure that people walked away from the show talking about their company. We plastered their new logo on everything from large signs at the booth to t-shirts to mini signs at their partners’ reception. We even got attendees to wear branded t-shirts to different events going on at the show. And it worked! At the end of the show, there was a definite buzz from partners, the media, etc. People were asking, where did this company come from?

2. Pick a theme and use it everywhere, but make sure it relates to your messaging. One of my clients who is focused on sales enablement wanted to make a big impact at an event where they were exhibiting, so we focused on “smarter selling” and actually wrapped several SmartCars with their messaging and gave people rides to the show. Our entire booth set-up was focused around the word “Smart” from the t-shirts the staff wore to giveaways that were distributed at the booth. This theme was also carried out through pre-show promotions. This was successful in that not only did we carry this theme throughout, but it was relatable and memorable in coordination with the brand. This is very important, as a lot of companies will spend time and effort around a theme, but if it’s not relatable to your brand, you can be quickly forgotten after the tradeshow.

3. Pick a strong booth driver. I know my previous examples above have included some pricey booth drivers, but creating a strong pull doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, the booth driver we most often recommend to our clients is food – well, coffee – and that can be achieved at a 10x10 booth with minimal cost. People will stop by for a quick pick-me-up as much as they will for any other free items. For one of my clients, we once did cookies at the booth a little after lunch – they were hot-out-of-the-oven, delicious-smelling cookies and they went in less than 10 minutes.

4. Quality is important, but so is brand awareness. The example above brings me to my next point. I often get the question, well I see how a strong booth driver is going to bring traffic to my booth, but will it bring the right traffic? I’ve found that too many companies focus on only scanning the people who seem to be the best possible prospects but instead, I recommend the opposite: scan as many people as possible. Why? Because anyone who comes to your booth could be a future employee, consultant, partner, prospect, customer, you never know. Granted they could also be a competitor too (which is why any printed marketing materials should have information in it that could be seen by anyone). When you get back from the tradeshow, you can sort through the list, pull out the high quality ones for the sales team to follow up on immediately, and remove the competitors.

5. Leverage your partners. Most likely your partners are also trying to make a splash at the show and there may be opportunities to work together. We’ve developed different campaigns to leverage partners at tradeshows, from joint scavenger hunts to co-hosted receptions. Not only will it help you get some additional exposure, but you’ll also have the opportunity to spend some quality time getting to know your partner.

Paper cut-outs of two people doing a high-five.
6. Create a booth duty schedule and determine the roles and responsibilities for every person who is attending from your company. 
Your staff is flying out to spend up to a week in a different city, away from their day-to-day role, away from their desk, their customers, etc. If they do not have a firm idea of where they need to be when, it’s easy for them to drift, and the last thing you want is to have a booth with no staff. Therefore, it’s important to come up with a booth schedule. And include breaks – no one wants to be at a booth for 8 hours. It’s a long day. Everyone’s role should be clearly defined from the marketing person who is assigned to scan badges to the product manager who is tasked to give demos. In giving ownership and a specific schedule, there is less chance that no staff will show up to the booth and that no one will be scanned.

7. Use your booth as the hub for promoting other things you are doing at the show. 
 If you are also speaking and/or hosting an after-hours event at the show, that information should be in everything you do from pre-show to on-site promotions. I’ve found that handing out postcards promoting other events can help drive traffic to those events (and vice versa – you should be driving traffic from the speaking opportunity back to the booth).

8. Book meetings while you are there– Again most likely your sales team is coming to the event from out of town, so a tradeshow is a great time to catch up with customers, partners and hot prospects. Prior to the event, it’s important for sales to set up some of these meetings.

9. Lastly, pre- and post-show communications are just as important as on-site promotions.
 Pre-show promotions via email and social media can go a long way in getting people to visit your booth, or attend your event or speaking opportunity. Likewise, post-show promotions are also very important for continuing the conversation after the event. You want to continue to keep your brand top of mind with the people you met long after the tradeshow is over.

Tradeshows are often a company’s biggest marketing expense and should be valued in that way. Just having a booth at a show is not going make you stand out. But in following these steps you will create an optimal experience for your company at the show. 

Want to learn more about tradeshows and event management? Contact us!


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