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Unlock The Promotional Power Of Trade Shows

Thursday, January 01, 2009
Careful Planning And Follow Up Are The Keys To Success
By Don Sadler

Trade show exhibiting can be one of the most profitable and cost-effective ways to promote your micro-business — or it can be a colossal waste of time and money.

The key potential benefit of exhibiting at a trade show is “acceleration of the buying cycle,” says Stephen Schuldenfrei, past president of the Trade Show Exhibitors Association, the national trade association for event marketing professionals.

“In most industries, it takes a certain number of calls to close a sale, and a good engagement at a trade show can be the equivalent of the first two or three of these calls,” he says. “Depending on your industry, you may be able to close sales right there on the trade show floor. More likely, you’ll generate leads and set appointments — but the key benefit is that you’ve already built a rapport with the prospect.”

What can’t trade shows do for your business?

“Like any form of marketing, a trade show is not a panacea,” says Schuldenfrei.

In other words, it can’t be conducted in a vacuum, absent other marketing activities.

“You probably won’t see everyone who attends, and your products won’t appeal to everyone who’s there. But for those to whom it does, the show can be a great way to generate quality leads.”

Want to integrate trade shows into your marketing mix? Here’s what you need to know.

Choose The Right Show

If you decide that a trade show exhibition makes sense for your micro-business, the first step is to choose the show or shows that will deliver the most bang for your bucks.

A good starting point is your industry trade association, which can probably give you details on all of the major shows taking place in your industry. Also check with your chamber of commerce for details on shows happening locally.

In addition, Tradeshow Week and Trade Show News Network offer extensive online directories of trade shows searchable by industry categories, trade show names, locations and more.

Once you narrow your search to a handful of shows that look like good prospects for your micro-business, do in-depth research on each show. Susan Friedmann is a consultant who helps clients get more results from their trade show exhibits. She’s also the author of “Meeting & Event Planning for Dummies” (For Dummies, 2003). When researching potential shows, Friedmann recommends that you ask show management for answers to these questions:

  • How long has the show been running and what trends exist for the last three to five shows?
  • What is special or unique about the show that differentiates it from competing industry shows?
  • How do the attendance and exhibitor figures compare for the last three to five shows?
  • What is show management’s marketing program, and how far in advance of the show does the marketing program begin?
  • Do the show’s dates coincide with another major event, whether locally, regionally or nationally?
  • What percentage of attendance is pre-registered, and what percentage of pre-registered attendees are no-shows?
  • What attendee profile information is available?
  • What industry segments do attendees represent, and what is the geographic visitor breakdown?
  • What is the average amount of time attendees spend on the show floor, and which other shows do attendees visit?
  • What types of companies currently exhibit at the show?
  • How many of these companies are industry leaders, and how many of them are your competitors?
  • What after-hour events are organized so that exhibitors can meet attendees, and what exhibitor sponsorship opportunities exist?
Step Up Pre-Show Marketing

If there’s one thing that virtually every expert in trade show marketing agrees on, it’s this: What you do before the show will go a long way toward determining the success of your trade show exhibition.

“You can’t just show up at a trade show and expect prospects to flock to you,” says Schuldenfrei. “It’s up to the trade show organizer to get attendees in the door, but it’s up to you to get them to your booth.”

Pre-show marketing and promotion can take many forms, but it mostly involves sending direct mail to registered attendees before the show. Most shows provide registration lists to exhibitors free of charge, says Schuldenfrei, although some shows charge a small fee. Here are a few tips for your pre-show marketing efforts:
  • Send a postcard, letter or direct mail package to everyone on the registration list. Give a compelling reason for them to stop at your booth. This may be a new product introduction or a giveaway, for example, but it has to grab their attention and be memorable, since attendees are likely receiving many such pieces.
  • Advertise in the advance trade show program, as well as your industry trade journals.
  • Mail your own personal invitations to your own list of customers and prospects inviting them to the show, your booth and any social events (like a hospitality suite) you may be planning.
  • Several days before the show, call your current customers and top prospects who will be attending the show to again invite them to your booth and social events.
Research indicates that most trade show attendees come to a show with an agenda of which sessions they plan to attend and which exhibits they plan to visit. Your goal should be to get on as many of these lists as possible.

“Pre-show marketing is so important that I recommend scaling back on the size or features of your booth if you have to in order to pay for it,” says Schuldenfrei.

His most important piece of advice: “Send your mail early and use first-class mail, if possible. This may seem obvious, but I get pre-show mail after I return from shows all the time. You should mail at least three to four weeks before the show.”

Make The Most Of The Show

“Your trade show booth is like a billboard,” says Schuldenfrei. “Drivers have about three seconds to read a billboard, and it’s the same with a booth. It must clearly convey who your company is and what you do, so keep the message simple.”

Try these strategies for designing a winning trade show booth:
  • Make sure there is a central focal point in the booth that communicates a strong, benefit-oriented message to prospects. Use large graphics instead of small chunks of copy.
  • Create some kind of movement. Movement in or near the booth will help draw attention your way. Exactly what kind of movement is appropriate will depend on your products and industry, but think creatively.
  • Use lighting and color to your advantage. Make sure your booth is well-lit and easy to spot. Bright, rich colors presented in high contrast will attract attention. But remember that different colors tend to elicit certain moods: red for excitement and blue for serenity, for example.
  • Use product demonstrations, if possible. A trade show is a great opportunity for hands-on demonstrations of products that are hard to illustrate or explain.
Having a dynamic booth isn’t the only way to market your micro-business at a trade show. You can also take advantage of the media presence at the show.

Ask the show organizer for a media and publications list before the show. Compile press kits and distribute them at the show. Be sure to include vital industry information like the latest trends and statistics along with information about your company and products.

One last tip for making the most of a trade show: Remember to bring your appointment book.

“The appointment book is the most forgotten tool at most trade shows,” says Schuldenfrei. “Collecting leads is one thing, but what you really want to do is book appointments.”

Follow Up After The Show

For most exhibitors, the key to trade show success is effectively following up on leads generated from the show. And the best way to do this is to create an organized system for lead follow-up as quickly as possible after the show.

“Traditional wisdom holds that a trade show lead goes cold in about 72 hours. So, prompt follow-up is absolutely essential,” says Schuldenfrei.

The best way to ensure prompt follow-up is to set the stage for it before leaving for the show. If possible, communicate leads to someone back in your office who can send out fulfillment materials before the show is even over, so they’re waiting for prospects when they return from the show.

Don Sadler specializes in small-business issues and is a frequent contributor to Self-Employed.

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