Making the important decision to exhibit at a trade show is difficult enough without having to be weighed down by doubts of whether or not it’s even worth it.

Doubts from previous shows can creep in. Were there fewer attendees? Was another exhibit more attractive? Were your sales and marketing goals accomplished? Were you able to quantify a Return on Investment (ROI)? Was the overall experience less fruitful than previous expos of the past?

The reality is that most companies and industry experts still agree that exhibiting at a trade show continues to be a valuable investment in today’s current market in engaging both existing and new customers.

According to reports by CEIR, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, 87% of companies who showcase at trade shows rate their participation as highly valuable when it comes to raising awareness of their business sector promotions. Even better, 92% of surveyed trade show attendees say that the prospect of viewing new products related to their industry is their main motivator for attending expos and events. Also significant: 82% of trade show attendees say they represent their respective companies as decision makers, often armed with the authority to make deals or purchase products and/or services from exhibitors they meet at a trade show.

But to help ensure your success at a trade show, it’s always important that you go into it with a plan that is well thought-out yet flexible enough to make room for last-minute adjustments. With that balance of proper planning and preparation, combined with quick thinking on-your-feet during your actual “live trade show performance,” your efforts should pay off.

Here are a few tips to consider.

Decide early on which trade shows are right for you.

Trade shows can be a significant expense—so you want to make sure to select the shows that are worth your company’s involvement. Sure, heavy exposure in every show tied to your industry has its benefits, but being more selective and only participating in shows that have the best opportunities to reach your target audience will be the most worthwhile for you.

Plan out key, results-oriented goals in advance.

Once you’ve figured out which shows to invest in, then your next task is to determine the specific things you want to accomplish with your presence there. Is it to show off your new products? Attain new customer opportunities or leads? Engage face-to-face with existing customers? Perhaps, a combination of multiple goals?

Be IN it!

Don’t just have a booth at a trade show… be a key part of it! A great way to show that your company is staffed by experts in your industry is to volunteer key executives or associates of your company to conduct seminars or to be presented as conference speakers or program panelists, or perhaps even have someone high up give a keynote address.

Give advance notice.

It goes without saying that you’ll need to spread the word in advance that you’ll be showcasing yourself at an upcoming trade show or event. This could be in the form of an e-mail blast, a blog post on your website, or multiple announcements via social media (TV, web, or print advertisements may be mixed in too—depending on your budget.) Get your customers excited to engage in one-on-one facetime with you at the event, while also promoting or teasing some of what’s in store for them to see or experience.

With this in mind, make sure to set-up meetings and appointments with current or potential clients in advance so that your time is managed wisely, while still able to engage with attendees that pass and stop by during the normal course of a show day.

Plan out your methodology.

If your goal is to gain leads or entice new clients at a trade show, then it’s important to establish an easy-to-implement methodology to track your efforts.

A few things to consider:

  • Set-up a special area of your website for unique visitors of the trade show to access before, during, and after the show, acting as an extension of the brand messaging that’s been expressed and promoted at the same booth.
  • Put together a live prize contest or give-away that entices attendees to visit your booth in order to win. Establish a buzz word or secret “code word” that they need to know as an “insider” of the contest.
  • Again, utilize social media for promotional tracking, via @mentions and hashtags or “check-ins”

Plan and prepare all the tools you’ll need to communicate your message.

An exhibit is only as good as the added tools it utilizes to present its ultimate take-aways. This requires having an engaging, knowledgeable staff on hand that’s easy to converse with without being intrusive, confusing, or ill-prepared for queries. Consider live, on-site product demonstrations should your product or service need to stimulate all five senses. Have ready-made print collateral, fact sheets, and, of course, business cards at the ready for easy follow-ups. And don’t underestimate the power of give-aways and branded swag that attendees can get from your booth.

Of course, have a visually-exciting, great-looking, and highly-functional booth.

Trade shows are crowded with companies vying for the attention of everyone in attendance. Standing out is the challenge. Something to always keep in mind is to provide a welcoming and engaging environment that feels open rather than claustrophobic. Your brand messaging should be clear, concise, and memorable rather than be overwhelming or off-putting. Partnering with an experienced trade show and exhibit design and manufacturing company is also a key factor in creating a memorable presence (We have a great recommendation for this one, by the way).

Highlight the new.

In today’s day and age, the attendee’s attention span can be very limited, so keep them engaged by showcasing new products versus presenting existing ones they may have seen before. And speaking of keeping attendees engaged…

“Razzle Dazzle” them.

In a world where every event or experience needs to feel “Instagram-able,” it only makes sense to feature an aspect of your booth as something worthy of a social media post. The potential exposure of even one or two flattering, positive-leaning posts from an attendee (with a curated hashtag) could make a huge difference. This could be anything from interesting displays, textures, or even light features, to a “wow”-inducing structural component that can lure attendees from across the showroom floor.

Set-up post-show follow-ups between you and the sales/marketing team.

The best way to know whether it was a worthwhile showcase is to learn the biggest take-aways of participating in the trade show via a pow-wow session with everyone that had a hand in putting your exhibit or event together. Did it generate enough leads? Did it successfully showcase your products and services to the right audience? Were there other methods or programs needed?

The results of these discussions and analysis should then be compiled into a sort of “bible” to determine next steps for putting together the following year’s trade show or event. This critical step is part of an effective four-tiered methodology that can be applied to every trade show endeavor.

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Michael spent the past two decades as a senior-level designer and art director with an emphasis on high-end branding, packaging, and targeted advertising. For Star, his responsibilities include graphic design, social media communications, client agency services, copywriting, web design/development and administration, and PR. You can reach him at mquintos@starincorporated.com.

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