You and your team have been working hard over the past few months preparing for your upcoming shows. First, you mapped out your critical initiatives for your next show. You now understand exactly what your goals are for the show and you have shared them with all of the staff working the booth as well as the executives of your company.

Then you went out and met with your trade show exhibit house to help you design your booth; you were able to identify different ways to design an exhibit to support your trade show goals.

So what comes next? This week’s article from the Booth Mom will be on building a pre-show marketing strategy. The pre-show marketing strategy will allow you to not only identify and segment your target market efficiently but drive the right people to your exhibit. After all, it is important to try to minimize the amount of money spent on people that will most likely never spend money with your company.

Now, when I am asked what the biggest mistake I see exhibitors make at trade shows is, the answer is a no-brainer. For years, I have started every conversation with a new client with the same question:    

“Pretend the show is over. What happened? Did you get the results you wanted?”

This allows me to quickly find out what an exhibitor’s priorities are – or if they haven’t really given much thought to what specific results they want from their exhibit. At this point, they often realize that although they know they’re not thrilled with past shows’ outcomes, they hadn’t really determined why. And this revelation can make the difference between a wise strategic investment and a large, wasted one-time expense.

To paraphrase Ben Franklin, “Exhibitors who fail to plan are planning to fail.” A successful exhibit starts with a strategic plan and a clear vision of the desired outcome.

So why exhibit?

The ten most common reasons companies give for exhibiting are to:

To generate and gather qualified sales leads (a.k.a. “sales inquiries”) or sell their products or services. By customizing your qualifying questions and taking good notes on your conversations with prospects, you’re ready for a productive post-show follow-up.  

To promote new products. The word “new” is the most persuasive word – and an attendee magnet – when on the show floor, about ¾ of all attendees visit exhibits to keep current on industry products, services, and trends.

To enhance corporate image (brand) and corporate message (awareness). Trade shows are a great place to establish your company as an industry leader, to get the word out on what your company has to offer and to share what sets you apart from your competition. Your key message should be brief, compelling, and showcase the benefits (not the features) of your product/service.

To educate your audience regarding your products and/or services. This can be done in a variety of ways such as with in-booth activities like presentations, demos, or experiential activities that will increase your message’s memorability.

To cement existing client relationships with current customers and key industry partners. By meeting with customers, you can create an opportunity to share your latest and greatest products while also increasing customer loyalty and retention, not to mention boosting additional and repeat sales.

To conduct business meetings with high-profile attendees/prospects who you can’t otherwise reach in the field. These meetings don’t have to be held in your booth during show hours; you can schedule 1-on-1 meetings before or dinner meetings after hours when you don’t have to rush.  

To obtain press/media coverage that extends the show’s reach after the show’s over. It also can be used to establish credibility with prospects who didn’t attend the show.

To identify and recruit new distributors, dealers, representatives, and employees. Don’t miss the opportunity to make contacts where your industry’s distribution channel is all in one place. Moreover, some exhibitors provide their HR Department with space in their booth for recruiting activities.  

To perform competitive and market research. Where else will your staff be able to find all your competitors in one place and evaluate their new offerings? You can utilize this time to gain feedback on current products or future customer needs, use your exhibit for filming current-customer testimonials or holding mini focus groups.

To attend educational conference sessions. Educational conference sessions give your staff the opportunity to stay current and meet prospects in sessions on topics that matter most to them.

Any of these ten can be fine-tuned to help to reach your corporate marketing and sales goals, but to stay focused, most exhibitors hone this list down to their top 3 or 4 exhibiting goals and prioritize them.

Set Objectives, Budget, and Implement

Next, evaluate your written goals into more specific objectives. This includes determining how you’ll measure success and putting timeframes on the objectives that are time-sensitive. 

For example, if you set the goal of “Improve awareness in our target market” as your #1 reason for exhibiting, the objective for this goal could be “To promote our key message to our target audience of 100 CEO’s before, during and after the show via integrated email campaigns and social media to reach each prospect a minimum of 4 times, from a month before the show to a month after the show”. After you’ve determined your show-specific objectives and drafted an implementation plan, you will want to allocate budget dollars to be spent meeting your top objectives.

Write it down!

All prioritized strategic goals, measurable objectives, tactics timeline, and budget that will support implementation should be put in writing and shared with your staff to gain their commitment and support. 

Like the old saying goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” But it won’t get you positive trade show ROI!

Keep an eye out for my next article, as I will dive into lead gathering and management. Do you have a question or want me to go over a specific topic? Click here. 

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