The key to great trade show exhibiting is marketing. But marketing is a very inexact science that leaves room for a multitude of errors to occur. Learn to avoid exhibitors’ mistakes and increase your chances for a successful trade show exhibit.

Have an Exhibit Marketing Plan: Having a strategic exhibit marketing and tactical plan of action is a critical starting point. To make trade shows a powerful dimension in your company’s overall marketing operation, there must be total alignment between the strategic marketing and your exhibit marketing plan.

Know and understand exactly what you wish to achieve:

  • increase market share with existing users
  • introduce new products/services into existing markets
  •  promote new products/services into new markets

Have a Promotional Plan: A significant part of your marketing includes promotion: pre-show, at-show, and post-show. Most exhibitors fail to have a plan that encompasses all three areas. Budget will play a major role in deciding what and how much promotional activity is possible.

Developing a meaningful theme that ties into your strategic marketing plan will then help to guide promotional decisions. Know whom you want to target and consider having different promotional programs aimed at the different groups you are interested in attracting. Include: direct mail, broadcast faxes, advertising, PR, sponsorship, and the Internet as possible ways to reach your target audience.

Use Direct Mail Effectively: Direct mail is still one of the most popular promotional vehicles trade show exhibitors use. Many of the mailings come from show management’s lists, and as a result, everyone gets everything. Use the following to make the most of direct mail:

  • use your own customer and prospect list to target the people you want to visit your trade show booth
  • design a piece that is benefit-oriented and makes an impact
  • starting four weeks out, mail 3 pieces at regular intervals before the show
  • use first-class mail

Give Visitors an Incentive: Whatever promotional vehicles you use, make sure that you give visitors a reason to visit you. With a hall overflowing with fascinating products/services, combined with time constraints, people need an incentive to come and visit your booth.

Their primary interest is in “what’s new.” They are eager to learn about the latest technologies, new applications, or anything that will help save them time and/or money. Even if you don’t have a new product/service to introduce, think about a new angle to promote your offerings.

Use Press Relations Effectively: Public relations is one of the most cost-effective and successful methods for generating large volumes of direct inquiries and sales. Before the trade show:

  • ask show management for a comprehensive media list and find out which publications are planning a special trade show edition
  • send out newsworthy press releases focusing on what’s new about your product/service
  •  compile press kits for the press office including information about industry trends, statistics, or production information with good product photos and key company contacts
  • have staff members at the booth who are specifically assigned to interact with the media

Differentiate Your Products/Services: Too many exhibitors are happy to use the me-too marketing approach. With shows that attract hundreds of exhibitors, there are very few that seem to stand out from the crowd. Your exhibit should leave a strong impression of what makes you different and why visitors should be from you.

Use the Trade Show Booth as a Tool: On the show floor your exhibit makes a strong statement about who your company is, what you do, and how you do it.

Make your trade show booth a welcoming space. Have a focal point and a strong key message that communicates a significant benefit to your prospect. Opt for large graphics rather than reams of copy. Create an experience that allows visitors use as many of their senses as possible.

People Are Your Marketing Team: Trade show exhibit staff training is essential for a unified and professional image. Make sure that they sell instead of tell and know how to close the interaction with a commitment to follow-up. Staff not scheduled should stay away from the booth until their shift. Assign specific tasks for company executives working the show.

Follow-Up Promptly: The key to your trade show success is wrapped up in the lead-management process. The best time to plan for follow-up is before the show. It is to your advantage to develop an organized, systematic approach to follow-up. Establish a lead handling system, set time lines for follow-up, use a computerized database for tracking, make sales representatives accountable for leads given to them, and then measure your results.

Trade shows require a lot of work and effort to be successful. In the end, your trade show success is dependent on how much effort you put into it.

Written by Susan A. Friedmann, CSP, The Tradeshow Coach, Lake Placid, NY, working with exhibitors and meeting & event planners to improve their event success through coaching, consulting and training.