Tradeshow Marketing 101

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Farm Progress show in Decatur, Illinois. This is the largest outdoor farm show in the US and 2009 marked the 56th year of the show.

It was great seeing all of our clients and booth traffic was good, weather was great and overall by everything I have heard, the show was a great success this year, despite the economy.

What never fails to disappoint me, is seeing first hand all of the marketing dollars that go into the planning and preparation for a tradeshow only to see companies make some big mistakes when it comes to the customer experience at the show.  Or worse yet, spending all the money to exhibit yet putting no thought into how to drive traffic to the booth or capture good leads.  I was amazed how many times I walked into a booth and was never greeted.  So maybe I don’t look like I’m in the market for a new tractor……but can you at least be friendly? Especially if I’m the only customer in your booth!?

A few pointers for all too many companies falling short in terms of tradeshow marketing:

PEOPLE. Are the people you send to the show prepared & knowledgeable about your products to work the booth? The people that represent your company at a tradeshow ARE the face of your brand.  Be sure you have the right people working the booth.

BOOTH ETIQUETTE. Every potential customer that walks into your booth needs to be greeted and welcomed. Smart phones are the demise of face to face communication.  I wish I could say I was surprised to see so many exhibitor personnel sitting around checking their email, oblivious to the fact that there were customers in the booth.

MARKETING PLAN. Determine what you want to achieve at the show. Increase market share with existing customers? Launch new products? Entering a new market? Increase brand recognition within an existing market? This is the entire foundation of building a tradeshow strategy.

PROMOTIONAL PLAN. Pre-show, during show, post-show. Most companies fail to focus on all three areas. How will you drive traffic to the booth pre-show to ensure your targeting the audience you want? Once these folks are in your booth, how will you engage them and share your story? Once the show is over, a customer will forget they even spoke with you within 72 hours.  How will you reach out to them once again on behalf of your brand? Direct mail, social media, advertising, sponsorships and email marketing are all possible ways to reach your target audience.

INCENTIVE TO VISIT YOUR BOOTH. Be sure to give visitors a reason to see you at the show. The majority of people attending a show are there to see new products and network with industry professionals. Be sure to have something of value to share in terms of products, education and expertise. Direct mail is still one of the most popular promo vehicles exhibitors use.  Make sure yours is impactful and gives a compelling call to action.

EFFECTIVE PR. Send out newsworthy press releases focusing on what’s new. Provide press kits for the media that include information about products, statistics, new technology and industry trends. Be sure to have key members of your organization available to engage and interact with the media at the show.

Overall, some of these tactics seem quite elementary. Too often, after all the prep work has been done, the details of actually working the show are left forgotten. As marketing budgets continue to be under scrutiny,  more and more companies are feeling overwhelmed by the number of shows they attend. Now is the time to think through what value and impact your organization is making at each show.

Author – Jess Held

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