7 Trade Show Marketing Mistakes to Avoid: Advice for New Participants

trade show marketing

trade show marketingEven in the digital age, when an increasing amount of your marketing budget spending occurs online, trade shows are an excellent medium when it comes to promoting a business, producing high ROI (return on investment). While the actual ROI businesses receive from trade shows vary greatly based on how effective a particular firm’s trade show marketing performs, most respondents to a 2019 survey by Statistica, report they are confident or very confident they’ll see a higher return from trade shows, year over year. Most trade shows involve business-to-business markets, although some also attract a limited number of consumers and significant press presence, including major trade shows such as CES (Consumer Electronics Show), Car shows around the globe, and the Toy Fair in NY.

The number of trade shows scheduled each year continues to grow because they’re particularly useful at matching prospective customers with the product and service providers they need to expand their own businesses., The ability of trade shows to provide visitors and attendees with insurmountable opportunities at very reasonable costs makes trade shows a particularly effective marketing tactic. The opportunities offered at a trade show are different from those you typically get from online marketing because of the human connection and tactile opportunities to explore the products face-to-face. Trade shows go a long way toward helping a business develop new leads, boost sales, introduce new brands to customers, and boost brand awareness.

However, to get the most from your participation, your trade show marketing must avoid common mistakes, which are especially likely during your first trade show appearance. To that end, below are some mistakes to avoid when planning your first trade show participation.

1. Ineffective planning

As with any other marketing tactics, effective planning is critical for trade show marketing. Your preparation must include:

  • Logistics — attending a trade show involves a lot of moving parts including moving people and product to the location, setting up for needs at the show such as displays, tables, even electricity, and clearing up after the show in preparation for the next trade show.
  • Pre-event advertising — you don’t want to just show up at the trade show without some pre-attendance advertising. Attendees plan their time at the trade show to focus on visiting booths providing products and services that fit their needs, so send out emails to attendees before the event to entice them to visit your booth. Consider sponsorship of the event, so your brand features prominently in all the advertising to promote the event.
  • Prepare for media — especially at the largest trade shows, media attendance is high, and trade shows provide an excellent opportunity for your brand to gain media attention. Reach out the media to set up interviews and prepare media kits to distribute at media events or when reporters stop by your booth.
  • What you’ll do at the trade show — more about this later, but keep in mind you need something to attract attendees to your event, such as contests, attractive displays, and interactive features.
  • Post-event marketing — you’ll want to collect contact information, so you can reach out to folks you interacted with at the trade show, including follow up with media.
  • Analytics — obviously, you need to monitor metrics reflecting your performance at the event, such as new leads, media mentions, and sales.

2. Attending the wrong show

Don’t get us wrong here. We’re not trying to diminish the value of some trade shows. However, it is important to understand that not all trade shows are right for your type of business. You should, therefore, do due diligence when researching the show to attend.

You need to consider the following in determining which trade shows fit your needs:

  • Attendees — do a large number of attendees meet your target market?
  • Costs — trade shows are expensive. After advertising, trade shows are often a firm’s largest marketing expense. Enter trade shows where your potential ROI warrants the expense.
  • Competition — obviously, you want as few competitors at the event as possible. However, the same features making a particular trade show attractive also appeal to your competition. Starting out, it might make sense to attend smaller events that likely attract fewer competitors

Helping to improve your trade show marketing, many trade shows provide information to help make decisions about whether a particular show is right for you. For instance, attendee demographics, their buying habit, the job title of the attendees, etc. are often available for each show, along with cost information and other companies attending the show or have attended in the past. This, together with other information, informs your decision on whether to attend a trade show or not.

3. Poor displays

Planning the booth display is critical for success. Remember, your display attracts attendees to your booth, which is one of many stacked end-to-end with others competing for the attendee’s attention. Further, your display should present the brand and its products in a way that communicates not only what you sell, but why attendees should learn more about the products. To that end, the display should not only be fun and vibrant but, like a billboard, communicate your value proposition in just a few words and images.

If you have a limited budget, this is not the place to cut corners. If your display doesn’t clearly explain who you are and what you do, people won’t stop at your booth.

You should give much thought to trade show backdrop concepts, too. Remember, trade shows are about grabbing people’s attention and using it to your advantage.

Regardless of how good your presentations are, if you don’t create colorful and compelling displays, your trade show won’t succeed.

4. No defined goal

While the main aim of attending a trade show is to get your name out there, it is important to have a well-defined goal. A well-defined goal not only helps you to remain focused, but it also gives you a way to quantify your success.

What do you need to achieve by attending a trade show? Do you need to generate quality new leads, or do you just want to connect with new business partners, creating awareness for your brand? Be specific about what you want to achieve at a trade show and then derive ways to help you achieve those goals. Setting definitive, SMART goals not only increases your chance of achieving your target but also helps determine where you need to change or improve during your next show.

5. Bringing untrained booth staff

Your staff must know more about your products than anyone else. Remember you’ll compete with other companies who have staff with knowledge about their product and company, too. So, ensuring your booth staff are knowledgable is only the first step.

You, therefore, need something that helps your staff stand out against your competitors – staff who offer exceptional service, in-depth insight, and help solve real-world customer problems by listening and using their product knowledge to show your products are a win-win for both your firm and your prospective customer. You need to train your staff on how to engage with customers, listen, ask the right questions, and present your product exactly the way you want.

Training your staff before the show not only helps them understand the mission ahead but also allows them the opportunity to ask any questions they might have. This way, you’ll have a prepared team, one that will help you realize your goal for attending the trade show.

Moreover, your staff should be personable. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve attended trade shows only to find the staff putting the table between themselves and attendees, almost like they’re afraid of contact. Or playing on their phones as attendees flow past them. Effective staff members don’t wait for attendees to engage them; they invite conversation, shake hands with as many attendees as possible, and offer solutions rather than simply hocking their wares.

6. Not being interactive

We bet you wouldn’t enjoy have trade show staff ambush you, would you? While, as mentioned in the earlier section, you want to engage attendees, you shouldn’t employ bullying to lure attendees into hearing you out. Offer something the attendee might value and, if they’re determined to walk past you, simply turn your attention to the next passerby.

If you don’t know, you win many attendees by engaging with them interactively. Instead of ambushing people, you should create an atmosphere that attracts them to you. For instance, tech companies often have robots or drones wandering the event to attract attendees to their booths, or they employ actors in costume to bring attention to their booths. Working models, games, and other interactive opportunities also attract attendees.

If you’re planning to give away freebies, make sure it is something of value to attendees and, to maximize the return on these freebies, use a device that collects contact information, such as a fishbowl that offers a prize drawing to entice attendees to drop in their business cards. Or, even better, require attendees to share something about your brand with their social networks in exchange for a freebie. Picture booths increasingly show up at trade shows allowing attendees to post pictures to their social network containing the firm’s branding in the image.

7. Not following up with leads

Why would you want to spend your hard-earned money on a trade show and then neglect the leads you gathered there? Following up on all your quality leads is an excellent way to leverage the gains gathered at a trade show.

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