For any small business, trade shows can provide an effective means of spreading brand awareness, getting your product out in front of a target audience and meeting with current or potential clients. But there’s much more to it than reserving your space and signing on the dotted line.
While preparing to attend any show, consider these 10 key questions to ask before exhibiting:
1. Why am I participating in this show? “There really has to be a why,” says D.J. Heckes, CEO of trade show management company Exhib-it and author of Full Brain Marketing.
People sign up for a show for a number of reasons: It can serve as a launching pad for new products or concepts, a way to build up your brand and distribution, a means of nurturing relationships or even a place to position your company for sale.
Once you nail down a clear motive that aligns with your business strategy, reach out to customers and find out if they are attending and if the show fits their timing and needs.
2. Am I organized for the show? Preparing for a show well in advance can save you both time and money.
For example, if you sign up early, you can take advantage of discounted rates, which can be considerably less than prices charged within 60 or 30 days of an event.
On the other side of the spectrum, if you are disorganized, you may incur additional costs. One instance where you might get penalized is if you forget to bring something and need to have it delivered to the show. You not only will have to pay for shipping and handling but the show may slap on hidden costs.
You can be surprised at the add-on costs if you don’t meet certain deadlines,” Heckes says. “If you follow a budget and a timeline, you won’t forget things.”
3. How much space will I need? While it’s nice to have a large footprint on a trade show floor, those who can’t afford it shouldn’t worry, says Michael Brody-Waite, CEO of InQuicker, a health-tech company focused on connecting consumers with services.
Brody-Waite’s approach is to invest in a simple booth presentation and then doing everything he can to capture contact information and follow-up with these leads after the show. For him, it is more about these meaningful connections, conversations and ability to covert prospects to actual customers than the complexity of a booth.
“The way we look at it, if we can’t have impactful conversations with a single booth space, simply adding more real estate probably isn’t the right solution,” he says.
4. Does it matter who my neighbors are? Absolutely. But how you view your neighbors is where views diverge.
Maureen Burke isn’t a fan of being placed next to a show-stopping booth. The senior account director at Nth Degree, an event marketing and management company, warns against having your small booth next to an extravagant presentation (think lots of signage and activity). This kind of placement can distract potential customers from your message and products.
“You’re not just competing against other companies who make the same product, but everyone who is exhibiting there,” she says.
However, Brody-Waite has a different perspective. He likes to secure a booth near flashier ones that will likely attract a lot of foot traffic. If another company is doing the heavy lifting to get people in a certain area, why not capitalize on it, he says.
Trade Show Countdown
*6 to 12 months out: Begin planning your budget, selecting what trade shows you will attend and booking booth space
*4 months out: Work on show objectives, obtain and exhibitor manual and source your exhibit design and production
*3 months out: Establish booth work schedule, set up any required outside suppliers and plan printed marketing materials
*6 to 8 weeks out: Check on production of display material, order product samples and literature, confirm pre-event advertising and press releases and order necessary show services
*3 to 4 weeks out: Write and mail customer invention letters, finalize VIP guest events, confirm shipping information and provide to suppliers and prepare training materials for staff for show
*1 to 2 weeks out: Collect supplies, tickets and service orders sent to show and ensure your payment system is setup and ready to accept credit cards during the event
*Day of show: Pick up badges, confirm arrival of display, equipment and literature, supervise set up and conduct pre-show briefing with outlined goals to staff
“As a young company, we can count on any number of booths having better production value than ours, even if they belong to our competitors, he says. “It’s just another opportunity to be enterprising.”
5. Should I sponsor events in conjunction with the trade show? Brody-Waite believes in attending trade shows not only as an exhibitor, but also as a sponsor or presenter, as it affords the best opportunity to inform and educate an audience. “We keep a calendar of speaking opportunity deadlines and make sure to pitch fresh, relevant session topics every year,” he says. “Speaking and exhibiting at a trade show is the ultimate one-two punch, as it maximizes your budget to get in front of as many people as possible.”
6. Who am I targeting at the show? A show might have tens of thousands of attendees trekking through the event but participants need to figure out who specifically they are targeting and how they plan on reeling them in. Some companies get stuck on the number of people who stop by the booth, instead of looking at whether they are qualified buyers of your goods and services. “Are you looking for 1,500 basic leads or 200 well-qualified leads? Are you looking for shallow and wide exposure or narrow and deep?” Burke of Nth Degree says. By qualifying the type of people you hope to reach, you can plan your presentation more effectively.
7. How am I going to measure my attendance and presence at the show? In addition to counting leads, it’s important to measure marketing impressions at the show. Just like you can see how many people view an ad in a magazine, you want to know how many people are viewing your marketing materials like signage on the show floor. Burke suggests working with the show organizer to get numbers.
For example, if your signage is at the front of an entrance on the west side, find out how many people entered the show floor from that door. This can help you plan for future shows and decide whether they’re worth attending.
8. Am I familiar with the host city and venue? When you’re planning to exhibit at a show, it’s important to know about the city you’re visiting, as well as the rules and regulations of the convention center, including the associated unions and contractors. “Not only is this going to affect your budget but also how you meet deadlines,” Burke says. “Going to Orlando is totally different animal than going to San Francisco, Chicago and other union-driven convention centers.”
9. Have I backed up my presence through social media? Keeping your customers informed about your company’s activities before, during and after the trade show is crucial, Heckes of Exhib-it says. In addition to sending out a press release, you can post tweets about why people should come see you at the show. Possible incentives include a new technology, a prize drawing or a gift for stopping by.
Other relevant social media efforts can include blogging from the show floor, making regular updates on Facebook and posting videos of customers visiting your booth on your website.
10. Do I have a post-show plan? It takes a lot of money to plan and exhibit at a show. Don’t let all your effort go to the wayside by not being active after the event is over. In this competitive world, if you don’t respond to leads within two or three days, your competitors will,” Heckes says She recommends having a sound plan for following up with people immediately after the show is over. If you have an app where you can send out information in real time at the event, all the better.
“If you wait two or three weeks, you’ve missed your window,” Heckes says.