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Tradeshow Marketing

Many of PFL's customers are small to mid-size businesses - and fit the profile of a typical tradeshow exhibitor. The word tradeshow can be used to represent both "trade" (business-to-business) and "consumer" (business-to-consumer) shows.
As an exhibitor, making the most out of each show can be challenging. Whether you are just getting started in the tradeshow industry or are looking to improve existing tradeshow initiatives, there are several things you must consider to make sure you achieve your desired results:
  1. Set goals and measure results
  2. Select the right show for your business
  3. Space selection - where's the optimal position?
  4. Exhibit design - making the most of your space
  5. Marketing before the show and on-site
  6. Good lead management

Set goals and measure results

The first question you should ask is "why am I exhibiting?" Are you trying to generate leads or actual sales? Are you only interested in building brand awareness? Are you launching a new product? The reason for exhibiting will often dictate the metrics and results you measure.
That said, setting goals and tracking your performance relative to your goals should not be specific to your tradeshow efforts - it's something you should be doing for all your marketing efforts. If you've exhibited in the past, you should have some idea of how many leads you can/should collect. There are many variables to consider - the size of the show (attendees), your booth placement, the quality of your salespeople at the show, and more. Take those variables into account and come up with your show goals.
Depending on your business and the show, your goals should include leads and revenue (either sales at the show and/or post-show sales) - and most importantly, show ROI (return on investment). Plan before the show how you will capture and store leads. Will you have a badge scanner? Will you collect business cards? What about those people who don't have cards? Have a notepad and pen with you at all times to write down information.

Select the right shows for your business

There are literally thousands of shows across the country each year. After you determine your reason for exhibiting, look for show(s) with the target audience that best matches your reason for exhibiting. If you are new to exhibiting, or attempting a new market, you might look for a show that is close to home. Travel expenses make up a large portion of your overall show costs - so staying close is a great way to keep costs down while you test a show or new concept.
Evaluating which show may be best for you is critical. And the best way to do it is picking up the phone. Find out what companies exhibited at the tradeshow in past years and give them a call. Don't be afraid to ask for specifics - you'd be surprised at how willing most people are to share information.

Space selection - where's the optimal booth placement?

Most show organizers give space-picking priority to those exhibitors who have been regulars at their shows over the years. Not to mention the larger show sponsors who tend to get whatever spot they wish. So right from the start, the very best spots are usually taken. One approach is to take a look at where your biggest competitors are located. You may decide to be close to them - or far from them depending on your preference. Also try to register as early as possible to get better placement. Late entries always get stuck in the far corners.
If you end up in a far-away corner, you'd better think about some pre-show marketing materials with your booth number included to help prospects find you.

Exhibit design - making the most of your space

You've got about 3 seconds to grab someone's attention at a tradeshow, so its important to have an exhibit that will catch their attention. When it comes to signs and graphics - less is more. Unless you have more money than you know what to do with, you'll probably end up with limited space at your show. Avoid the temptation to over-stuff and over-communicate in such a small space. Avoid small-type on banners and stick to clear, large headlines and images.
Make sure your exhibit graphics say who you are, what you do, and why you're better than the next guy. State those simply and clearly. Remember that your booth is a reflection of your brand. A great looking booth does not have to cost a lot of money. Do your homework, get creative, and think beyond the boundaries on the floor. Think vertical - don't forget take advantage of the space above you with hanging banners or signs.

Marketing before the show and on-site

Before the show, look into renting a list of attendees and mailing a postcard to promote your presence. At a minimum, think about sending a postcard or mailer to your own customers who may be in the area of the show. Be sure to highlight any show-specific events, promotions, or giveaways that they need to register for at your booth.
Most tradeshow attendees are shopping for something. Make sure they don't leave you empty-handed. Have plenty of handouts, brochures and other marketing materials available. You've spent the money to be at the show, make sure your prospects have something to remember you. Also, a literature rack is a good idea. Many times you and your staff will be busy talking with other prospects - and you should have your marketing materials available to other passers-by in case you are occupied.
Another good tradeshow tactic is offering a giveaway. You may draw in some "freebie" seekers that turn into solid leads and prospects. The cost of a giveaway typically is easy to justify with the additional leads they bring. Consider the value of the lead to determine what you giveaway, whether it's a $60 iPod, or a $3,000 flat screen TV.

Good lead management

Once the tradeshow is over, the real work starts. Post-show is not a time to relax and feel proud of your accomplishment - it's time to work harder and harvest the leads and prospects you created. Make sure you follow-up with ALL your leads in a timely manner. You have spent good money to get the lead, now its time to turn it into revenue. Use all marketing channels available to you - email, direct mail, and especially phone calls.
Surprisingly, almost 80% of tradeshow leads are never followed up with. Make sure you're part of the 20% that do follow up and maximize their tradeshow investment.
And now it's time to prepare for the next show. Be sure to take the time to do a 'post-mortem' analysis on the show you just finished before you move on to the next one. What worked? What didn't? What should you try differently at the next show? Be sure to look at your metrics and results. There is something to be learned from every experience, and constant improvement is critical.