Running a successful trade show event

Running a successful trade show event

Event marketing, experiential marketing, live marketing, participatory advertising – there are many terms that can be used to describe this form of marketing. Whatever term you decide to use, it’s safe to say that event marketing holds a significant place in company strategies.

Events come in many forms such as conferences, trade shows, and exhibitions. For every industry, there are some key events that need to be added to the calendar and there are others where attendance seems optional. Whether you decide to attend as an exhibitor, or as a delegate, the most common questions asked might be:

  • What are the benefits of attending?
  • Is it worth the time, effort and expense?
  • What is the return on investment?
  • How do we measure it?
  • What do we need to before, during and after the event to ensure we’re getting the most of it?

In order to get the most out of your investment, here are five tips for a return on investment (ROI) on your event marketing spend. Use this guide to get in the right direction, once you’ve made the decision to exhibit at an event:

What to do before you engage in event marketing.

Before you attend, it’s important to clarify the goal of attending any event. The same processes apply here as they do in any operational decision. The goals will vary depending on the type of conference but it is still imperative to measure against expense and costs (including opportunity costs) of that event. Use technology as tools to track ROI milestones if you can (like your CRM). It can be difficult to measure ROI in event marketing and impossible without setting clear goals from the get-go.

1. Create an irresistible pitch.

This one doesn’t need too much explaining. Here’s an example from Entrepreneur Magazine:

At his first hurricane-preparedness trade show in 2007, David Dodgen tried to demo his AquaPodKit, a bathtub bladder that stores 65 gallons of fresh water, using only a poster. It’s not surprising that no one stopped at his booth.”I thought, this is not working” says Dodgen, who is based in Austin. So mid-show, he bought a bathtub at Home Depot, lugged it back to the venue, lined it with an AquaPodKit and filled it with water. “The media went crazy,” Dodgen recalls. “There was a line of people at my booth.”

A great demo is nothing without a spirited, engaging pitch that presents the solution to a specific customer need – preferably in a minute or less.

Using video is also a great way to show off your product on your phone or tablet, if you need to do an impromptu demo outside the booth. However, a video should be kept under three minutes and most importantly, keep the same spirited and engaging approach as the pitch.

2. Make your booth inviting.

Avoid the following common mistakes:

  • Don’t overpack your booth with inventory and furniture – leave room for people to engage with you. Take into consideration your team, your demo and the attendees, who will no doubt be carrying ‘swag’ bags and other event paraphernalia.
  • Don’t block your booth by placing a rectangular table across the front – this is an extension of bad ‘body language’ conveying an unwelcoming vibe. Instead, position large tables against the back or side of the booth.

Keep the design clean and functional but don’t skimp on creativity.

3. Network, network, network.

Take the opportunity to talk to everyone, everywhere. Go out of your way to befriend show organisers and staff. Tell them what you’re looking for, be it customers, investors or publicity. They may be able to cater to these needs and allow you to achieve your goals.

Get to know exhibitors in the neighbouring booths, too. Once other exhibitors understand what you offer, they can refer delegates (potential customers) to you, and vice versa. It can also be handy when it comes to photos for social media posts! When exploring the show, do so with a purpose. Pre-plan, where possible, by checking the event schedule. Check the show’s website and Twitter feed for last-minute program changes and other highlights.

Never leave your booth unattended, not even for a minute during lunch, and not late in the day when the event’s winding down. That might be when the buyer you most want to meet visits your booth.

4. Do your homework

Once you register for a booth of your own, it’s strategy-time. Scour the exhibitor list and session lineup for potential customers, partners and advisors you’d like to meet at the event, then reach out to them. You could send a follow-up email inviting those who have engaged with you to a tailored webinar. Ensure this follow up is done no longer than a week after the event to really take advantage of the impact of the face to face interaction.

5. Follow up and evaluate

The post-show checklist should include more than merely reaching out to new contacts. Look for other opportunities to communicate with your industry. Following up isn’t just about closing sales. It’s also about gauging an event’s return on investment. It’s wise to attend a show with preset goals in mind (think: media hits, investor interest or retail leads). Utilise your CRM to track the number of leads and customers gained. Measure your ROI based on the goals you set-up before the event.

Actively encourage attendees to sign up for your mail or email lists by creating a special offer, or exclusive content for those who do so. Use signage to encourage them to follow your business on social media. Create an incentive for them to let you know how they learned about the event and your business along with the follow through after the event (with a telephone call, thank-you email message and so on). These activities will help you build your customer and prospect base.

With planning and preparation, there is little doubt that event marketing at industry-specific conferences and trade shows can have a positive impact on your business’ brand in various ways.

Some tips from reputable and highly regarded business resources have been used as the backbone to answer some of these questions and discover some best practice guidelines.

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