Trade shows

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Attending tradeshows and expos is marketing 101 for most businesses, but how much thought really goes into it?

We’re all busy, so often planning is last minute and it’s usually left to one person to pull it all together.

This strategy won’t maximise your ROI from tradeshows and events. In fact, it could well do the exact opposite! It could potentially harm your business if you don’t get it right.

Planning – Strategy

Most tradeshows are locked in 6 – 12 months out so there’s plenty of time to plan but, again because everyone’s busy, it quite often gets left until the last few weeks to get organised… and time to strategise is limited.

Your overall investment in just one show is substantial when you take all the costs into consideration so it’s worth having a ‘brainstorm’ session prior to every show you plan to attend. Even if it’s a show you attend every year, there’s always an opportunity to do better, sell more or have more (or improved) conversations than last year.

The best way to brainstorm is to have a ‘no idea is a stupid idea’ policy at the initial planning session. Assemble the stakeholders – sales people, department heads and marketing, to go over what happened previously and what was achieved. Even if your goal is just to do as well as you did last year, chances are that that you need to lift your game because everyone else probably has.

Look at the issues your clients face and how your company can help. Do you make a better widget? Do you fix things cheaper? Can you deliver faster? Whatever your USP (Unique Selling Proposition), answering these questions will help determine your theme – how you tell potential clients what you can do for them, quickly and efficiently.

Planning – Branding

Having decided on a new strategy, you need to look at the collateral you use at the show – your people, your signage, your engagement tools, your giveaways.

Most companies simply drag out their old tradeshow display walls and banners and use them again. This doesn’t give you an opportunity to have a different conversation than you did last year because your visual message is the same and most visitors will see it as that. If your goal is to ‘interrupt’ show attendees and make them stop in their tracks and pay attention to you, you need to start with your signage. Does it reflect your core message, or their core concern? If you look like you might be able to solve someone’s problem, you’ll likely get 10 mins of their time to explain how.

Let’s assume you’ve decided on a core goal and the message that your display needs to portray, the next thing is to look at your ‘engagement tools’ – things like scripts, catalogues, flyers, visual aids and promo giveaways. You need to make sure that the time people give you at the show is well used so give your team some script prompts and the necessary tools to maximise the engagement.

Engagement Opportunities

To make sure you get the very best outcomes from your investment, you need to consider the touch points you could potentially utilise pre, during and post the event.


Is there an opportunity to create interest and momentum in you and your stand by mailing out information or promo products that reflect your new message prior to the show? Could a gift of the right branded product make people curious and have them looking forward to seeking you out at the show to find out more? Plus, pre show communication helps ensure that key clients know you’re going to be there and where you’ll be. You should consider;


• Utilising products branded to your theme


• EDM reflecting your theme

Personal Invites

• By phone, email or post

Display Wall Themes

• Reflect and reinforce a benefit or concern

During Show

How will your staff and display stand look when people walk by? How will you ‘interrupt’ their flow when faced with the typical visual overload that plagues such events? Answering these questions will greatly improve your engagement rate and ultimately, your success.

Pull Up Banners

• Highlight specific benefits, concerns or solutions


• Is there an opportunity to theme your staff?

Script Prompts

• Make sure you have succinct conversations

Engagement Greeting

• How do you great people to prompt the best conversations?

Engagement Competition

• People love to win so create a photo opportunity for social media with prizes or a show based competition.

Takeaway Collateral

• Flyers, brochures, catalogues, pamphlets


• Give attendees a branded promotional product that is useful or fun and will continue to remind them of you.

Post Show

Equally as important as pre and during. Why go to all the trouble and expense of attending if you waste the leads you generate? Make sure your follow-up strategy is locked in at planning stage.

Follow-up Strategies

• Phone, email, quotes, visits

Show Debrief

• What worked, what didn’t and notes for next year

Follow Up & ROI

How often have you had a successful show then everything gets packed up and dropped back in the warehouse, including the client info forms, and that’s where they stay?!
This ‘business gold’ is often overlooked, sometimes completely and it negates all the good you did at the show.

Prompt follow-up of client enquiry from an event is crucial. Your show staff have had some awesome discussions and engaged people to a level where they want to know more so don’t let them down!

You need to determine your follow up plan at the strategy stage so it’s locked in as soon as the display walls come down. Those leads should be carried from the building as if they were gold bullion and slotted straight into the follow-up plan.

There are various theories around the best time to follow-up after an event but the consensus is, not necessarily within the first 48 hours (unless an ‘urgent follow-up required’ note was made on the form) but definitely within 7 days so the discussion is still fresh in the client’s mind.

ROI (Return on Investment) is not something that’s often attached to Tradeshows and Events because the rationale is usually ‘we have to be there so we’re there’ but, determining a goal or goals with regards to the event is important.

It tells you if your strategy worked, it tells you if you had better conversations than last year and it tells you if the number of leads generated exceeded previous results. Determining these goals and measuring them is also a great way to seek a bigger budget for next year so you can really knock their socks off!

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