How to Maximize Your Trade Show Investment

By Sonja Valenta

Here are some concrete tips to help you get more value out of the shows at which you exhibit.

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When your company decides to exhibit at a trade show, you will want to make sure that you spend the necessary time, money and effort to maximize your return on investment (ROI). Booking your space is just the first step. Unless you are a well-known brand with a highly sought-after product, you cannot expect people to just stream into your booth and hand you purchase orders. You will need to conduct a combination of pre-show and onsite marketing campaigns.

The amount of planning and work quickly adds up, so it's important to have a dedicated team with clearly assigned roles to manage all of the moving parts. In this article, I will lay out tips and steps that you should be taking approximately two to four months before exhibiting at an event.

Your Booth
By now, you have already chosen your booth location. Prime locations are the first to go, so if you did not receive your first choice this year, start getting ready to secure a prime spot for the following year while you are at the event.

With so much competition in a busy hall, you will want to ensure that buyers do not miss your booth. The top two influencers that will draw attendees are the products on display and the booth's appearance. If you are still working on the design of your graphics, make sure they are high-impact, with attractive colors and clear messaging about your company and offerings. For a B2B show, that means letting people know what solutions you offer and the industries for which they are suitable.

Your booth should have an open, inviting layout that is free of cluttered furnishings and without any barriers to entry. Your products should be displayed in a way that allows attendees wandering by to see them. Having a demo, a video, a white paper or unique giveaways can increase your booth traffic and success. You will also need to make sure that you have the right staff onsite. They should be easily identifiable, friendly, knowledgeable and engaging.

Goals and Strategy
Sit down with your team and identify the goals of your exhibition. You will need to be specific about the things you wish to accomplish from your participation. Examples include increasing or maintaining brand awareness, building buzz about the launch of a new product, gaining exposure to new prospective customers, targeting lead generation and so on.

Once you have determined your goals, you can establish benchmarks to measure success, such as booth traffic, quality or quantity of leads attained, increased social-media and/or website traffic (during and after the event), press coverage regarding your products and so forth. Typically, the more specific the goal, the easier it is to measure the results and to determine the value of your participation.

Once you have established your goals and your target audience, you can develop a key positioning for your event-marketing campaign and booth exhibit. You will want to reinforce a clear message about who you are, why you are there and why your target audience should care. This message should carry through in your sales pitch and marketing efforts before, during and after the event.

Pre-show Marketing
Don't underestimate the importance of pre-show marketing. Inc. Magazine research shows that 70 percent of event attendees plan a list of whom to visit before ever entering the convention center doors. You need to make sure you are on their list! How, you ask? Pre-show marketing!

Be sure to read the show manual. There is bound to be information about pre-show marketing opportunities offered to exhibitors. For example, for our spring event, RFID Journal LIVE!, we provide exhibitors with a unique customer discount code and customized marketing collateral—such as HTML e-mails, brochures and banner advertisements to invite customers and prospects, as well as promote their participation at the event. We also have an online community, RFID Connect, where all attendees, speakers and exhibitors can get in touch with each other, request meetings and research products, both prior to the event and year-round.

Many exhibiting companies do not consider incorporating snail mail into their marketing campaign. However, it is a proven and underutilized marketing channel that is sure to help your company stand out. Send postcards, special invitations or offers to your list and the pre-registered event list. Give them a specific reason to visit you at the event.

Whether you are calling, e-mailing or snail-mailing prospects to invite them to the event, you will want to be sure to follow up with them, to ensure they are attending and that you have allocated time in your schedule to meet with them. According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, companies that send multiple pre-show invitations see 50 percent more traffic in their booths than those that do not.

Onsite Marketing
Additionally, many shows offer onsite contests or demonstrations in which you can participate for added exposure, such as our RFID Journal Award "Best New Product" category and our Coolest Demo Contest. Participation in these types of contests sometimes comes with added marketing touch points, such as floor stickers, which greatly help your booth to stand out. Check with event organizers to see if they are running any traffic-driving promotions onsite, and find out how to participate or sponsor these highly visible promotions.

If the event offers a mobile app, you will want to make sure you download it, and that your company information is listed accurately so that attendees can find you. Sponsorships, entering for an award, and running an ad in the program guide or mobile app are also great ways to achieve prominent exposure in show marketing materials. All of these things can help you stand out before and at the event, and help customers seek you out.

Finally, don't underestimate the power of social media. Find out how the show is promoting the event on major social-media channels, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Let your online followers know that you are participating in the event—and invite them to come join you. Engage with the event organizers' online profiles, and promote your participation before and during the show via its hasthag and buzzwords, in order to gain exposure to new industry prospects and help build your own following. Not all companies are up to speed with social media, so this is a sure way to stand out as a leading, innovative company.

By taking the time to understand these tasks and assign them to different members of your event team in advance, you can ensure that you have a killer show and maximize your ROI.

Sonja Valenta is RFID Journal's VP of marketing. For a free consultation about your RFID marketing strategy, e-mail