Having recently attended a couple of trade shows, I  made some observations about their effectiveness as communications vehicles.   These shows should be approached in the same manner as any good communications strategy.  Here are my top 10 tips based on my observations:

  1. Know your audience:  Trade shows by their nature are designed to reach a specific group of people.  Before deciding to exhibit at a show, you need to be certain that the audience you want to reach will be in attendance.  One show I attended was aimed at people who appreciate fine art – promoting car insurance there would not be appropriate however, promoting art tours to Europe might be.
  2. Set measureable objectives for your show. Like all good communications strategies and plans trade shows need to be evaluated.  Are you at the show to build awareness, make sales, gain prospects, as a competitive defensive strategy?  Whatever your objectives, decide in advance how you will measure the success of the show.
  3. Know how you can measure your results. There are some show factors which will be out of your control like the number of people who attend.  Also, if traffic to your booth is your measure, think about how those staffing the booth would track it.  Contest entries, brochures distributed, qualified leads and even sales might be appropriate depending on your objectives.
  4. Use the tactics aligned with your objectives.  This includes everything from negotiating the location of your booth, its size, and design to handout materials, staffing, contests, etc. You can also encourage existing and potential clients to visit your booth.
  5. Make it easy for attendees to understand what you do. A number of the booths are crowded with messages/corporate names.  Show booths are by their very nature small and crowded, think about how to use your allotted real estate to achieve your show objectives. This comes right back to point one – if you know your audience, explaining why they should visit your booth should be easy – after all, that’s why you’re there in the first place.
  6. Encourage dialogue. I’ve worked at shows and it is hard work – hard on the feet, the voice and the temper.  Nonetheless, if you are at the show for a reason, engaging the attendees in a dialogue that helps you qualify the attendees as leads.  This requires some forethought (back to point one).  The people who are at your booth are representing you, your brand and your products.  They need to be able to answer questions with ease and get information from attendees.
  7. Have “smart” handouts available. Some attendees will pick up anything you have available at your booth whether or not they are interested in your products.  This is particularly true if you give away gadgets and gizmos.  If instead, you get information from your qualified leads that allows you to send targeted information to them immediately after the show that adds value to the dialogue you had with them, your chances of conversion to a sale or at least a follow-up meeting are higher.
  8. Use contest, draws and giveaways wisely.  Just as some attendees will pick up anything that’s free, so too will they enter any contest going.  First decide if you need a contest and what its purpose is in helping you achieve your objective. If you make your contest too easy to enter, it will be nearly impossible to separate the “tire kickers” from the targets.  If you make a contest too difficult, you may not meet your objectives.
  9. Have a post- show follow-up plan.  Depending on your objectives, there are likely to be follow-up activities.  No matter what those are, make sure that someone is accountable for and has the right tools to make it happen.  This might include templated letters to qualified leads or scripts for marketing calls.
  10. Measure your results against your objectives.  Evaluating the show relative to other marketing, sales and communications tactics will help you decide whether the show is effective, give you ideas to improve and decide whether it is worth doing again or if its time to take another direction.