Trade show marketing: Gettin’ strategic with it!

Trade show spending typically makes up a significant portion of a company’s marketing budget. The decision to participate in trade show(s) is often driven by such basic factors as:

  • you’ve always exhibited at this show
  • your competitors are at this show
  • this industry show might be great to showcase your new product/service

These days, Return On Investment (ROI) measurement drives business decisions. By defining your trade show strategy, developing appropriate tactics and activities, and measuring the results of trade show marketing, you can determine (or prove) your investment is worthwhile.

Show me the stats

These industry stats put a pretty positive spin on trade show marketing. Your situation may vary. Compare these industry statistics to your trade show experience to give you a relative benchmark.

83% of trade show visitors have some kind of buying power.

63% of visitors have plans to buy at the show.

86% of visitors will be new contacts (otherwise not called on by sales team).

Trade show visitors spent 7 hours (medical) to 10 hours (industrial/manufacturing) visiting exhibits last year.

40% of visitors are attending for the first time.

You’ll get 3 to 5 minutes with each visitor.

91% of visitors get the most useful buying information at shows and events.

Visitors tell 6+ other people about their experience.

It costs $126 for each person that enters your booth.

It costs $212 to generate a qualified lead at a show (vs. $308 to generate a lead in the field).

It costs $705 to close a qualified lead from a show (vs. $1,140 to close a lead from the field).

Trade shows are the number one B-to-B marketing spend to support sales.

22% of exhibitors make some sort of contact with visitors prior to the show (don’t be part of the 78% who don’t).

From 2006 to 2009 trade show growth is forecasted to be 5.8%.

Why are we here?

Designing your exhibit and pre-, at-, and postshow campaign according to the trade show objectives you have defined will reap more rewards. Reasons to attend may be:

  • generating leads
  • creating or enhancing brand awareness of product, service, and/or company
  • developing new customers
  • enhancing customer relations
  • introducing new products or services to current and/or new market segments
  • recruiting personnel
  • recruiting reps, distributors/dealers
  • attracting media attention to product, service, and/or company
  • supporting industry associations
  • counteracting competitive activities
  • maintaining pressure and visibility


More trade show strategies that maximize ROI


So, where are we going?

  • horizontal trade shows—broad base of marketers and both broad and narrowly focused buyers
  • vertical trade shows—narrow base of marketers and buyers
  • national or regional show/event
  • industry association conventions
  • supplier conferences
Sources to locate shows
  • Tradeshow Week Data Book (annual)
  • industry associations
  • industry trade press (call and ask)
  • show organizers
  • where your competition is going
  • ask customers what they attend
Booth locations that work
  • near like businesses
  • near larger competitors
  • right side of hall (70% go right when entering hall)
Booth locations to avoid
  • front and center (too close to entrance, visitors speed by)
  • left side of hall (left side fatigue)
  • near restrooms, food courts, telephones, water fountains
  • near columns, entrances/exits, power sources
Miscellaneous tips
  • a corner booth is good because you get two aisles (so, work both sides and keep booth floor unobstructed)
  • choose narrow aisle over wide to keep traffic closer to your booth
  • if your exhibit is higher than 8 feet, ‘apply’ for a height waiver (be very nice to the show organizers and assure them you won’t tell anyone)

Now, the right brain stuff

  • design with the audience in mind
  • keep it clean, so it will stand out from the clutter of the show
  • large, minimalist (think: Less is more), colorful, clear
  • think ‘billboard’ not ‘bulletin board’…don’t try to tell the whole story with your exhibit
  • your audience should be able to ‘look’ at your exhibit and grasp what you offer
  • clearly and concisely convey: who you are, what your product and/or your service/capability is, and what your offer is
  • state your unique selling proposition (aka: brand position)
  • be concise, only use 5 to 7 words
  • type should be a minimum of 4 inches high
  • the best location for copy is within the top 2 feet of the exhibit, but no lower than eye level
  • use one main image people can see from 30 feet away
  • do not use inexpensive, low-resolution images…this, on top of poor design, screams low-budget, small-time company
  • your exhibit must be coordinated with your literature, handout, preshow communications, website, etc.
Structure selection
  • lightweight components
  • easy to assemble
  • flexible, easily reconfigurable for small, medium, large spaces
  • consider change-out of graphics for various shows/audiences/segments
  • if you rent twice you get close to purchase price

Marketing before, during, after

First of all integrate!
Working up to trade show season all of your marketing efforts—web, email, direct, advertising, publicity, miscellaneous marketing communications—should be referring to your trade show plans.

Why promote?
  • there’s an average of 286 exhibitors per show (visitors just can’t see everyone exhibiting at the show)
  • 76% of visitors plan an agenda and you want to be on the list
  • preshow marketing improves traffic by 35%
Preshow promotion
  • direct marketing (Borns’ BrandvertisingSM blends direct mail, email, web landing pages)
  • news releases
  • personal invite calls
  • trade ad mentions
At-show promotion
  • press conferences
  • room drops
  • various advertising (billboards, signage, banners)
  • show directory listings and ads
  • sponsorships
  • hospitality
  • in-exhibit activities
Postshow efforts
  • marketing (not sales) must qualify leads and determine appropriate action
  • marketing passes on the highest-potential and most-likely-to-buy leads on to sales to follow-up
  • marketing must nurture leads that are early in the buying cycle, keeping them warm with periodic communications
  • a postshow campaign should be prepared for those who didn’t make it to your booth to let them know what they missed

Got one on the line! Now what?

Don’t be another statistic
  • 70% of all sales leads never get acted upon
  • 45% of the leads you receive will buy from someone…not necessarily you
  • An 11% reduction in dropped/lost leads, combined with a 1% improvement in lead-to-order conversion rate, could increase annual gross profit by 136%
Benefits of a lead management system (it’s a process, not just a software program)
  • leads that receive immediate follow-up have a higher probability of closing
  • the value of marketing can be calculated because leads are not ‘lost’ or ignored
  • information requests are rapidly fulfilled in a professional, personalized manner
  • this is also an ongoing method for building corporate, product, and/or service brand awareness
  • this systematic approach will increase sales’ productivity
  • you can determine lead-to-sale ROI
  • ability to monitor sales’ activity and follow-up efficiency
  • measure trade show ROI

Trade show industry statistics have been provided by Skyline Exhibits. Contact: Loy Cantu,

Managing those leads

This gets into a whole other topic which will require another issue of Marketeering. Stay tuned, we’ll cover this in a subsequent issue. If you have an immediate need, please contact Randy Borns, about Borns’ lead management system.

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Trade show marketing: Gettin’ strategic with it!
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Define your show strategy

Why, who, what, how?
  • Why are you exhibiting?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • What shows do they attend?
  • What do you want to accomplish at this show?
  • What’s new: entity, product, service, capability?
  • How does the show integrate with your overall marketing strategies and plan?
  • What sales volume is expected from this show?
Where do you fit in the market?
  • What’s your industry/market position? (Compare internal perception to that of your clients’.)
  • What are your sales channels?
  • What are the characteristics of customers’ buying behavior? Their preferences and needs?
  • What is the market potential relative to the audience?
  • Describe your product/service in terms of applications, benefits, and relative price.
  • What are your competitive advantages? How can they be communicated?
  • What is unique about your product/service? How can you convey this distinction?
  • What is your weakness? How can you minimize it?
  • Why should a prospect consider purchasing your product/service?
  • What is your key message? What words capture the essence of your company, product, or service? Can it be conveyed with graphics?
How about the competition?
  • Who are your competitors?
  • What are their strengths and weaknesses? How will they convey their strength? Can you capitalize on their weakness?
How do we get them here and engage them?
  • How can you attract attention to your exhibit?
  • Why will attendees visit you?
  • How will visitors interact with your staff?
  • What do attendees normally want to do when they visit your exhibit?
  • Can a meaningful demonstration be integrated into your exhibit?
Before and after
  • Who will be responsible for planning, coordinating, and executing the entire event to assure its success?
  • How will you measure the results of this event?
How will you measure show results?

A few ways are:

  • number of leads
  • investment per lead
  • orders written at show
  • sales generation within 6 months after show
  • number of visitors in booth or those that viewed your presentation
  • exit interviewing or postshow survey