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Trade Show Marketing

It Takes Planning Well in Advance to Make a Good Impression

Impressions can be seen everywhere at a trade show — from booth design and layout to logos and literature; from promotional giveaways to staff etiquette. All of these elements working together can create an overall impression of your company and/or product — good, bad, or indifferent. It takes planning well in advance of the show to ensure that these elements are in place and, when used effectively, will increase the potential for sales.

Many exhibitors do well in planning for some of the elements, but not others. For example, they may have a great product, but exhibit staff are not properly trained. Or the graphics do not tell the company or product story at a glance, causing confusion for the attendees. Over the past 30 years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many exhibiting organizations on their trade show marketing to effectively tie in all of the elements. It’s usually just a slight adjustment, not major change, that makes the difference.

Done right, the results always add up in sales.

Here are some guidelines, which I believe are critical for successful trade show marketing:

Establish Show Objectives

Your objectives need to be clearly stated for each trade show. Not every exhibitor has the same objectives. Do you expect to be generating leads, maximizing exposure, creating awareness, selling? Maybe your type of product or service allows for multiple objectives.

Will the decision makers or key influencers of your target audience be at the show? How will success be measured after the show? What is the budget?

Pre-show Communication

Plan how to announce your company’s presence. The announcement gives people a reason to stop by. Use your Web site to post your trade show schedule. Develop a creative E-mail campaign to prospects and existing customers or simply make some phone calls.

Design Booth Layout

Select your location, if given the choice. Look at traffic flow, aisles, entrances, show activities, etc. Design your booth graphics so attendees will know what your company is selling at a glance. Create a finished appearance. Order or bring carpet and/or fixtures. Don’t create barriers. Decide what products and information will be displayed.

When using models, entertainment, or games to attract a crowd, you must plan in advance where they will be positioned in your exhibit. Your booth is the lobby or gateway to your company. It must be immediately welcoming and the representative of your organization.

In the Booth

Train your staff ahead of time on both product knowledge and etiquette. Make sure everyone knows the schedule to avoid overcrowding. How your staff behaves can make a lasting impression on your audience.

Decide what to wear, whether it will be business, casual attire, or booth uniform. Allow no eating, drinking, chewing gum, smoking, excessive chatting with other booth workers, cell phones, etc. Your staff should remain standing, ready to receive people at all times.

Stop Traffic

Be cheerful, smile, make eye contact, and be sincere. Ask open-ended, pertinent questions to pre-qualify prospects. Don’t wait for them to stop. Engage them as they pass by or pause to glance at what you are offering.

Document Inquiries and Leads

Choose a mechanism that collects the prospect’s name, company, address, phone number, E-mail, and the type of follow-up required. Make sure the inquiries are handled quickly after the show.

Promotional Literature

Literature should be available, professional, and easy to read and understand. Train your staff on how to use the literature in advance. However, remember, at a trade show literature doesn’t make a sale — it’s all about personal contact.

Use ‘Smart’ Giveaways

Who are the recipients? Will they keep it? Print your logo, phone number, and Web site on the items. Tie the giveaways to your advertising pre-show message.

Raffle Drawings

Raffles are used to collect names and information to add to your company database. Drawings also draw traffic to your booth, and can be part of your pre-show mailing.


How you handle the post-show is important to the planning process from the beginning. How will you measure your return on investment of the show? Will it be the number of qualified leads, the number of sales generated, or the number of impressions? Communicate to your audience after the show. Use this as reason to touch your prospects again. Follow up with a letter, postcard, phone call, or E-mail. Give attendees a reason to visit your Web site; for example, post raffle winners on the site, etc.

Remember, there is no other marketing tool as personal as an exhibit. It is the only sales opportunity where hundreds of your prospects will visit you in a given day. No cold calling, trying to get past voice mail, reception, or protective secretaries. Attendees have business needs to be filled, and they are shopping in your booth.

Be prepared, be specific, and be ready to make a lasting impression.

Jack Desroches is the executive producer of Milestone Events in Chicopee;[email protected]

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