The Beginner’s Guide to Trade Show Marketing

Trade shows bring businesses in the same industry together, drawing in hundreds — sometimes thousands — of people every year. Exhibiting your company’s products and services at one might be the big boost your business needs. If you have a strong sense of trade show marketing before heading into the event, you can walk away with a ton of money and useful connections. We’ll tell you everything you need to know about trade shows and how to position your business at one.

What is trade show marketing?

Trade show marketing involves showcasing and promoting your products and services at one of these large-scale, industry-specific events. Because trade shows aim to help businesses boost brand awareness, you’ll gain a ton of exposure and a whole new audience by attending one as an exhibitor. You’ll also get to meet other professionals in your field as well as new customers, learn what your competitors are up to, and gain insight into the broader trends, products, and services shaping your industry.

Say you run a business that manufactures plastic parts, and you’re interested in attending your industry’s annual trade show as an exhibitor. To make the most of trade show marketing, you would set up a booth at the event that showcases your company’s accomplishments, developments, and new products. You can man the booth yourself with the help of a few of your employees, drawing in trade show attendees interested in what you’re promoting.

This increased level of exposure is what makes trade show marketing so important. You have a great opportunity to talk to people who are genuinely interested in your business operation, the products you make, and what you have to offer. It’s also a great place to connect and build a network of contacts within your industry.

Why should you go to trade shows?

As a business owner, you might be wondering whether exhibiting your products and services at a trade show is worth your time and money. On the surface, it might seem like a costly distraction that would pull you away from your business for a few days.

A successful trip to a trade show may actually do more for your business than you imagine. 

Be seen by your audience

A big part of brand awareness involves being seen. When people hear your name, see your face, and learn about your company, odds are they’ll remember you. You want to present yourself as a viable option for a certain solution. When a customer runs into a problem in the future, your name should be the first one to pop up.

This works equally well for people who are already customers. By seeing you at a trade show, you’re reinforcing your role as their go-to company. All of this face-to-face interaction can work wonders for your business.

Hear what your customers are saying

While a majority of trade show attendees work in your industry, customers interested in your products and services typically attend, too. Through conversations with potential customers, you’ll get feedback on your product or service and gain insight into what customers are thinking, what they’re happy with, and what changes they’d like to see.

Say you set up a booth to promote your kitty litter business at the annual Kitty Cat trade show. While you’re there, several cat owners may stop by your booth to learn more about your kitty litter products. New customers looking to switch brands may tell you what was wrong with the kitty litter they had been using and ask why your product would be a better choice. Existing customers might tell you why they love — or hate — your product and offer suggestions on how you can improve it.

See what the “other guys” are doing

Trade shows are like a spy mission without any backlash, giving you the ultimate access to your competitors. If you walk around the trade show floor and visit each booth, you’ll learn more about the products or services they’re all offering. This will help you determine whether you’re on par with your rivals or whether it’s time to up your game.

If every exhibitor at the annual baking trade show is offering free cookies or cupcakes at their booths, then you should consider doing the same next time. You might also consider including other merch, like stickers, with your bakery’s name and a catchy slogan on it.

Aside from scoping out the competition, you might also find a viable business partner in a rival, especially if your business model complements theirs.

Meet helpful vendors

Vendors attend trade shows looking to sell their products or services to other businesses. If you’re manning your booth at the annual plastics-industry trade show, for example, a vendor might walk up to you and pitch a new software program his company developed that might help you improve the number of units you produce daily.

It’s much easier to meet and connect with vendors at a trade show than by running a Google search. 

Connect with the right people 

At a trade show, you’ll meet vendors, loyal customers as well as potential ones, and competitors. All of these connections could make a huge difference in your business.

You won’t have to devote company time to finding the right people. The right people are all gathered at the trade show, eager to connect, share their insights, and showcase their abilities. People will have their guards down, giving you a better chance of being heard and making a connection.

Generate leads

Remember: everyone on the trade show floor is a potential lead. As long as you know the right way to get leads at a trade show, you’ll have a lot of success. People want to connect, find the right companies for their needs, and grow their businesses. If you fit into their plan, people will gravitate toward you.

SXSW exhibition hall
SXSW famously brings together a wide range of business professionals, vendors, and potential customers, helping brands grow awareness, showcase new offerings, and boost profitability.

Tips for a successful trade show experience and marketing strategy

The best way to get ready for a trade show is by putting together a strong event marketing strategy. This concept is easier than you might think.

Outline your goals

You can’t go to a trade show without some goals. These goals need to be achievable, measurable, and specific to the trade show.

Many people typically attend a trade show looking to:

If it’s your first trade show, then it’s OK to do some major guessing. Be realistic when putting together goals so you don’t get disheartened. 

Rather than aiming for 1,000 new leads, maybe start with 25. With experience, you’ll get better at dialing in on achievable goals.

Find the right trade shows

Your kitty litter business won’t gain much from attending the annual construction trade show. That’s why it’s important to sign up for trade shows that are related to the service or product you sell.

You’ll want to find trade shows that are in your industry, with specific vendors and customers in attendance. Namely, people with cats that are looking for your top-of-the-line kitty litter. That Annual Kitty Cat trade show sounds perfect, doesn’t it?

Pick a reason to go

Sometimes your goals aren’t the same as your reason to go to a trade show. You might have goals surrounding sales, but your reasoning has to do with making new business contacts and seeing what’s on the market. There’s nothing wrong with that.

A great secondary reason to go to a trade show can involve your new products. The perfect place to showcase your prototypes and generate some buzz is the trade show floor. Take a look at the calendar and see if you can time it perfectly, looking for a trade show with dates that align with your new product launch.

Make sure you’re ready

Jumping into a trade show before you’re ready may do more harm than good. This is true on many levels — your business isn’t ready yet or you don’t have the right materials for the trade show. If you have a booth or a table to set up shop, don’t forget the essentials:

  • Business cards
  • Free swag
  • Boards to display your message
  • Products you want to demonstrate
  • Leaflets or brochures
  • Ways that people can connect with you

If you’re stressing already, don’t worry. The first trade show will teach you everything you need to know. Just go into the trade show with what you think you need and pick up the information you need once you’re there, taking notes to help you be better prepared for the next one.

Ask yourself, “How will this make my business money?”

Whichever way you look at it, you’re attending a trade show to make your business more money. Understanding how you’re going to do this will help you shape your goals, decide what materials you’ll bring along, and determine your reason for going.

A strong website can help you turn leads into customers. Having it up and running before attending a trade show, for example, will ensure the people who found you on the floor of the trade show can find you again.

Remember to follow up

The trade show’s over, and you have a ton of information from potential leads. Now, it’s time to follow up — an essential part of trade show marketing.

A day or two after the trade show ends, send every new contact a cordial email that expresses how nice it was to meet them and includes something you discussed. This helps your contacts remember you and your business as well as why they connected with you.

Next steps for trade show marketing

Trade shows are a great place to connect with the right people, gather potential leads, and boost your business. Knowing what to do once you get there is just as important as showing up with the right material.

If you have any questions, Constant Contact can help guide you through the process. For more marketing ideas, check out The Download, our free marketing guide. 

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