Real results in real time: smart ways to upgrade your trade show marketing plan


Business to business marketers consider in-person events their most effective tactic for good reason: networking is the means by which new partnerships, innovations and markets are unlocked, but it comes with considerable difficulties. Trade show marketing can be very difficult, and there’s always a sharp disparity between lively booths and dead and boring ones.

Proper strategizing and planning is essential for trade show success and preventing potentially high value leads falling through the cracks. The right investments in travel and expenses (e.g. food and lodging), insurance, event setup and production are needed. Below are some top tips on how to upgrade your marketing strategy for trade shows and conventions to get real results.

Preshow: The Planning Stage

Pre-planning is the first and most important factor in success: registering for and planning the event way in advance is key. Get in as early as you can. Don’t forget to plan every aspect of your trade show – pre-show, during show and post-show, tying it all back to a strategy which is aligned with your business goals and objectives. Trade show goals, whether buzz or sales-focused, should be refined beforehand with quantifiable metrics where appropriate, e.g. scoring a certain number of leads or contacts for your email database.

Rank your priorities: raising your profile, attracting new customers and launching new products or services are all important objectives but they can’t be pursued with equal intensity or success and such ranking will have an important impact on your budget and other aspects of booth planning.

Your event should match your goals logically: if you’re looking to obtain certain types of contacts plan to know which demographics you’ll be targeting and who will be at the event. A process for tracking and evaluating your success in pursuing these goals is essential.

Preshow: The Feng Shui

Feng Shui, the art of harmonizing people with their surrounding environment, is a most important consideration for your booth planning. The booth should be in an ideal space which is open, inviting and situated in a high-traffic area. The parameters of the space (e.g. dimensions, ceiling height, lighting, and electricity access) should all be known and taken into consideration.

You want maximum impact in your booth, messaging and giveaway design: giveaway items should be recognizable, unique and desirable, employees should be energetic and enthusiastic. Advertise your event on social media, your website and mailing list in advance.

Consider publishing a press release to tease what you will be featuring at the show, e.g. speakers not to miss, sessions to attend, breakout sessions that employees are leading. Personally invite and schedule appointments with important contacts for consultations, presentations or demos.

During Show: Engage!

An engaging show avoids barriers between staff and visitors. Don’t have employees hidden away behind large, ominous tables filled with leaflets, working on laptops or tablets. People should be lured in with friendly staff, good graphics, 3D models or a competition.

Consider hiring an artist or sculptor to construct a colorful, eye-grabbing artistic rendering of a model or concept. Find out from Island Printing how the concept design you envision would look on different prints. Be a speaker as well as an exhibitor: having a good speaker puts you out above the rest, you should already have one on the team rather than having to hire one.

A topic of expertise delivered to a targeted audience with a sense of humor is essential as it provides both entertainment and credibility, promoting your booth and spreading the word.

Post-show: Wrapping it Up

Post-show organizing is just as important as the pre-show and during-show stages. Hold a debrief session with your sales and marketing teams to discuss the good and bad and how to draw helpful lessons for the future by considering the results you’ve measured with your tracking procedure.

Email guests to thank them for stopping by and hit them with a nurturing campaign. Rank your leads by order of priority (1, 2, 3 or a more complicated ordering if needed e.g. 1a, 1b, 2a, 2b etc.) and decide on that basis which sales tools and literature to deliver them, whether to hit them with the whole team or a particular rep. Appoint someone to monitor and manage this process.

Try and make the time to go to a trade show outside of your industry by yourself or with a small group, as members of the public. Try a military, automobile or gun show.

Take note of what works and what doesn’t: as an enthusiastic novice, what instantly appeals to you? Which booths appear to be appealing to other professionals, are they failing to attract novices? Are they trying to attract both demographics?  What graphics and lighting arrangements make you feel welcome, which space arrangements work well with traffic flow and which create a claustrophobic atmosphere?

Write up a 3, 5 or 10-point list of the most successful strategies you observed and consider adapting them to your future booths.


About the author

Eloise Nelson has worked in the marketing profession for several years and has experience in several key areas. She shares her professional advice online at a growing n