You have officially been assigned a booth at an important industry trade show. How will you take advantage of this unique opportunity to communicate your brand message & generate conversion? How will you capitalize on the thousands of visitors that will pass by wondering: “What’s that all about?” And, most importantly, “What’s in it for me?”
A trade show is an exhibition where different companies in a specific industry (or a group of related industries) demonstrate their product and service offerings. Sometimes conferences will also open up trade show spaces for attendees, in addition to speaker presentations.
Strategic planning is the key to trade show success. Though there is always space (and a clear need) for spontaneity and a little improvisation, knowing how you want to approach attendees and what you need them to do is crucial. Trade shows are a sizeable investment and you should not only expect, but plan for, an equally sizeable return.
1. Make sure that you hand out something memorable & actionable.
Conference and trade show attendees are used to getting freebies of all sorts. Please consider how your memento/souvenir/swag stands out from the rest. Also make sure that there is a clear call to action embedded somewhere in the product: a landing page, phone number, social media hashtag or contact email (depending on your conversion goal for this event) along with an inviting phrase should work. Don’t splurge on expensive merchandise unless you are confident that only a certain item will help you get the impact you want. You can always test this before the event: try surveying a few potential customers about their impressions about the item that you are considering giving out. Always watch out for your return on investment.
2. Perfect your pitch.
A trade show is a great opportunity to share your brand story face to face. Unfortunately, it is an opportunity that hundreds (if not thousands) of competitors are trying to cash into simultaneously. Practice your pitch until it is sufficiently attractive and short to capitalize on a few seconds of your visitors’ attention. Are you being clear enough about the main benefits of your product/service? How will it help the visitor realize his/her aspirations? Here are a few additional tips on how to improve your pitch.
3. Carry around a press kit in case a journalist or blogger swings by.
Because trade shows generally summon large audiences and interesting companies, journalists are always willing to attend to hunt for captivating stories. Make sure that even after you’ve delivered your (highly!) captivating pitch, there’s a physical information piece that journalists can go back and look at after they’ve left your booth. Summarize key elements of your value offer, traction metrics, and brand story so that anyone would we thrilled to feature you.
4. Make sure that you plan for eye candy.
Create a visual anchor that draws visitors into your booth. Unlike brochures, banners and other traditional communications pieces, this “visual anchor” is precisely a feast for the eyes that makes it impossible not to stop when one walks by. Think outside of the box: eye-catching light installations, unusual chairs, bold digital signage.
5. Showing is better than telling, and playing beats both.
Bring a prototype or working version of your product. Ideally, make this a tangible artifact; something visitors can interact with. How could you create a version of your product/service that users can touch and play around with?
6. Free food doesn’t hurt.
There’s scientific evidence behind the stimulating effect of certain ingredients. Chocolate, for example, is a well-known crowd pleaser. Treating your visitors to a small sweet may not change the content or tone of your pitch, but it might do wonders for the way it is perceived. And perception, after all, is one of the key factors behind a successful first impression. Some companies will even brand the candy that they give out for an even more robust impact. If applicable, also consider including a sugar-free version of your treats for visitors with different diets.
7. Dress for success.
Along the same lines, first impressions are highly visual and often rely on the outer elements that we are able to perceive upon first glance. An outfit is one such element. There are so many different associations coming in from the minute someone looks at what you are wearing (and how you are wearing it) that it frustrates me to hear that some companies are still not paying attention to this. Elegant, sophisticated, sloppy and unprofessional are all adjectives that come to mind when looking at someone’s choice of attire. What will it be for your brand?
8. Invite followers & customers to visit your booth with a pre-event campaign.
Although trade shows organize their own pre-event marketing campaigns (which is, to some extent, why we pay them), your brand will be better off if it also rallies its own customers and followers to show up. “Find us at booth XY” or “Come visit! We’re on booth XY at Z” are some ways to let people know that your brand is present at this trade show, that doors are open, and that they are more than welcome to swing by. You can never have too many visitors. Especially when there is a certain bandwagon effect that happens when people see other people next to your booth: the demand for your product/service appears greater.
9. Generate content about your experience at the show, before, during and after the event.
Think about how sharing blog posts, social media posts, videos and images can help you convey the amount of work that went into setting up your booth, how visitors engaged with your prototype, and your value offer’s impact in the event. If applicable, come up with a custom hashtag for your presence at the event. Something along the lines of #XatYcon, where X is your brand and YCon is the trade show’s name.
10. Create a plan to follow up on the leads that were generated during the event.
The trade show isn’t over when it’s over. Now is the time to capitalize on all those contacts that your team picked up. Make sure that whoever is at your stand is promptly collecting details about visitors, going beyond the simple name and phone number, and taking note of interesting data like: behavior, products he/she was interested in, projects he/she mentioned where we might get involved, questions he/she had, among others.