How to Stand out at Trade Shows


Are trade shows part of your marketing plan this year? If not, perhaps they should be. A report by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research says more than 80 percent of trade show display attendees have buying authority in their roles. And beyond that, trade shows also represent a big opportunity to connect with potential suppliers, partners and investors.

But they can also feel overwhelming, especially when you see what you’re up against. “The biggest thing about trade shows is the competition. Everyone is trying to make noise and stand out,” says Sarah Vitale, account director at George P. Johnson Experience Marketing.

Here’s how to make sure the investment in your presence really pays off.

Target Your Audience with Precision

All good marketing starts with knowing your audience, and that applies to trade shows, as well, Vitale says. You may feel like you need to get as many people as possible to stop at your booth, but it makes much more sense to identify the people who really need your product or service, and shape a message that they’ll respond to.

“It all comes down to knowing who you want to experience and engage at your booth,” Vitale says. Who do you want to stop at your booth? What are their concerns and interests? What are they looking for from interacting with you? The answers will help you clarify your message.

Also, think about what you want to accomplish with your presence. Are you looking for contact information for prospective customers? Identifying strategic partners? Build brand awareness? What does a successful interaction look like?

Drive the Right Traffic to Your Booth

Standing out at trade shows is all about buzz. Having something remarkable at your booth will get people to stop in person, but also give you something to pre-market before the trade show, Vitale says. Give your target audience a reason to search you out.

Vitale says some of the options include a giveaway, a live presentation or demonstration, or an unusual experience, such as a virtual reality helmet or other tech innovation. Whatever it is, it needs to be something people will talk about when they get back to the home office, Vitale says.

Create an Inviting Space

The rules for real estate go for trade shows as well: location, location, location. “A lot of companies don’t realize that space is worth the investment,” Vitale says. A larger space in a high-traffic area can give you more room to catch people’s eyes through an appealing visual, a demonstration, giveaways and other activities, she says.

Take a look at the floor plan and choose your location strategically. Reserve your booth space early, be willing to pay a little more for a strong location and don’t be afraid to get a large space, which is key if you want to create an experience for attendees or create buzz with a dazzling display.

Tell a Compelling Story

Once you’ve identified your audience and ordered up a space, those factors will give you a foundation to build the booth itself, Vitale says. She recommends coming up with a story your product or service can tell. “I really push my team on this: Throw the paperwork aside and instead of thinking of a booth and being a production house, think about the story they want to tell,” she says.

Vitale says to ask yourself what you want people to walk away with, and what you want them to do after they leave. “You’ll want to identify what will make you deem this as successful,” she says. Working from that end can help you identify a story you want to tell them, as well as pre-market your booth and sustain experiences after the trade show.

Follow Up Appropriately

Hot leads should get a direct response from sales, but what about all those other business cards and emails you collected? The story you crafted should live on “past the booth,” Vitale says. Use it to prepare a campaign that sends out response emails directly after the show.

Consider offering varying levels of engagement with specific calls to action, such as “download a white paper” or “watch a video demo.” These different levels can help you qualify leads while extending your story after the show.

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