The largest trade show in the United States is CES, a consumer technologies convention hosted annually by the Consumer Technology Association. Held in Las Vegas, the trade show boasts more than 4,400 exhibitors and more than 175,000 attendees each year.
This is the reality at all trade shows, from massive ones like CES to smaller expos in specialized fields. We’ve all seen the show-stopping, well-organized booths drawing huge crowds situated next to booths that attract very few visitors.
Regardless of show size, two things are undeniable: exhibitors can attract a significant number of new leads, but they also have to work just as hard to set their booths apart from the crowd.
What's clear is that trade shows are big business. In the United States, trade shows earn more than $132 billion in 2017 alone. Attendees are also very likely to purchase products or services that they sampled or saw demonstrated, with 80 percent saying they made such a purchase.
The reason? Show-goers develop a better understanding of the products services when they able to connect and interact with them up close and personal.
Still, with such a large number of companies competing for such surefire leads, companies need to develop a clear plan for a successful, attention-grabbing show. Here, we’ll describe the essential steps for designing your plan.
There are thousands of trade shows in the United States every year, but by no means are they created equal. To make a trade show worth your time, you need to know what your main objective is, the most common being:
Identifying your goal will help you sign up for the trade show that fits your objective.
Once you’ve chosen a show, it’s all about location, location, location. When narrowing down the best spot for your booth, regardless of show size, the most-trafficked areas are typically near entrances, corners or intersections, bathrooms or food stations, and eye-catching attractions. You’ll want to reserve your booth space early on, before another company claims it.
Once you've signed up, read through your contract and exhibitor kit carefully. An extensive understanding of both of these documents will help to ensure that you’ll be aware of important considerations like move in and out dates and times, delivery schedules, and supply storage requirements that differ from show to show.
We’ve also seen new exhibitors unexpected fees they weren’t aware of, including drayage (delivery of materials), service forms, shipping, and missed deadline fees.
If you’ve never attended a trade show before, there are lots of ways that you can successfully generate leads without breaking the bank. We recommend attending smaller, local shows when you’re first getting started. We also suggest training your current employees to attract/draw visitors to your booth, rather than hiring temporary staff.
You can also save on displays by utilizing your products as the focus of your booth. This inline booth that we designed for Honest Tea featured their products as front and center, highlighting the bottles with well-designed lighting.
When creating your budget, start with these general rules of thumb for allocating your resources:
If you’re exhibiting for the first time, you might feel overwhelmed by the prospect of establishing a marketing strategy. However, trade show marketing isn’t all that different from any other kind of marketing initiative. Here are some best practices to follow.
What’s your objective for exhibiting? It can be helpful to attend various shows to see what works and what doesn’t from an attendee’s perspective.
Next, set objectives and SMART goals for your show. Some of the factors on which you may want to collect data include the following:
It's important to decide how you’ll measure the achievement of your goals before you even register for a trade show.
Once you’ve chosen a show, make sure that you use all your social media channels and other marketing platforms to boost interest in visiting your booth. It’s also time to train your staff about how to engage and inform visitors.
Finally, you want to decide what collateral you will or won’t bring to the trade show. Here are some considerations for choosing collateral:
The real value of trade shows comes from the people you meet and the connections you make. You can do this by networking at a variety of opportunities beyond the expo floor.
Talk to your sales and marketing team about what worked in your exhibiting and what didn’t. A team retrospective will help you analyze your results, get feedback from your team, pinpoint potential problem areas, and improve future exhibition strategies.
You should also have a plan in place for following up with leads generated at the show. It's important to finalize this strategy before you leave for the show, so that you can hit the ground running upon your team's return.
A full-service exhibit house is a company that specializes in the design, production, and management of your trade show display. Core services will include the custom design, fabrication, storage, transport, and logistics for everything related to your booth.
So, how do you select an exhibit house? The process of selecting a vendor may include multiple rounds of requests.
These documents are designed to build on one another and will ensure you are thorough, but all three may not be necessary for your project.
After you’ve landed on your goal, budget, and exhibit house, it’s time to start considering the most important piece of exhibiting at a trade show–your booth.
The first step in the booth-design process is to decide if you want to rent or own your booth. New exhibitors who aren’t sure about their futures in trade shows may decide to start with renting. However, if you plan to attend many trade shows over time, buying is a more financially savvy option. Though keep in mind that if you want a highly-customized, one-of-a-kind booth, renting is typically not an option.
If you’re going the custom route, many exhibitors have a vision for their booth and then work with their exhibit house to flush out the design.
For example, Café de Costa Rica had two goals for exhibiting at SCAA:
This would require a sampling area and presentation space, so our in-house design team collaborated with the client to produce this result:
Keep in mind that your original vision may be restricted to your reserved booth size or type, such as:
Your exhibit house can let you know how they can build your vision based on your budget, time, and space allotted.
There's one more often-neglected aspect to booth design: transportation and storage. And keep in mind that the more complex booths will require more complex shipping arrangements, which will increase an already sizable expense.
Your booth will have to be delivered, constructed, dismantled, and stored. Factors like size, weight, show requirements, and special handling must be considered from the very start of the design process. All of this should be regularly communicated and explained by your exhibit house.
You could have the most heart-stopping booth on the trade show floor, but if your staff isn’t well-trained to interact with potential leads, that doesn't matter. Whether you choose some of your most dynamic employees or employ temporary staff, your team needs to be outgoing, friendly, and knowledgeable enough to capture trade show audiences with the benefits of your products and services.
A well-trained floor staff should know how to answer the following questions:
Before the show, you should train your staff on product specs and guest-interaction expectations (this includes dressing and grooming). What’s more, give them time to practice engaging with your products in mock scenarios before they even set foot on the trade show floor.
Further, your staff needs to be able to collect and organize relevant information about leads who visit your booth. Depending on the lead retrieval software you use, your staff should know how to collect demographic information, product/service interest, and engagement strategies. Your time at the trade show will be wasted – and your ROI diminished – if you can’t actually deploy your leads into conversions.
While the most visible people in any trade show booth are the staff members connecting with potential leads, other labor is also necessary to operate highly-technical exhibition booths. These can include electricians, AV personnel, freight experts, security staff, housekeepers, as well as supervisors to manage operations.
It’s important to read your contract to determine if you should – or even can – provide your own laborers. Some shows only allow personnel from certain unions to work with attendees, while others have on-site laborers that you’ll be required to use.
According to Exhibitor Magazine, 93 percent of companies feel “hopeful” or “optimistic” about using trade shows as part of their marketing in 2019. With the right planning and exhibit booth design, even first-time exhibitors can reap the benefits of a successful show.
But if you’re concerned about available resources, or could use some extra guidance throughout the planning process, we’re here to help. Whether it’s design, budgeting, pre-show promotion, or advising on the newest trends, our team is ready to guide and serve you on your trade show journey from start to finish.
Ready to explore your options? Let’s Chat.
This simple checklist breaks up key tasks to stay on top of over the course of your trade show journey.
From pre-planning to post-show, refer to this timeline to ensure that you cover all of the bases for a successful trade show.