Trade shows have distinct advantages that make them a great return on investment for your marketing show. The audience is the most relevant, the attendees are more likely to have budget, and companies are sending their staff to research purchase decisions. That's a trifecta of advantages.
It doesn't come without an expense, though. Renting booth space is a premium and working to get traffic to your booth is a battle… between you and every other booth at the event. So, what kind of things can you do to drive booth traffic and get prospects to come to you?
- Design an attractive booth – having a booth that offers quiet space, a public rest area, a training area, and signage is an imperative. Personally, I recommend my clients arrive early and pick up a bunch of televisions at a local store and then donate them afterwards to a regional charity, church, or school. Renting or shipping them doesn't make sense anymore… and printed signage needs changed continuously. Design a booth with plenty of space for monitors and you can display whatever you'd like!
- Pay for great real estate – Look at the trade show map and identify where there are high traffic areas – entries, exits, snack booths, restrooms, charger stations… you'd be surprised that you can often get an inexpensive booth near a high-traffic area that's not near the entrance. Some trade shows also offer a ceiling hanger… a great way for people to find your booth from across the conference center.
- Develop literature and business cards – Most attendees dread stopping by a booth for fear of getting caught in a sales conversation. However, many will drift by a booth and pick up a piece of literature that describes your products, services, or gives industry advice. Don't hide the literature or your staff's business cards – put them somewhere easy and allow people to grab and go.
- Develop presentations and loops – You need something to display on those monitors – so be sure to have your graphics team develop some beautiful presentations that can be seen from far away and catch peoples' eyes. I often develop video loops and then just put them full screen with the screensaver turned off.
- Have a uniform – Having some beautiful logo'd polo shirts and everyone dressing in the same color pants will make it easier for your staff to stand out in a busy booth. I'd highly recommend a unique color that's inline with your logo. If your logo is green – get green shirts with your logo in white. A white or black shirt with a green logo is more difficult to find.
- Healthy Snacks – You'll find candy and donuts everywhere at a conference center, but how about a high-protein, low-sugar snack? People are health-conscious nowadays and you'll be a champion if you're putting out healthy snacks for visitors every few hours.
- Bag and Shwag – I'm confident that hotel waste baskets are full of tons of cheap shwag after a major trade show closes. If you're looking for something cheap to giveaway, don't bother. Invest in something small, unique, attractive, and useful that can be easily stuffed in a suitcase is always a great investment. Designing a great bag is also great as people will be walking around with your logo all day.
- Publicize hashtags – Find out the conference hashtag, the city hashtag, and develop your own company hashtag where you can stream updates and news throughout the event. Use your social media presence as a resource to other attendees and companies, not just to promote your own presence.
- Monitor hashtags – Speakers, influencers and attendees will promote the fact that they're attending the trade show or conference. Use social media monitoring before the event to capture who those people are, research them, and invite them to the booth or to a VIP event. Monitor during and after for more connection opportunities.
- Speak at the event – If there's any means of doing so, apply to have a speaker at the event. The presentation should be informative, not a sales pitch. Standing at the back of the room and handing out cards may work, but it's a lot more impactful when you're the person at the front of the room meeting attendees.
- Audience profile – Time is your enemy at a conference so understand what your goals are for who you wish to meet and how many. Absolutely let attendees know if they meet your target audience so that they better understand why they should stop by your booth.
- Pre-promote your presence – As soon as you pick a booth, design a map and promote your schedule, resources, and team on a continuous basis leading up to to the conference or trade show. Offer influencers, prospects, and customers an opportunity to sign up and meet with your team there.
- Hire influencers and entertainers – Ask an influencer to give a presentation at the event and offer them space to do it. If someone is already speaking at the event, they're a great target to have them stop and give a small presentation at your booth that's valuable to your audience. They're already onsite and already promoting the event… use them at your booth to drive traffic! Entertainers? I also have friends who perform a mind-tripping show and they work events for large corporations. They develop a specific act for the product or service, and build a strategy that drives leads, and then have the attendees get handed off to internal staff. It works flawlessly.
- Develop Calls-To-Action – What are you promoting at the event? What's your message and talking points? What do you want visitors to do once you connect with them? Have a game plan, pre-promote it internally and externally, and ensure you have a means to follow-up and measure the impact of the event.
- Collect attendee information – Whether it's a fish bowl for business cards or a scanner for attendee badges, try to collect as much information as you can. If you really want to be strategic, have a notebook and pen at the ready to jot down notes on each person you capture data for. This will help you segment them later for the appropriate communications.
- Live stream socially – If you've got some employees on location, have them attend some great sessions and share the key points of the presentation on social media (using hashtags). Follow and promote the speakers in attendance as they're great connectors in the industry.
- Take photos and video – Have your staff on the lookout for great opportunities to interview or grab a photo. As you're streaming socially, you can share these in real-time. After the event, you can do a post-event video that you can promote online.
- Partner with a charity – More recently at events, I'm noticing that some companies are partnering with charities to drive more traffic to their booth. At one event, they even sold custom event t-shirts out of their booth with all proceeds going to the charity. The booth was swamped! They sold thousands of shirts… helping out the charity and looking great to the attendees
- Offer and promote VIP events – I'm surprised at how many companies just head to the bar or back to the hotel room to get some work done at an event. Schedule a dinner out with influencers, great prospects, or current key clients. I've built great relationships with companies that included limo service and a VIP booth at a local venue. And FOMO drove more leads to connect to the company with the best events.
- Post-Event Wrap-Up – At a national event, we requested a quote and talking points from every speaker in attendance and we printed a wrap-up hand-out. The speakers loved the idea because it further promoted them. It was incredibly well-received by the attendees, too, and we promoted it for a month after the event to attendees and mailed it to them. Attendees got the crib notes from the sessions they missed, and we had an opportunity to build our brand's awareness.
Companies make enormous investments in trade shows and conferences, but rarely do they stand out. In a room of hundreds of other booths, you have to differentiate yourself and get noticed.
If you have some additional tips that have worked for you at a trade show, I'd love to hear them in the comments!