How to Get Started: Attending and Presenting at Trade Shows

Trade shows have always been popular as a way to demonstrate new products and services and generally get your brand seen. The scale of these events draws large crowds, industry leaders, and entrepreneurs trying to make a name for themselves, putting them all in close proximity with each other. Attendees get to network with their peers. Early adopters get to see new and exciting products and trends. And, most importantly, brands can build awareness around their products or services to a very specific audience. 

Attending a trade show can be a great way to spend (part of) your sales or marketing budget. But before you register or commit to a booth, there are a few things you should consider.

  • What budget do you have for trade shows over the course of the year?
  • Which trade shows are most worth attending, given that budget?
  • What message do you want your audience to leave with? (What do you want them to believe, feel, or do?)
  • What kind of booth should you consider?

What’s your budget? 

Trade shows are an investment. The average ticket costs $600 to $1,000, and that’s just to get in the door. If you are thinking about exhibiting or having a booth, the price increases significantly. On the lower end, a trade show booth can run up to $10,000. (Does that number give you sticker shock? It can. You will have to weigh whether the cost is worth the connections you make.)

If this is your first trade show, or first time at a specific event, consider going as an attendee rather than an exhibitor. The commitment and cost are much lower as an attendee. This will also allow you to do some reconnaissance and get a feel for the conference and how it works. 

A few other things to consider when budgeting for a trade show:

  • Transportation and accommodations 
  • Per diem (food and beverage) for staff 
  • Promotional and marketing materials 

In addition to having a booth at a trade show, there will likely be other promotional opportunities offered by the event organizers. From signage at the front entrance to banners leading to the exhibit hall, there are countless ways to advertise with the show. This can help increase foot traffic to your booth and/or your website…but again, this will add to the overall cost. 

What trade show(s) should you attend?  

Every year, an estimated 13,000 trade shows take place across the U.S. While it might be easy to shortlist a few shows, finding the right one to attend will require more research. Here are a few questions to get you started:

  1. Does this trade show align with my budget and sales cycle? Trade shows can be costly, and it might take a while to nurture any contacts you make at one. Do you have the runway to nurture those potential clients? And does it make sense to attend shows at one part of the year versus another? 
  2. Do I know any prior attendees/exhibitors? Ask your peers and industry connections about their past trade show experiences. Their feedback can help you make a better-informed decision whether or not to attend or exhibit at any particular trade show. 
  3. Who is attending? As an attendee or exhibitor, you need to ensure two things: That there will be a captive audience, and that decision-makers will be in attendance. If your target audience isn’t there, you shouldn’t be either. The event organizers should have this information available for you. If it is not made clear in the exhibitor prospectus, don’t be afraid to ask for it and about any other questions you might have as they relate to the conference.
  4. What’s the theme/topic? Choose a conference where there are clearly defined themes or topics that align with your product(s). This will guarantee that the audience is captive and will be more engaged. It also shows that the organizers care about what is current and trending in their particular niche or industry.

When it comes to trade shows, being a big fish in a small pond is not a bad idea. Although national shows can be alluring, you might have a larger impact at a regional event. In fact, 53% of exhibitors think smaller, regional shows are more successful than national ones. 

A regional trade show will naturally provide a more intimate setting, affording better opportunities to network and connect. Additionally, there could be potential to join as a speaker or panelist at a future event. 

What’s your message? 

Before you think about your booth design, swag, or anything else material, the most important thing to nail down is your messaging

Your message is the main idea you want to communicate to your target audience. It should influence people in a meaningful way so they align with your vision and want to give you their business. When your messaging is well developed, it should be clear what you want your audience to believe, feel, and/or do.

An effective marketing message contains seven components:. 

  1. Value proposition. What is the key selling point of your product/service? 
  2. Unique selling point. What sets your product/service apart from competitors? Think about unique features or benefits, or unique use cases.
  3. Brand message. What is the company’s brand? You are not just selling a product/service, you are selling your brand and its mission.
  4. Target audience. What does your target audience care about? Trade show attendees are typically early adopters. How do their needs and interests differ from the common consumer? 
  5. Call-to-action. What specific action do you want attendees to take at your booth? Make a purchase; experience a product demo; complete a survey; sign up for an email list? 
  6. Storytelling. Crafting a good story can help captivate an audience. Be relatable and make your story have meaning to you and what you’re selling.  
  7. Visuals. A picture, graphic, or video can be worth a thousand words. Think about how you can use visuals to explain complex information or provide demos. This will allow you more time to connect with people at your booth.

As you can see, there is a lot that goes into good messaging. We recognize, however, that trade shows do limit the ways in which you get that messaging across. Your ability to attract attention, your time with prospects, and even the space you have is limited from the start. But we have found it is best to consider your messaging in total, with all its parts, and then find a way to make the messaging as concise and compelling as possible. Trying to brainstorm concise and compelling messages without first going through this exercise rarely leads to successful engagement.

Guidelines for planning your booth 

There are many reasons to work with an agency or design firm to put together your booth. For one, the average trade show booth is a 10×10 box, which is not a lot of room to work with. For another, consider the time that it takes to make booth materials that look good. Even if you have an eye for design, this is something best left to people who design booths full-time.

Your job is to help guide their creative juices. The first step, then, is to remember: You don’t just want your booth to look good. You want people to walk away with a good experience. For example: A colorful banner or a light show might grab someone’s attention from across the room. How does it connect to what they do once they get to the booth?

First impressions are everything. When someone enters your booth space or is nearby, be ready to engage with that person. Be friendly, welcoming, and ready to tell your story. You might have only a few seconds to engage that person before they move on. 

At the same time, your booth should set the stage for you to tell your brand’s unique story. Use multiple types of visuals, especially video, to showcase your product or service and provide takeaway materials for attendees to review later. 

Because time spent at a booth is a precious commodity, developing an interactive product demo can engage with your audience and showcase your product or service. If you can find space for attendees to get off their feet for a few minutes, this can also afford you more time with potential customers.

Finally, before you complete your desired call-to-action, give the attendee something to help remember you and your company long after the conference. Think outside of the box when coming up with your promotional giveaway. At a recent show, we worked with a client to give away a tasty treat from their headquarters city – it was a unique treat that started a conversation. What will make you memorable and stand out from the hundreds of other exhibitors? 

Ready to attend your first trade show? 

There is a lot that goes into attending or exhibiting at your first trade show. If done right, it can be a great place to launch a new product, build brand awareness, or generate new leads. 

If you are planning for your first trade show, or just want some advice as to whether this is the way to promote your brand, contact us to schedule a Roadmap call and plan out your marketing.

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