Trade Show Marketing: How to Attract the Best Qualified Leads and Prospects to Your Booth (Part 1 of 3)

  • Sep 8, 2008

(Part One of a Three Part Series)

One of the biggest hurdles my clients’ face is in proper trade show marketing. A trade show can easily cost from $10,000 for a basic 10 foot by 10 foot booth, with one or two people manning it, to $100,000 or more for larger booths with a full staff, state of the art booth, graphics, drayage, hotels, meals, taxis, etc.

Why spend that much money and not focus some time and energy on maximizing your return on investment? Often trade show planning and marketing falls to someone who is given conflicting goals and objectives (or no objectives at all) and that person is often without a dedicated staff, budget and little management input.

Without clear objectives, you cannot measure the success of a trade show, other an ambiguous overall grade. Are you looking to increase sales? To brand your name in the marketplace? To secure appointments for your sales team? To connect with present accounts? To meet with members of the press?

After you decide on the overall goal, break it down into a quantifiable amount, such as opening up 20 new accounts with projected first year sales of $100,000 each; securing 25 product demonstrations within the next 60 days, etc.

As a veteran of well over 300 trade shows over the past 20 years where I have been an exhibitor, and over 1,500 others where I have worked with my clients to maximize their trade show exhibiting dollars, I have practically seen it all—the good, the bad, the lame and the ugly when it comes to trade show marketing.

I have exhibited and worked some of the nation’s largest shows (National Restaurant Show, International Housewares Show, National Association of Convenience Store, New York Gift Show and the National Hardware Show, to name a few), as well many small regional, state, and city Chamber of Commerce shows, and I can attest to the importance of pre-show/at-show and post-show activities, and would like to break these down in a few simple steps.

In this column, I will be talking about the importance of Pre-Show trade show activities. In following columns, I will address At-Show and Post-Show activities and strategies.

Pre-Show Activity

There are several options in promoting your appearance at a trade show, and I have broken down a few of the most popular, in no particular order of importance.

Big Smile Approach—You can just show up, smile a lot and hope attendees walk by your booth and stop in. Your signage and name may bring them in, but remember, attendees are busy, often in a hurry and may have their head turned in the opposite direction of your booth – and miss you completely. Plus, try as they might, not everyone walks down every aisle, they may be on their cell phone or talking to an associate as they pass by – or may see your booth, give you a head nod, and keep walking by.

Many of my fellow exhibitors use this approach with mixed results. To pull it off, you will need some aggressive sales people to stop people in the aisles. A well-planned question or a give-away can help stop them in their tracks, but don’t try the “How are you doing?” or “Nice Day, huh?” approaches. Your question should be thought-provoking and open-ended, such as” Do you want to see the latest product that can improve your email click-through rate by 12%?”. The question should be designed to appeal to the right demographic.

Lucky Winner Approach: Have a drawing or contest at the booth: I have seen spin-the-wheel for savings or treasure chest hunts, where people try their key in a treasure chest lock to try to open the chest and win a prize. Anything you can to do to create movement and activity at your booth can work. The key is to find a quick way to move the unqualified people out of the booth quickly and keep the better qualified prospects in your booth for a longer period of time.

People like booths that are crowded and have people in it, so as not to miss out on the product that everybody else is looking at. It’s an interesting psychological study on human nature and the fear of missing out on something good.

Pre-Show Marketing: I would consider pre-show email, pre-show mailings, pre-show telephone calls and trade show directory advertising as pre-show advertising.

You can invite prospects into your booth to receive a free gift, special show pricing or terms and to introduce them to your new products or services. I have had success with all four of these activities, with varying degrees of success. If you can secure appointments ahead of time with your present customers and prospects, that can help to ensure a successful show.

I like a combination of email and a postcard or letter, just in case your client or prospect misses one – or forgets to bring their email printout.

The offer a quality imprinted premium for stopping by and visiting can also be successful. These days, many people are looking towards eco-friendly promotional items. I have heard the word tschotchkes being thrown around in certain circles, but when done right, a free premium or gift can get people to stop by. Some people call it swag. In fact, at Hollywood award shows, they entice celebrities to be announcers not with cash, but with a bag of goodies they call “swag”.

I have sent oil executives pre-show postcard mailings picturing the free item just for stopping by, with a redemption rate of over 18%. If it is unique, limited, and, especially a quality item, people will come by and visit your booth. People love free goods, and in a trade show environment, many are actively looking for free gifts, regardless of their professional title, salary or way they dress.

Like anything thing else, it is choosing the right item for the right demographics. At electronics and high tech shows, a free quality water bottle, MP3 download card or imprinted USB stick can be enticing. In an eco-friendly environment, it can be a free live tree seedling a tube, a garden kit or a Frisbee made from recycled plastic.

Do your research and get a fun and useful gift. You can use our free service at that allows you to view over 500,000 imprinted promotional items, which you can sort by keyword or price range. In fact, I often suggest having three groups of gifts — one for good prospects, one for top prospects and one to get non-qualified people to leave your booth with a smile. Keep you two top levels out of the public’s eye, and award them discreetly and with pride.

Trade shows can be your most cost-effective method of attracting and meeting with top prospects and renewing ties with present customers. They can also be a huge money-loser when not done correctly. Pre-show marketing can help guarantee you the success you and your company deserve. You owe it to yourself, and to the rest of your team and employees to maximize the show’s effectiveness.

Here’s to a successful trade show.

  • Category: Trade Show Marketing
  • Tags: drayage, eco-friendly, gimmes, green marketing, green promo items, green promotional products, logo items, marketing, pre-show mailings, premiums, promotional products, promotions, sales, sales goals,