Trade shows provide fantastic opportunities for interacting with potential customers, reconnecting with existing customers and bringing your brand to a wider audience. Because attendees already have some level of interest in the products and services being showcased, all the leads are warm and your chances of making sales are higher than with other forms of marketing.

You’re smack in the middle of a group of people ready to convert, but you’ll never realize the full potential of the event unless you plan in advance.

Successful trade show plans start at least a year before the actual event and follow a strict timeline to ensure you’re ready for the big day when it comes. Nobody just waltzes in with a stunning display and a group of smiling lackeys and wins every potential customer who comes along.

If you want your company to get the greatest possible benefit from attending a trade show, be ready to put in the work necessary to show everyone how awesome your brand is.


Do Your Research

Look for the types of trade shows where your target audience is likely to hang out. Don’t waste your time with irrelevant markets. Your goal is to make quality connections with leads you don’t have to sell on the basic concept of your products and services.

Choosing the right show for your industry also gives you opportunities to network with similar businesses and create the connections you need to expand your brand in the future.

If you don’t understand the struggles, problems, and desires of your target audience, conduct market research before considering any trade shows. Find out where your products and services are most needed, and look for a show allowing you to insert your brand directly into the path of people with difficulties you can alleviate.


Know Your Purpose

Every marketing tactic should have a goal. After all, you’re investing time, money, energy, and resources into your trade show presence. What do you want to get out of it?

About a year in advance, meet with your team to determine the desired outcome of the trade show you’ve chosen to attend. Common goals include:

  • Generating Leads
  • Increasing Conversions
  • Launching New Products or Services
  • Improving Brand Awareness
  • Encouraging Social Engagement

Be specific when articulating your goals. What comes out of this planning session will dictate every other aspect of your trade show presence, so you want a clear blueprint to point you toward success.


Craft Your Message

Consider what message you need to convey to your audience to achieve your trade show goals. You get about 30 seconds to engage each prospect and tell them everything they need to know about your company and its offerings. If you already have an elevator pitch for your brand, start with this and work to expand it to the length of an average television commercial.

Clarity and brevity are your friends in this effort, especially considering the modern consumer is used to interacting with brands in “micro-moments.” Assume everyone with whom you interact only has the attention span for these tiny chunks of time and put together your marketing message accordingly.


Create Some Hype

Even if your brand is fairly well-known, showing up at a trade show without prior announcement of your presence doesn’t guarantee you’ll attract a crowd. Around nine months before the event, it’s time to figure out how to talk up your presence leading up to the show, spread your brand message at the show and follow up when the show is over.

Leverage your most popular marketing channels to reach both existing customers and the people who follow your brand but haven’t yet converted. Write engaging social media posts, compose eye-catching emails and take advantage of additional advertising offered by the trade show’s coordinators.

Lay out a schedule for deploying each marketing tactic to build excitement as the show approaches.


Design a Show-Stopping Booth

Make sure your presence at the trade show stands up to the hype with a booth at which attendees can’t resist stopping. You want to convey everything about your brand while providing a memorable experience for each person with whom you interact. Pulling this off generally takes about six months of planning.

Keep the design clean, comfortable and welcoming so that prospects don’t feel overwhelmed. Pour all the creativity of your marketing team into the setup, putting the personality of your brand front and center. Visitors should walk away with a clear understanding of the purpose of your products and services and no confusion about your brand’s message.


Put Together a Stellar Team

Trade shows are highly social events during which hundreds or even thousands of people could stop by your booth. The employees manning your installation need to be able to deal with the constant flow of foot traffic without missing a beat and stay true to your marketing message during every interaction.

Find people within your company who love your brand and are already acting as ambassadors. These team members have the desire to make sales because they believe in what you do, and they’ll have no problem pitching products and services with enthusiasm.

Select your most loyal supporters, and schedule training sessions a few months before the trade show so that they arrive fully equipped for the experience.


Your Marketing Materials

How are all the potential prospects you meet going to remember your brand after the trade show is over? Reinforce your marketing efforts with relevant branded freebies. For some strange reason, consumers seem to prefer brands offering free stuff even if they’ve never heard of the company before, and they will use whatever you give them if it’s helpful in some way.

Look for functional products in line with your brand image, and give them away along with business cards, postcards, brochures, product sheets and anything else you feel is important to interested prospects. Every item you hand out boosts the visibility of your brand and increases the likelihood of the people you connect with contacting your company after the show.


Make a Follow-Up Plan

Your marketing efforts don’t end when the lights go out at the trade show venue. Go back to the strategy you planned when getting ready for the show, and start your follow-up work as soon as possible. Contact the people who visited your booth and any companies with which you networked. Offer to meet with them to demonstrate more about what your products and services can do, or send out special discounts to encourage show attendees to make their first purchases.

Be sure to convey your appreciation of their interest, and stay true to your brand’s personality in every message.

These seven tips give you the rough framework you need for your trade show planning timeline. Take it one step at a time, and note anywhere you find yourself getting hung up or held back.

Learn from these difficulties so that you can get better and better at planning and executing your trade show exhibits. In no time, you and your team will be experts and rock every trade show you attend.