WHY EXHIBIT? Part 1: Developing Your Trade Show Strategy

The first leg of your quest to become the Ultimate Exhibitor begins before you even step out your door—or boardroom—with the development of a thorough Trade Show Strategy as part of your overall marketing plan. In the following series of posts entitled “Why Exhibit?” we’ll discuss the meat and potatoes of a good strategy.

If you’re not convinced that trade shows can be a vital part of your marketing strategy, you’re doing something wrong. That may be blunt, but sugarcoating won’t help anyone. You can be incredibly successful at a trade show, as long as you have a plan—a strategy that you update on a regular basis. You need to set goals, make plans to meet those goals, and have a system in place for tracking your success.

You then need to manage your strategy. Shows come and go—stay on top of what’s happening, and choose the right shows to attend. Analyze everything, from your booth space, to your display and your graphics, your presentation, and the staff in your exhibit. Consider how those elements are working for or against your strategy, and what you can do differently to improve your results. And of course, you constantly need to manage how these elements affect your budget.

It’s a lot of work, and it should be. Successful exhibiting is an investment, and to make the money spent worthwhile you have to put in the time and energy.It pays off in the long run.

The very first step in developing a successful trade show strategy is setting your goals. You may find you have different, or more specific goals, but these are the usual suspects:

I’ll be going over all of those in more detail in the next posts in this series. Keep in mind that you won’t have a single goal, but a combination of goals. What you need to do is decide which goals are most important, and as you develop a more detailed plan, determine if you have different goals for different shows.

For Example: your usual goal is to nurture leads and sales, and you usually exhibit at the same shows in Western Canada every year. This year you decide to attend an industry show in Halifax. Your primary goal at the Halifax show should be marketing and branding, or maybe product promotion.You’ll be encountering a whole new audience for the first time, so instead of expecting to generate a lot of new leads, start by making sure your name is out there and resonating—when the audience sees you again next year they’ll be ready to convert into leads.

Once you’ve set your goals, you need to look at how you’ll meet them.There are tried and true methods you can follow, but this is also an area where you can (and should) get creative. Think of your audience and what might catch their attention before, during and after your shows. If your goal is business rapport, what about sending out personalized invitations to the show to your customer and leads? If you’re testing or promoting a new product, what kind of contest, demonstration or giveaway will really speak to your leads?

Depending on your goals, meeting them can cover many different components of your overall strategy. Where you allocate your budget, show location and timing, the type of display you have and the overall impact of your design and presentation… all of these things can affect how your goals may be met.

You’ve set goals. You’ve strategized on how to meet those goals. But when everything is said and done, how will you measure your success? This is the most often overlooked area of a trade show strategy, and yet it’s a crucial step. In order to maintain and improve the value of your exhibit you need to accurately measure your success and determine what you can do differently to meet your goals next time.

So that’s your starting point for developing a strong trade show strategy. Over the next few weeks I’ll go into detail about the different goals you might set, ways to meet those goals, and some ideas for measuring success.

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