Small Business Trade Show Strategies

If you’re brand-new to the trade show world, you’ve made a good decision to add this element to your overall marketing strategy. By and large, industry conventions bring measurable returns. In fact, surveys show that 99 percent of marketing professionals find value in trade shows, perhaps because the majority of attendees (81 percent) have purchasing authority for their companies.

Setting aside some of your branding budget for one or more trade shows each year can help you reach several business goals simultaneously, including gathering leads, promoting new products and boosting social engagement.

See if you pre-qualify!

While it can seem difficult to get started on the trade show circuit if you’re a newbie, know that there are endless resources and options available to help you create a show presence that dazzles, engages and works to the advantage of your business and its specific marketing goals.

If you want to stand out, you need to focus on three things before you go in: your trade show giveaways, your booth’s design and the buzz that you create around it to draw in curious prospects. Here are some great ways you can stand out at your next industry convention.

Strategy 1: Go for Broke on the Swag

It’s no secret – one reason people look forward to networking events and trade shows is for the free swag. These days, promotional giveaways go far beyond basics like branded pens and tote bags.

Companies that want to engage high-value buyers must get creative with their promotional products, offering unique items like branded Bluetooth speakers or power banks. Nothing spreads faster across a convention floor than a rumor that a booth has particularly great swag, so use it to your advantage!

Besides drawing people in to your booth, convention giveaways also help you achieve your specific marketing goals while you’re out on the floor. Many exhibits include special tiers of swag—say, a sticker for those who sign up for an e-mail list or follow your brand on social media and a logo T-shirt for those who schedule a demo or a follow-up with a sales rep. You can even invest in deluxe, high-value promotional giveaways as a way to say “thank you” to people who place orders on the spot.

Remember that swag is a lasting marketing option and it will continue to remind prospects of your product or service long after the show is over.

Strategy 2: Double-Down on Your Display

The second most-important aspect to a memorable trade show effort is to put a little bit of time and effort into your booth display and design. The simple branded tablecloth and card table will do in small events during the embryonic stages of your business, but once you’ve reached the big leagues—that is, industry conventions that draw thousands over several days—it’s time to double-down on elements that intrigue attendees, even from afar.

According to the experts, this year’s trade show trends include:

  • Creative Locations—Savvy marketers are using all sorts of creative ways to engage with attendees, including setting up booths in unique locations. For example, if you’ve created an app that rates craft beer, set up in the bar.
  • Interactive Activities—If a convention attendee senses that your booth will be more of an experience and less of a sales pitch, he or she will make a beeline in no time. We’ve seen some super-creative trade show exhibits to draw in visitors that feature mazes, immersive touch screens, light shows, projections and augmented reality.
  • Providing Extra Value—The key to designing a smart exhibit is to put yourself in the show attendees’ shoes. After a long day of meandering around a convention center, listening to pitch after pitch and collecting endless marketing brochures, what would you want? A chair to rest, something to drink and a friendly, welcoming rep!



Strategy 3: Create Buzz with Raffles and Events

You’ve got the swag and the display, now you’ve got to add the spirit! First things first: Employ only your most high-energy, positive and inclusive team members to staff your booth. Then, ask them to create a buzz surrounding your display by handing out unique giveaways and promoting special events, drawings and anything else you can do to get attendees to come to your booth not once, but twice or more. We love the idea of offering raffle tickets to those who sign up for a demo or a trial and then having a big drawing at the end of the show.

Another thing you can do to get more people to your booth more often is to host special mini events throughout the week. For example, you might host a couple of networking events or happy hours during the event at an offsite location or sponsor a keynote speaker. Many companies also engage prospects during trade shows by hosting free courses, certifications and group demos. Note that most large-scale convention centers allow participants to book classrooms, conference rooms and smaller spaces within the venue for such events.

Tying it All Together

A good trade show strategy includes multiple components, which should all work together for the best possible result. If you have tangible elements that draw in visitors—i.e., an interactive display coupled with unique handouts–and are able to create some hype around your presence, your team can make lasting impressions that lead to valuable leads and increased brand awareness. The more shows you do, the more success you’ll see.