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How to successfully exhibit at an industry show

Exhibits at an industry show

©Scriniary - licence

Being able to show off your latest product or your new venture directly to potential clients is one of the most effective ways of attracting interest in your brand, and one of the best methods of doing this is by exhibiting at a promotional event.

At these events you will have access to a sizeable pool of people who you can sell your company or products to, as well as giving you the chance to interact with customers on a face-to-face basis. Exhibiting at larger events also creates great opportunities to network with established partner companies, or to forge new partnerships altogether.

To maximise the benefits gained from attending the event, you have to be able to plan your exhibit, put your plan into action, and execute it on the day of the event. There are also a few post-event processes that you can perform to help build upon its success.

This guide will take you through all of the essential stages in the build-up and aftermath of exhibiting at an industry event. We’ll also take a look at the difference between the two main types of industry show, as well as exploring some of the benefits that they can bring to your business.

What's the difference between a trade show and consumer show?

There are two main kinds of industry show: trade and consumer. In appearance they can seem very similar, with many companies operating exhibits for interested attendees. The biggest difference between the two can be found in the audience that they are aimed at. Knowing what each of these types of show can offer your business will be a major influencing factor when you come to choose one to attend.

What is a trade show?

The people who attend trade shows are usually heavily interested, trained, or experts in the industry that the show is dedicated to. They go to the shows to preview or review the latest developments in the industry, and meet with fellow industry colleagues. You will also see representatives from businesses within the industry attending to make future buying decisions for their companies. You can expect large and elaborate exhibits, as companies seek to create displays that match their company prestige and position in the industry.

Company employees that are invited to attend are typically specialist sales staff or staff holding upper-level positions, as trade discussions are generally business-to-business (B2B) and above the standard consumer level. These shows are a place you can expect to see high volume or high cost deals being done, for example, senior staff from a hospital might attend a trade show to find their best options when investing in a new line of heart monitors. Trade shows are also a hotbed for peer-to-peer meetings, with many high-level talks taking place between directors, who take advantage of the convenience of having the industry's leading firms under one roof. Attendees are able to speak to many of these influential decision-makers, though most sales are completed after the close of the show.

Consumer shows

Whereas trade shows will attract a steady level of visitors, their more specialist exhibits don't usually have the same kind of pulling power as consumer shows, which generally have much higher foot traffic. While consumer shows can also see a lot of B2B sales, they differ from trade shows in the fact that there can also be a high level of direct business-to-consumer (B2C) sales, which don't really take place at trade shows.

Due to this, consumer shows tend to function more like markets, with businesses selling their products to both businesses and the public, with less time for demonstrations and industry-related meetings. Exhibit stands are usually smaller than those found at trade shows, and the staff running them tend to hold positions in sales. The aim for most businesses at consumer shows is to sell as many products and services as possible. This contrasts with trade shows, where the goal for companies is to build industry relationships and to further the brand's reputation.

What can an industry show offer your business?

Business deals at an exhibit
© International Railway Summitlicence

If you are making a decision about whether to take your brand to an industry show, it is important that you know exactly what they can offer you before choosing to attend or not.

The most obvious benefit of attending an exhibition is that they allow you to communicate with both your customers and others in your industry on a face-to-face level. Trade shows will give you plenty of opportunities for networking with your peers, and you can also meet suppliers, experts, investors, and other key figures from within your industry.

The upper-level and qualified attendees who attend trade shows regularly have purchasing power that regular staff don’t have — often having responsibility for procuring new products and services for their respective companies. These visitors will have a larger budget than everyday consumers, but will probably have carried out most of their research before attending.

Consumer shows will allow you to meet new customers, with the chance to market your latest product or service. Both trade and consumer shows come in many forms, and almost every sector and profession is catered for with their own exhibition. You can also use consumer shows to conduct valuable market research, which is made easier with the direct access you have to a prospective customer base.

Most forms of marketing, such as television and radio adverts, online, direct mail, and telemarketing, adopt a more invasive tactic of infiltrating a potential customer's day-to-day life, which is often looked on negatively. Through exhibiting at a show, you are granted access to a large pool of possible clients who have already registered their interest in your industry by going out of their way to attend the event. These customers are often happy to give you their time and are more likely to buy than someone who is just browsing or shopping around.

If your company has a new product or service to launch, an industry show can be the ideal place to do it. Industry events provide you with the chance to introduce and demonstrate upon your product/service in front of a large audience — one of the most effective ways to raise interest in what you have to promote, with the possibility of increased press coverage and word-of-mouth news. Depending on whether you are introducing something that is aimed towards B2B or B2C markets, you may specifically choose to do this at either a trade or consumer show.

You can also use events to reconnect with your peers in partner firms or forge relationships elsewhere in the industry, particularly trade shows where there will be many other like-minded individuals in attendance. Exhibitions also give you the chance to stay abreast of the latest developments in your field: you can see what’s new and where your rivals might have innovated or be lagging behind.

Preparing for your exhibition at an industry show

Once you have decided to exhibit with your company at a trade show, you can begin to prepare for the event itself. There are a number of stages that you should go through to ensure that your brand maximises the potential benefits from any event.

Decide what it is you want out of the event

Before you go ahead and book your place at your event of choice, you need to make sure that this particular industry show will be able to accomplish the goal of attending. You can do this by first deciding what exactly it is you want to gain from exhibiting. There can be a wide range of reasons for why you feel you need to attend — perhaps the event is a consumer show that targets exactly the right audience for a new product, or maybe you are looking to network at a trade show where all of the companies in your particular sector will be in attendance. Your goals for attending might be simple, or they might be complex and varied, but you will still need to be able to identify your goals if you expect to get the maximum benefit the event.

When you have established these aims, you can decide if this industry show is right for your company. If you have been to the same exhibition in the past, you may well have a good idea of what to expect, but you can establish the suitability by finding out for as much information as possible:

  • Look closely at who has attended in the past and who is confirmed to be attending this year. This is a good indicator of who else has looked at the event and thought it was worthy of their time and resources. Ask for an attendee list for both this year and the previous year and you will be able to see who deemed the exhibition valuable enough to book for two years in a row and who decided to turn down a second year. This is also a useful way of seeing if your competitors will be there.
  • Get in touch with past exhibitors to find out whether they thought that the event was valuable or not. Doing so can often give you a more genuine opinion, as well as giving you an insight into the event from the perspective of an attendee.
  • Ask questions of the show’s management and marketing departments to find out how your attendance will be promoted and how the show will be promoted on the whole. You need to ensure that you will be getting sufficient exposure for your outlay to confirm that you have the best chance of getting a positive return on investment (ROI).
  • If your sales or marketing team come to you with a proposal to exhibit at an event, don’t be afraid to ask them to justify why. This can expose more shallow reasons for attending, such as ‘our competitors are going to be there so we should too’, which do not usually qualify as sound reasons to book your place. On the other hand, your team might have approached the subject from a different angle, so a healthy dialogue can help you approach the idea in a new way.
  • Look for feedback from event attendees who weren't exhibiting — the best place to find this is through social media. Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn will often see attendees passing comment on how enjoyable and useful they found an event. You can use the search function on each of these sites to find related posts, though you may have to look backwards in time to find comments about past events.

Get key staff together to create an event plan and budget

Business meeting ahead of an exhibit

After you have established that a certain trade show promises to meet all of your objectives, you can book your place and put together a plan of action and a budget. Meet with the key members of staff who will be responsible for event preparation and discuss your strategy. You should do this as soon as you can after you have booked the event to avoid any organisational headaches down the line and to make sure everyone is clear about the role they will play in the lead up to the big day.

You can use this opportunity to communicate what your key message will be and who exactly you are hoping to target through the event. For example, if you are a membership- or subscription-based company, you might be attending to try to drive up the number of members/subscribers, so you could be targeting a specific demographic of people through this event. Make sure that all of your staff involved in the planning and execution are aware of these two important pieces of information, as it will ensure that you are all on the same page when it comes to establishing a plan.

Together, you should be able to come up with a plan and budget for the run-up to and day(s) of the event, as well as plans for post-event activities. Review each aspect of the exhibition — how you will go about accomplishing it and how much it will cost to do. Take into account:

  • Graphics for your stand
  • Will you need to take advantage of any services offered on-site?
  • Transport to the event for staff
  • Logistics and delivery of materials and stand items
  • Which staff will attend and will they will need training?
  • How to collect details from interested attendees and how you will follow them up
  • Will you run any promotions before, after, or during the event?
  • Are you in need of any extra or event-specific marketing materials?
  • Will you invest in promotional items?

Make sure you plan your budget before pressing ahead with your plan, as costs can quickly spiral out of control of not monitored closely. If necessary, you can make decisions about your plan and then staff can go away and research approximate costs, reconvening to establish a more precise budget. This may have to be done if your staff have no pre-existing idea of how much individual aspects of the event preparation and implementation will come to. A good budget is essential if you want to be able to accurately forecast what your ROI will be.

Schedule your plan

When you have established what needs to be done and how you will accomplish it, you can piece together a schedule to follow that will run from the moment the planning meeting ends to the final post-event follow-ups. Set realistic deadlines and make sure that you stick to them — you can appoint a member of staff to be the event co-ordinator with the responsibility of chasing up overdue parts of the project if you will be too busy.

The schedule should also take into account event marketing activities. You should know when you are announcing your presence at the event, offers and promotions exclusive to the show, and how you will promote your attendance on the day, among many other possible actions. When you have established this, you will be able to rest easy knowing that your marketing team know precisely what they are doing on a day-to-day basis.

Put your plan into action

Reach out to sponsors and partners

handshake between businessmen

© Flazingo Photos - license

Sponsors and partners can be valuable allies at industry shows, each with their own unique strengths that can enhance your brand’s prospects and experience. If you are a small business or working within the confines of a limited budget, exchanging the publicity you can offer for some cash from a sponsor can often expand your horizons significantly.

You can offer potential sponsors a range of opportunities to work alongside your brand, ranging from simply having their logo displayed alongside your own to allowing them to showcase their own products at your exhibit. A well-known and relevant sponsor can often attract new clients to your stand through the strength of their brand being associated with your own.

If you have any established partner companies, they may well be interested in becoming involved with your exhibit. A partner company gives you the opportunity to share resources, though whether this just involves trading marketing materials to be distributed at each other’s stands or extends to co-exhibiting will depend on the relationship that exists between the two brands. Either way, it gives you the opportunity to pool your resources, potentially saving money while expanding your brand’s reach at the event.

The helping hand you can extend to one another can also extend to online marketing for the show, from sharing one another’s social media posts to circulating email campaigns around the other’s customer base, any extra exposure you can get for your brand can count. If you both plan on exhibiting at the same event, it can provide an excellent opportunity to meet in person and discuss future collaborations, especially if there is a large geographical distance between your respective businesses.

Plan and order your promotional products

Promotional products are one of the most widely used methods of getting a brand out there, and they are especially useful at industry shows. Well-chosen, useful, and desirable promo items can work hugely in favour of your exhibit: not only will they surprise and get a positive reaction from visitors to your exhibit, but they may well attract more visitors when they discover the high-quality products you have on offer. They can also act as an effective ice-breaker when you are trying to attract someone to your stand.

Also, once you have given out your promotional products, your branding will be on display whenever that item is used, and the more useful it proves to be, the more frequently it will be used.

You can find out more about the many benefits of promotional merchandise in our guide: Product power: How you can use promotional products to market your business.

Things to consider when ordering products for your exhibition

Before going ahead and ordering your promotional products, there are a few factors that you should consider:

    • The agreed budget for your exhibit
    • The type of business you are
    • The type of show you are attending
    • How much space you have at your exhibit
    • Quantity of items

If you are working within a limited budget, you should look to invest in basic promotional products first, before investing in more expensive or fancy items. This way, you can cater for the many people who visit your exhibit — it is better to be able to provide many people with basic items than only a few with items that cost more.

If you only have a small amount of budget left over that you want to use on more expensive products, consider keeping them back for a competition where visitors can register to win a higher-cost item or a giveaway that requires visitors to provide you with their contact details in exchange for some of your promo merchandise. This way, you can at least ensure that you will get some solid database contacts for your investment.

Popular and effective low-cost items include pens, pencils, bags, rulers, notepads, keyrings, and T-shirts, among many others.

If you have a larger budget, you can look to get a good mixture of basic and more desirable promo products. While you may be tempted to invest solely in high-value merchandise, you should not underestimate the takeaway value of more basic items, taking extra care to get the balance just right. The advantage of having a larger budget is that you can be more liberal when giving out your higher-cost products.

You also need to take into account the fact that every promo item you plan on giving out at an industry show has to be transported there. You may be planning to carry these products yourself in a bag or in the boot of a car, or you may be counting on using a delivery service if you are travelling far or even abroad. Be sure to factor in any logistical cost when planning your promotional items.

Type of business

The type of business that you are will influence the type of product that you choose for your giveaway. Look for items that will reflect well on your business, or are especially relevant, such as a branded toothbrush for a dentist, a bottle opener for a brewery, or a tape measure for a home improvement business.

Type of show

Similarly, the type of show you have booked to exhibit at can affect your choice of branded products. If you are attending a trade show, your target audience will most likely be people who are experts or heavily involved in that particular trade.

You can still make use of basic promotional products that will prove to be popular no matter what the industry, but if you are looking to give away high-end items they will have to be both useful and of suitable quality to make your brand stand out from the crowd.

Relevancy is also a key factor, as you don’t want to be giving away things that don’t really fit the bill, making it seem like your company hasn't put much thought into the event. A good example of relevant products would be providing branded USB memory sticks or power packs to a tech-oriented audience.

For consumer shows, there will probably be a greater interest in your actual products and services, which people are there to test out and purchase. You can probably lean more towards more basic items for these events.

Storage space at your exhibit

This goes without saying, but you need to make sure that you have ample space for any products that you plan on taking. There isn’t any point in ordering a huge number of bulky products if you know that you will not have a lot of room at your stand. You can often book storage space if it is a multi-day event, but this is usually available at an extra cost. Make sure you are aware of any space limitations before you commit to an order.

A useful tip for saving space with basic promo items is to group them up into a pack — especially easy when you are giving away branded bags. Before the exhibition, take the time to combine all of your brand’s basic items, such as pens, keyrings, and other stationery, with any brochures or leaflets you wish to distribute, and put them together inside your bags. When the time comes, you will have these packs ready to hand out, without having to assemble them bit-by-bit when you have visitors to the stand.

Quantity of items

Be aware of how many visitors you expect to get at your exhibition stand. While it may not be possible to cater exactly to the number of interested attendees, trying to build a predicted figure into your plans can prove useful when it comes to ordering your products. Look at the event information to see if there is an estimated number of visitors or look at the previous year’s attendance numbers. You can also speak to any past exhibitors to get an idea of how many visitors they go to their stand throughout the event. When it comes to ordering, you should look to overstock rather than understock, as you won't want to see visitors going away empty-handed.

Get expert advice on your promotional products

Here at Custom Planet, we specialise in helping businesses in ordering their perfect promotional products. We are able to provide a wide range of promo items and clothing that can all be completely modified to accommodate your own unique company branding. This is achieved through our expertise in clothing and item customisation; we are able to print onto plastic, screen print, and embroider to meet your specifications. Some of the most popular promo products we offer are pens and pencils, USB memory sticks, bags, T-shirts and hoodies. You can browse the full range of our promotional products on our website.

We are also very happy to discuss your promo item requirements with you, as well as providing you with great advice on what might be suitable for the event that you are attending. Head over to our contact us page to ask us any questions or discuss a bulk order.

Pre-event marketing

Creating a key message

To get people to come to your exhibition, you have to make sure that they know that you will be attending. To do this, you will need to put together a great promotional campaign that communicates your key message, targeting the type of people you want to get visit your stand. You need to give these people a reason why they should visit you out of all of the other brands at the event.

  • To be able to come up with the message of your campaign, you should ask yourself these key questions:What is your most significant product or service? And how does it distinguish you from your competitors?
  • What do you offer that no other brand is able to? The most innovative product? The best customer service? Fastest delivery? Lowest price? Something else?
  • What sets your company apart? For example, does your company source ethically manufactured products? Does your product use all-natural ingredients? This is something you can often identify by re-visiting your company’s vision and objectivities.

Your key messages should be able to be communicated in small bite-sized chunks that anyone can read and take in. Don't spend time putting together key messages that are too detailed because your audience will find it an immediate turn-off if they have to decode what you are trying to say. If you have quite a few key messages that you wish to share, remember that you can spread them out over the course of your pre-event marketing campaign.

Putting together your campaign

Once you have come up with your key messages, you need to be able to communicate them with your intended audience. If you have booked your place at the event very early, it will probably be too soon to begin marketing your exhibit — people will be more likely to dismiss your marketing material if the event is quite far in the future, and it is unlikely that they will recall your message closer to the time.

There isn't any reason, however, that you can’t begin to prepare your marketing materials so that they are ready to go when the time comes. Look to begin your marketing campaign around two to three months before the event, which will give people enough time to warm to the idea while being close enough to consider your marketing as relevant.

  • There are quite a few ways to get the word out there, and they should form the main part of your marketing campaign in the run-up to the event.Personal email invitations: By simply adding the recipient's name to an email, you can turn an impersonal advertorial email into something that carries more exclusive value. Through mail merging or using the mail function of many database software, you can add a personal greeting to emails en masse.
  • Telemarketing: It might have garnered an unsavoury reputation, but telemarketing is a useful method of speaking directly to potential event attendees that may have missed your other marketing activities. You won't be selling them anything, just informing them of the event.
  • Direct mail: Although it has been superseded by emails in many ways, direct mail can often be used to contact people who are technophobic or just don't look at their inbox regularly. Unlike emailing, sending direct mail will carry postage costs, so if you are working to a tight budget it may be best to be more selective when targeting people.
  • Advertising: While it may not be worth your while taking out adverts purely dedicated to your exhibition at the industry show, you may consider adding the details to any planned adverts for your company.
  • Public relations: You can use any influence you have in the media to try to get a mention of your presence at the event into press or broadcasting channels. This could be as simple as a brief mention when the event itself is being marketed, or you could create your own opportunity that directs people towards your stand at the show. This can be difficult to achieve if you are a smaller business or don't have many media contacts, so don't worry too much if you can't take advantage of it.
  • Social media: Use any channels that you have on social media to promote the event. Social networks are a great place to get your key messages out in front of a lot of people, get shares, likes, and to be able to answer people's questions about your exhibit.
  • Company website: You should use your website as a base for all your digital marketing activities. It can be the place that you link back to in your email and social media marketing, so you don't have to cram all of the event details into your adverts and messages. You should use your website to provide directions to your stand, travel and accommodation recommendations, and any pre-event promotions. You should also prominently market the event on the front page of your website to ensure maximum visibility.

After confirming your exhibit at the event, you should endeavour to get hold of the pre-event registration list to give yourself a head start on being able to market towards people that will be attending. You can then combine this with any databases or mailing lists your company has already, as well as any other lists of potential customers from other sources, to create a large pool of recipients that you can market to.

Depending on the level of information that you have about these people, you could go on to categorise them so that you can tailor your marketing towards different groups. For example, you might know that a particular batch of potential customers have bought products or services from one of your rivals, so you could create marketing content that focused on why your brand is superior.

Promotions and discounts

By offering promotions and discounts, you can give potential attendees a tangible incentive to attend the event and to visit your exhibit. You can combine your ideas with your marketing campaign to capture people's interest; they are much more likely to pay attention to an advert if there is the possibility of money-off or the like. These could be used as 'early-bird' offers to try to encourage people to register for the event and visit your stand as soon as possible. You could potentially make it an event-exclusive one, so to take advantage of it the potential customer would need to attend.

You can also use these offers to get people to provide you with their details before the event by requiring them to sign up to receive them. This way your company will have captured a the data of a few potential customers in advance, and you won&'t have to rely on them all turning up to your exhibition.


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