Ah, the timeless art of a trade show. When the “Who’s Who” of your industry band together to promote and rally behind a general topic or idea in hopes to ultimately push their brand and product to a wider audience.
Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?
For event marketers, trade shows can be a logistical nightmare. So much time and effort is focused on the actual day of the event, it’s easy for event marketers to overlook how important pre-show marketing can be. Building anticipation and excitement before the event is often the most effective way to guarantee buzz during the show.
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Roughly 70% of show attendees plan a list of brands and booths to visit before even setting foot on the trade show floor. However, an average of only 10-15% of trade show exhibitors invest in pre-show marketing efforts, according to trade show and event marketing firm Exhibit Systems. In addition, a study conducted by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research discovered there was a 50% rise in conversion of booth visitors to qualified leads when pre-show promotion was conducted.
With that said, let’s dive into the nine most effective ways to promote your trade show presence, tried and tested by the event pros themselves:
1. Use different mediums to promote your event
Emails are easy and effective—until they’re sent straight to spam. Luckily, there are a ton of creative ways to promote and drive traffic to your booth like creating a scavenger hunt or making a video invitation. Switching up mediums will make your brand more memorable.
Pro tip: “Create a trailer invite that’s edgy and smart that you can post on YouTube and social media. Make it great – the better the content, the more views you will have. This will also create anticipation for your event. You could also send a piece of the product as part of your invite to lure your guests to attend and receive the full product. Engaging your attendees right away with curated content they receive before the event and take home creates a buzz and a memory when executed well.” - AJ Williams, Event Influencer.
If you’re not sure where to begin, social media is a good place to start. It can be quick, easy and, best of all, free! Creating targeted paid campaigns using the event hashtag is an effective way to let attendees know you’re going to be there.
Pro tip: “Social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn offer an affordable and targeted way to reach potential attendees. Although, take a crash course on Facebook ad writing before you implement your ad. Pictures are key for Facebook ads, and concise call to action content works best for ad development.” - Michelle Bergstein, Event Marketing Maven, BeatCreative.
2. Use a template
Can you imagine having to remember every single detail involved in each event? If just thinking about this makes your skin crawl, consider using a template to plan your events. Templates provide a reproducible structure and workflow to your event planning so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time.
Pro tip: "It is best to have a template event plan that you can modify per trade show. It’s a good start to have a skeleton of a plan in which you can add or eliminate key items based off the size of the event & deliverables." - Maria Fonseca, Strategic Events at Okta, Inc.
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3. Test your messaging
Too often marketing teams assume they know what motivates attendees to visit their booth. And more often than not, they are wrong. Don’t assume you know what’s best for your audience.Test your messaging on a small segment before the event so you know exactly what works and what doesn’t for the actual show. If you’re not sure how to run a test, here are some tips around A/B testing your audience.
Pro tip: “Always test your messaging. Does your audience respond better to messages about giveaways or product testing? Would they rather attend sessions or roundtables? You don’t know until you test.” - Karen Miller-Perez, Senior Manager of Event Marketing at Wrike.
4. Delegate, delegate, delegate
You might be a super awesome event marketer, but that doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself. Assemble a team of dynamite go-getters who can assist with logistics and planning, while you focus on managing and key decision making. Keeping these individuals accountable by assigning deadlines and deliverables will allow you to focus more on high-priority items and less on tracking down work.
Pro tip: “Delegate tasks and responsibilities. I think by nature, event managers have a bit of a controlling personality. They love to have their hands in all aspects of the event.It’s exciting, but you can't do it all! A huge part of the job is being able to delegate tasks to your team to help drive the success of the event. It could be finding the right sales people to man the booth and demo the product or asking your fellow marketing team to check in registrants and pass out the conference tote and shirt. It really is a team effort.” - Former Event Marketer at Xactly.
5. Make giveaways meaningful
Sure, everyone loves free stuff, but make sure it provides value too. Having free pairs of branded sunglasses might entice visitors to make a pit stop, but will they sit through a sales pitch? Probably not. Put some thought behind your giveaway and make sure to advertise your offerings ahead of time so you’ll have attendees not only stopping by, but also sticking around.
Pro tip: “One of our favorite attention-grabbing ideas is renting a coffee bar and a barista that is inside your booth so you can serve custom lattes, flat whites. This will give you the opportunity to engage in conversation with event attendees while they wait for their drink. After all, who doesn’t love coffee? Another really neat idea is hiring a caricature artist. Because who doesn’t want their likeness drawn by a professional, right? Similar to the coffee bar, as people line up to get their caricature, you have the perfect opportunity to speak with them. Ask them about their business. You’ll have their full attention as they’re not going to lose their spot in line just to avoid talking to you.” - Dean Ara, Principal and co-founder of Total Product Marketing.
6. Train your booth attendants
There a fine line between assertive and obnoxious—make sure your booth attendants know where it is. Host training sessions prior to the event to keep messaging succinct and consistent. Although your top sales people are excellent over the phone, they might come across as too aggressive when approaching cold prospects in person. Work with them (or maybe even do some role playing) to find a good balance before they hit the show floor.
While you’re at it, get them to do a little pre-show promoting of their own. Have them take to social media and tell their network to stop by for a quick chat.
Pro tip: “Two types of booth workers drive me crazy. The first is the overly-aggressive person who nearly tackles you in the aisle and drags you into their booth. The second, equally bad, is the booth worker who won't engage with you unless you beg them and ask pretty please. Instead, develop some friendly, thought-provoking ways to talk to and engage attendees as they pass by your booth.” - Joe Staples, Chief Marketing Officer, Motivosity.
7. Keep branding unique and concise
“So what do you do?” Although this opens the door for an elevator pitch, this is not the kind of question you want to be asked at your booth. Your booth should clearly communicate who you are and what you’re selling. Establish messaging early on in the planning process and make sure it’s visible and actionable for the entire events team. Include that specific messaging from the very first marketing campaign to keep branding consistent from throughout the entire event lifecycle.
Pro tip: “Does the signage and branding of your display explain what you do in about 2-3 seconds? No one wants to ask what your company does, so they should be able to immediately engage with your solutions or choose to move on based on your signage. Keep the signage simple, clean, and concise.” - Matthew Sessions, a show organizer for the Digital Summit.
8. Take advantage of influencer marketing
As the saying goes, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Cozy up to these big fish and they might just help you spread your news across the pond. People with a large social media following are known as influencers and if you can get them to promote your presence, your brand will get noticed by a whole new audience of prospects. Use their network to gain momentum around your presence by asking them to promote your booth on social media. This often takes some time to foster a relationship, though some influencers are open to bartering or a fee. However you decide to spend your time and/or money, choose an influencer whose network reaches your target audience.
Pro tip: “Identify key social media influencers in the realm of a specific conference and ask them to provide extra event promotion via their personal accounts. By choosing Twitter “ambassadors” — or influencers — to promote a European medical congress, the Kenes Group grew the meeting’s Twitter impressions by nearly 7 million year over year. The only thing we had to give [the influencers] in return was access to the VIP lounge.” - Ori Lahav, Associate Vice President of Kenes Group.
9. Always have a plan B, C, and D
There are never enough back-up plans in preparation for a trade show. Have contingencies in place in your marketing events calendar well before the show, in case something (or multiple things) go wrong.
Pro tip: “Plan for the best and prepare for the worst. In the world of events, it’s always smart to have a Plan B, a plan C, and a plan D. Prepare for every worst-case scenario so that you can adapt quickly onsite if needed.” - Trish King, Director of Events at Wrike.
*Bonus pro tip: "Be prepared for the unexpected. Don't just have a Plan B, have a Plan B-Z. Being able to anticipate what MAY happen and being able to think fast on your feet will come in handy.” -Former Event Marketer at Xactly.
Don’t just pitch your product, pique their interest
Everyone attending the trade show is looking for buyers. So, what makes you so special? Draw people to your booth with unique messaging and quality content both before and during the event. Gone are the days of the salesman hawking their goods on a stage.
Today, it’s all about providing your audience with solutions. “If your content and research is really good, people will flock to you. If you sell your stuff on stage, they flock away from you,” says Ken Krogue, President and Founder of InsideSales.com. “If you help provide answers to difficult questions, they turn to you to help them in their business. But people hate sitting through a sales pitch masquerading as a seminar... don't do it. Have faith in your content and value.”