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The 2024 trade show season is underway. Have you thought of all the things you need to do to prep for a great show? Attending a trade show to exhibit your products and services can be big time and financial investments — yet undoubtedly one of the best ways to meet potential buyers and increase sales.

From brand visibility and awareness to lead generation and sales, trade shows give companies unmatched opportunities to meet face-to-face and discuss their product offerings with a broad audience of potential buyers, partners and prospects. In fact, 90% of participants go to a trade show to find new products and services.

Depending on your industry, sometimes getting just one sale at a trade show can bring return on investment (ROI). There are several benefits to having an exhibitor presence at a show. To get the most out the next one you attend, here’s a breakdown of what you should know (and do) before you go.

How to Start Planning for Your Next Trade Show

Show prep can be a lot of work. But with proper planning, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You’ve already determined the best show to exhibit at. First, you need a budget. Creating a budget several months to even a year in advance of your industry’s trade show season will help you determine which show(s) you can and should attend as an exhibitor. 
Your budget should factor in costs for:

  • Event space and registration
  • Shipping booth materials
  • Staff travel and accommodations
  • Marketing collateral and support
  • Paid media
  • Giveaways and promotional swag

Something else to consider when creating a budget is your goal(s). Establishing clear and defined goals during the trade show preparation process will help your team take more focused approaches to budgeting, planning, design and key performance indicators (KPIs).

What do you want to gain from exhibiting at the show? Do you want to introduce the industry to an innovative solution? Are you looking to generate XX leads and close at least YY deals? Maybe you just want to use this opportunity to meet with existing customers face-to-face again after years of video calls. Regardless, optimize your booth with budgetary efficiency by planning ahead.

Design Your Booth and Customer Experience With a Plan

Whether you are in a 10X10, 10X20 or 20X20 space, an engaging booth design is sure to attract visitors. Think bold visuals, creative signage, interactive features and experiential technologies. A customized booth design can engage the audience while reflecting your brand identity.

But before you start measuring anything, you should have a clear idea of what you want to achieve with your trade show booth. Experts say having a well-defined strategy and plan will help you align your booth design with your desired outcomes.

If the goal is to host meetings with current and potential customers, create a booth space that invites collaboration. Factor impromptu meetings, networking and recharging into your planning and design stations. What will these stations need? Consider having supplies of water bottles and candy on-site for your guests.

If you plan to engage your audience with live presentations or product demos, consider a booth design that features a designated space or stage. This area should give you an unobstructed view of the crowd (and vice versa). Whatever you have in mind, coming up with a booth design during trade show prep will help you determine exactly what you’ll need.

And not to be forgotten, who doesn’t love a giveaway or promotion? If the budget allows, go beyond company swag to offer a service aligned with your business that a person might normally have to pay for (e.g., on-site massage). Giveaways and promotions of value create incentives that drive people to your booth and bring value to participants and exhibitors.

Leave the Show With Leads

Plans for your booth should also include ways to capture leads. From future sales and collaborations to recruitment and prospective candidates, trade shows can generate substantial leads and prospects for your business. If you plan to capture leads by scanning badges or business cards, rent the proper equipment needed in advance.

While capturing the attention of your in-person audience at trade shows, it’s important not to forget about their online counterparts. Think of the online sphere as an extended audience — especially since one element several trade shows have embraced since the pandemic is a hybrid model.

With social media, both your in-person and online audiences can interact with your trade show displays, demos and presentations. By creating a social media content schedule in advance, you can plan to connect with the show’s online audience using the official show hashtag, develop post types, and reach out to influencers for potential collaborations.

You’ll likely bring your most experienced and charismatic salespeople with you to the trade show to demonstrate your products in your exhibit booth area, or assign your company’s best public speakers to lead presentations. A social media content schedule can keep your thought leaders and subject matter experts (SMEs) for in-booth presentations and videos organized and prepared well in advance.

Josh McGee , TriComB2B’s in-house social media expert, recommends sharing the social media plan with SMEs via email before the show; it’ll give them an idea of the big picture as well as their specific parts. Pro tip: send calendar invites for each time and video so they’re on each SME’s schedule.

Will you have a speaker participating in the educational portion of the trade show or launching an industry game-changing product? Devising a public relations (PR) strategy can amplify your messages to trade media, generate additional booth traffic, and enable you to engage with the audience after the show.

Your PR team can help you prepare for these types of opportunities with speaking points, presentations and other materials. They can also create a list of media attending the show, set up appointments in advance, and generate media coverage for your booth.

Many industry associations hold award ceremonies in conjunction with their biggest shows. Work with your PR team to submit award materials, meet requirements, and hopefully promote your win. News releases about your participation before and after a show can be shared with its organizers for inclusion on the news release area of the show’s website and in a “show daily” publication, if applicable.

Market, Market, Market

Work with your paid media team to build momentum before the show with pre-show promotion. In addition to social media, consider using blogs and emails to promote your presence. Email signatures and banner ads can directly connect a targeted audience to your website. There, attendees can have access to materials and detailed show information.

Banner and other types of display ads enable you to drive traffic and reach new audiences who may share a common interest with your brand. Budgeting for a paid media strategy is worth it, experts say. Because paid media can generate incredible results when used effectively, ad budgets are expected to increase by more than 11% per year from now to 2027.

But paid media only works if you target the right audiences. Work with your media team to maximize the reach of your paid social and nurture streams. With tools like geofencing, the pros can help you gather metrics to run a highly effective location-based trade show marketing campaign.

Use this valuable information to continue your marketing strategies beyond the show. Having a solid plan in place for what will happen after the show is just as important as pre-show planning and preparation. Follow up with leads collected at the show via email, and send ‘what you missed’ materials to customers who did not attend the event.

Measure Your Success

Was the show a success? This can be determined by reviewing results from your paid and earned media investments. Review these and other KPIs with a show coordinator to measure valuable achievements and analyze issues. With this information in tow, your team can plan collaboratively for the next trade show.

If you were happy with the show, you can sign up for the next year’s one right away. Doing so will help you lock in pricing for your existing booth space — or you may be able to move to an even better space.

Don’t Stress the Small Stuff

Last (but not least), as with any planning and preparation comes the miscellaneous items. Will your SMEs and on-site team need matching shirts for the trade show? Is there a plan for pre-show booth attendee training? Do reservations need to be made for a post-show client dinner?

Don’t stress. Coordinators are highly skilled at organizing and executing these and other important trade show tasks. If you’re unsure about taking on everything discussed herein, work with an experienced coordinator and team to ensure all your trade show bases are covered. 

Learn more about how TriComB2B can help. We’ll “show” you how to do it.