The average price of a 20×20 exhibitor space is $8,400. Do you need a trade show display for that space? That could cost you between $40,000 and $60,000. But that’s it, right? Not even close. You still need to calculate in travel and food expenses, show services (electricity, cleaning, etc), shipping, promotion items, and everything else.
Trade shows are expensive, but they are effective and one of the best ways to network and meet clients. So let’s make sure we plan it right! I want to give you the full list, from beginning to end, of marketing tips for your trade show making you fully prepared for your upcoming events.
Here is the step-by-step process for your complete marketing plan:
- Choose your trade shows for the year
- Put together your pre-trade show marketing plan
- Design your in-event marketing plan
- Create your post-trade show marketing plan
- Repeat steps 2-4 for all planned trade shows
Let’s get started!
Step 1: Choose your trade shows
This part you are not going to like.
I recommend that you list out all trade shows that you plan to exhibit at the beginning of the year, and for each one that you want to exhibit at, you create the full marketing plan one year before the event.
The good news is, I am going to show you how!
There is nothing worse than trying to fit in last minute marketing plans two weeks prior to the event because you forgot something.
It’s a waste of time and money when it could have been effectively executed in the proper stage of your marketing plan.
How to organize your trade shows
Make a schedule for marketing messages and advertising before the event, during the event, and after the event, and don’t forget all the channels you can use for marketing: Email, social media, advertising in magazines, face-to-face networking and spreading the word.
Organization of your marketing planning is key!
How to choose your trade show
An interesting article from Prime Concepts Group says “you can learn more in three days by going to a trade show than you can in 3 months, or even years of just searching.
The key is selecting the right show to get the “best bang for your buck.”
The best way to start is to think of where your audience will be.
If you are exhibiting at an event, you would want your audience to be a visitor and other exhibitors are most likely your competition.
Check out which events your clients have visited in the past and find out what they liked/didn’t like about them.
Do some research and see where your competition is going to be exhibiting at.
A lot of this information you can find on their websites and on their social media pages.
If the event has a hashtag, which in most cases it definitely will, check the hashtag and see who was at the previous event and see if they are in the same industry and relevant for your business.
How to make sure your team is prepared
With every exhibition you plan, there will be a team behind it.
That team will most likely be employees and colleagues from either the same office or from offices that are more local to the exhibition. The team may also include some people who aren’t part of your company, like the men and women that will help you build your booth for the show. It will be different for each company, but the bigger your exhibition stand, most likely the bigger your team of organizers will be.
Make sure they are prepared for everything that they need to plan for the show and add some excitement to what is to come!
This way they are prepared to take notes, organize, and drink lots of coffee during the process!
By using the hashtag and your logo you are already building up the momentum of the event and every day when your team is using these products, it will remind them of why they are spending so many hours to organize the perfect trade show.
Make sure everyone is aware of the marketing schedule and what you will be doing to promote your company at the event.
You don’t need to go into details, as for some people it won’t be very relevant, but communication is key to all things.
Simply list what you will be doing and when you will be doing it.
Send everyone a copy of your Excel sheet (mentioned in next step) just so they are aware of the actions.
It’s better for too many people to know what’s going on instead of possibly forgetting something.
Pull up a current floor plan of the exhibition and go over all the important details of where everything is: bathrooms, conference rooms, lunch areas, and networking events that will be held during the show.
I remember my first trade show I was part of the team that was hosting the event.
I had my suit on with my badge saying I was part of the team that organized everything and when I was walking to our stand to check-in on the first day, someone stopped me and asked where the conference room was.
Unfortunately, I didn’t go over the floor plan with my team and was not aware of where one of the most important rooms of the event was held.
Trust me, this was a mistake that will not happen again.
Remember that having a current floor plan is important since floor plans can always change from the previous event.
Where Conference Room 1 was in 2017 could easily be on the other side of the hall for the 2018 event. Updated information is key!
Step 2: Pre-trade Show Marketing
Your pre-trade show marketing will be the largest part of your marketing strategy for your event.
I recommend using an Excel sheet to list your marketing priorities for each trade show of the year.
You can use the tabs at the bottom to organize your trade shows and list on each sheet your full marketing plan.
Important information would include the dates of your marketing tactics, the platform for which you would like to use, and a call-to-action (CTA) that you want for that specific message.
This Excel should just list the specifics, as you know small things will change and be modified during the course of the strategy.
How long prior to the event should you start marketing
The idea is to start your marketing one full year prior to the event.
You don’t need to market every week for a full year, but there are some key concepts that you will want to address right after the previous event, ie. “Trade Show A 2017” (if the event happens every year).
You can count this as post-trade show marketing for Trade Show A 2017 or pre-trade show marketing for Trade Show A 2018, or both.
For example, you can post two marketing messages, one on social and one as an email blast right after Trade Show A 2017.
Your message for social media could be something like:
And your email blast could be something like:
“Welcome back from Trade Show A!
We hope that you all enjoyed your time. If you were able to meet with us during the show, thank you! We will be in contact with you soon. In the meantime, follow us on social media to check out our recent pictures of the event. Feel free to share yours, too! Use hashtag #TradeShowA”
Your call to action for social would be for people to check out the pictures and see how fun it was so they will be excited to visit Trade Show A 2018!
For the email blast, your call-to-action would be for people to follow you on your social media for the same reason- to gain interest in the 2018 event.
Frequency and Messaging
To properly plan when you want to send out your marketing messages and with what call to action you want to use, I would go to the event website and pull all the deadlines: deadline to register to exhibit, deadline to register as a visitor (normally this can go all the way up till the event), deadline for conference registrations, and find out how fast the event becomes sold out, if it does.
This will give you the proper information to plan your messages.
Ultimately, you want your audience to visit the event, which is easier than asking them to exhibit but could still be difficult.
This is why starting your marketing so early is important because if people are going to visit the event, they will need to plan flights, hotels, and accommodation.
We all know that when it gets closer to the event those prices increase, so gaining their interest earlier on is important.
By knowing the deadlines you know when they need to register by and you know that you should start your “register to visit the show” messages a couple months prior to the deadline.
This is purely from my own event marketing experience, but I would recommend doing a sort of trickling effect in the beginning of your marketing year and then increasing the frequency and strength of the message when you get closer to the event.
In the beginning, you want to show people:
- Why the event is important to them
- Why it’s important to you
- What they can expect
Good ideas for marketing messages would be to promote what will be covered at the show.
Even though you want your audience to visit, listing conference topics of the event is really important.
If your audience registers as a conference delegate instead of a visitor, that is not ideal for you because they will spend more of their time in the conference hall rather than on the expo floor, leaving less time for you to interact with them.
But, conference topics gain interest to your audience because it lists the experts of your industry who will be there and what topics they will be discussing.
This information can confirm that the event is truly for your audience, making them want to visit, or even become a conference delegate, even more.
And don’t worry, even if they do join as a conference delegate they will still have access to the expo floor and can come and visit you.
By persuading them with a promotional goodie from your stand to make sure they drop by to say “hello” will put more emphasis on the visit!
You are exhibiting, but how do you know if your current email list will be visiting?
If the event is interesting for you, more than likely it will also be interesting for your company’s email list.
For pre-trade show email marketing, what you want to do is build interest for the event.
Make sure you have the right audience, the right email format, and the right content, and you will be all ready for when you put on your suit and start walking the expo floor!
How to choose your audience
The first step in your pre-trade show email marketing is making sure you have the right email audience.
Here are some important questions to ask yourself:
- Is your target demographic likely to be receptive to your message?
- Will your target demographic be open to email communication
You can answer these questions by putting together a buyer persona of your customer.
List their likes, dislikes, and overall temperament.
You can use this for the subject lines, calls-to-action, and promotions for your email material.
The more specific the emails are for your audience, the better the open rate and click-through-rate of your emails.
How to format your emails
A small but significant addition to your emails is to add the link to the event in your email signature.
Don’t do this just for the email blasts, as I’m sure there will be links to the event all throughout the copy of the emails, but also on the team’s individual email signatures.
This way every email that you and your team send out contributes to your pre-trade show email marketing.
All the emails should have a common theme: to gain interest to the event.
First things first, never forget to put your stand number in your marketing emails.
It’s proven that people remember numbers and names better when they see them multiple times.
The more times your audience sees the name of the event and your booth number, the more likely they will remember it once they are there.
A good idea would be to put a small box in all your email templates, like an advertisement, giving this information (name of the event and stand number).
So although your emails will have different themes, goals, call-to-actions for what you are doing as a business, you will at least always have a section dedicated to your event marketing.
What content to put in your emails
The most important content of your email is the subject line!
Make sure you spend time thinking about different subject titles.
The best thing to do is use A/B testing to see which tone your audience enjoys reading more.
You want something that your audience will want to open.
Think about how many emails you receive and which ones stand out better than the others.
You will want an email that stands out from the others and encourages your audience to open it.
The beauty of emails is you can make them however long you like!
You can make some shorter with less content, or longer with more content, videos, and pictures of the conference programs!
The opportunities are endless.
I would suggest to mix them up, make some emails longer than others.
Don’t forget your stand number, the name of the event, link to the event, and the reason why your audience should visit in every one of the pre-trade show marketing emails.
A helpful tip is to also add travel information in your emails: hotels that are close-by, airports that they can fly into if needed, car rentals, etc.
Your audience will appreciate this and will want to explore the options to see if visiting the event is something that they can financially do.
Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing is the fun part!
Social media is:
- In real-time
There are a couple things about social media that are different than other channels.
First, the most important thing about social media is the visual or picture that you add to your post.
How fast do you go through your Facebook feed and then suddenly stop? Why did you stop? Most likely, it’s because there was a picture that caught your eye.
The visual is key to making your audience stop and read your post.
Second, social media messages should be short and sweet.
There should be a brief message and a call-to-action, which in this case should be a link to the event or a landing page on your website that has more information about the event.
In some cases, it is okay if you want to share a longer social media post.
For example, if you are quoting someone or quoting a conference topic, then more than a few lines is okay.
Just remember that with most social media posts, there is a character limit before they add the “see more” link.
You want to try and avoid that if possible.
With a Company Page on LinkedIn, it’s only three lines of copy before they add the “see more” link.
It will be more difficult with some social media platforms than others, but that’s a tip to keep in mind.
And remember, if you want your audience to engage with the post, ask them a question or advice on a subject.
If your audience engages with the post with a like, comment, or share, then the reach (how many people see your post) will increase.
So, the more interaction and engagement, the better!
How to choose your audience
With social media, it’s not so much that you choose your audience, but that your audience chooses you!
If you find companies and people that are interesting for your brand and business, go to their social media pages and interact with their content.
You will not only increase their views of the post because you are engaging with it, but you will also be noticed.
If that person or company thinks that you are also interesting to them, then they will follow you back.
Exploring the social media world and interacting and engaging with companies will get you noticed.
There is one way that you can significantly reach a specific audience, and that is with paid social media campaigns, which I highly recommend you do if you want to gain new interest in the event that you are exhibiting at.
Paid campaigns are available on almost every platform.
Some are more expensive than others, so make sure you do your research on which platforms fit your budget.
You also want to know on which platform your general audience interacts with more because there is a good chance that the same platform would be a good opportunity to launch a paid campaign on. There are so many different demographics for paid campaigns and they vary depending on the platform.
LinkedIn, for example, has over 10 different targeting criteria that you can zoom in on from the company name to company size, fields of study, member groups, years of experience, and more!
LinkedIn is the more costly platform to launch a paid campaign on, but if you know that most of your new, potential audience is using that platform, then I would say go for it!
How to format your social media posts
Social media posts are short and sweet.
The first thing you need to focus on, as mentioned above, is your visual.
If you are promoting the event that you want people to visit, I would use eye-catching photos from previous years of the event.
If you are able to edit it and have checked the copyright terms, then you can also add your stand number and hashtag to the photo.
Remember not to add too much text to your photos, because some platforms (like Facebook) will penalize you and send your post out to fewer people.
With Facebook, as long as you have 20% or less of text in your visual, you are good to go!
You have your visual, now you need to create your copy.
Again, try to keep it to three lines or less if possible.
The reason why you don’t want the “see more” link to come up is that you are asking people to make an extra action just to read your post.
Social media is very fast and although it may seem hard to believe, going that extra mile and clicking the “see more” will be too much for some people to do.
If you don’t have a choice and need to add more than three lines of copy, then just make sure the first three lines are very interesting, persuading your audience to click to read the full post.
And last but not least, with every marketing message, you will want to add something. Can you guess what it is?
Yes, the event hashtag!!
You can go on to the event’s website or their social media and find the hashtag that they are using.
You should use that same hashtag for every event marketing post that you create.
For general social media posts, there are some platforms that I wouldn’t worry about using hashtags, but when it comes to events and exhibiting, always use the hashtag on every platform, even LinkedIn!
Which, by the way, now encourages its members to use hashtags with all their posts.
If the event doesn’t have a hashtag already, which could be very hard to believe, see if there are other people using a hashtag for the same event.
If not, choose one!
You will want to keep the character limit short and always test to see if the hashtag is already being used.
Most likely it will be since there are so many hashtags being used these days, but as long as it’s not inappropriate and there aren’t too many people using it then it should be okay.
Just remember to use the same hashtag for every marketing message you post.
What content to put on your social media posts
You can do so much with the content of your social media posts to market your upcoming exhibition!
The best thing that you can post on social media is pictures.
Social media platforms love event pictures and pictures of people!
- Post pictures of your team getting ready for the event
- Post the pictures of the promotional notebooks and tumblers that you gave them to prepare for the event
- Post pictures from the previous event and highlight interesting people and companies that were there (and don’t forget to tag them!)
- Encourage your social media audience to all do the same!
The more times you can post pictures the better, however, there are quite a few other messages you can post.
Some ideas would be testimonials of people from the previous years about the event, videos people took from the past shows, conference topics that will be covered at the upcoming event, small networking events and mixers that will take place at the upcoming event. You also want to add some social media messages of what you will be doing there.
If you are sponsoring a mixer or event or maybe the exhibition itself, make sure you put that information in your marketing messages.
Make sure you are clear on what you want your social media audience to do.
If you want them to visit, make sure you add that to the bottom of every marketing message you post.
If you want them to attend a certain mixer or to stop by your booth to collect a t-shirt and tumbler, add that to your marketing messages.
And, as always, make sure you place your booth number and event hashtag with every post!
As a side note, take advantage of the companies and people that you know are on social media.
“Tagging” companies and people on social media will increase your reach and get more people involved.
If you know a conference presenter is on LinkedIn and the company he/she is from is also on LinkedIn, tag both in your marketing message about the conference topics!
It will also give them exposure and may encourage them to share your post.
Create or share the event on Facebook
Social media has so many different marketing opportunities!
Did you know on Facebook you can create your own event?
You can create the place, time, a description, a guest list, and a place where everyone can discuss the event.
If you haven’t done this before, then I would Google it and see if it’s something for this event. There could be a Facebook event already created, and if so, share that event and see if you can add more people to the guest list. It should be a public event so that should be possible.
But if not, create your own!
Once you have created the event, you can invite as many Facebook friends that you can think of!
Ask them to share the event and invite their Facebook friends to also attend.
Then once you have people going to your Facebook event, encourage them to interact with each other.
You can post messages asking your guest list what they are most excited about for the upcoming show, is there a conference topic that they are looking forward to attending, do they have any travel tips on how to get there or how to navigate around.
In addition to the conversational posts, you can also post your marketing messages in this group, since they are relevant.
Make sure you are using the exhibition hashtag (this should be in your Facebook event description as well), you’re reminding people of your booth number, and you are giving clear call-to-actions.
Pre-Trade Show Marketing Preparations and Promotional Products
When you are exhibiting at a trade show, there are going to be some things that you will need to order and get ready before you go.
If you plan on hosting any games or contests at your booth, think about those and what you will need when you are there.
My recommendation is to do this as soon as possible, so you can prepare for longer than usual shipping times and/or small mistakes that may come up.
Some things you will want to check out are promotional posters for your stand and surrounding available areas, pop-up boards, and promotional products for the event.
Posters and pop-up boards can take a short amount of time to order and deliver, but if the exhibition is quite large and popular, there may be multiple people ordering these products around the same time frame, so it’s better to do this earlier.
Make sure you take the time to design the posters.
You want them to catch people’s attention and draw them to your stand.
Your posters/ pop-up boards could market anything from new products to asking people to post their pictures from the event on social media or both!
If you are asking people to post their pictures on social media, make sure you put the social media logo where you want them to post their pictures to (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), and, if possible, a QR code.
Remember that your posters aren’t interactive so if you want people to easily get to your social media platform, put a very simple URL or a QR code so that if they have a scanner on their mobile phone they can just scan the QR code and it will take them automatically there.
Whichever way you choose, remember that people will be busy at the exhibition so you want to make everything as convenient as possible.
And, don’t forget, make sure to add the event hashtag to your posters!
Promotional products are super fun to order, but make sure you are giving yourself plenty of time to shop.
On our website, for example, we have over 5,000 products to choose from!
We have plenty different search options to help you navigate through and find the perfect item, but it will still take time to read product reviews, compare to other products on our website, and finally make a decision.
I know this because I shop for some of our clients.
I absolutely love it!
And it does take time.
You should make every promotional product unique to the trade show itself.
If you attend multiple events throughout the year, you can expect that you will see the same client at more than one show.
If you are handing out the same promotional product you did at an event three months ago, it will send a different message than if you have a new item for every event.
Some things to think about before you order are what your audience would like to receive, what is the time of year, will an indoor or outdoor product be more useful, and is a seasonal product ideal (one that is currently trending)?
You can use promotional products to crack a laugh.
For an example of a funny promotional product, I knew one of our clients ordered hundreds of pens for an upcoming baby shower.
You would think there wouldn’t be anything funny about that, but actually, the pens that she ordered had floating sperm and an egg in it!
It was super creative, funny, and it’s a pen so it’s always usable.
Can you imagine lending that pen to a stranger?
What a great conversation piece!
Some of the more common products ordered are tumblers, tech items, and bags.
You can also give away little gift bags, which is very impressive to receive!
This would require a bit more of a budget, but if you order a bag, pen, tumbler, and a tech item, then it wouldn’t cost too much and it would still give your gift receiver something fun to talk about and use later!
Whether it’s a gift bag or just one promotional product, you can also add a little “DIY” (do-it-yourself) touch to it!
If you are giving away a tumbler, print out little recipes of your favorite drinks and put them in the tumbler.
You can also add your business card in there and maybe a little candy.
You know that people will be handling business cards all throughout the exhibition, so leaving one in a gift would be a for-sure way not to get lost!
When you order your promotional products for your prospective clients and returning customers, make sure to also remember to buy your table covers (if needed), baskets to hold items from your stand or your promotional items, and setup/display tables for your stand.
You would think that people would think of these automatically, but be surprised how many people forget about this and have to order last minute, creating stress right before the event.
Remember, you want all of these products and supplies to be at the trade show you are exhibiting at.
Although I am a big believer in making sure everything is ready to go before the trade show, it may be more cost-effective if you have some of the items shipped directly there.
If you have to travel to exhibit and are doing so by plane, then it gets tricky when you want to take so many products with you.
Remember that there is always an option to have things delivered directly to the trade show.
You’re finally there
Well, you have done a lot of pre-trade show marketing work and you deserve a break, but now you have the exhibition!
Don’t worry, exhibiting is the fun part, and we have so much more to discuss for in-event marketing and post-trade show marketing that I just can’t fit all into one blog!