Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.
Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.

Pre-show marketing

Roadmap to Tradeshow Success

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. Famous words, no doubt, and they certainly apply to any marketing endeavor you’re undertaking. If your goal is to simply appear at a tradeshow, you don’t have much of a roadmap. It might look something like this: rent a booth space, get an exhibit (doesn’t really matter what size or what it looks like); bring a few people from the office and talk to people that stumble across your booth.

Success! Of course, since you didn’t really have much of a plan, how could you fail?

On the other hand…

If you want to talk to bring home 300 leads, that requires a longer plan and a better road map. Setting a goal – any goal – immediately puts restrictions on your map. It forces you to go in a certain direction. And the good thing is that it makes you ask questions, such as:

  • How do we get enough people to our booth to collect 300 leads?
  • What kinds of leads do we want?
  • How do we qualify the leads?
  • What information do we want?
  • Do we need to do pre-show marketing to bring people to our booth? If so, what will that take?
  • How many people should we have in our booth?
  • How big of a booth do we need to support those people?
  • What will it cost to create that exhibit?

And so you. You get the idea. Sure, you can simply set up a booth, hand out a few brochures and samples and cross your fingers, but if you really want to bring home the bacon with a bagload of new prospects, it takes more than that.

It takes a roadmap that only you can put together, based only on what’s important to you.

If you want a little help, you could do worse than picking up my book Tradeshow Success. It’s got a pretty good roadmap planning guide, chapter by chapter.

But whatever you use, if you want to get somewhere, you need a map.

Tradeshow Tips From Twitter

Every now and then I cruise through Twitter looking for a handful of marketing tips for tradeshow exhibitors. Let’s see if there’s anything there now!

First up, TSNN gives us some planning tips to engage virtual attendees.

Next, Lotus823 links to a SmartBrief post that offers thoughts on pre- and post-show planning.

Then, SourceGroup links to an article with 7 Tips to Hosting a Successful Virtual Networking Event.

Ljubica Maletković tweeted out a link to an article that helps you make the most of your tradeshow marketing budget.

Finally, Exhibit Options linked to a TSNN article on how to embrace the new normal for 2021.

Twitter can be a lot of things, but when it comes to finding useful information for your industry, it’s pretty good most of the time!

Follow me on Twitter.

How to Find a Whole Lot of Tradeshow Marketing Tips (Video)

With tradeshow marketing on the sidelines, now is as good a time as any to brush up on your tradeshow marketing skill and knowledge. And here’s a great place to find a whole lot of tradeshow marketing tips – all in one place, and all worth their weight in gold. Check out this short under-three-minute video:

Find all of these tips at TradeshowBuy.com!

Guest Appearance on Power Up For Profits Podcast

I’ve known Kathleen Gage of PowerUp for Profits for years and she recently asked me to be on her podcast. Like me, she posts both audio on her podcast page and video on her YouTube channel. Kathleen knows how to get to the center of what is helpful to listeners, and this time was no different:

If you’d like to click through to the post that is specific to this interview, click here. She has broken down the conversation into the topics we covered, including Foundation for Success, Follow Up, Make Your Booth Time Engaging, Pre-Show Marketing, Swag and more. We covered a lot of ground in a short conversation.

Visit Power Up For Profits here.

Put Your Tradeshow Plan in a Box

You’ve heard the phrase “think outside the box.” But in the tradeshow world, sometimes it makes more sense to think inside the box.
In many cases, it does make sense to think outside the box. Which means, generally, to do things you don’t normally do. Turn it upside down. Work backwards. Do something random.

But tradeshows have so much riding on them that the more you have a plan and the better you stick to it – with minor deviations as warranted – that it pays to stay inside the box.

Make the plan. Execute the plan. Stay inside the box.

While you’re making the plan, many weeks or even months before the tradeshow, that might be the time to think outside the box. What can you do that’s different? What your competitors aren’t doing? What might be an activity in your booth that attracts people? What kind of different ways you can think of to promote your appearance?

During the brainstorming and planning phase, come up with as many different and unusual approaches you can think of that might help you stand out. But vet them. Test them. Make sure they are practical and can be executed as flawlessly as possible. Then, once you have something in place, iron out the rough spots and prepare it for the show.

And once the show starts, don’t stray from the script unless there’s agreement among the principals that it’s a good move. Otherwise, work the plan, take notes on how it went, and make adjustments for the next show.

Thinking outside the box isn’t a bad idea, in fact in many cases it’s a great idea. Just know when and where to do it. The tradeshow floor where thousands of visitors are passing by, where competitors are putting up their best, is not the place to wing it.

Applying the Modern Business Plan to Tradeshow Marketing

The ‘modern business plan’ was hatched on a blog post by Seth Godin. I was a recent enrollee in Godin’s The Marketing Seminar, where at one point we were referred to the post which breaks down the five elements of what he feels are the important parts of a modern business plan: truth, assertions, alternatives, people and money.

It’s also possible to apply that thinking to how you approach tradeshow marketing.

The truth of tradeshow marketing would be the facts and figures of the specific show(s) that you plan to participate in. How many people attend? What percentage of decision-makers and influencers are among the attendees? Who are the competitors/exhibitors?

Assertions might include your thoughts on what you believe you know that is not necessarily supported by data. What new products are you launching that might be similar to new products from competitors? What types of marketing tactics and strategies are those competitors using? This is where you state what you believe to be true, although you might not be able to prove it.

Alternatives: ­This is where you play the “what if” game. What if things go wrong? What is your plan B? What if you get lucky by meeting the exact prospect that you didn’t anticipate? What if your top salesperson is poached by a competitor? Hey, anything can happen. At least opening your mind to some of those possibilities gives you a chance to chew them over.

People: who are your best people and how can you best use them? Where are your weak spots and how can you improve with them? Do you need to acquire people to get your tradeshow department to run like a clock and not like a Rube Goldberg machine?

Finally, money: Budgeting, logistical costs, personnel costs. Return on investment, cost of samples. You know the drill. But are your numbers accurate? And did you run the calculations a year later after the show so that you actually know what your return on investment really is?

What is your Return on Objective? Thanks to the Exhibition Guy Stephan Murtagh!

There are any number of ways of looking at your business or marketing plan, but taking this approach helps to clarify several issues at once. Give it a try!

Top Ten All-Time Most Viewed TradeshowGuy Blog Posts

I got an email the other day from someone whose newsletter I had just subscribed to, and in the introduction email there was a link to the top 5 most read blog posts on her blog. That’s when an idea light lit up over my head and gave me an idea for a blog post (as a blogger, you’re always looking for ideas, right?).

Next thing you know I was pawing through my Google Analytics account to find out what were the most-viewed posts on this blog. These are the ones that floated to the top, for whatever reason. It’s all organic. I don’t advertise, but I do share links now and then on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. On occasion there might be a link here from Pinterest. Or another blog.

This blog is aging. It’s over ten years old, having been launched in November, 2008. There are almost 1000 posts.

One more note: the analytics breakdown shows the front page as “most-viewed” and a couple of pages (not posts) showed up in the top ten as well, including the Contact Me page and the We Accept Blog Submissions page. But beyond that, here are the top ten blog posts since the beginning of the blog (in traditional countdown order):

Number Ten: The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Exhibit RFPs. I created a one-page sheet on what should go into an Exhibit RFP (Request for Proposal), and posted it on Cheatography.com, a site for thousands of cheat sheets. Kind of fun. They regularly sent me emails telling me how many times it was downloaded (500! 1000! 1500!). Not sure how accurate that is, but obviously it’s been seen by a lot of people. From September 2017.

Number Nine: Breaking the Ice: How to Attract Tradeshow Visitors. I referenced a number of techniques taught by tradeshow colleague Andy Saks for this article, which appeared in December 2015.

Number Eight: 23 Pre-Show Marketing Tactics, Promotions and Ideas. A laundry list that was posted in October 2009 when the blog was not even a year old.

Number Seven: How to Build a Tradeshow-Specific Landing Page. Inspired by Portland’s Digimarc, it’s a look at the steps you can use to put together an online site specifically to interact with potential tradeshow booth visitors. From December 2017.

Number Six: Write More Orders at Tradeshows by Replacing Paper With Digital Technology. One of two guest posts on the Top Ten list, this is from Sarah Leung of Handshake. April 2015.

Number Five: Tradeshow Debriefing Questions. Another oldie but goodie, this post from September 2009 guides you through the after-show info-gathering process.

Number Four: Virtual Reality for Tradeshows. You’ve seen them at shows: people wearing VR goggles. Is it worth it? A brief exploration, from June 2016.

Number Three: Exhibit vs. Booth vs. Stand. They’re called different things in different parts of the world, so I took a whack at trying to explain it. Just last summer in July 2018.

Number Two: 10 Skills Every Tradeshow Staffer Should Have. Margaret Coleback of Vantage Advertising LLC dashed of a great list for staffers, which appeared in January 2015.

Aaaaand, at Number ONE: SWOT Analysis for Tradeshows. It still surprises me that this post gets a whopping 3.95% of all of the traffic on the site. At the time I wrote it I had been spending a fair amount of time with a friend who was going through school to get his degree in marketing, and one thing that we discussed in depth was the SWOT Analysis. S=Strengths; W=Weaknesses; O=Opportunities; T=Threats. It’s a great exercise to work through in regards to your tradeshow marketing appearances. Check it out. It’s from February 2015.

Got any favorites?


7 Tradeshow Pre-show Marketing Best Practices

Tradeshow pre-show marketing is kind of the lost stepchild of tradeshow marketing.

“Yeah, we don’t do as much as we’d like. Just don’t have the time.”

“Well, we post a few things on Twitter before the show, but that’s about it.”

If this is your approach, you shouldn’t be surprised if your results aren’t what you’d like. Let’s take a closer look at some tradeshow pre-show marketing best practices and see if those results don’t come up a bit.

tradeshow preshow marketing best practices
Follow tradeshow pre-show marketing best practices can bring more people to your booth space.
  1. Know Your Market. Who do you want to come see your booth? Do your best to identify them, whether it’s by title, company, region, demographic, or whatever. Next, what problem do you solve for them? Once you’ve identified your market and what you can do to help them, you can start crafting your messages and the channels you’ll use.
  2. Know Your Budget. It’s a given that most of your tradeshow budget will go to the actual show itself: the exhibit, shipping, travel expenses, booth space rental and more. But try to carve off a percentage of the overall budget for pre-show marketing.
  3. Know Where Your Market Spends Time. Not as easy as it sounds. Maybe they’re on social media, and if that’s the case, what platforms? Twitter? LinkedIn? Facebook? Or is there a popular podcast in your market niche that’s worth looking at for possible advertising? Ask current customers and prospects where they spend their “industry time” and see what they say.
  4. Know the Channels You Can Use. Sure, email, social media and list rentals might work. But what about phone calls? Direct mail? In-person visits? Yeah, that last one is rare, but if you are speaking face-to-face with someone you’d like to be at the show, take a moment to remind them and invite them by.
  5. Know the Timeline You’ll Use. By creating a schedule of what to do when, and bringing everyone on your team up to speed on the schedule, you have a much better chance of succeeding. For instance, three months out is a good time to email a “save the date” notice for the show. Six weeks out might be appropriate to send a postcard or other piece of direct mail. A month out is a good time to start posting booth numbers on social media using show hashtags (be sure to include some cool photos from last year’s appearance!).
  6. Know Your Neighbors. Yup, your show neighbors. Learn who’s next to you and across the aisle from you. Reach out to their marketing person and see what they might tell you about their appearance. If they’re planning on doing a live presentation in their booth four times an hour, that might affect your approach.
  7. Know Your Lead Capture Process. Are you scanning badges? That’s a good start. But will that scan capture the time and manner of follow up, or the type of follow up that is agreed upon by the prospect? Have a system in place that works.

No doubt you can come up with a few more based on your own experience over the years. But maybe these can kickstart the conversation!

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Tradeshow Guy Blog by Tim Patterson

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