Over the last few years the effectiveness of trade shows has been questioned.  With the digital revolution, many businesses are focusing their marketing efforts online with SEO and social media becoming top priority.  So do trade shows still have a place in an effective marketing strategy today?

Digital marketing, of course, should have a high priority in any marketing strategy, but that doesn’t mean more traditional methods of marketing should be overlooked.  A good marketing strategy should be about getting the marketing mix right, and involve both online and offline methods.

A ten-year lead generation study conducted by Forbes showed that networking at trade shows finished in the top five marketing tactics. The best marketing tactics are educational in nature, and a trade show lets you educate prospects face-to-face.

Trade shows should be part of your marketing strategy for a number of reasons:

Reasons to Exhibit at a Trade Show

Lead Generation

According to a recent survey 83% of trade show exhibitors said that meeting potential customers was the biggest benefit of a trade show.  Trade shows are aimed at a particular industry and visitors are there to buy.  They know businesses exhibiting are going to be trying to sell to them so they will be in buying mode.  Even if they don’t buy straight away you have the opportunity to take their details, they may buy from you in the future.  81% of trade show attendees have buying authority within their organisation so there is the potential to generate some strong leads.  64% of trade show attendees are not customers of exhibitor companies so there are lots of opportunities for fresh prospects at trade shows.

The Dallas based Center for Exhibition Industry Research conducted a survey of exhibitors and found that on average the cost of identifying a potential customer was $96 with an exhibition lead but $443 without an exhibition lead.  So the cost of generating new leads in an exhibition came in at $347 less, and that included exhibition stand construction, storage, transportation, exhibit space, salesperson salary, travel, and entertainment.

Meet Prospects and Customers Face-to-Face

The same survey found that the cost of getting to face-to-face contact with a potential customer was $96 with an exhibition lead but $1,039 without (including $443 to identify the prospect prior to the initial sales call and $596 for the field-sales call). Thus, meeting a prospect at an exhibition versus finding and meeting a prospect in the field saves $943 per prospect.

Trade shows provide the perfect opportunity to be able to talk to your prospects face-to-face.  Human beings are social animals and meeting in person is still the most effective way of selling.  Selling your products direct to the customer, face-to-face, offers several advantages:

  • you can explain and even demonstrate your products
  • it’s convenient for the customer and easy to bring in other individuals who need to be involved
  • you can learn more about what the customer wants
  • you can build a personal relationship
  • you can use your selling skills to convince the customer to buy

STS Defence, their IConIC launch at Electric & Hybrid Marine World Expo 2019 Amsterdam 1

Brand Awareness

A trade show brings together the most significant individuals and businesses within an industry.  Exhibiting will show that you are part of that.  You have the opportunity to really stand out and make your presence known.  Use it to launch a new product or service, 92% of trade show attendees say their main reason for attending trade shows is to see new products being featured.  Or if you are a start-up, a trade show is a great place to introduce yourself to your industry.

Building brand awareness is a long-term goal, trade shows aren’t just about short-term selling, they are a way of making sure people are aware of you and remember you.  The perception of a brand that is not represented at an event falls by 5%. This is true even for global brands.  Not attending the key events in your industry can be more damaging than you think.

Brand Awareness at Trade Shows

Meet with existing customers

44% of exhibitors use trade shows to meet up with existing customers.  It is the perfect opportunity – you have the staff and an elaborate stand in place, use it to build on the relationships you have with your customers.  You will gain useful feedback and may be able to sell further products or services to them.

Network with industry peers

Trade shows bring together all the important people within an industry so they provide the perfect opportunity to network.  You may find people or businesses that can help grow your own, maybe new suppliers or sales channels.  Attending the seminars and lectures will give you information about new developments within your industry and provide an opportunity to make new contacts.

Check out the competition

Nowhere else will have all your competitors under one roof.  This gives you a chance to check out what they are doing – what are they focusing on? Are they launching new products or services?  How are visitors reacting to what they are doing?  Do they have any new developments?  Seeing what works or doesn’t work for them will give you a useful insight.

Incorporate it into your overall marketing strategy

To fully make use of exhibiting at a trade show you need to do some marketing around it.  76% of exhibitors say that their event is integrated with their other marketing campaigns. Use the event to create video content which you can then use in your marketing throughout the year.

Use social media to advertise your presence, find out what pages and hashtags the event organiser is using to promote it and link up with them.  Email your existing customers and prospects to tell them you’re attending and offer to meet up.  After the show make sure you enter the leads into a database and follow them all up within 3 weeks so that the event is still fresh in their minds.

Use it as a sales training exercise

Whether you choose to take new staff or experienced salespeople to a trade show, it provides the perfect opportunity to hone sales techniques.  Staff can try different approaches to see what works.  Getting immediate, face-to-face feedback is very useful when determining how to appeal to customers.

Ways to measure how effective a trade show is

  • Cost per lead – the overall cost of attending a trade show divided by the number of leads gained.
  • Return on Objective (ROO):  You need to have a list of specific goals for the trade show.  They can be “soft” less measurable goals such as brand awareness, or something more quantifiable such as gaining qualified leads or the ability to showcase specific items or services to a more select audience.
  • Exhibit budget vs. actual cost – make sure you take into account any surprise costs that cropped up.
  • Post-show orders and sales – What’s the life cycle of your selling process after a trade show?  How long does it take to turn a qualified lead into a future order or call to action?
  • Website and Social Media traffic – have you gained visitors virtually who saw you at the trade show?
  • Work out the Return on Investment – Total sales value minus the cost of sales to give net return then divide this by the cost of exhibiting, then times that figure by 100.

Trade shows should still form a key part of any full marketing strategy due to all the reasons listed above.  If you intend to exhibit at more than one show you will gain economies of scale by purchasing a reusable custom modular stand which will allow you to look unique and stand out, whilst providing the storage and portability benefits of a modular stand.