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by Paige Fuoco, Designer

Trade shows are a great way for your business to meet potential clients and build brand awareness. In order to maximize your return on investment you should develop a strategic plan, ensuring your business will be the one everyone is talking about.

Begin your strategy by mapping out your objectives, tactics, and anticipated outcomes. Whether you are looking to raise brand awareness or generate sales leads, you must plan with a purpose in order to reach your goal. If you aren’t sure where to begin, take a step back and look at where your business is headed and what your priorities are moving forward.

Remember to be mindful of a realistic timeline and budget before you dive in to your strategy. Not every company can afford all the bells and whistles that come with exhibiting at a trade show, and if you plan accordingly, you won’t have to. With a timely schedule, practical budget, and creative mindset you’ll be five steps ahead of half the companies you’re competing with.

So, I have a strategy. Now what?

As the exhibitor, one of the biggest struggles is standing out from other companies. If you’ve been to a trade show before you know that pretty much all booths look the same and everyone is fighting for attention. Sure, every now and then someone lets you spin a wheel to win a free consultation, but it’s safe to say that method isn’t necessarily impactful.

So, how do you make a lasting impact? Think outside the booth.

Trade shows are typically targeted at a specific industry, so a good number of people attending should be interested in what you have to say – or so we can assume. This is a perfect opportunity to showcase your creativity and offer something that other companies aren’t. Our recommendation? Get with your creative team and figure out how to get some one-on-one time with prospective attendees. From our experience, this usually means taking them away from the crowded conference instead of forcing something to happen there. Maybe you take a group of five for coffee and bagels, or a group of thirty for drinks and apps.

Putting the Creative Pieces Together.

Trade shows allow you to put a creative twist on your brand. Work with your team to develop a theme for the event and stick to it. Consider concepts that people will relate to, and in turn, will remember long after the event. Is there a major sporting event coming up? Is the next season of Game of Thrones premiering? People enjoy making connections, and you’ll have better luck standing out if they can relate to your creativity.

Once you’ve decided on a plan, go through the list of attendees expected to visit – which organizers will often provide to you – and narrow down who you are interested in meeting with. Once you have a targeted group of people you can get to work on invitations and other event materials. Here are a few things you should consider:

  • Ad placement – If you’re lucky, the conference host will run print or digital ads prior to the event, giving you the opportunity to showcase some assets from the branded theme your creative team put together.
  • Invitations – Now that you have a plan of attack, you’ll want to invite people to be a part of your exclusive get-together. The most effective way to do this is running an email campaign. We recommend this over snail mail because you can dictate the exact time of day your audience receives the invitation and review stats from each time you send. You can also include more photos, landing page links, and even video.
  • Day-Of Essentials – You now have a list of attendees who will be joining you for some one-on-one time and you want them to feel like they made the right decision. Put together a take-away packet with a company white paper and some event-branded materials. This is a great time to include an exclusive promotion and some items different from those at your booth.
  • Booth – Though you’ve already differentiated your company from the others, you can’t neglect your booth. Be sure to do something bold and eye-catching and to include the assets from the theme you created. And, please don’t give away another stress ball or company t-shirt, you can do better than that.

Measure Your Outcomes.

Now that you’ve wowed your guests and made a great impression for your brand, it’s time to measure the outcomes. If your goal was to build brand awareness, take a look at social media engagement – use of hashtags, increase in followers, growth in overall media coverage. If you aimed to bring back leads, ask yourself how they transferred back into the sales funnel – follow up with a phone call, plan a lunch meeting, or whatever method your sales model supports. The evaluation of your objectives is a critical component to your strategic process and will allow you to see what was successful and what new information you can learn from.

It might seem difficult to stand out at crowded events like trade shows but remember that you strategically and creatively planned your impact, and people appreciate thoughtful marketing.