The Ultimate Guide to Trade Show Marketing


Stage 1: Know Where You are Headed & Choose Your Actions


In marketing as well as in the offshoots of marketing activities, the quickly forgotten aspect is planning.

Dave Ramsey captures the essence of this thought when he says, “People are in such a hurry to launch their product or business that they seldom look at marketing from a bird’s eye view and they don’t create a systematic plan.”

Painstaking and meticulous planning is the backbone of tradeshow marketing. Without proper homework, the elusive success is rarely attained. Let us analyze the different aspects on making a mediocre trade show a superb one. The ultimate management of time and resources is the key

Start Where You Left

The previous records of the trade fairs, the lacuna as well the bottlenecks faced could be analyzed. The following are few relevant questions to be asked as retrospection.

  • Which medium of marketing got you maximum inquiries?
  • Which source got you the most qualified leads?
  • How and why the negative remarks were made in the guest book? Where all you could have improved?

Even the minor points could be escalated during the planning stage for a successful finale.

Do a Penny By Penny Calculation

Budgeting is a critical step. The budget should necessarily cover rent, exhibition pavilion layout, the design of the booth, vantage point, power, particular products to display, communication, signage carpet, maintenance, etc. This is not a comprehensive list but could be location specific. This aspect also could include advertising, rental for display and utility, photography, audiovisuals, transportations, banners, and brochures. The overall security, salary, insurance, accommodations as well as wrapping up are to be considered.

Choose the Marketing Tools Based On a Serious Cost Benefit Analysis

It is imperative to have a critical cost-benefit analysis of the entire trade show. That analysis will necessarily cover the goal, available budget, theme if any, edge over the competition and the feasibility. Maybe there could be a better deployment of the resources in other means. The booth size, location, exhibits, running video, manpower and contingency management are very crucial. The motivational card should be played well keeping in mind the visitor’s psychology. Many visits are keen on small presents, trinkets, and compliments besides brochures.

Lock the Timeframe & Don’t Exceed

The time management is paramount. Right from the time setting up the booth to the final cleaning need to be managed well. An invitee coming on the site need not see any work in progress and you need to be ready before panic sets in. All allowances including shipping, erecting and finishing should be visualized. The boarding and lodging, local travel facilities, insurance, dinner meets are to be included


Stage 2: Sow the Seeds Way before the Show


Seek Database Value-Add from Organizers

Getting in touch with the organizers much in advance would help. With a bit of persuasion, you will get maximum details. You should get the maximum out of the contract terms of the trade show. It would be better if you can get hold of the list of possible visitors so as to make custom made presentation packages. An invitation by email or post would encourage them to visit that particular booth. The usual mistake of sending routine invitation is mostly a waste of time. Making them attractive and user-specific is of prime importance. You may spend time in designing the right invitation letter or letters meant for the target.

Dry Run with Staff

If you are recruiting temporary or ad-hoc staff for the trade show, you have to make sure that they are trained properly in the product as well as in dealing with the customers and visitors. A clear cut strategic approach is to be designed for each trade show. This aspect is true because many things are different in different geographical locations.

Don’t create a big manual. Ask them to remember just 3 main points they need to leave all visitors with. For one, they must spell your differentiator in one simple line. Secondly, they must capture the lead properly. Lastly, they must give bait so that the visitor comes back for more.

Outsource Booth Engagement Activities

Yes, you may have to outsource many activities to cut short the expenses as well as to improve the efficiency. But the agency should be reliable and have a good track record. In some cases, the lack of these could boomerang. The cost of outsourcing shall have to be within the budgetary provisions you have done painstakingly. Spend time with the agency to conceive brand relevant contests and activities.

Spread the word

Choosing the right media, trade journal before and after trade show shall have to be done judicially. Maybe trade journals would be better for certain products. For some products, extensive digital coverage would be called for. A well-designed digital marketing plan prepared in advance may help. That should have the website and, social media. YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter can be effectively used to announce your presence. The replies on social media or email would be a barometer to measure the rapport you could make at the exhibition site.


Stage 3: Go All Out at the Show


First Impression Begins with Your Booth

When you get a visitor to your booth, he should be impressed. He should be impressed in such a way that he decides to spend some time in the booth. The brand image building of your product in a short span of time should be the motive.

It is better to have a good theme emphasizing your high point. This could be classical or modern. But the theme should not be repulsive at any cost. You may need professional help in choosing the right one. From your booth to your staff and the collaterals, the theme must flow through.

Needless to say that the warmth the customer feels in your booth goes a long way. The receptivity factor can be the test run. Your trade show booth should be sensitive and at the same time attractive. The customer should be impressed with the look, smell, ambiance, light, and overall cleanliness.

Judicial use of video, audio and banners should be adapted. They should not be a hindrance to the neighbor. The noise should be kept at a minimum level. The photos and pictures can be backlit for avoiding direct glare. There should be a kind of uniqueness in every object and their placement in the booth. Not necessarily you have to forgo humor in dealing with the customers.

Beyond the Exhibition Floor

The latest trend is to have technical workshops simultaneously. You may get a wider audience and exposure during these seminars. You can think of being a part of the symposium as a delegate. If you are presenting a paper, be prepared to answer many questions and receive suggestions. If you can be part of the conference in paper presentation, that is ideal. And invariably the speakers get concessions in the exhibitions. Also sponsoring a dinner or a cocktail party, your name will be projected well. The seminars open vistas to network with new acquaintances and prospects.

Proactive Customer Meetings

You should be aware of the fact that the clients have a lot to teach you about the industry, product, and competitors. Try to do maximum one-on-one interactions.

If you see a potential client stop by on a flying visit, figure a way to draw him back. A sort of lucky draw of the visiting card basket is a usual trick played. As there could be peak and lean timing during any exhibition, the meeting with prospective customers could be arranged during non-peak times. That would help in spending the required time to assess the requirement and if needed to give the spot offers or quotations.

The time shall be used for lead generations, discussions, image building, demonstration, clarifications, etc. Indirectly killing competitions is not a sin nevertheless. The feedback from the customers should be kept safely for future communications and follow up. Sometimes the very casual enquiry could turn out to be a snowballing impact on overall sales.

Lead Generation without Annoying the Attendees

The lead collection is a tricky affair. The feedback form should be designed in such a way to filter out unnecessary points but to include important ones. A collection of his visiting card, enquiry format, call back card, etc. should be seamlessly arranged.

The badge scanner is a good option to get the customer profile while they are in your booth. The conference registration desk and trade show desks are the best source to get visitors profile. Smartphone scanners, bar code scanners and QR code scanners are available nowadays.

The age old system of collecting calling cards is still the better option. However, the questions you ask a customer or a visitor should not be offensive. The feedback forms can be color coded as a filter. The check boxes are still generally preferred by customers. The questions could be brief and to the point. You may ask for future communication mode in the feedback form. The booth should be having good communication systems and staff to cater to the surge of visitors during peak hours. The people manning the booth should be trained in collecting the data without offending the customers and visitors.

Warm Selling Vs. Aggressive Selling

There is an advantage having a friendly relationship with persons of your adjacent booth. Knowing them better would help in future as well. You should insist on good dress code. Also, common sense calls for proper tone and decibel level. The basic etiquette is very crucial in trade shows. All the visitors need to be well attended and never ignored. The lack of friendly approach can do much better than the entire pompous ambiance you can create. When a customer walks in and finds you engrossed with your laptop, the whole impression would be lost.

A smile can win a visitor passing your custom convention rental booth in a hurry. You can break the ice by talking to them. An excellent address would help in opening up. The warmth in your approach would pave the way for better business association at a later date. Building up the rapport is crucial. A negative or indifferent approach would make you lose a visitor or customer for sure.

You may try to asses about the product presently being used. Is there any chance of their switching? The comfort level of the existing product can be found out. You should have a small designated place to discuss the customer’s requirement within the booth. Once you can make them sit, the initial hurdle is over.

After establishing a rapport with the customer try to get what he is looking for. Based on his response, you may proceed with filling up the feedback form, etc. and then you may have to move to attend the next visitor politely.

Demonstrate in Style

At times demonstrating of non-portable equipment at customers premises would be difficult. The trade shows are ideal for such demonstrations. You may club a couple of clients to save time. Your communication skill plays a significant role in winning the customers. Don’t make the demo boring with lot of information. A magical outcome, a WoW process or an astonishing benefit should be shown quickly and rest can be looped on a video.


Stage 4: Show Your Aggression Even After the Show


Follow-Up Fast

CEIR: The Spend Decision: Analyzing How Exhibits Fit into The Overall Marketing Budget, 2024 underlines the point:  “91% of attendees say that tradeshows impact their buying decisions because the competition is in one place, allowing for comparison shopping in real time.”

It is imperative that you act faster than in contacting the leads and customers. Otherwise, your competitors would overtake you.  You may start with phone calls or emails thanking the customer for dropping in. The re-establishing of contact is crucial. A formal quotation can follow. The packet you send to the customer should be in tune with your promise- clarification, quotation, budgetary offer, test report, traceability certificate, etc. The equally important part of developing contact is to sustain it and deliver as per promises. The dependability factor is the stepping stone for closing a deal. Video conferencing is a useful method for active follow-ups.


Networking using social media marketing techniques is catching up fast. Conversations with few potential clients would bring in others also into the groove. However, over enthusiasm may kill the entire initiative. So go all out with your post show pictures etc on social media but don’t drag it over a few weeks.

The Final Word

Deciding on the right marketing and advertisement media is of prime importance. The Four P principle of marketing would be the proper guideline to follow. Project management needs to be adhered to so as to get sufficient time for planning and implementation of every marketing initiative. A good lead time will reflect in the perfection you can put across to the old and new customers

Put your marketing buck behind the right show. The trade show should fulfil your criterion on ROI. The show website would give an indication of the strength. It is better to choose established trade show rather than the fly by night types. The standard of the trade shows can be ascertained through websites like Reddit. The media coverage is a good litmus test.

The time, money and resources invested in the trade show should bring in better returns. A post-show analysis is advisable to find out if anything went wrong. After all, there is not one formula for victory. Marketing means taking risks and adopting new practices. You will discover your unique key to success.

One advice worth sharing is “In your tradeshow preparation, you should define your goals, objectives, and timelines to create, develop, rehearse and refine your entire show. Make sure your theme fits the event; make sure the choice of booth is comfortable, functional, and unique. Make no compromise. And make it fun.”