Put the Marketing in Your Trade Shows

By Harvey Chimoff

Trade shows are one of the oldest sales and marketing tactics, and sometimes, well, the output can look a little tired. To stand out from the pack and get the results you need, make sure you apply strategic marketing discipline to drive your trade show program.

Here are 12 organization and action points to help maximize your trade show marketing. Consider how you can apply and/or adapt them in your company.

1. Establish Clear Leadership. It’s important that the overall leadership and budget for trade show marketing reside within the marketing organization. Then, assign dedicated trade show responsibility to a talented member of your team. My experience demonstrates that this yields excellent results in terms of an integrated marketing communications effort, and organized planning and execution.

2. Collaborate Across the Organization. A mind-set and commitment to active collaboration and cross-functional teamwork is essential. Success is unlikely without enthusiastic participation and input from key cross-functional colleagues. Depending on your organization, this could include sales, R&D, manufacturing, product management and customer service, among other groups.

With active collaboration, you can capture the best ideas, and improve decision-making in areas such as determining what shows to attend, setting objectives, and agreeing what will be presented and/or demonstrated at each show. This collaboration requires mutual respect and buy-in, and may take some time to establish within your organization. Once in place, though, expect to see positive results. I have.

3. Plan Strategically. Ifyou have a trade show program,make sure it’s an integrated part of your annual marketing plan, and that it gets the same level of attention as the rest of the marketing mix. Prepare a marketing brief for each show that explains the reason for exhibiting, details the specific objectives, and outlines what products/services will be featured at the show.

Each show should support the annual marketing plan and be connected to tangible business objectives. For example, food ingredients manufacturer Tate & Lyle used the 2007 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) show to formally launch a new range of PROMITOR branded fiber ingredients.

4. Set Budgets. Set a budget for each show as you develop the annual trade show plan, which is part of the overall marketing plan. Trade shows can be especially tempting in terms of adding elements and spending more, so discipline is critical. If there is a legitimate reason to spend more than planned, and it’s consistent with your strategy and objectives, then consider doing so. However, without a strategy and budget foundation, you won’t have a proper framework for your decision-making.

5. Ensure the Booth Fits Your Needs. Whether you have a folding table or a two-story building, booth design and layout are critical factors in your trade show success. Although this could be the subject of a separate article, here are a few topline points to keep in mind:

  • Understand the show and how your booth will be perceived within the context of the show environment.
  • Make sure you buy enough space to get the job done consistent with your strategy and objectives.
  • If you’re custom designing a booth, make sure it fits with the image and positioning you wish to convey for your company and products/services.
  • Consider whether the booth is for one-time use or for multiple occasions.
  • Negotiate for the best location that fits your needs.

6. Look the Part. Don’t forget to pay attention to the clothing worn by booth personnel. It’s an important element in your overall presentation and corporate image building. My recommendation is to be uniform in attire. Whatever apparel is chosen, make sure the look is professional, comfortable, and appropriate for the country and setting.

7. Leverage the Show. Think of the show as a marketing platform. Take advantage of your fixed costs by fully leveraging your participation. For example, consider using proactive public relations/media relations to boost your customer messaging. PR integration before, during, and after the show can lead to great success.

In similar fashion, customer outreach plans for before, during, and after the show also should be part of your trade show plan. One simple idea: Give the sales teams an e-mail template that can be sent to customers. Also, some shows offer the ability to make an on-site presentation to attendees, which may fit your objectives.

8. Train the On-Site Team. If you just expect company personnel to show up and know what to do, you’re in trouble. Develop a guide for all personnel manning the booth. Explain everything going on within the booth, so your team understands what’s being displayed, and more importantly, what key messages you’d like to convey. Brief your team prior to the event—don’t rely on people reading the material. At the show, get everyone together before the opening bell and walk through the booth to reinforce the key points and messages.

9. Track an d Measure. Build an event library for your trade show program. Create written recaps for the shows that document all the key aspects of your effort from photos of the booth to a detailed listing of all the products displayed. Determine what the key metrics are for your company, and record them. If you use the show to take orders, then sales can be one metric. If you are targeting attendance from a particular set of customers, tracking who shows up at the booth can be done. Most shows allow for some type of electronic badge reading to record attendees and interaction at the booth. Leverage the technology as much as possible.

10. Capture the Learning. Within the trade show library, make sure you capture key learning for each show. Get direct input from key colleagues. What worked? What didn’t work so well? What do you want to change for next year? What needs to continue? In addition, consider a post-show survey to gauge customer reaction.

11. Experiment. Don’t be afraid to try new ideas to differentiate your company in your booth and at the show. For example, Tate & Lyle created an in-booth computerized taste-test challenge to highlight the benefits of a sweetener ingredient. The idea eventually was used in multiple countries. And, at one show, a team member delivered a new product presentation in a special auditorium set-up right on the show floor.

12. Tap the Local Team When Outside the U.S. The same process outlined above can work for trade shows outside the United States, but with one important difference: You must adapt to the local culture and business needs. Therefore, the local cross-functional team shou ld take the lead. There can still be input and oversight from headquarters as needed, but be sure to respect the local team’s knowledge and expertise.

For example, Tate & Lyle participated in the Food Ingredients South America trade show (FISA) in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Customer interaction is social and casual, so the booth was designed with tables so team members could sit with customers and discuss business over a beer and small plates of food. Also, with attendees coming from the United States and across South America, language was an important consideration. Sales and marketing handouts were created in Portuguese (local language), Spanish, and English.

Headline for Marketers

Give your team the tools to achieve excellent trade show results. Make sure you plan strategically, have dedicated leadership, and allow sufficient development time. Here’s my No. 1 tip: Ask yourself if you’re proud to be in the booth and represent your company. If not, something is wrong. The idea of “being proud to be in the booth” is an easy way to rally the team throughout the entire trade show process and to ensure you stay on the right track for great success.

Harvey Chimoff adds value with marketing. He leverages a blend of pragmatic strategy, vision, organization, and action to drive business results in B2B and B2C operations. Contact him at http://marketingworldblog.com.


  • Harvey Chimoff

    Harvey Chimoff is a global marketing executive whose experience and expertise span consumer packaged goods brand management, B2B manufacturing and plug-in marketing leader consulting. He also gets the sales team excited about marketing. Mr. Chimoff has held marketing leadership positions at Unilever (Lipton Tea), Tate & Lyle PLC, AgroFresh Solutions and Alvinesa Natural Ingredients. He is the author of “Strategy First, Then Tactics. How Practical Marketing Discipline Provides the Winning Edge.”

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