Should You Bother With Trade Show Marketing?The pros and cons to consider and how to ensure the effort will pay off if you go.
According to a 2009 study by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), 81 percent of people who attend trade show have buying authority. So a trade show could be a perfect way to market your small business to hundreds or even thousands of potential customers over the course of a weekend, especially if your product or service needs to be seen or tried to be truly appreciated.
But exhibiting at trade shows can be an expensive drain on your marketing budget, not to mention your time and energy. How can you tell if a trade show is a good bet for your small business?
Consider these points before you make the decision.
Who will be there?
The primary goal of attending a trade show is the same as any marketing tactic: identifying new sales leads and finding new customers. But the show is worth your while only if the right target audience will be in attendance.
Victor Clarke, owner Clarke, Inc., an inbound and outbound marketing firm, advises his clients to review the show information to determine the type and number of attendees the show planners expect. This information can help you decide if a particular trade show will bring you enough return on investment.
“You have to consider if enough qualified leads will be present and what percent of them might experience your booth,” Clarke said.
Maxim Shomov, from Fair Point, a travel service provider for trade fairs and expos around the world, agreed. “Small business owners should research the profile of the trade visitors. Usually, the show’s organizers have made information such as presenting companies and visitor profile public.”
A trade show could help you access hard-to-reach key players in your field. Depending on the size and scope of the show, influencers, innovators and leaders from larger markets might be hosting events, greeting the crowd or simply be available at a nearby booth.
Don’t discount the benefit of meeting others who share your passion or whose goals intersect with yours, either on the floor or at the dinners and happy hours hosted by the organizers. “Generally, small businesses and startups benefit from joint projects enabling them to grow, and there’s no better place to find potential partners,” Shomov said.
Are you looking to reach a new demographic?
If you want to reach a different demographic or if your business has evolved to serve another type of client, a new-to-you trade show is a good way to take your small business into that new market space, said Clarke.
“For instance, a real estate broker might consider an expo that caters specifically to veterans, instead of a city-wide expo that’s larger and broader in appeal,” Clarke said.
Do you need to stay abreast of emerging trends?
With participants and attendees from across the nation and sometimes around the world, trade shows offer an opportunity to see firsthand what advancements and emerging trends affect your industry.
Trade shows “let participants see the achievements of their competitors and peers, their own place in the market and the opportunities for them to expand,” said Shomov.
If you decide to go
If you decide to exhibit at a trade show, take steps to ensure you get the most bang for your buck.
Capitalize on the media coverage trade shows attract by writing a press release for your local market and one for the city in which the trade show is held.
Use social media to attract attendees to your booth by offering time-limited free gifts or uploading images and clips of customers who are enthusiastic about your products.
Aaron Udler, president of OfficePro, Inc., spent years working for a large trade show, selling space to small businesses. His message to small business owners considering a trade show: “While the goal of every conference and trade show is to bring attendees to the conference, it is the responsibility of exhibitors to bring traffic to their booths.”
“It is very difficult to find buyers at a tradeshow if they don’t know to look for you,” said Udler. “Therefore, spend a little money on an email blast, purchase the pre-show attendee list and do a postcard mailing, etc. Most conferences today offer several marketing opportunities for under $1,000. Take advantage of those.”
How to keep costs low
Trade shows can be expensive, especially for companies with small marketing budgets. Udler offers these suggestions to help keep costs low:
- Ship your boxes to your hotel room. “Hotels will charge you a lot less, if anything, to receive your package. Most trade shows charge for this service.”
- Know the rules about working on your booth before the show. Do as much work as you can before you arrive. Look for a tips/tricks sheet in the Exhibitor Services Kit.
- Use Groupons or deals from websites such as restaurant.com to save money on food.
- Rent a car. This could cost you much less than taking taxis. “For example, In Orlando, it’s $50 one-way for a ride taxi from the airport to International drive, which is where the Orange County Convention Center is located.”