Tradeshow 101: How to Make an Impact

It’s 2021 and we’ve now all forgotten how to function at in-person events after a solid year off from them, so we have put together this handy guide on how to have a successful trade show.  Hah - only half true!  In reality, we are sharing tradeshow marketing tips from a unique perspective.  Sarah here.  I’ve been on all sides of tradeshows throughout my professional career.  I’ve planned them, I’ve exhibited at them, and I’ve just attended them.  It’s almost as if my life experiences were propelling me to this place where I now support others as they plan tradeshows, exhibit at tradeshows, and attend tradeshows.  

Tradeshow Marketing

Incorporate puppies in your booth to ensure every attendee comes by to visit. In all seriousness, this was years ago and I still remember at the Worldwide ERC tradeshow, Cornerstone Relocation Group partnered up with a non-profit to bring awareness and support for these guide dogs.

For the conference planners and tradeshow organizers - you have a daunting job.  Especially over the course of the last year or so, you have probably planned simultaneously an event in person as well as a virtual option, or even crazier, you’ve had to plan an event in person only to have it shift to a virtual tradeshow.  Planning, communicating, and executing that can be so challenging.  Feel free to share this guide as a resource to your exhibitors if you feel the content can help you have a successful exhibitor experience.  

For the marketing specialists and the event planners, we know you’re so excited to get back in front of people as soon as current events allow.  While we’ve got so many ways to engage virtually, there’s an excitement that abounds when you think about tradeshow booths, sponsorship opportunities, and in-person client conversations. 

We love a good in-person event both for continuing your opportunities for engagement with your existing clients, but also for introducing yourself to new clients.  It’s also a really big investment when done properly.  Yes you have booth space, and you may even be a tradeshow sponsor.  It’s what you do next that really is the ROI driver for your company.  

Tradeshow Hall

Exhibit hall planners and tradeshow organizers have a big job when it comes to organizing the show floor for optimal results for attendees. At this conference, I took a break from assisting exhibitors to try my hand at professional van operator.

Set Your Goals

Why are you attending this tradeshow? It’s an investment of both time and money, and you’ll want to be intentional about your spend of both.  What does a successful tradeshow look like at the end of your time attending the tradeshow?  Tradeshow marketing could mean you are you there for building your brand awareness with the attendees.  Maybe this tradeshow is your company’s chance to get new leads. Do you need a certain number of new leads to make it worth your while? Do you want to book personalized demonstrations of your product or service?  Just like anything, setting your intentions for participation up front will help you make all the remaining decisions, and help make sure it’s a success for your company.  

Pre-Tradeshow Marketing

What the planner in me loves is all the good far-reaching information about a tradeshow way up ahead of the event itself.  Exhibit halls book out far in advance, so you can work your timeline for attending the tradeshow from several months or even a year in advance.  This gives you plenty of time to plan for the goals you just defined.  What does your pre-tradeshow marketing look like?  Maybe it’s engaging in social media chatter ahead of the show.  Start by following the tradeshow organizer, the sponsoring organization, and others that are beginning to talk about the show.  Do you get an email list ahead of the show? Begin communication a couple months out to help introduce yourself to attendees of the show.  Consider why they are attending the tradeshow, and make sure your email content is relevant, helpful, and timely.  Maybe you will have a direct mail address list you can use.  We work with clients on print pieces that make an impact.  We also work with exhibitors to send out pre-show goodies and booth traffic drivers.  Use all the time you have in leading up to the show to make sure when a conference attendee sees your name, they already know who you are.  

Tradeshow Booth Traffic

Have a show during a major event? Take advantage. At this show, we had just constructed a brand new booth. It was also the big game, so we had to make sure no one missed out. After that show, no one had missed who we were.

Make it Memorable

Depending on the type of show you’re attending, your tradeshow booth setup may be a simple table, or it may require a custom exhibit build out.  We help clients with both.  Ultimately it’s important to remember to brand your booth no matter how much space you have.  Can you think of a fun theme to tie in with your product or service, or something that is relevant to the attendees?  Whatever you end up doing, make sure you stay on-brand and your messaging is carried throughout.  

Speaking of branding, we couldn’t put together a guide on tradeshow marketing without highlighting our very favorite aspect of tradeshow marketing - the swag!  There is a time and a place for branded pens, and might we say branded hand sanitizers now that we’re getting back to tradeshows in person, but there is also a wildly effective opportunity available to your company.  Thoughtful promotional items and tradeshow giveaways that consider the recipient or that consider your theme and your recipient are a must for an effective tradeshow marketing plan.  Are you using swag to drive sales leads? You could be.  Are you enticing booth visits with promotional products giveaways? You could be.  When you work with Branded and Williams Advertising on your promotional products, we can build a custom plan around your tradeshow marketing goals.  It’s also important to note here that spending more on a few actually may reach more than spending less on all, and putting something random out there.  If your item can create a buzz on its own, it’s going to go even further than if you put something that wasn’t noteworthy in every hand (or at the bottom of every bag).  We also need to mention corporate apparel.  Everyone should present themselves in a cohesive manner, and you should at least have a name badge if not nice decorated apparel that shows off who you represent.  As you consider tradeshow apparel, make sure it represents your brand and also fits with the tone of the show.  

And the design! It’s so important.  Let’s think about whether your recipient is your brand cheerleader already.  If so, they may possibly want a giant logo plastered on their item.  If you’re just introducing yourself, it might be best to lead with again, something that resonates with the attendee and your prospect, versus just being all about you.  Let’s face it, when that tradeshow attendee walks in to your booth space, are you going to just blather on about yourself, or are you there to learn about them? Approach your swag purchase the same as you approach your sales and you’ll find it has a greater ROI.

As we mention promotional items, it’s important to think about print pieces too.  Now is the time to get a well designed marketing piece in the hands of your prospects.  Make sure your design is professional, and it communicates everything you want them to know about you.  So often at the end of a tradeshow I dump out the bag to see what I’ve collected.  Only the really informative and useful things make the trip home.  Is there a case study you might include? A rack card on your new service offerings? How about a QR code that zooms the reader right to an actionable step? Over in the marketing department at Williams Advertising, that’s the kind of thing we love to work with clients to determine.  

Whew! We’re so tired after a good show.  But the show fun doesn’t stop here.  Post-show follow up is the key to keeping up that good tradeshow momentum.  One of my favorite feelings is that just left a conference, have so many great ideas, can’t wait to get back and implement them.  Make sure you’re a valued piece of the new idea implementation by following up with anyone who expressed interest at the show.  We have thoughts on how sales and promotional products can again work together here, so reach out if you want to integrate this component in your branded merchandise strategy.

We hope this tradeshow 101 course gives you a jumpstart on planning for your next event.  Reach out to us at [email protected] to get started collaborating on a branded merchandise strategy that fits your tradeshow marketing goals.  

Reach out to us today to schedule your branded merchandise strategy session.



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