When was the last time you went to a trade show? If you're like most of my agency’s clients, you've been to a trade show sometime in the last year or two. What was your trade show experience like? Did it involve a lot of standing around the booth hoping someone would make accidental eye contact and feel guilty enough to come over and talk to you? How did you prep for the show? Did you spend a lot of time on having promo material ready, getting your backdrop just so, and filling your toolkit?
In my experience trade shows are a prime example of how otherwise engaged companies drop the inbound marketing ball. So often companies spend all of their time getting their physical materials together for a show. Those same companies then show up and hope attendees with find them in the show directory and come over to the booth. Trade shows become very inwardly focused and passive. I've seen companies with great social media followings go to trade shows and the only thing on their profiles is a single update about the show! If you're going to spend the money to go to a trade show, do the leg work to make it successful.
Before the Show
Long before the first day of a trade show you should be preparing your target audience. Just because a trade show is something that you physically attend doesn't mean it shouldn't follow the rules of any good inbound marketing campaign.
Your first step should be to decide what your message is and develop calls to action. Of course you're also going to need a great landing page for prospects who engage with your call to action. And once you've got your CTA and landing page you are going to need to attract some attention to them. Maybe you email your current customers and tell them about the trade show and include your CTA. You could also buy/rent a list of the shows attendees and contact them with your CTA. Some shows even have social media accounts or hashtags that attendees can follow or "like" to stay up to date with show news. You can post links to your CTA on the shows' social media outlets.
The key principle to follow is before the show, attract as much attention as you can to the fact that you're going to be there. If you can get people excited about your attendance, maybe with a giveaway or demo you've been talking about online, then you should see more foot traffic to your booth.
At the Show
I've been to a lot of trade shows, and I've noticed a few things about show attendees over the years. The first thing I've noticed is that people tend to lack concrete answers to a very simple question. I like to ask the people manning the booth what makes them different/better than their competition. A lot of the time they say, "Our quality," but what does that mean? No one goes into a trade show and says that they have a substandard product or service; everyone is going to say they have a quality product. How much better is your quality? How does that quality transfer into better performance or results for your customers? If you want to stand out, figure out precise and evidence-based answers to those questions before you step onto the trade show floor. Find the answers, work to define, quantify and support them. This work needs to be done, and marketing needs to do it.
My second piece of advice for day-of-success deals with the people you have manning your booths. Basic rules of business attire are essential; dress neatly and conservatively in clothing that fits well, is clean, and is ironed (if need be). Once you've replaced the too small/too large, rumpled, and casual clothing, you need to work on the enthusiasm levels. If you need to, you can rotate out teams throughout the show to keep your people fresh, awake, and enthusiastic. Whatever you do, you need to keep in mind that the people in your booth are the face of your company. For best results you want the face of your company to be professional, knowledgeable, and engaging.
After the Show
Once you get home after a trade show it can be tempting to sit back and wait for your phone to start ringing, and that's what a lot of companies do. If you want to maximize your trade show efforts, you should treat the post-show just like you did the pre-show; work the inbound marketing. Did you collect emails/business cards at the show? Create a lead nurturing campaign designed specifically for the trade show contacts you collected. Did you hand out flyers or proportional material? Stick a QR code on anything you hand out that directs people to a landing page with a great offer. Did you make new industry connections? Make sure you get on your social media accounts and connect with any new contacts you made at the show.
Don't be afraid to work the trade show angle as much as you can. For example, trade show interviews on your YouTube channel, photo diary of the show on your blog, or blow by blow show updates on your Twitter stream. The key to a successful trade show experience is making every aspect of the show work together. Keep your message clear, arm your people with the quantitative data they need to back up your message, and stay enthusiastic!