Before, During and After a Trade Show: 12 Best Practices for Brand-Building

For a B2B brand, marketing at trade shows can be an immense boon, but sadly many struggle to generate new business—often because they aren't clear about their own goals or fail to develop a comprehensive strategy for the event.

Such was the case with one of Michelle Bizon's clients at Moving Targets. In PR News' Top Case Studies in Communications Guidebook, Bizon shares the strategy, the measurement and the tweaks that helped this client optimize trade-show ROI. Excerpted here, her quick tips for what you should do before, during and after the show to make sure your efforts are not in vain:

Before the Show 

  • Begin planning months before the event. Trade shows are a huge investment in both time and money. You’ve likely registered and requested a booth months in advance, so you have little excuse to procrastinate on your promotion strategy. Especially if you intend to use direct mail or dedicated landing pages for promotion, you’ll need to meet deadlines at least a few weeks in advance to account for design, proofing and delivery.
  • Establish your “why” and set goals. Are trade shows something you’ve just always done? Especially if you know you generate some business but aren’t quite sure how much, it’s time to set some goals. Are you looking to fill your funnel with new, qualified prospects? Are you looking to close leads at the show, specifically? Describe, in detail, what success looks like to you.
  • Design your booth and messaging. This is the time to plan your engagement and follow-up strategies. Obviously, you want attendees to remember you—and buy from you—so what will you do to stand out from the crowd? This should be reflected in your booth setup, handouts, giveaways and marketing messaging. Decide on a clear, compelling call to action (e.g., 10% off) to integrate into every aspect of your outreach.
  • Spread the word. Drive attendance to and participation at your booth by promoting it before the event. This can take the form of targeted social media or Google ads, video, organic social media posts, email outreach, texts or physical mailers. Depending on your goal, you may want to develop a dedicated landing page with your CTA and additional resources. Be sure to make your digital content mobile-friendly, since many trade show attendees will be using their phones or tablets.


During the Show

  • Work the plan. Now that you’ve set your goals and designed your messaging, it’s time to put it all into practice. Are you satisfied with your booth setup? If you have sales consultants or other team members manning your booth, run through scripts with them. Are they establishing rapport, communicating your unique sales proposition and making “the ask” for a sale or follow-up?
  • Send reminders. Social media is the perfect channel to reach attendees during the show. If the event has a designated hashtag, be sure to use it! Post photos of yourself in conversation with attendees in front of your booth to encourage others to visit you. Live-tweet gems from the keynote or workshops that strike a chord with you. Remind attendees of the benefits of visiting you (e.g., personal consultation, discount, contest entry).
  • Limit giveaways. You have a set number of hours to hook attendees, and you know they’re not all going to be a good fit for your business. Consider limiting your giveaway to only those who give you their full contact information (or another qualification standard) to ensure you’re spending your time wisely. That prize, gift card or discount should be used as a value-add with a potential customer—not wasted on some random passerby who has no and will never have any interest in your products or services.
  • Give them something to remember you by. Make sure prospects leave with something with your contact information on it. This can be promotional swag, such as a T-shirt, pen, sticker or notepad, or your marketing brochures and handouts. When you follow up after the show, this will give your leads a reference point for reconnecting with you.


After the Show 

  • Follow up promptly. This is perhaps the most important trade show marketing strategy, since many exhibitors take too long to follow up—or don’t do so at all. Make personal calls to each of your hot leads to build rapport and solidify the sale.
  • Connect virtually. Run a de facto remarketing campaign to leads (and other qualified event attendees, if possible) via email and/or social media ads. This will remind them of the context of your connection—and the exclusive deal you’ve offered—making them more likely to answer your sales calls. You could also coordinate a sorry-we-missed-you social media ad or email campaign to go to attendees who didn’t visit your booth or to prospects who weren’t at the show at all.
  • Measure your results. Once you’ve followed your leads to their conclusion, it’s time to judge your results. Look back at the goals you set for yourself before the show. How did you perform against your expectations? Use both anecdotal and analytical evidence in your evaluation. If you met or outperformed your goals, look for opportunities to optimize your strategy. If you underperformed, determine the source: Was your strategy or execution at fault? Or was this specific trade show (or trade shows, in general) not the best fit for your business?
  • Document everything. It’s essential to document your goals, marketing collateral, correspondence and results from start to finish. For successful campaigns, you’ll want to optimize your strategy and messaging for the coming year. For disappointing campaigns, you’ll want to have a reference of what to tweak or avoid altogether.


Follow Ian on Twitter: @ianwright0101

Follow Michelle Bizon: @meeshkatweets