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Trade Show Tips

10 Simple Marketing Tips for Improving your Performance at Trade Shows


Motorcycle TradeShowI attended a wonderful trade show yesterday – the Calgary Motorcycle Show!  I had been looking forward to it for the past few weeks.  Winter has been really cold with far more snow than usual here in Calgary– and now that we have turned the corner into January, all I can think about is getting back on my bike!

I looked at hundreds of booths yesterday, and with my marketing brain working in the background, I thought I would offer some good advice to businesses who are exhibiting in trade shows.

  1. Have a prize draw of some kind.  Without a prize draw, people have no reason to part with their email addresses, and you won’t have any leads on which to follow through.  We practically bee-lined to every booth that was giving away a motorbike, or a significant credit to one.   The prize draws also give people a reason to stay to the end of the show.
  2. Make the prize significant, and highly visible.  Motorcycles are certainly visible, but what if you can drive your prize into your booth?  Take a good photo that describes the prize, and make a big sign placard of it, and position it eye level in your booth.
  3. For the masses, give something clever but inexpensive. The best inexpensive premium I received at the show yesterday was a 1-page, laminated map of all the most scenic motorcycle routes in Alberta, marking where all the best burger stops were.     What fun in a 1-pager!  I plan to keep it on my motorcycle at all times.  Great work, Blue Circle Insurance.
  4. Post your social media links prominently.   It’s fun to follow people on social media that you’ve met in person.  Some people will take photos of all the cool things they see at a trade show, and share them around their colleagues and friends.   If you have your social links posted and printed on your materials, that makes it much easier.
  5. Think open-door not closed-table.   Booths are much more inviting if there aren’t people sitting behind a table at the front of the booth.  Keep the front of your booth wide open.  Use stools instead of chairs, so you are closer to eye level when you have to sit down, and look more alert.
  6. Dress the part, with a nametag.   I find it irritating if it’s not clear which people in a booth are employees, and which aren’t.  Visitors are hesitant to approach anyone at all.  To avoid this problem, use a bright, consistent shirt colour, or hats, or both, that match your branding and logo.  Use a name tag to make it blatantly obvious.
  7. Do something dynamic.   I saw a lot of booths where there were just static objects, no movement.   If it looks boring, it’s easy to walk by.   Try doing a demo of some kind, or making your parts and equipment actually run.  If you can’t do that, rotate them on a platform use creative lighting, or show how the parts come apart. (And can we please forgo the skimpy outfits on young girls?).
  8. Engage curiousity.  No one wants to talk about insurance.  But someone might want to check their life expectancy.  Or, predict how heavy something weighs, or how fast it will go.  Tie this in with point #7 and you’ll have a winner!
  9. Choose your best staff.   Who are your best staff for a trade show booth?  The sales team, generally, plus potentially, one technical person who can be on call (perhaps even on the phone).  You need people to look energetic and fresh, so always assign multiples in shifts….some can be tending the booth while others do competitive reconnaissance!
  10. Use it as Research.   When engaging people to fill out forms, be sure to ask questions such as, “How did you find out about us?” , “Would you like to join our mailing list?”, “Had you heard of us before?” and any other relevant questions to your business.  There are few other places where you can grab a fairly large sample in as short a time as during a trade show.
  11. Stand back and look.  (Yes, that’s 11 – we like to over-deliver). When designing your booth, it is almost always better to use one large graphic, instead of a bunch of small ones.    Use a headline that grabs attention, and says why people should be interested.  And tailor it to the show as best you can.  We saw a tattoo booth at the show — it wasn’t great, just a lot of tiny tattoos images in portfolio books and posted on the walls.  Imagine if they had said, “WE CAN TATTOO YOUR DREAM MOTORCYCLE” and a large motorcycle tattoo graphic.  They could also be giving demos in their booth, even using “fake skin” with a big screen so people could watch the tattoo process.  You get the idea.

Finally, no tradeshow is worth doing unless there is a plan to take the leads generated and FOLLOW UP, ideally within a week or two.   Split the leads between the salespeople evenly, or devise a way to have the sales team mark the prize draw entries as they go in the box according to people they spoke to (one idea: you might have different colour prize entry ballots that each salesperson is handing out during their shifts). That way, you’ll not only know which people on the floor should follow up the leads, but which ones worked the hardest to collect them throughout the show.

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About the Author - Jacqueline Drew
Jacqueline M. Drew, BComm, MBA is founder and CEO of Tenato Strategy Inc., a marketing research and strategy firm with bases in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto. With over 25 years' experience in all facets of marketing strategy, she is a business consultant, trainer and speaker who loves to use her superpowers "to help the good guys win."