shutterstock_403970920While trade show attendance represents a significant investment on the part of a business, it offers unique value that cannot be gained through other marketing mediums. Trade shows offer exhibitors the opportunity to have face-to-face meetings with many different audiences at the same time. You can meet with prospects, customers, suppliers and press all in the same space.

For example, every two years most of our clients participate in IMTS, which is one of the largest trade shows in North America. This showcase of advanced manufacturing companies features over 2,000 exhibitors, over 114,000 visitors, and over a million square feet of exhibits inside Chicago’s McCormick Place.

Getting a great return on your investment in a trade show depends on careful planning and execution of a strategy that is grounded in your business objectives.

1. Choose a show with the right audience. Invest in attending a show that will have the best mix of people that you want to interact with — whether that’s a big show to maximize your exposure or a smaller, more targeted show that focuses on a specific, targeted market.

2. Ask planning questions to determine what direction to take. Ask yourself: Who are my audiences that I will interact with? What type of experience do I want them to have? How am I going to make that happen? Clearly define goals and choose tactics that support them. Think about ways you can use ever-evolving communication technology to reach them in new and engaging ways.

3. Plan the experience you want attendees to have. Cohesively design everything they will come in contact with from the in-booth experience to special events—like VIP social events and press conferences—to hospitality rooms. Reinforce your overall brand image and messaging with a show theme that is reflected throughout all individual marketing elements such as booth design, signage, presentations and handouts

4. Influence attendees before the show. With a large trade show like IMTS, participant focus is being pulled in thousands of directions at once. Use targeted, show-specific advertising to reach out to key customers or prospects ahead of time and arrange appointments. Schedule time with any industry editors or reporters that will be attending. Prepare marketing and press materials for any new product or technology launch.

5. Take advantage of social media and other community-based channels. Use social media to generate buzz for the event, talk about activities in real time and offer relevant content for your followers that aren’t in attendance. After the event, you can repurpose social content to extend the show’s impact long after it’s over. Without social media, the utility of an event is limited outside of those in attendance and it diminishes further the longer it’s been since the event took place; however, with social media the event is relevant longer and to a wider audience.

6. Assess how well you met your goals. Once the dust has settled, measure and analyze your return on investment. Use that information to improve your strategy for the next show. Without measurement, you miss the opportunity to benefit from mistakes and successes.

Trade shows are an important opportunity for face-to-face contact with your key audiences. To maximize the event, you need to plan well in advance. The trade show environment can be chaotic; without a good game plan in place, it is difficult to extract all the potential benefits.

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