Of all the marketing and PR activities you can do to promote your company, one of the most effective is to get out there and meet prospective customers face to face.
Trade exhibitions are a brilliant way of achieving it. It would take months on the road to go and see everybody, but a strong presence at a single show can generate conversations that lead to long-lasting business relationships.
Research the options
You can quickly fill your calendar attending or exhibiting at trade exhibitions across the UK and beyond. Time, budgets and common sense make it far more productive to choose the right show.
Ask show organisers for data on likely visitors so you can check that your likely target audiences will be there. Another useful rule of thumb is to check which, if any, of your competitors are exhibiting. If none of them is going, either itís not worth the investmentÖ or youíll have the undivided attention of visitors.
Decide on a stand
Some smaller shows offer a uniform shell scheme so you donít have to worry about building something bespoke. But if you go large, figure out the best space. Do you want a relatively small presence with a handful of your sales team who can explain your services, or will you need a bigger area to show products?
Book the right location
While the size of a stand is often the best measure of how easy it will be for visitors to find, you should always start by checking the floorplan. Where are the entrances and exits? Where are the toilets or refreshment areas? A relatively inexpensive stand along the side of a hall can pay off if itís on the way to the bar.
Stand design is an art in its own right. Speak to specialists to ensure a smooth flow. You want to welcome people onto the stand, without it looking empty. Graphics, display areas and videos can draw the eye, while the right music (interesting enough to be heard, but not so loud itís off-putting) will act as a siren to the curious.
Trade shows arenít only about seeing products on display. They are the perfect place for building relationships, so factor in how best you want to entertain guests to your stand. Do you want a seating area for meetings? Will you serve refreshments? Will you serve alcohol? It all depends on who you want to come to see you, and what you want them to take away from the meeting.
Think beyond the stand
There are brilliant ways of getting noticed at a show, whether or not you have a stand. Many exhibitions arrange seminar conferences, so if you have something interesting to say to your industry, get involved as a speaker.
There are also lots of sponsorship opportunities to get your brand name out there during the show. Consider sponsoring the show catalogue, the visitor goody bags, the seminar theatre Ė even the bins, if thereís a way of making it relevant to your business that will get you remembered for the right reasons.
Read the paperwork
When you book, a show organiser will provide a lot of information to go through, often via an online portal. Donít neglect this. Itís here that you have to organise essential elements like booking electricity and lighting, or downloading build passes to whoever is putting up your stand, or providing your company description for the show catalogue.
Trade exhibitions are one of the single biggest expenses in a marketing budget. So if youíre committing to exhibiting at a show, itís actually time to spread that budget widely Ė on e-shots, on PR, on advertising, on social media, on direct mailers, and any of the other ways to let companies know they can see you. There are lots of opportunities to be included in magazines and websites you might not get into easily otherwise.
The main thing is, donít leave it to chance! Most visitors will arrive with some kind of plan of who they want to see, so get their attention before the show begins.
Make a connection
Now that youíve attracted visitors to your stand, you want to make sure they leave with a positive impression. Make sure your team is well-prepared to deal with all enquiries. Have plenty of branded information they can take away, such as brochures or data sheets, as well as promotional giveaways that will your name in mind when theyíre back in the office. Most importantly, take their details so you can follow-up after the show. Exhibitions are one of the best ways of generating strong, targeted data on prospective customers.
Donít measure success only in terms of numbers at the show. Keep in touch with your visitors with engaging content and offers, and use PR and social media to maintain buzz about your brand. If your pre- and post-show marketing has been good, youíll bring in more business over time.
Simon Kinnear is director of communications at Balls2 Marketing.