Market Insights:Trade Shows: Creating A Positive Image

by Sheldon Baker

All it takes for a trade show to be deemed successful is to get several solid business leads and ultimately land one customer. If you plan correctly and take your business seriously, it should be relatively easy to accomplish your goals.

Trade shows and seminars for the natural products industry have grown in quantity over the past few years. In addition, business conferences and seminars provide additional opportunities that can be included in your company’s marketing plan. Trade shows and the events attached to them are an opportunity for one-on-one contact with your target market.

Planning for a show should start a minimum of six months prior to that event. If you plan to attend shows like Expo West in Anaheim next month, or SupplySide East in the Meadowlands the Spring, you better start initiating your strategy.

Always present a positive image.

Your company needs to look its best at these events to maximize the dollars spent to participate at these venues. The basics are important. You should be aware that there must be no eating or drinking in a trade show booth. Also no reading a newspaper or talking on a cellular phone. And while casual dress may be fine for the office place, it's not appropriate at your exhibit booth. Even if no one stops by your booth, they'll look at you when they walk by. Their impression of your business will be determined based on what they see. In two months, when they're looking to purchase a product that you sell, they may flash back to the booth they saw and the negative image that remains.

Standout among the crowd.

Determine who will participate at your booth. Booth representatives often look bored. It's understandable because events can be boring standing on the other side of the action, especially after two or three days. However, if the representative looks bored, your product may be perceived as boring too. The person representing your company should look thrilled to be there. They should convey enthusiasm and energy. There should be a great big warm and inviting smile on their face the entire duration of the show. Rotate staff and encourage them to walk the show floor to see how other companies are presenting themselves. Furthermore, they should invite attendees to your booth.

Booth design is a key element.

Your display needs to grab attention quickly. You'll only have a few seconds to entice someone to stop at your booth. Your exhibit must quickly answer the question, "What's in it for me?" You must demonstrate a value for them.

The overall theme of the booth should have one clear, immediate, recognizable, concise and appropriate message. You want people to remember something about your company and products that is compelling.

Attendees are inundated with messages. You're competing for their attention.

Spend wisely.

Usually when a company purchases booth space at a trade show or seminar event, they send a few representatives, the display, company and product promotional materials and perhaps some giveaway items. At the show, company representatives talk to people and collect leads or arrange for actual sales.

It's interesting that after the show, only a small percentage of the leads are contacted and that's the end of the story. This scenario, however, does not maximize the money spent to participate in the event.

Promote your participation in the event before, during and after. Before the event send direct mail pieces to a select list of potential customers. Tell them why they should stop by your booth. If your budget doesn't allow an elaborate sales piece, a personal letter from senior management can be just as effective.

Call your key potential customers before the event begins to remind them to visit you. Try joint promotions with other exhibitors who have complimentary products. Plan a seminar or cocktail reception during the show to attract key customers and position your company to be noticed by a wide-range of attendees.

After the event, send a follow-up direct mailer, letter or email message to those who did not visit your booth. Make follow-up telephone calls. Track the success derived from the leads to determine if the event is worth repeat participation the following year.

If your company doesn't have the resources to research, develop a plan and design a display with impact, follow up on leads and track leads, then don't spend your money on this medium. Events are labor intensive. It's worth the money if you do it right.

You have to be creative.

Opportunities to be creative abound. While at an event hand out something interesting. It’s great if you can give away a sample of your product. If your product doesn't lend itself to sampling, try giving something away that will be seen by all attending the event. Have one or two people at the booth and one or two others working the floor, escorting people to your exhibit.

At a recent trade show, one company printed t-shirts promoting its products and company. Customers who wore the t-shirt to the show the next day and came by the booth, received a discount on all products purchased at the show.

Another company sent out 2,500 invitations that included a puzzle piece. Attendees were enticed to come by the manufacturer's exhibit booth to see if their piece of the puzzle was the missing piece. If it was, they won a prize valued at $50. Even those with pieces that didn't match received a pen and message pad with the company's logo and toll free telephone number.

I always find it amazing when many companies give away an item at a trade show but fail to include contact information. Including an 800 telephone number, email address and web site provides easy follow-up after the show for people who want more information. If you've got a great product let the industry, potential customers and the media know about it.

Short on ideas? Do some research. Go to other events and watch exhibitors. Watch the traffic flow. What booths do people visit and why? Feel free to steal ideas. Many ideas are interchangeable between industries.

Promote your exhibit.

If you're introducing a new product and your budget allows, tie-in a book signing, or invite a celebrity or scientific expert to your booth. This grabs the attention of attendees before, during and after the show. Be sure to inform media who cover your industry to stop by and meet your featured guest. A story written about your new product and promotion will generate publicity for several months after the show is over.

And be sure to develop a press kit that can be distributed at the show's press room. Today, industry shows attract print and broadcast press from a variety of media outlets. It only takes one to learn about your company and product and develop a story reaching your key markets. It can do wonders for your sales.

Sheldon Baker is senior partner of Baker-Dillon Public Relations and is a 25-year public relations veteran. His firm represents leading supplement manufacturers in the natural products industry. He can be reached at (800) 570-1262 or by email at [email protected].

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