So, it is late September and you are actually sitting down to think about 2018 and how you are going to allocate your marketing dollars.

Good for you!  You are way ahead of the majority of companies and brands out there today. Too many companies market as they feel they need to. . . reactively.  They spend a few dollars here and a few dollars there, hoping that people will notice and come and spend money with them.

Guess what? In the majority of cases, it just does not work.

Consistent, value-based communication is key to long-term success. It’s about getting people to understand what your brand is about, getting them to agree to its value (they control that, not you) and engage.

This is hard work, and depending on who you are and what you do, trade show marketing can be a big benefit to getting people to know and trust you. And you may get in front of a larger pool of prospects.

The biggest reason to attend trade shows and exhibitions is face-to-face interaction with customers and potential customers. Nothing beats face time to get people to understand what you do, why you do it and how you can benefit them. Not ads in the newspaper, not social media and not direct mail.

That is not to say that other forms of marketing are not important – they are.  Good marketing is about consistently communicating your value across mediums so that different people can engage in different ways. And remember, you need to communicate with them where they are.

Why do trade shows?

Trade shows and exhibitions draw in all types of buyers: people who are looking to connect with new vendors, meet with current vendors and see what is new and different in the marketplace.

Nothing gives potential buyers quite the variety of options as a trade show or exhibition. Buyers often travel to shows, which means that they are invested. They are looking for solutions to problems they have, and it is your job to show that you can help them.

Now think about this: trade shows and exhibition halls can be huge. I go to a show in Las Vegas each year that is 1 million square feet, with 13 miles of aisles and 3,300+ booths to see over three days.

Does this seem daunting to you? I am sure it would be for your customers, too.

How do you stand out?

You stand out by having a plan. This plan is the difference between getting return on your investment and seeing trade shows as a huge expense with little return.

Start marketing early. Trade show marketing starts long before the show begins. It is about having a solid communication plan to make sure you have the right booth in the right location, inviting the right people to your booth and giving them a reason to go there.

Many of my clients do something as simple as putting their trade show calendar on the bottom of each outgoing email. It is a simple way of letting everyone you correspond with know what shows you will be at, when and what booth, etc.

It is amazing how many people forget your booth number in the process of getting to the show, but if they have it in an email, you have made things easier for them.

Along with your email footers, have an events calendar page on your website.  This allows people to easily check to see what shows you will be attending. And it gives them a reason to look for you when they are there.

Send out invitations in advance. I also tell my clients to invite their key clients to the show, both by email and by phone. Also, if you can have someone book appointments for you at the show, even better.

You might want to call companies you know will be attending (the trade show usually provides that information in advance) and invite any potential partners or vendors to your booth as well.

Give them an incentive. You should consider giving prospects or clients an incentive to stop by. You could offer a free white paper or other gift, schedule personal time with key people from your company or provide something else of value to them. Show that you are thinking of them and they will think of you.

Have a plan for working the show. At the show, chaos can ensue so you need to have a plan. Know that your purpose for attending this trade show is X.  Are you there for brand exposure? To generate a significant number of leads? Get face time with a specific client?

Whatever it is, make sure everyone in the booth knows the plan and abides by it. Make sure your message on your signage is clear and concise, and is specific to that show.

If you are giving away a promotional item, make sure it is relevant and valuable to those receiving it, and that it has a specific call to action so that people remember you, keep it and engage with you at a later date.

Have a process for capturing leads. Make sure you have a process for obtaining names and email addresses of prospective customers, and have someone assigned that day to enter those names into a database with notes.

Don’t forget to systematically follow up. When you get back from the show, your work is not done. Now the hard work comes into play!

Before the show, you should have decided on something that you would send out immediately to each person who visited the booth, electronically or by mail, so that they receive it within five days of the end of the show.

The information should thank them for their time, be personal in regards to what was spoken about and should have a call to action.

Five days after prospects received your email or letter, start following up by phone.

No one said that trade show marketing was easy. I have been helping my clients do this for 20 years and if done right, there can be a good return on your investment. If done wrong, you will get an expensive lesson.

Here is a podcast we did on the subject. It will give you much more in-depth information than I had space for in this article. I hope you find it valuable.