When you own a small business, you need to balance promoting your business and generating leads with keeping control of your budget. You might have looked at trade show marketing in the past and thought that you couldn’t spare the time or the expense. After all, there are many different variables to consider, such as your exhibition stand, attending the exhibition (which may mean you have to close your office for the day, depending on staff), promotional materials and transport.
However, for small businesses, having a stand at an exhibition or trade show can open up a whole new audience and potentially exciting new leads. But you need to know what you want to achieve before you start, and make sure you take a targeted approach. And you also need to make sure you follow up afterwards.
Here are some ways in which you and your small business can benefit from trade show marketing…
…by determining your goals
What do you want to achieve when you go to an exhibition with your business? Do you want to promote particular products or services? Do you want to branch out into a new sector? Generate leads? Meet your existing clients? Or do you simply want to raise awareness of your brand?
Think about your goals first and foremost, and decide which event(s) will help you to reach them.
…by selecting your event wisely
When taking your business to an exhibition or trade show is so expensive, you want to make sure you’re reaching the right audience, and for that, you need to be very selective in the events you choose to attend.
For event listings, look at industry publications or the websites of any associations you’re a member of. Use regular search engines, or even designated trade show search engines and directories, such as Eventia or Trade Show News Network.
Or why not ask contacts in the industry? Word of mouth goes a long way. If someone you know had a really good experience at a particular event, then it might just be worth booking your own place.
Make sure you do your research and know the type of people who will attend. Are they the sort of audience you’re hoping to reach?
…by promoting yourself
Let your clients and mailing list subscribers know you’re going to be at a particular event. Put links on your Facebook and LinkedIn pages, and post about your attendance. If there’s a Twitter for the event, follow it. If there isn’t, there may well be a hashtag that you can track, where organizers and attendees will share updates. Why not consider running a promotion or giveaway for your loyal customers? Is there something that you can offer them?
…by interacting with people
In an age where so much business is conducted online or via telephone, you should never underestimate the power of a face-to-face interaction. Your clients know you and trust you, but it’s still reassuring to them to be able to put a human face to your brand. And prospective clients will feel more comfortable if they can meet you and discuss their needs with you in person, giving you the chance to show them that YOU are exactly what they’re looking for.
… by making useful contacts
As the saying goes, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. So use the opportunity of exhibiting to make useful contacts in your industry. There may be suppliers you can talk to, or influential industry figures that you can connect with. Make sure you have business cards to hand, ready to hand out, and prepare a press pack, in case there is anyone from the media there.
…by getting it right
There are many things to think about when it comes to trade show marketing, but one thing that should never, ever be overlooked is your exhibition stand etiquette. You need to make sure that you are open and approachable; don’t simply sit and hope people will come to you: they won’t. But if you stand up, look people in the eye and listen to what they’re saying to you, it will go a long way towards instilling a positive image of you and your business.
Encourage staff to approach people by asking key interest questions, e.g. “does (product/service name) interest you?” Make sure questions are open-ended (don’t require simply “yes” or “no” responses), and if the person clearly is never going to buy from you, politely move on. You’ve got a lot of people to speak to; don’t waste time on those that aren’t going to convert!
…by following up
Once the event is over, your work is not yet done. All those people you talked to and those contacts you made need to be followed up. If you’ve offered free trials of your product or service, make sure you deliver on this, and make sure you thank people for coming to see you.
So as you can see, if done right, trade show marketing could bring great rewards for your small business, although it may seem expensive and rather daunting to begin with. But by being selective and knowing exactly what it is that you want to achieve, you can tailor your marketing efforts, put the budget only where it’s most needed and potentially attract a lot of valuable new clients or customers.Trade Show Marketing and Your Small Business by Helen Laird