Taking your brand to a trade show can prove to be exponentially beneficial to your business. It can also end up a huge waste of valuable time and money if not prepared for properly. There are six basic steps to strategically planning your trade show experience: evaluate, locate, research, plan, prepare, and post-evaluate.
Your first step is to evaluate your business and your brand. Who is your target audience? What sales goals or networking goals would you like to meet at the show? What would it take to maximize your ROI? Be sure to consider the monetary value of your time as well as actual cost.
The next step is to locate the trade shows or conferences that cater to the target audience you identified in your first step. You can do that several ways. You can ask your current customers about the types of events they regularly attend. Contact local professional organizations in your industry or search online through trade show directories, chamber of commerce sites, or area business associations.
Once you pick the trade show you want to participate in you move on to research, research, and more research. Ask the trade show coordinator for a list of prior year vendors and attendees. Map out the location of the show and see if that fits in with your travel abilities. Does the cost for entry into the show as a vendor become prohibitive? Double check the sponsor’s reputation; no need to ruin your business’ good name by mistakenly pairing up with the wrong one. Lastly, you should research the show requirements. What types of booths are allowed? Do you need or are you allowed access to audio visual equipment (electrical sockets, rental capabilities, etc.)? What promotional items will you need and what marketing services will be available?
Now it’s time to plan for your show. Set your objectives, set your budget, decide on your sales message or tag line, work on a three part marketing plan that involves pre-show marketing, at-show marketing and post-show marketing. Develop the graphics you want to use and write up any promotional literature.
The fifth step is preparation. Now that you know the requirements you can start designing your exhibit: table top displays, backdrops, lighting and staffing. Confirm your booth location and any rental arrangements regarding travel or equipment. Print your marketing materials, your schedules and stock up on your business cards. Don’t forget to double check the travel arrangements of any staff that will be going with you.
The final step is a post-evaluation where you follow up with attendees and compare your show goals with the actual results. Compile this information to be used in the evaluation step of your next show.