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How to run a marketing trade show

How to run a marketing trade show

With marketing budgets under pressure, and the increasing popularity of ‘faceless’ online business networking, some people are questioning the future of trade shows. However, exhibitions still provide an unrivalled platform to meet hundreds of prospects under one roof. Matthew Benyon, from cost-effective trade show specialist easyFairs, argues the case for face-to-face.

How long would it take a start-up business to visit 150 UK business prospects in person? Two, maybe three, months. Then there’s the cost, both in terms of man hours and travel expenses, to consider for such a sales odyssey.

At a trade show, this can be achieved in just a couple of days.

Marketing professionals the world over recognise the power of ‘live marketing’ events. Figures taken from EventView 2009 – the largest annual global survey of marketers – show events (52%) are rated the best tactic for deepening and accelerating customer relationships.

So why, then, are a significant number of traditional show organisers suffering from declining revenues and falling attendances at their exhibitions?

Show formula not broken

The trade show formula certainly isn’t broken – but the format is outdated and struggling to survive in unforgiving economic conditions.

Comparisons can be drawn with the motor industry: cars are still viable, but fewer people now want to buy expensive, uneconomical gas-guzzlers. And in the events industry, businesses no longer want, or can afford, overblown exhibition stands that act more as flag-waving exercises than anything rooted in RoI.

Large trade fairs are demanding in terms of time, resource and budget. As a result, businesses that might previously have exhibited at five trade shows a year are now appearing at just two. They’re being more selective…and many of the big, bloated trade shows are disappearing.

‘Virtual trade shows’ – an extension of online business networking – are being touted as a cost-effective alternative. I can see the merits for certain events – for example, it would be rather hypocritical if thousands of delegates racked up a million miles between them to attend a ‘green’ expo!

In most cases, though, virtual visitors ‘meeting’ virtual exhibitors in a virtual exhibition hall is unappealing as it eliminates the sights, sounds, buzz, and banter of a trade show. A mouse click can’t compete with an unequivocal, reassuring handshake. It doesn’t matter how sophisticated technology gets, humans are fundamentally social beings and, as such, like to transact business that way.

Instead, what businesses, and especially start-up businesses, want is affordable, no-fuss shows offering genuine RoI.

It’s going back to trade show basics with organisers simply providing a platform for people to do business face-to-face; a place where there can be a healthy exchange of ideas without the one-upmanship that blights many exhibitions. This is easyFairs’ ethos – and one that’s allowing start-up businesses to compete for show visitors on an equal footing with big corporates.   

Show Tips

Finding the right event at the right price, however, doesn’t guarantee a successful show. Organisers may get visitors through the door – but too often exhibitors make fundamental mistakes meaning they don’t capitalise on the opportunity.  

Firstly, research the show to check it’s suitable. Request a visitor profile from the organiser and ask around in your market.

Large consumer shows aside, which charge visitors an entry fee, organisers get their income from exhibitors; they want to keep them happy and are open to suggestions – so work with them. Offer to present a talk as part of the seminar programme – but don’t turn it into a sales pitch or you’ll empty seats in no time!

Also be sure to capitalise on the media opportunities. Trade media are likely to run news items and show previews – but many exhibitors don’t even prepare a press release for the on-site press office, let alone contribute towards pre-show editorials.

And remember it’s not just the organiser’s job to generate an audience: tell your customers and send show tickets to prospects.

Exhibitors should also be mindful of a few show-floor golden rules. These include:

•    Don’t offer alcohol on stand unless it’s a logical feature, i.e. you’re a party organiser and making cocktails

•    Don’t ‘patrol’ your stand like a guard

•    Don’t create a false border (a step or different coloured carpet) as it’ll subconsciously act as a barrier

•    Always man the stand

•    If it’s quiet, resist the temptation to use lap-tops: you’ll lose what valuable visitors are on the show floor

•    Train staff to encourage conversation, i.e. questions that can’t be answered with a yes or no answer. “Can I help you” doesn’t work in shops and it doesn’t work on exhibition stands.

•    Make your stand interesting. Run a competition, have an unusual product demo, run an advice ‘clinic’, launch research findings etc.

•    Data capture visitors’ details.

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