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Wave goodbye to branded gonks – how to get the most from trade shows and exhibitions

21st Mar '16

Once upon a time, trade shows were all about sales staff standing awkwardly behind tables laden with free pens and branded, fluffy ‘gonks’.

Well not any more. Trade shows and exhibitions have undergone a revolution in recent years, and the static stand-focused format of old has been replaced by a much more experiential vibe – where companies and brands go all out to connect with customers in a much more meaningful way; from bespoke gaming displays to chocolate stands that look good enough to eat.

And these new-breed events hold a huge amount of potential for small businesses, whether you’re going along as an exhibitor or calling in as a visitor.

They’re a great place to showcase what you offer, build new relationships, win new customers and see first hand what your competitors are offering.

And whatever your line of business, there’s an exhibition or trade show out there for you – from pet supplies to wind farm support vessels (yes, really).

Our go-to site for finding out what’s on is which offers a really straightforward diary of trade shows, events and conferences coming up across the UK. It also allows you to search for events using keywords or by category, making it really simple to find those that are going to suit you.

But, like most things in business, you can’t just expect to show up and have leads fall into your lap.

You’ve got to have a plan.

If you’re new to exhibitions or trade shows or in the process of planning your next visit to one, here are Blue Rock’s tips to get the very most from your investment.

1. Choose carefully

Attending an exhibition or a trade show is going to cost – for your place, your stand, your materials, your transport and more. You need to know that’s going to be money well spent.

So how do you decide which to hit and which to miss when there’s a calendar full to choose from?

It might sound basic, but make sure you find out everything about the event before you book – including expected numbers and types of visitor likely to attend. Many firms fail to do this simple research and it costs them dearly.

Reputable events organisers should be happy to provide you with data on attendance figures and visitor profiles and they’ll normally be happy to share information about other exhibitors, too.

Don’t shy away if your competitors are going, it’s even more reason for you to be there (if only to see what they’re up to and give them a run for their money).

And remember, the biggest events aren’t always going to be the best. If you’re a small business or it’s your first event, you could get lost in a huge exhibition. Make your choice based on the best fit with your business objectives and customer profile.

2. Location, location, location

You’ve selected your event and been offered a choice of where to locate your stand.

You’ll normally have to pay a premium for the most popular spots, but that’s going to be money well spent if it means you’re more visible and approachable.

Seasoned exhibitors will normally go for the spaces near to the entrance and at the corners. If you can’t get the prime spots, go for a location on the perimeter of the exhibition space or along a major walkway, rather than right in the middle, as you’ll benefit from the footfall as people pass.

3. Make sure your stand stands out

Once you’ve secured your spot, the next challenge is to make sure you get noticed for all the right reasons.

You need to offer something that’s going to grab visitors’ attention and make them want to approach you. But exhibition halls are packed with attention grabbing displays and materials. So how do you stand out in such a visually crowded space?

For the best chance of success, get creative and think differently.

You’ll still want to grab attention and make people want to approach you, but is there a more engaging, innovative or subtle way of doing that?

For example play relaxing music, offer an experience, set up a competition or a game, maybe have an entertainer on your stand or quirky refreshments.

Differentiate yourself, and you’ll be more noticeable. If you want to get inspired there are some fab ideas online on pinterest

When it comes to the stand itself, there’s a huge range of display options out there – from custom-built kit to pop-ups you can carry in a bag, and the format for you will depend on lots of factors including the space you’ve got, your budget, if you’re self-assembling and more.

Whichever option you choose, there’s one non-negotiable; it has to be professional.

Get your stand properly designed for purpose (don’t just send a printer some logos and images to use) and use a reliable and recommended supplier so you’re guaranteed a top quality product that will be delivered on time.

If your stand arrives and it’s below par, you may not have time to rectify it. If it arrives late, you’ve got nothing to take to your show. It’s a deal breaker.

The same goes for any printed materials you’re taking along. Plan well ahead so you’ve got them in advance – it’s one less thing to worry about.

People love tangible things they can take away from a trade stand (in fact, we’re convinced that collecting goodies from shows is a hobby for some people). At the same time giveaways will be everywhere, so try to be a bit more creative or come up with something unique to offer, so customers will really remember you for it.

And crucially, make sure everything you hand out is consistently branded and includes a web address or a call to action.

4. Put your best staff forward

Your people are your most important asset when it comes to trade shows and exhibitions.

Events are all about interaction – meeting people, making eye contact, shaking hands and building relationships. You could have the best sales stand in the world, but if you don’t have the right attitude and people skills, your investment is going to be wasted.

If it’s just you manning the stand and you know you’re going to struggle, enlist some help. You could ask a friend or colleague to support you, or even hire some temporary event staff for the day.

Some people are naturally comfortable in one-to-one situations, others aren’t. If you’ve got a team of people to choose from, pick the ones you know are great communicators. The ideal mix of skills for your stand is someone who is great at drawing people in plus someone who is great at keeping them there!

Make sure your staff look alert and interested, aren’t yawning, leaning, chewing or drinking – all of these things put people off, and can even offend.

Finally, make sure your people are well dressed and smart. If you’ve got a uniform, wear it. If you don’t, consider dressing congruently (and even in your brand colours) so you look like you fit together.

5. Follow up on leads and promises

So you’ve got to the end of the day and it’s been fantastic. You got your stand, location, goodies and staff spot on and you’ve been flat out taking questions, demonstrating your products and exchanging business cards. You’re exhausted. You pack up your stand and head home.

You think you’re done. Well you’re not. Your exhibition was just the beginning. You’ve got a whole host of potential leads. Don’t just pack them away with your stand. Follow them up as a matter of priority. Good leads can lose momentum really quickly.

By following up in a professional way, for example with an email thanking the prospect for their time and providing your details and a link to your website, you’re helping to cement your relationship. That customer might have visited 20 businesses like yours that day. You want them to remember you, and a personal follow up is essential.

Send out any information, quotes or samples you’ve promised as soon as you can, too.

And finally – make the most of networking

Lots of shows and exhibitions will have industry-specific events and conferences running alongside them, which offer a great chance for you to find out more about your field as well as meet new people and make new contacts. If you get the opportunity, go along.

If you’re planning your next trade show or exhibition and want to make an impact, we can help with everything from booking the best event to creating a stand-out display. Contact Blue Rock Marketing Consultancy.