Maximising your next trade show event is about a shift in approach

By Robert Lyons
Trade shows are, to many, a necessary evil. I compare them to walking the game aisle at a carnival with a half dozen independent operators shouting at you to ‘pop a balloon’ or ‘throw a ball’.

They’re often chaotic, with the reward dangling in the distant horizon.  Yet, in my opinion, there is no comparable industry-wide platform that facilitates the level of networking, sales and lead generation than a (well-orchestrated) trade show can. Far too often, however, I see businesses fall prey to the pitfalls of the show curse – that is, being so entrenched by the process, that one loses sight of the vision.

A shift in focus

Planning for your trade show presence can be an overwhelming experience. Multiple (and independent) suppliers, endless logistics, shipping and travel planning, staffing considerations, budgetary restrictions etc., the list goes on. It’s not surprising to see how exhibitors become quickly consumed with the minute details of staging the ‘perfect’ event, at risk of losing focus of the objectives. Now is not the time to re-invent the wheel. Rather, it’s about shifting your approach and taking a step back to what I like to call ‘re-eventing’ your strategy.

With over 20 years of experience and countless trade shows under my belt, I can confidently say that an overwhelming percentage of exhibitors won’t, and don’t have a dedicated marketing strategy driving their trade show calendars.  By this, I’m not referring to finalizing a new exhibit design, quantifying success against the number of badges or even developing a to-do event checklist. What I’m referring to is investing in the time to set clear objectives, agreeing on ideal outcomes and mapping out a robust plan of action to achieve your goals.

One too many objectives

Ask yourself, why are you at the show?  Sales? Contracting? Lead generation? Launching a product? Brand awareness?  As tempting as it is to say ‘yes’ to all, it’s far more practical (and achievable) to hone in on one or two specific objectives. This immediately sets a benchmark to which you can stay accountable to your re-evented strategy. You’ll be more efficient, end goal driven and focused on ensuring that all facts of your campaign support your objectives.

It’s also important to ensure that your team is aligned on the vision or conversations needed to take place with a partner agency that understands your objectives so you can navigate through the three phases of the trade show journey experience cohesively: Pre-show, During-show and Post-show.  Any re-evented strategy should cover the full life cycle of your trade show, until at least your next event.

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