trade show marketing

Avoid trade show marketing disappointment

I often get asked by clients about trade show marketing tips, because there is still a question if they are a meaningful way to market. I can’t blame people for thinking that trade shows are a waste of time and money. Often, trade show strategies are poorly planned, executed, and followed-up on. Trade show marketing strategies are relatively straightforward in my mind. However, many companies get lost in the hustle and bustle of the events and forget to set a game plan ahead of time.

Trade shows and in-person marketing are two of the most impactful forms of marketing a business can participate in. However, they can also be expensive, logistically complicated, and draining to be a part of. (Personally, I can’t stand going to most them unless they are movie or comic book related.)

I want to discuss with you 5 trade show marketing mistakes businesses make and how to avoid them. With any luck, these tips will save you time, money, and energy on your next trade show.

Not setting practical goals and not measuring them

One of the biggest mistakes I have seen clients make when going to trade shows is not setting clear objectives, and then failing to have a system in place to measure them. It always comes as a surprise to me because, as I mentioned, trade shows are expensive. You need to be able to calculate an ROI off of them, and measuring results is the only way to do that.

Trade show marketing goals

  • Lead generation
  • Sales made during the event
  • Brand impact on the audience; how many people were exposed to your brand
  • Post-event sales and follow-ups

These goals are practical and -most importantly- measurable. They are standard KPIs that can be referenced against existing marketing initiatives to compare results.

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Failing to plan ahead

Trade show marketing can be a logistical nightmare. They have many facets to them including trade show booth design, collateral creation, shipping, practicing your pitches, and arranging for in-event facilities and services. Too many companies save these things until the last minute. I’ve lost count how many times a customer has called me up in a panic needing a trade show booth and marketing material for the following week.

Always start planning at least 120 days before your trade show event. Use this time to review goals, create a list of marketing materials you will need, and see if you can visit the event facility to understand the venue better.

Also, for the love of God, make sure you go to the RIGHT event. I once had a client go to the Toronto Metro Convention Centre for a trade show only to go into the wrong hall and set up in an adjacent trade event.

Stress-saving trade show planning steps:

  • Place all events into your digital calendar and set reminders six months and then three months before they start
  • Have team meetings in-between to determine which events are right for you
  • Develop a list of actionable items and materials needed
  • Create goals and trade show marketing plans for each event
  • Schedule a “kick off” marketing meeting 120-days before the event


Failing to budget

I’ll repeat it: trade shows are expensive. Table rental, display costs, internet charges, hotel fees, travel expenses, food and drink -that’s just to get you through the door.

Trade shows should be treated like any other marketing initiative: set a budget and stick to it. Take into account all of your costs AHEAD of time, to determine if the trade show will even be worth your time to attend.

I’ve heard horror stories of businesses making assumptions about what will be available to them at a facility, only to realize that their booth rental didn’t include a booth, internet connection, or electricity!

Spending too much money on a trade show booth that does nothing.

Trade show booths can be a significant investment, with some costing more than a car. However, do you need one that fancy?

Your trade show booth should help align your brand and your trade show marketing initiatives. It should act as the glue for your entire event. But that doesn’t mean you have to mortgage your house to buy one.

Depending on the budget, I usually suggest to clients that it is sometimes better to get a smaller booth but invest in sponsorship. You’ll get a bigger bang for your buck and greater brand awareness and lead generation for the money.


Don’t preordaine disappointment.

The cumulative impact of all of the above mistakes is that, when companies fail to plan and heed to these tradeshow marketing tips, they invariably come home disappointed.

Setting practical goals and a clear budget can help provide a window into whether a show was successful or not.

Planning, and making sure everything is ready to go, will help you enjoy your trade show more, and help you get more out of it.

Remember: trade shows are social events. You need to have a good time at them if you are to represent your brand and business well.