Tuesday, 1 February 2011

How To Exhibit Successfully At Trade Shows - Part Five.

Tell Them You're There

Now it's a funny thing, but some people will happily part with huge amounts of money paying for exhibition space and having the most elaborate stand built, designed and dressed, but steadfastly refuse to pay anything on publicity or marketing themselves before or during the event, on the basis that the generation of visitors to the exhibition was the job of the exhibition organisers.

I have to admit, there was a time when I probably bought this arguement, but I don't hold with it any more.

In this penultimate post on the subject of making trade shows work for you, I'll just spend a short while highlighting some of the things that do make a difference to the number and quality of visitors you get.

By the way, if you haven't seen the other posts, here are the links

Part One - To exhibit or not to exhibit, that is the question
Part Two -Getting started
Part Three - Creating a brilliant exhibition stand
Part Four - All present and correct
Part Six - Home & Dry

If you visit many trade fairs, you'll be familiar with the barrage of material that you're sent in the lead up to the event. I suppose it's because in the 'olden days' they didn't do too much, and of course it was much harder and more expensive before the internet and email got going. But today you'll get lots of stuff from the organisers telling you what's new and who to see.

Of course the danger is that busy buyers will be blind to these mailings. So I'd suggest taking matters into your own hands.

One of the most effective exercises I've ever been part of was undoubtedly the easiest. We simply put together a list of the people we wanted to talk to on the day and sent them a personalised letter. We kept it fairly short, polite and added just a hint of intrigue. We also offered to send them information after the event if they weren't able to make it.

We had a very good hit rate on the day, seeing over 90% of the targets. What really amazed us, was that several of the visitors commented that we were the only exhibitors who'd bothered to contact them directly. It seems that the personal touch can pay dividends.

What's more, we were able to follow up each contact afterwards and those who hadn't made it, were sent the promised information.

It doesn't really matter what industry you're in, it's people and the relationships you build with them that matters, so build in the time to make contact before the event. It will put you ahead in the race.

Some of our clients like to do some pre-event advertising in trade media. This can be helpful if you're maintaing a position in your marketplace, where buyers expect to see new products at certain events or times of the year. If you need to do this, try and give your announcement a touch of differentiation. We've found that humour works well - perhaps because so many trade adverts are what we might call 'dull'. Don't think you have to go down the same route, but we've been happy with it.

If you're new to the exhibition and on a very tight budget, do as much PR as you can. Write about yourself, your products or your service. Have press information available on the stand to give to passing journalists who'll be roaming around looking for news and for potential new advertisers.

If possible, pre-arm these journalists by sending them press releases before the event, and invite them to visit too. It's great free advertising if they feature you in their publications and they're often desperate to find new things to talk about.

One way to encourage people to your stand is to hold some sort of competition where they have to enter at the stand. There's no need for a small company to go overboard on this. We used to hold a 'Win A Bottle Of Champagne' draw which worked well. One client decided to offer 'Win A Holiday' but although it brought in the visitors, the fulfilment turned into a nightmare, so my advice is to keep it fairly simple.

The organisers of trade shows will probably encourage you buy additional advertising, but be careful here. The chances are that there are better targeted publications where you could allocate your budget. Many people don't really read the daily show newspapers until they're back in the office - if at all.

Remember that good contacts is what you want, so be as careful to target the precise buyers you want to do business with. It's better to buy a decent lunch for a serious prospect that give away a hundred plastic bags to people you don't know and won't hear from.

So whether you've got thousands to spend in marketing, or just your own enthusiasm, plan who you want to see and put your attention to that. A personal letter costs little more than your time, but can be the start of a very strong relationship.

I'm off to the International Spring Fair at the NEC next week; it'll be interesting to see what exhibitors there are doing to bring visitors to their stands. If you get the opportunity to visit a larger trade show, it's a good way to pick up ideas you could use yourself.

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