Got a trade show coming up for your company? The common attitude is that you need to ramp up with lots of zip and swag to attract people and get them to buy. This is the wrong approach. Here are some tips on why and how to make your next show far more valuable:
1. Expect that you’re going to need money to attend trade shows. Between the travel, the event entry cost, your marketing material to hand out, the miscellaneous expenses, and your own personal needs, money is going to be spent. A basic trade show appearance can easily run $5,000 just for the booth and basic marketing materials like cards, flyers and staff T-shirts. So it’s smart to budget a set amount of money for every trade show to be attended. You don’t want to be caught up a creek halfway through your season’s schedule.
2. Bring your products that you want to test, not the ones you want to sell. The beauty of trade shows is that you get a captive market of folks who are interested in what you have to offer. However, unlike regular consumers, these folks are standing right in front of you when they see, hear, taste, feel, or try your service or product. When else can you have such a perfect feedback situation that won’t get all over the Internet if something goes wrong or isn’t quite ready for primetime? The amount of feedback information available from trade show attendees can be huge.
3. Along with real buyers, experts and market-watchers attend trade shows as well. Just like buyers, these characters can provide new ideas on how a product or service being offered can be marketed, sold, distributed or produced better. They are also the folks who the market listens to, so when they find something they like, people are going to hear about it pretty quickly, creating big demand waves.
4. Trade shows are jam-packed with all types of businesses of all types of different sizes, so their representatives can be great resources for business operation questions in a given industry. Especially for new businesses starting out, trade show attendees can be a great resource on what mistakes to avoid, what steps to take to improve a small business, and what activities to watch to learn and develop good experience in a market.
5. If you’re a brand new company and market awareness of your name is a big empty, a trade show is an awesome opportunity to network and get known quickly. Here’s a venue where thousands of people in the same market are all in the same place at the same time. You will almost always reach ten times more people networking at a trade show than you ever could with direct cold calling contact by phone or mail. And the best part is that during trade shows, people are open and receptive to contact whereas during their regular business day, they have other things that demand their attention with a higher priority.
6. Focus group testing and real time personal testing with products can be expensive. You have to rent a room, secure candidates, get them to show up, run the test multiple times, get their feedback and then summarize all that information into useable reports. A trade show does all of the above naturally except for the data summarizing. The immediate interaction and response to a product at a trade show can produce the same kind of market test effect with far less cost than traditional product testing. Further, since trade show attendees tend to be the real market, not a test group, they often provide a far better idea of whether a product will make it or not.
7. Don’t try to go all out with the first event. Saddling up with a collective, a chamber of commerce, or a regional group can be a far better stretch of your trade show dollars, and it often provides more floor space as every partner’s share is put together for a bigger trade show footprint. Less cost and more impact with presence is always a good formula for trade show efficiency and return on investment. In the same vein, don’t get addicted to spending money on lots of trade show specific materials. It’s good to have marketing materials to hand out, but you don’t need to go whole hog. Some folks make big mistakes, spending dozens of thousands of dollars on show marketing and show nothing in return. But whoever took the free material got a really neat T-shirt, mug or bag.
Trade shows can be immensely valuable for small companies and businesses that want to test new products and services without extensive traditional costs. Used right, trade shows can be great test runs with a very low overall cost involved. So don't think of these events as traditional marketing does, as a big sales pitch; think of them as a test run before the big show, a low-cost way to work out the bugs before going primetime.