Should you publicize your company at a trade show?

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Trade shows have traditionally been an important part of B2B marketing plans. Making connections with other businesses helps increase exposure, generates leads and also can result in mutually beneficial partnerships. If you’ve been to any show or conference recently, you’ll still see major players like the HPs of the world still displaying their booth and offering free swag alongside the hungry startups hoping to gain attention.

However, as technology and social media continue to change the dynamics of marketing, is the role of promoting your business at a trade show still of value? Are conferences relevant? Are the expenses associated with trade shows worth the effort?

Trade shows as an effective strategy

First, let’s find out if trade shows are worth your time. A 2013 study done by InsideSales.com highlights event marketing as ranking #2 in a list of the most effective B2B marketing strategies to increase brand awareness and generate leads. Another survey, conducted by Software Advice in 2014, supports these findings. In that survey, Software Advice interviewed 200 B2B firms and the results showed trade shows generated both the highest quantity and quality of leads.

You have to assess why you want to attend these events in the first place. Are you looking to find new clients? Make connections with thought leaders in your industry? Boost the visibility of your company to both colleagues and clients? Justify your marketing budget’s existence? (This one is never a good reason) Map out with your team what motivated you to first begin to consider getting a booth at a trade show.

Choosing which trade shows to attend

One issue B2Bs face is choosing the right trade shows to invest in. You don’t want to invest in a show that doesn’t yield leads or good brand visibility.

  • Big crowds do not necessarily equate to solid leads. It is important to ensure the audience aligns with your target niche. Look at previous shows to see if past attendees fit your customer profile.
  • First visit that trade show of interest as an attendee. Talk to people and observe the atmosphere.
  • Look at the competition who typically attend the show – are they major firms in your industry? Are you on the same level playing field?
  • Talk to other attendees that aren’t your direct competitors and see if they felt the show was worth the investment.

Planning your trade show budget

Your conference budget can quickly balloon if you’re not careful. Some shows require a larger budget than others; for instance, if the show is local this will cost less than traveling a distance to attend a larger show out-of-town.

Outline where you want to prioritize your marketing dollars. Are you going to just attend to watch panels and exchange business cards, or should you invest in a company booth? What size should this booth be, and what kind of tech setup do you want to display? Will you buy free stuff, like shirts or food, to give away to passers-by?

Above all, identity your B2Bs goals and do your research on trade shows before spending your marketing dollars.

Putting together your booth

Once you’ve got your list of shows put together, the logistics are the next thing B2Bs need to organize. Some of the details involved include shipping, booth location, allotted space and layout and supplies.

“When picking a booth location, it is key to make sure you are in a location that will have good traffic during the show. Once the booth is picked, that is when you need to start thinking about what layout you want to have the booth be,” recommends Jill Hohl, Senior Events Coordinator l of ATTO Technology, Inc.

Larger booths also will cost more than smaller ones. As an example Hohl notes 10 x 10 booths do not require the same budget wider booths would need. Rental space, graphics, electrical and flooring factor in, as well as how you want your employees interacting with visitors.

“Staffing is determined based on what type of show we are attending. Usually a sales person, marketing person, and a technical person attend the show,” Hohl adds

Shipping materials to the show is another detail that needs planning.

“You can either send a pallet or ship a just couple boxes FedEx. Just depends on how many supplies you will be sending,” Hohl notes. “There is a lot that goes into the pre-show logistic planning for a show. It is key to have someone in charge of the planning that is very organized.”

Trade shows boost brand visibility

All indicators show, even with the heavy integration of social media and other Internet-based methods of marketing, trade shows still effectively boost brand visibility and make a lasting impression.

“With any show, you focus on the types of leads you get. This does not mean you if you get a lot of leads that it makes that show a success. It depends on what leads you get and if they are leads that will help grow an account or the businesses,” says Hohl. “If the lead does help grow your business, a new relationship is made, or an old one grows even more, that is when you know the show you attended was a success.”

Attending industry trade shows are also more likely to result in direct sales opportunities if you have the right information on hand. According to the aforementioned InsideSales survey, B2B execs said the number one method of conversion ahead of trade shows were methods related to direct selling. Bottom line, the two can work hand-in-hand to generate more leads.

“If you’re going to implement an exhibit marketing program, do your homework — research the show, learn how to exhibit well and measure your results. Exhibiting doesn’t have to be a ‘one and done’ proposition either. Use the opportunity to create content (photos, videos, blog posts) for social media channels, conduct market research and learn about your competition,” recommends Michelle Bruno, exhibition industry expert and principal of content marketing firm Bruno Group Signature Events, according to Industry Market Trends.

Trade shows might not fit for every SMB or B2B firm, so weigh the pros and cons before committing. But if you can slice off a budget to showcase your company at an upcoming conference, you might be reaping rewards you would never get from scheduling tweets and Facebook posts.

For more tips on attending conferences, read this previously published report

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons

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Leigh Goessl

Leigh Goessl

Leigh Goessl has been writing on the web since 2007. She currently is a freelance writer and enjoys writing about business and tech topics. Leigh's previous work includes ghost writing for a a legal website, a major online college and an education website. Her education includes an MBA with a concentration in information security.
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