Four New Methods to Improve Your Tradeshow ROI

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If you've ever been to a Cold Stone Creamery, you know that eating plain vanilla can be a bit boring. After all, when you order your frozen treat, the first thing the person with the scoop will ask is, "What else do you want with it?" You can add another ice-cream flavor or indulge in anything from candy to fresh fruit.

Setting objectives for your trade show or event should include the same "What else do you want?" discussion. Sure, you want to collect sales leads (that's the vanilla), but if there is a chance to add another layer of ROI, why not make the most of the marketing opportunity and toss in a few mix-ins?

Now don't get me wrong, collecting sales leads is a valuable goal. (And according to EXHIBITOR's 2010 Sales Lead Survey, 98 percent of exhibitors do it.) However, building awareness, conducting market research, educating attendees, and finding partnership opportunities can affect profitability just as much as collecting leads. Adding the right goals at the right shows can increase the value of your program and help you defend your spend.

1. Educate Attendees - Measure Before and After the Show

A couple of years ago at EXHIBITOR Show, I attended a session where the presenter talked about the importance of measurement. Suddenly, one of the attendees raised his hand and said, "I don't know how this applies to me."

His problem: He worked for Florida Power and Light, and his goal at shows wasn't to sell electricity, but to get customers to conserve energy.

How, he asked the class, could he measure his exhibits' ability to help attendees understand the need for, or methods of, energy conservation?

What the session leader and I pointed out was that his goals revolved around educating attendees on conservation. With that in mind, he needed to build his exhibiting strategy around education and assess his success just like a teacher would with his or her students.

Rather than just swiping badges and reporting lead counts, he needed attendees to listen to his message. He then needed to test their retention of that message with an in-booth (or post-show) survey/quiz. High scores would indicate that attendees retained his key messages, while low scores would mean he had to craft a better lesson plan. Furthermore, those quiz scores would become an important part of his metrics for each show.

If education is an important goal, consider pre- and post-show surveys to gauge attendees' knowledge of your subject before and after they visit your booth.

By measuring what info attendees retained after the show, you can demonstrate how effective your educational efforts were in the booth.

2. Build Brand Awareness- within your demographic

At the 2009 Chicago Auto Show, the U.S. Army exhibit was swarming with attendees.

Now, before you ask why the Army was so busy at the show, you have to wonder, what was the Army doing at an auto show to begin with?

The answer is simple. Auto shows are filled with consumers who love cars, including a large number of young men and women between the ages of 18 and 25. These are the same folks the Army would like to recruit into its ranks.

Of course, there was no actual recruiting going on at the auto show. And while the Army scanned badges of anyone interested in receiving more information, the real goal for the show was for the Army to show off military life and build brand awareness.

Brand awareness is a goal that works well if you have a way for attendees to interact with your company through its products or services.

The Army did this by getting attendees involved in various challenges. The booth's hands-on attitude kept attendees engaged with Army-related activities throughout their visit.

Like education, brand awareness is also measurable via pre- and post-show surveys.

By demonstrating that 20 percent more attendees know about your company or your products -- or have a more favorable impressionof your brand -- after the show, you've proven that your exhibit helped build awareness and improve perceptions.

3. Search for Strategic Partners at the Trade Show

At a construction show a few years ago, one small booth caught my eye. The exhibit displayed a new process for making windows.

The system,the company claimed, could be applied to any window manufacturer's assembly line, making it faster and more efficient.

The guy in the booth told me his goal was to demonstrate his method for making windows quickly so a larger company would buy his patented process.

What made his booth different from any other on the show floor was his messaging. The exhibit, with graphics claiming a faster manufacturing process, was not geared at all toward the construction crowd that only cared about the finished product.

Instead, the messaging was meant specifically for window manufacturers that might be in the market for a better process.

Like the window guy, if you're looking for a partner at a show, you need to focus your messaging for those folks, who may or may not be the show's attendees.

In addition to targeting the show's attendees, contact exhibitors that might make good partners and set up meetings where you can demo what you bring to the table. Attracting even a small handful of potential partners can make the show a success regardless of how many sales leads and badge scans you bring back to the office.

4. Conduct Marketing Research

When I worked for Kerry Americas, a food-ingredients company, we attended several large franchisee trade shows every year.

While the franchisees were not our customers at the show, they were the end-sellers of our products. Collecting leads from among the franchisees may not have been a priority, but getting their feedback on our products was vital to helping us better serve our customers, the suppliers who sold food items to attendees.

So we asked those franchisees which products didn't perform as well as they'd hoped. If something was not working, or there was a need for a new product, those folks were happy to tell us, but only if we asked. Gathering feedback adds one more deliverable to your exhibit-marketing objectives, and helps diversify the value your program brings to the table.

While collecting leads may be the most common goal at trade shows, remember that shows are filled with a variety of attendees, some of whom can help you achieve other objectives. Look for ways to squeeze some value out of your next show by educating attendees, conducting market research, finding strategic partnerships, and building brand awareness. The added results will be the cherry atop your exhibit-marketing sundae.


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Great points because many go to shows without clear goals. I would strongly suggest training the show representative. It is amazing how many simply do not want to be there so they do not engage to build awareness or educate. They will huddle talking to other reps or keep looking at this cell phones. The objective as you state clearly is to educate and connect. People will remember you.

Paska, you cannot go to a trade show blind. You need to know beforehand who you are meeting, what the level of interest is, and whether it is a serious enquiry.

Bob, great piece and nicely laid out. Our advice to all clients is to have a plan going into the trade show, during the show and post show. It may be true that 98% of people collect leads at shows, however my guess is that far less than 50% have a plan in place, before the show, as to what they will do with those leads right after the show.
It is the companies that strategically plan, have measurable objectives and have a clear understanding of their brand and messaging that usually succeed. As I walk around shows I am convinced more and more that fewer and fewer people understand this.

Ben Baker, President
CMYK Solutions Inc.
Getting YOU Noticed!

Thank you - your words are very kind.
You're also spot-on with your assessment regarding the degree of "savvy" (or lack thereof) manifest by most exhibitors at today's trade shows.

A few simple changes in their attitude and strategic approach to trade shows would yield huge returns for them.

Happy exhibiting,


Great comments. I agree. A little training goes a long way.

I liken it to a Broadway theater production. Nobody walks out of a bad play because the scenery and sets looked bad -- they leave because the ACTING is bad.

In the trade show business, it's exactly the same. The most effective exhibits are those with effective personnel.

But you've got to invest the time to do it right. Most staffers will only work in an exhibit 3-6 days per year. The other 300 days they'll use entirely different skills.

Prepare them for the experience, and your audience will give you and them a standing ovation.

Happy exhibiting,

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