Fall doesn’t just mean back to school. For many marketers, it’s the season of trade shows. There are countless tasks to tend to so that your trade show strategy shines, but the most important task is obtaining high-quality, actionable information for your organization.

In a three-part series, I will cover the essentials to ensure your organization will rock this trade show season before, during, and after those whirlwind days in the exhibition hall.

Start with why

Going to a trade show simply because “We’ve always gone,” is no longer an excuse to spend upwards of $25,000 on a booth, collateral, travel, and hotel for a sales team. Build consensus with your team on what your organization can offer at a show that is different and engaging for attendees. This work upfront will yield clarity for your team — it can even serve as the motto or rallying cry that gets you through those planning meetings or training calls with the sales team — and it will materialize in the overall booth experience at the show.

According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), attendees come to a trade show to:

  • Learn industry trends (87 percent)
  • Experience new technologies (84 percent)
  • See, touch or interact with new products (81 percent)
  • Develop or grow relationships (71 percent)
  • Gather information for upcoming purchases (65 percent)

If your organization can’t offer or benefit from any of these reasons to attend a trade show, you likely won’t achieve a return on investment (or obtain that high-quality, actionable information), and your organization is likely better off spending marketing dollars elsewhere.

Create an experience, even on a budget

You’ve seen them, those exhibition booths that aren’t booths, but branded environments in which the attendee is transported to a new world. Even if your budget is a tenth of what you see at shows like CES, that doesn’t mean you can’t create a memorable, authentic experience.

If you are tasked with designing a new exhibit space, partner with the right people to create an environment that will be the perfect backdrop for your trade show team to accomplish goals (or answer that “why?”). You may want to show off a new product, have attendees interact with something, or have enough space for discussions. All scenarios call for a different setup. Additionally, giving your branding and messaging a visual hierarchy will ensure your booth shines in those precious few seconds you have to impress an attendee walking the floor.

If budget realities mean that you’re using the evergreen exhibit booth that gets shipped from event to event, at least spring for a good tchotchke (not a USB drive, not a fidget spinner … more like a freaker) or one big giveaway to raffle off.

Put in the time to train

Between selecting a prime exhibit space, designing the booth experience, executing other pre-show marketing tactics, booking hotel rooms for everyone and more, don’t forget to take the time to train the sales team and other company representatives who will be out on the show floor. Launching a new product or service the same quarter as the trade show? Have the sales team role play various ways they can weave it into the conversation or demonstrate it. Anticipating a lot of questions or visits from current customers who want to catch up? Have the sales team practice navigating (and swiftly closing) those conversations so they can get talking to more, new prospects. It’s all a numbers game.

Taking care of the foundational tasks before a trade show can make or break the success of your strategy’s execution. Finally, don’t forget to market your participation in the event ahead of time. Your sales team may be chatting up customers about the event, so expand that effort into a corporate-level campaign. Send news of your involvement in eBlasts, list the event on your website, share event preview articles from industry publications, and make sure you’re included in the show’s event marketing mailers.

This blog post is the first installment in a three-part series. To read more about what to do once you arrive at a trade show and how you can keep the success moving afterwards, don’t miss part 2, “Rock this trade show season: Working the floor” and part 3, “Rock this trade show season: After show glow.”