When you’re focused on the day-to-day of your business operations, it’s easy to forget about what the competition is up to.
But what if you could take a look at the latest innovations in your industry, all while marketing your own company to prospective customers?
Trade shows do just that. Instead of thinking about them as an outdated marketing technique in an increasingly digital world, take advantage of these mass gatherings as opportunities to collaborate and engage with the most important people in your industry.
What is a trade show?
A trade show is a large-scale exhibition event where multiple companies in the same industry come together to promote themselves, network with other people in their field, and learn about market trends and opportunities.
Typically, trade shows are held once or twice a year over the course of several days. Attendees are usually other businesses in the same industry, while some trade shows are open to members of the public who could become leads.
Prepping for a trade show requires lots of steps, so many businesses use event planning software to organize their team to track what needs to be accomplished ahead of time to guarantee a successful event.
Trade show industries
Some industries naturally fit the trade show model more than others. Some of the most popular industries have shows organized by their trade associations.
Agricultural and forestry trade shows are open to farmers, florists, agricultural scientists, and even representatives from government organizations like the National Park Service. These shows highlight the latest innovations in the industry, such as new equipment, seeds, growing techniques, or climate-focused adaptations to existing technology.
Automotive and transportation
For over a century, automotive and transportation trade shows have been the first place to unveil new innovations. Companies use the shows to demonstrate new cars, planes, motorcycles, boats, and other vehicles.
Contractors, architects, and designers all attend construction and manufacturing trade shows throughout the year. This has become particularly important in recent decades because of the shift toward more eco-focused building designs and sustainable materials.
Some construction trade shows are fairly broad, like the International Builders Show, while others concentrate on specific niches within the field, like green construction or corporate building practices.
Much like construction, energy and power technology has changed significantly over the last century. Their trade shows range from high-level corporations that control global power and energy to smaller, local businesses that offer energy-saving technology, like solar panels.
Because climate change presents a constant concern for this field, many of the associated trade shows now specialize in green energy technologies and innovations.
Food and hospitality
Restaurants and hotels are some of the biggest businesses to host their own trade shows every year. Events like those organized by the National Restaurant Association draw in thousands of visitors from all over the world, both those who work in the industry and consumers who are interested in learning more about the latest in the food, wine, and hospitality world.
Medical and pharmaceutical
It’s not only doctors who attend medical trade shows; their representatives and academic medical researchers also have good reason to make an appearance. New devices, medications, and healthcare techniques often debut at these trade shows, giving medical professionals an opportunity to learn more about the most current developments.
Because it’s such a broad field, multiple medical ppl shows are often organized each year by specific advisory boards dedicated to specialties within the medical industry.
Benefits of trade shows
Although they can quickly become chaotic environments, trade shows offer a number of benefits that support a company’s offline marketing efforts.
- Face-to-face networking: Meeting with vendors, customers, and even competitors are some of the best parts of trade shows. All of these connections help improve your business and, ultimately, generate more sales. You might just meet your next great collaborator.
- Gaining industry insights: Trade shows are an opportunity for everyone to demonstrate the latest and greatest of what they’re working on. Most offer workshops, guest speaker presentations, and other helpful market updates that provide insight into what’s new in your industry.
- Increasing brand awareness: While your online marketing is likely your top traffic driver, don’t forget about how lucrative these in-person events can be. Thousands of people attend trade shows every year, after all. Having a stand at a trade show can significantly improve your brand’s credibility in the industry, as well as give you a chance to introduce yourself to both customers and vendors.
- Generating new leads: Having one-on-one time with potential customers at a trade show can lead to more sales. It’s a more personalized experience than online, and you get to provide tailored recommendations or answer any questions. Even if you don’t make the sale at the trade show, those relationships you develop there can pay off later.
- Hearing customer feedback: If the trade show is open to the public, this is a good time to get feedback from your real users. You can share this information with your development team so they have explicit customer preferences in mind when designing new products or services.
of 2023 trade show exhibitors were confident that they could achieve better results by attending than not
Challenges of trade shows
Attending a trade show can be beneficial for businesses in a range of industries, but there are plenty of challenges to face as well.
- How to stand out in the crowd: Depending on the size of the show, hundreds of other businesses who do exactly what you do will be in the same room, all trying to grab the attention of attendees. It can be difficult for brands to make themselves known, especially smaller brands that have never been to a trade show.
- How to measure return on investment (ROI): Tracking any form of offline marketing comes with difficulties, and this is especially the case at trade shows. To get ahead of the problem, create a dedicated URL to place on physical trade show marketing materials. This way, you can monitor the traffic that came directly from the show. Concrete numbers can help prove ROI to leadership who may not be convinced of the benefits of a trade show.
- How to work through the logistics: There’s plenty to remember when you’re attending a trade show, from marketing materials for your stand to coordinating travel and accommodations for staff. Having a detailed schedule and plan in place is the best way to manage everything you need to take care of ahead of time.
How to have a successful trade show
A solid to-do list is the best way to set yourself up for success at a trade. Here are a few ways you can make your next trade show a good use of time and money before you even set foot in the venue.
Create a budget
While one of the biggest benefits of attending a trade show is the potential for meeting new customers and making sales, it’s vital that you take into account the money you’ll need to spend to participate in the show.
A good way to calculate how much you’ll need to set aside is to multiply your booth space cost by three. For example, if your booth at a national show costs $30,000 for a 3-day event, the total budget you should be allocating for all trade show costs would be around $90,000.
The bigger your booth, the higher the cost will be. That also means you’ll need to set aside additional funds for marketing materials and signage for your booth, along with any special lighting or other show services like electrical utilities you might need. Marketing costs ahead of attending the show should also be considered if you’re planning to run paid advertising or show sponsorships.
If the trade show isn’t local, you should also plan for shipping, storage, and insurance costs for any products you need to take with you. Like with marketing materials, the size of your booth will determine how much inventory you can take with you, and also how many staff you’ll need to work at your booth.
For hourly employees, additional budget may be needed to pay them for extra work time during the trade show that would be above and beyond their routine hours. But even with salaried employees, there are still staffing costs to factor in. You may need to make a budget that accounts for accommodation, transport, and food for the team while at a multi-day trade show.
Prepare your team
Choosing who to take with you to a trade show is a big decision and can make a significant difference in how much revenue you drive from leads or sales at the event. While it may be tempting to send only your best salespeople, consider how those individuals normally close a deal—if they’re better on the phone, an in-person event may not be the right fit for them.
Ultimately, you want approachable and friendly representatives who have an in-depth understanding of your industry, and who feel comfortable discussing the benefits of your products or services in overcoming industry challenges.
Once you’ve decided who you want to bring, work with them to create a plan for the event and set expectations. Everyone should have a specific role and be responsible for a number of elements, like managing the marketing materials or networking with other vendors at their stands. You’ll also want to quickly review any company information you need them to talk about and good conversation guidelines to stay on brand.
Design your stand
This is one of the most crucial parts of your preparation. You want to make sure that your brand stands out in a sea of other vendors, but also that any visual elements represent your company accurately.
Try to avoid colors that blend in with other vendors—if you can find out in advance which companies your booth will be next to, take a look at their brand colors and what they might be using so you can avoid these options on your own stand!
Lighting is a great way to draw attention to specific areas of your booth, as can moving graphics or interactive elements that encourage people to stop instead of simply walking by. Like any good visual design, create a focal point to direct attention to a specific area.
If you’re taking any demo products with you, think about how you want to incorporate these into the overall design of your stand, and always make sure these actually work before you leave your office or warehouse!
Promote your appearance
Connect with vendors, customers, or competitors ahead of time on social media. Tell your followers where you’ll be and when so they can easily find you. If you’re running any kind of promotion or giveaway at the trade show, be sure to talk about this ahead of time to lure in visitors.
Follow up afterwards
Once the trade show is over, stay in touch with any new connections you’ve made there. Whether it’s vendors you’re interested in partnering with or potential customers who want more information, always send a quick email letting them know it was nice to meet them.
Top 5 event planning software
The best event planning software helps you manage the logistics of running and attending in-person events, conferences, and trade shows. Features like registration and ticketing, scheduling, and room floor plans are all essential for a successful, smooth event.
To be included in the event planning software category, platforms must:
- Facilitate the logistical planning of events, including floor plan development and seating charts
- Enable exhibitor payment and invoicing, employee resource allocation, agenda development, and abstract submission.
* Below are the top 5 leading event planning software platforms from G2’s Winter 2024 Grid® Report. Some reviews may be edited for clarity.
monday.com is a customizable event planning software that allows teams to collaborate remotely and stay on track with planning goals and action items. Dashboards and automated features create flexible workflows for any sized team.
What users like best:
“The platform itself feels so smooth. It was really well developed. The dark night look is cool, the features itself are awesome, dashboards and teams are good enough, the views are understandable. And you can change the views for the CRM dashboard, which I consider is really helpful. I love the automation of tickets.”
– monday.com Review, Gerado H.
What users dislike:
“Our organization has so many monday pulses that it gets difficult to find the one you’re looking for when you need it. Is it possible to automatically tag the user and everyone connected to each pulse every time an update is given? I shouldn’t have to tag everyone (@name) every time I make a comment in a pulse to ensure that they get a notification of the update.”
– monday.com Review, Roger N.
ClickUp is an all-in-one productivity tool that gives teams the opportunity to plan, organize, and collaborate on tasks using features like docs, chat, goals, and whiteboards.
What users like best:
“As an operations manager, I oversee multiple remote teams. I like that I’ve been able to create various workflows that match each team’s needs. It’s been more customizable and supportive for tasks that vary pretty widely than the average productivity platform.”
– ClickUp Review, Kimberly C.
What users dislike:
“There are so many features that it can feel like you are not using it to its fullest and then you wonder what you might be missing out on.”
– ClickUp Review, Mary F.
As a full service event planning platform, Cvent offers tools to manage every stage of an event lifecycle. Its features help you find suppliers, manage attendees, host sponsors, and gather data on every event.
What users like best:
“Cvent has helped us pivot from in-person events to virtual events with ease. We were able to take an already curated list of people in attendance and invite them to a virtual event. They also now have an online webinar hub that makes it easier to host videos and other things as a repository to capture people well after an event has happened.”
– Cvent Review, Rachel S.
What users dislike:
“The system is very robust and sometimes you get confused because there are multiple ways to accomplish the same task. I think people get caught up in all that is possible and come up with ways to use the software so that simple tasks become hard.”
– Cvent Review, Tyler M.
Whova is an event planning and management software that helps organizers stay on top of event logistics. An award-winning platform, global companies use it to plan and execute events of all sizes.
What users like best:
“Whova was very intuitive to use, helping me stay on track with where I was supposed to be and when. It was also very simple to ask questions of the presenters and others attending the conference. Because everyone’s contact information was already at our fingertips, we didn’t have to pass out 200 business cards!”
– Whova Review, Melissa L.
What users dislike:
“I was overwhelmed by the number of polls, questions, comments, and community interactions.”
– Whova Review, Jason J.
Focused on hospitality event venues, Tripleseat is an event planning tool that simplifies booking and managing events. Features include comprehensive business insights for every event, communication options to get in touch with guests, and payments for attendee deposits.
What users like best:
“Tripleseat is extremely user friendly, interactive, and easy to learn. There is a ton of customization to fit the needs of each of your venues and it can handle everything: sales, menu planning, discussions and documents – all within one site. Clients have easy access throughout the guest portal to see all details of their event in one place.”
– Tripleseat Review, Miriam P.
What users dislike:
“There is still some functionality to the program that could be better, such as creating one lump payment over multiple agreements. Reporting can be a bear sometimes, and it would be nice to customize the financial side, which also has some confusing segments.”
– Tripleseat Review, Nellie K.
Every stand has a story
Even if you feel that online marketing techniques are working well for you already, you owe it to yourself to see what a trade show is all about. Sometimes a bit of ol’ fashioned face-to-face time is more lucrative than you might think.
Learn more about how you can level up your event marketing this year.