It’s official: trade shows are back. Summer 2021 has seen the return of the trade show, with Vegas leading the way with major shows like World of Concrete, as outlined in our recent May blog spotlighting Sin City. The return to in-person shows is good news for B2B marketers, since trade shows are the second largest source of B2B revenue in the U.S.

In June, Spire authored another blog on trade shows, outlining their effectiveness in the overall B2B mix for generating brand awareness and sales leads. But how exactly do you maximize awareness and leads at a show?

Our goal at Spire is always to help our clients put their best foot forward, so we’ve put together a new blog series that outlines what we’ve learned over the years. Whether it’s your first trade show or your 500th, it never hurts to review the basics, especially after the industry’s long COVID-induced hiatus.

Our three-part series on trade shows will outline critical points in Pre-planning (Part 1), Booth Design (Part 2) and Day-of/Follow Up (Part 3). For Part 1, let’s talk about what a brand should be doing in the months and weeks leading up to the show.

Preparation Is Key: 6 – 12 Months Out

Set a reminder for the key registration dates of all trade shows you plan to attend in the upcoming year, and reserve that booth space as soon as you are able (ideally, not long after the previous year’s event). The earlier you can start planning your trade show presence, the better. As the stat below shows, 32% of exhibitors have begun planning six or more months before their show. In terms of floor space, the early bird really does get the worm. You want to review the floor plan and make sure you get the most visible, high-traffic area you can get for the size of your booth.

Next, outline your goals for what you want to accomplish. Are you looking to boost brand awareness or build a customer database? For some of our clients, trade shows are about keeping up their brand presence while spending time with meaningful customers. For others, it might be about establishing a brand presence in a new space or unveiling new products or services. Once you’ve defined your goal and how to measure success, you can weigh additional opportunities at the conference.

Make sure you are listed in the directory and inquire about ad placements, sponsorship and speaking opportunities; this can be key in getting more recognition for your brand. Can your company sponsor a breakfast or even a lounging/charging station? Get your hands on a schedule of events as early as possible, so you can gauge impactful opportunities.

Speaking opportunities offer an incredible chance to get your brand out there as an expert in your field. If you can be there on the floor or speak at the conference, it also helps to drive people to your booth and build those relationships. Know where the convention will be posting its “call for speakers” and be ready to apply.

Hosting an event or party is a fantastic way to create networking opportunities off the trade show floor and to leave a lasting impression on your prospects. In the past, Spire has arranged everything from hot air balloon rides to nightclub parties, whiskey tastings to glitzy Las Vegas soirees. In terms of brand impact, there’s really nothing more effective than a well-planned and executed event. Show your guests a good time and you’ll build strong relationships in the process. If the budget doesn’t allow for a full event, a nice dinner goes a long way. And be sure your team books flights and blocks rooms before the hotels sell out.

Targeting Your Audience: 6 – 12 Weeks Out

Around three months before your conference, you should start thinking about how you’re going to drive your customers and prospects to your booth or event. Get a list of attendees and their contact information as soon as possible. If you have mailing addresses in addition to email, think about sending a direct mail piece—the higher the prospect level, the more a high-end, custom approach is worth considering. In the past, we’ve sent dimensional custom invitations and cleverly designed room drops to drive traffic to booths and networking events.

Once you get people to your booth, you want to make sure attendees have a memorable experience from start to finish—from the booth design itself (more on that in our next blog series) to the interaction with your team to the giveaway item they leave with. Begin thinking through what those items will be well in advance, leaving enough time for sourcing and customization. There is always an opportunity to add a memorable, fun element of your booth, no matter the budget. On the lower end, a premium snack gift, like water, cookies or mints, goes further than the usual fare like pens and koozies.

If you have a larger budget to work with, brainstorm gifts that are relevant to your space. What’s new, fun, and cool? Break your prospects into categories to get more bang for your promo item buck: everyone gets the basic item/mid-level gifts for warmer prospects, and a premium option goes to top-tier customers and prospects. A high-end giveaway drawing also helps draw traffic. Remember, fun giveaways equal more visitors to your booth and more prospects. Get creative!

Lastly, consider a tool like mobile conquesting during the conference. These location-based, demographic, and behavioral targeting ads can be placed across apps and web browsing sites within your selected area and can be very effective. You can even use dynamically updated ads that show the user their distance from your location (booth) or geo-fencing ads that target users in your competitors’ locations down to a 500-feet radius.

Two Weeks Out

Send your customers and prospects an email that highlights your booth location at the show and any sponsored events, like breakfasts or speaking engagements. Let them know you’re looking forward to seeing them. This is also a good time to highlight any fun giveaway or raffle items at your booth.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our trade show blog series where we’ll tackle everything you need to consider when designing your trade show booth.

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