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7 Trade Show Secrets That Bring the Best ROI

Whether you’re going to an in-person trade show, a remote-only meetup, or a hybrid event, you need to squeeze every opportunity out of a trade show.

Dance parties, margarita machines, and giveaways are always fun, but you need to make people feel more than the warm fuzzies. What do they think about your brand? Will they eventually become a loyal customer? 

You need a solid trade show strategy to get real results from every event you attend. There’s a fine line between hosting a just-for-fun party and planning a corporate event where you need to see ROI, after all.

7 secrets trade show pros don’t want you to know

Trade shows aren’t cheap! You pay for travel, exhibition space, sponsorships, and a lot more. Although event planning is a skill you hone over time, you can skip a lot of trade show headaches by following these tricks of the trade. 

1. Attend the right trade show

This might sound like a “duh” suggestion, but it’s important. There are hundreds of trade shows happening every year in your industry. But just because an event caters to your industry, it doesn’t mean it’s a fit for your company. 

For example, if you’re a casual sneaker brand, you wouldn’t go to every fashion trade show out there, would you? 

If you think a conference would be a fit, ask the planners for a fact sheet about the event. It should tell you everything you need to know, including: 

  • Location and date 
  • Average attendance numbers 
  • Audience demographics 
  • Speaker or event lineup 
  • Exhibition pricing 

Speaking of exhibiting, make sure the trade show has good foot traffic and the availability of spaces. You don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on a 10 X 10 space way back in the corner. If your ideal slot is already spoken for, consider preserving your budget for a different trade show. 

2. Set SMART goals for this trade show

Before you so much as buy a ticket to this trade show, you need to have a goal in mind. It’s easy to get carried away by the fun of it all, but without a goal, you could be letting money go down the drain. 

Ask yourself: 

  • Is my audience at this event? 
  • How much will this event cost? 
  • How much business can I expect to generate at this event? 

It’s good to have a general goal like “increase brand awareness,” but you really need to set SMART goals. Something like, “We need to generate 200 new leads from this event” is easy to measure. And when you’re measuring your progress, it’s much more likely you’ll achieve your goal, too. 

Make sure you schedule some follow-up time with the team after the event, too. This way, you can look at your SMART goals to see if you achieved them. If not, dissect what went awry so you can get better ROI at your next event. 

3. Set a budget—and stick to it

You need to get a return on your investment, which means minimizing expenses as much as possible. While we certainly aren’t telling you to cheap out on everything, be thoughtful about where you invest your marketing dollars. 

It might be better to spend more on the things that draw a crowd, like a nicer booth or high-quality promo items, while minimizing expenses like hotel and travel costs. 

Whatever you do, create a budget for every trade show you attend. If you set a budget and track all of your expenses as you go, it’ll be much easier to understand your investment—and how much revenue you generated for the money.

4. Know how you’ll manage data collection

You know you’ll want to talk to your audience after the event, but how? Have a plan for how you’ll manage lead capture and collect your data (and what type of data do you need; is a name and email address enough for you to take the next step after the show?). 

You could collect business cards, or use a business card scanner to manage your database digitally. An app that your staff can manage through a phone or tablet will keep the conversation flowing in your booth.

Also consider if you want to incorporate interactivity—like a game or a photo booth—that will help you collect data electronically. Be prepared with promotional prizes that your audience will line up to win.

5. Generate pre-show buzz

Use social media and your client outreach to generate a little excitement for your booth. Tease any cool promotional products you’ll be bringing or show off your games and style. 

Consider a contest on Instagram or TikTok that includes a prize for anyone at the show who repeats a “secret password,” or incentives to book consults at your booth ahead of the show! 

6. Staff your booth appropriately

Trade shows aren’t the time to assign the most introverted person in your office as the frontman of your booth. If you want to make the most out of your investment, you have to play to your team’s strengths. 

Who’s good at interacting with customers? Our money is on your sales or marketing folks, but people on your product or customer service teams are a good choice, too. 

Make sure you have at least two representatives at your booth. This way, someone is always available to chat with potential customers and keep an eye on things. 

In addition to picking extroverted and friendly folks, make sure to train your team. Train staff on how they should approach people, the best ways to gather contact information, and how to continue the conversation. The follow-up is critical to nurturing a lead into a paying customer, so get your staff crystal-clear on how that process should work. 

7. Nail your booth promotions

You’ve done the hard work of creating a booth and training your team. How do you get foot traffic to your trade show booth? 

This is where you can get creative! Nail your trade show marketing with: 

  • Signage: There’s a lot going on in the expo hall, so you need to make your booth stand out. Hang banners from the ceiling or set up a neon-colored canopy over your booth to turn more heads. 
  • Tech: Get your TV screens, tablets, A/V, and lighting set up. Oh, and don’t forget batteries and chargers for everything!
  • Promotional products: Never underestimate the power of promotional products. From sunglasses to soft T-shirts to the ever-popular fanny pack, attendees often go to the expo hall just to grab some swag. This is your chance to shine, and the right product partner can help you get creative!

Nobody wants to go to a booth that’s just one big sales pitch. Get attendees excited with cool features like prize wheels, contests, VR games, lounges, or charging stations to make bigger waves in the expo hall. 

Squeeze more ROI out of each trade show 

Right now, trade shows are happening both in-person and virtually. No matter how your team attends a trade show, it’s still important to see a return on your investment. Follow these tips to put your brand in front of more potential customers while making a big splash in the expo hall. 

Trade shows require a lot of planning, though, and it’s no surprise why brands only do them a handful of times a year! Boundless makes trade shows simpler—and even fun—for brands. See how we create more Brand Love moments with promotional items that fit your budget and marketing goals. 

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