The Complete Guide to Trade Show Marketing

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Table of Contents

Trade shows have always been a powerful marketing tool. But as we head into 2024, the dynamics are shifting.

With the growing use of digital marketing technology, ever-evolving customer expectations, and a post-pandemic world, how can your business make the most of these events?

Whether you're a seasoned exhibitor or a first-timer, grab a coffee and prepare to learn everything you need to know to ensure your next trade show is a resounding success.

What's in this guide

This guide outlines the exact trade show marketing strategies we provide our managed clients. We'll reveal tips on preparation, share common marketing tactics, and teach you how to amplify your presence using trade show giveaways.

We'll take you through:

  • What trade show marketing is and its benefits
  • Effective planning, budgeting, and goal setting
  • Marketing strategies for before, during, and after the event
  • Selecting the best trade show giveaways
  • Metrics for measuring success
  • Trade show FAQs

What is Trade Show Marketing?

Trade show marketing or event marketing is the strategic approach businesses use to engage attendees, generate leads, and create an industry presence at trade shows. In an era where digital marketing often takes precedence, B2B trade show marketing offers a unique opportunity for face-to-face interaction, making it a valuable component of many companies' overall marketing strategy.

What are the Benefits of Trade Show Marketing?

You may question if trade shows are worth the investment. At first glance, it may appear to be a costly distraction that diverts attention away from core business operations for several days.

However, when done properly, trade show marketing can be an incredibly powerful tool for driving leads and boosting sales. Here are the advantages that make it worth your time and resources.

Lead Generation - Trade shows are excellent platforms for generating high-quality leads. Attendees are typically there because they are interested in your industry, which means they're more likely to be interested in your products or services.

Direct Sales Opportunities - Trade shows offer the opportunity for immediate business transactions. Customers can experience the product or service firsthand and make a purchase on the spot.

Brand Exposure - Participating in a trade show can significantly boost your brand visibility within your industry. It lets you showcase your brand personality and values to a large audience.

Competitor Analysis - They provide a unique chance to see what your competitors are doing right, and where there might be gaps in the market that your business can fill.

Networking - Trade shows offer the chance to meet industry leaders, potential partners, and clients. They are great places to create strategic partnerships and nurture budding relationships.

Customer Feedback - You get direct feedback from customers and prospects, which provides valuable insights into how your offerings are perceived in the market.

Trade Show Marketing Strategy and Tips

Your marketing strategy begins well before you set foot on the show floor. It’s important to plan ahead and make sure you have the right materials, strategies, and planning to meet your goals.  Here are some tips:

Choose the Right Event for Your Business

Choosing the right trade show to showcase your brand, product, or service can significantly impact your business success. The best event for your company is one that aligns with your objectives, reaches your target audience, fits within your budget, and has the potential to deliver a satisfactory return on investment (ROI).

Here are key considerations that should guide your decision:

  • Specific Objectives - Identify your overarching objectives for the event. Are you looking to launch a new product, expand your customer base, or perhaps establish partnerships? Your goals will help guide your choice.
  • Audience Type - Research the demographic of the attendees and evaluate whether the audience aligns with your target market to ensure you maximize the potential for quality leads.
  • Size of the Event - Larger events offer more exposure but may be more competitive. Smaller events could provide more targeted networking opportunities.
  • Competitor Presence - Evaluate the presence of your competitors. An exhibition that attracts many of your competitors isn't necessarily a bad thing; it could signify a valuable concentration of your target market. However, it's essential to have a strategy to differentiate your brand.
  • Location and Venue - Consider the geographical location, whether your booth will have optimal visibility in the event layout, the event's credibility, and its past success. Research past reviews from attendees and exhibitors for a better understanding.

Pro tip:

Be a trade show attendee first before exhibiting to get a better understanding of the event and if it will be a good fit for your business.

Set Clear Goals

Setting clear, measurable goals for your event is an essential step in your preparation. These goals can pertain to various aspects, such as the number of leads you aim to attract, the amount of sales you wish to generate, or the level of brand awareness you seek to create. Having defined objectives will guide your strategies and help you measure your effectiveness.

Your goals should be SMART - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. For example, instead of merely aiming to 'generate leads,' a SMART goal would be to ‘collect the contact details of at least 25 potential customers during the duration of the show.'

Create a Realistic Budget

Attending a trade show can result in a substantial ROI. However, expenses incur quickly without the proper plan. Think ahead by planning a realistic budget for common costs such as:

  • Entertainment
  • Personnel costs
  • Travel and shipping fees
  • Insurance and legal fees
  • Venue cost or booth rental space
  • Promotional products and marketing materials
  • Booth setup and accessories (carpet, electricity, Wi-Fi, booth decorations, etc.)

Your booth space typically accounts for 30-35% of your budget. You can expect your total investment to be about three times the cost of your exhibit. Prices differ for each event, but the average cost is about $150-$250 per square foot of floor space.

This means a 10’x10’ (100 square feet) booth space at $150 per square foot would cost 100 x $150 = $15,000.

Your budget should be this cost multiplied by three, or $15,000 x 3 = $45,000

This is just an average expectation for the total budget. Do your best to determine the exact costs of your particular event and budgetary needs.


Design a Captivating Display

Trade show displays are a critical aspect of your exhibit. It's your chance to attract visitors and make your booth the talk of the show. A successful display goes beyond looking good; it creates an immersive, memorable experience that communicates the value of your product/service to your target audience.

When designing your display, consider the following:

  • Brand Consistency - Your display should reflect your brand's identity and aesthetic. Use consistent colors, fonts, and messaging that align with your brand's overall look and feel.
  • Visibility - Your display should be visible from afar, drawing in attendees. Use eye-catching graphics, bold colors, and clear, large text.
  • Message Clarity - Avoid cluttering your display with too much information. Keep the message concise and easy to understand.
  • Quality Display - Opt for a high-quality display that can withstand travel, setup, and breakdown over time.
  • Ease of Setup - Your trade show display should be easy to transport and set up to avoid any last-minute hitches.


Prepare Your Team

The most overlooked part of trade show planning is preparing your team for the live event. Without ample preparation, even the most baked-out strategies will fail. Most companies forget to practice greeting people, don’t test-run their booth setup, and don’t enforce an appropriate dress code for the show.

Proper attire will vary depending on the industry, the type of show, and your brand. For instance, you would most likely wear a suit to a technology event compared to branded apparel at an industrial show.

Here are a few tips for preparing your team:

  • Update your sales collateral and provide your team with the new versions.
  • Create battle cards for your team so everyone knows how to communicate your value proposition and positioning statement.
  • Have your team practice their greetings and other key points in front of their managers.
  • Set up your booth, inspect the condition, and ensure the messaging aligns with your target audience.
  • Ask your employees to dress as they would during the show during the practice practice.

Last-minute trade show? You got this.

Use this checklist to create and execute an effective trade show plan in minimal time.

Before the Trade Show: 7 Pre-Event Marketing Strategies

The key to successful pre-show marketing is to start early, personalize your approach, and maintain consistent communication with your target audience. Here are some effective marketing tactics to implement before your event begins.

1. Involve Your Sales Team Early

When utilized correctly, your sales team can be an invaluable asset in pre-event marketing. They have a direct line to your customers and prospects and can leverage these relationships to promote your trade show presence. Encourage them to reach out to their contacts, share information about the event, and invite them to your booth at the show.

Pro tip:

Before your event, ask your sales reps to arrange in-person meetings with important prospects during the show. This ensures dedicated time to engage with these important contacts and increases the likelihood of productive conversations.

2. Leverage Social Media

Social media is a powerful tool for creating buzz around your participation. Use relevant event hashtags, post regular updates, and engage with your followers. Consider sharing sneak peeks of your booth or products to generate interest.

3. Optimize Your CRM and Build Lists

The event sponsor often provides a list of attendees that you can import into your customer relationship management (CRM) software in advance. Use a CRM like HubSpot to store this information and segment your contacts into categories such as industry, job title, persona, etc. Then, tailor your pre-show communication to each segment to increase effectiveness.

List building before the show will facilitate email marketing efforts and help you target the right people when it comes time to follow up after the event.

4. Utilize Email Marketing

Email marketing is a highly effective way to reach out to existing clients and potential attendees. Send personalized emails to your subscriber list, highlighting your participation at the event and what they can expect at your booth. You could also offer incentives like exclusive product previews or special offers to encourage visits to your booth.

5. Create Engaging Marketing Materials

Before the event, it's crucial to prepare professionally printed marketing materials that will draw attendees to your booth and provide them with valuable information about your brand, products, or services. Each piece should align with your brand identity and key messaging to ensure a consistent brand experience. The goal is not just to inform, but to engage and excite potential customers about what you have to offer.

Here are a few notable examples of effective trade show marketing materials:

  • Business cards
  • Brochures and catalogs
  • Banners and signage
  • Note pads
  • Postcards
  • Infographics
  • Case studies
  • Newsletters
  • Flyers and leaflets
  • Product spec sheets


6. Send Direct Mail

If there's room in your budget, send targeted direct mail to your clients and prospects, encouraging them to attend the show and visit your booth. This proactive outreach helps you reach your contacts through different channels. Consider sending gift redemption cards that recipients can bring to your booth in exchange for free trade show swag. This will create a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) that may persuade prospects to visit your booth.

Direct mail can be an effective tactic, but to ensure a positive ROI, it's important to ensure every recipient is qualified and likely to purchase or learn more about what you have to offer.

7. Start Guest Blogging

Guest blogging is an excellent way to reach new audiences before a trade show. By writing articles for industry-related blogs, you can share your expertise, promote your upcoming presence at the show, and direct readers back to your website or event landing page. It's essentially free advertising if the blog has a large audience.

Make sure your content is informative and engaging, providing real value to the blog's audience. Don't make your post a hard sell, but do include a call to action encouraging readers to visit your booth at the show.

During the Trade Show: 5 On-Site Marketing Strategies

Here are some effective marketing tactics to use during the event.

1. Hand Out Giveaways That will Create a Memorable Brand Experience

Offering unique trade show giveaways is a great way to draw people to your area, especially in a crowded event where attendees have numerous booths to choose from. High-quality trade show promotional items serve as conversation starters, providing an opportunity for your team to engage with visitors.

Company swag doesn’t need to be expensive to be effective. Expect to budget between $2-$8 per item. If you want to include special gifts, we recommend $10 or more per item. If you choose to hand out more expensive items, you might want to require attendees to fill out a form or provide a business card to receive the giveaway. This way, you can secure valuable contact information to facilitate follow-up communication after the event.

Here are a few tips to help you choose the best trade show giveaways:

  • Understand your audience
  • Make sure every item reflects your brand's personality and values
  • Clearly display your company name, logo, and contact information on the item
  • Choose practical promos that will be used regularly for long-term brand exposure
  • Never let budget considerations compromise the quality of the giveaways
  • Ensure the giveaway is lightweight and easy to carry around

Check out a few of our curated product collections to help you get started.

Need help finding the perfect trade show giveaways?

If you need guidance, speak to a GoDelta Brand Consultant. We’ll work closely with you to select and design the best items for your next event.

2. Make Your Trade Show Booth Interactive

The most popular booths are the ones that are interactive. The goal is to create an engaging experience that encourages attendees to spend more time at your booth and learn more about your products and services.

You can achieve this by having some type of entertainment or activity for people to take part in. This could be a fun game, refreshments, or contest. Whatever you choose for your booth, just be sure it isn’t sales-related or focused on you (this approach could deter attendees). Instead, think about your target audience and what they find interesting and enjoyable.

Here are a few ideas for transforming your booth into an interactive experience your visitors won’t soon forget.

Counting Contest - Ask visitors to guess how many items are in a container and have them write their guess on the back of their business cards. By announcing the winner at the end of the event, you ensure participants will return to your booth.

Photo Booth - Setting up a photo booth allows attendees to express themselves and receive a branded souvenir they’ll actually keep. Plus, it gives you user-generated content (UGC) to share on social media.

Product/Service Trivia - Games attract visitors, create buzz, and, when used effectively, educate visitors about your capabilities. Conduct trivia where you ask questions related to your products or services. If a participant answers correctly, they get to spin a prize wheel.

3. Post Live Social Media Updates

Throughout the trade show, there are plenty of opportunities to be active on social media. Follow and use the trade show’s hashtag and create one of your own. Let people know where you are, what you’re doing, and what you’re giving away.

Here are a few trade show social media engagement ideas:

  • Share photos of your booth
  • Announce a new raffle
  • Tweet at the speakers you saw and congratulate them on a great talk
  • Mention people or companies you’ve just met and something you learned from them
  • Share posts created by the organization running the event, influencers, speakers, and other participants

4. Set Up a Geofence

Geofencing involves setting up a virtual boundary around a specific location – in this case, the show venue – and sending targeted messages to people within this area. This can be a highly effective way to attract attendees to your booth. For example, you could send a push notification inviting them to visit your booth for a special demonstration or to pick up a free giveaway. Just remember to provide value in your messages to increase the chances of a positive response.

5. Use Lead Capture Technology

Trade shows are all about generating leads. Use lead capture technology like a business card scanner to make this process much more efficient. A business card scanner is an app that examines business cards and converts them as contact records into your CRM. The app ensures contact information is entered accurately and quickly. By streamlining the lead capture process, you can ensure that no potential leads slip through the cracks and that your follow-up efforts are as effective as possible.

After the Trade Show: 3 Post-Event Marketing Strategies

Here are some effective marketing tactics to implement after the trade show concludes.

1. Enter and Segment Your Leads

After the show, enter your newly acquired leads into your CRM system. This ensures that all contact information and relevant notes about interactions during the event are stored and organized in one place. By doing this, you can easily segment these leads based on various parameters such as their interest level, product preference, or potential deal size. This makes it easier to tailor your follow-up communication and increases the chances of conversion.

2. Conduct Lead Follow Up

Reach out to the leads you've captured as soon as possible while your brand and interaction are still fresh in their minds. This could be a personalized email, a phone call, or a proposal based on the discussions you had at the event. The key is to make them feel valued and keep the conversation going, thereby gradually nudging them towards a purchase decision.

If you decide to send personalized emails, make sure to direct them to educational resources and articulate how your solutions can soothe their pain points. Here’s a post-show email template you can use for lead follow-up:


3. Nurture Leads with Content Marketing

Content marketing is an effective way to nurture leads after the trade show. Share relevant blogs, case studies, or whitepapers with your leads to provide them with valuable information and keep them engaged with your brand. This helps position your company as a thought leader in the industry and keeps your leads warm until they are ready to make a purchase decision.

Key Metrics to Measure Trade Show Effectiveness

Evaluating trade show effectiveness is crucial for quantifying its impact on your business, justifying the investment, and refining future strategies. Measuring your success involves tracking a variety of metrics to understand your ROI and the impact of your participation. By tracking these metrics, you’ll gain a holistic view of your performance and be able to make data-driven decisions for future events.

Here are some key metrics to consider:

  • Lead Generation - Track the number of qualified leads generated from the event.
  • Cost Per Lead - Divide the total cost of participating in the trade show (including booth cost, travel expenses, promotional materials, etc.) by the number of leads generated to find out your cost per lead.
  • Sales Conversion - Track how many leads convert into actual sales. This will help you understand the direct ROI from the event.
  • Booth Traffic - Monitor the number of visitors to your booth. High traffic suggests effective attraction strategies, while low traffic may indicate that your booth or giveaways aren't enticing enough.
  • Social Media Engagement - Monitor increases in social media followers, likes, shares, or mentions before, during, and after the trade show. This can indicate the level of interest and engagement from attendees.
  • Brand Awareness - Surveys or polls can help gauge brand recognition and recall among attendees before and after the trade show.
  • Customer Interaction - The number of product demos given or inquiries received can reflect the level of interest in your offerings.

Make Your Next Trade Show a Success

Participation in trade shows can yield substantial rewards for your business if strategized and executed properly. A robust marketing strategy that includes pre-event outreach, active engagement during the event, and diligent follow-up post-event are the building blocks of success.

We hope these tips help, and if you’re looking for more hands-on support, get in touch with a GoDelta Brand Consultant. Our team will help you develop and execute a trade show marketing strategy tailored for your next event.

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