When you exhibit at a trade show, you put out a lot of time, effort and money, so it’s important to maximize that investment.

Regardless of whether you have a generous trade show budget or a lean one, guerrilla marketing is a terrific way to extend your reach, be top of mind and create attention that lasts long after the show. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does have to be clever, creative and memorable.

Getting Started – Research & Planning

To start your exploration, search magazines like Entrepreneur, Inc., Forbes and Exhibit Magazine. They’ll have strategies or guidelines to go by, and sometimes lists of wacky tactics or good examples of ideas that worked for other brands.

Engage your team in an afternoon of off-the-wall brainstorming. Brainstorm a theme that is visually memorable and can extend easily through emails, tweets, press releases and other pre-event tactics.  Look to turn things on their heads. Going to a show in Minneapolis in January? Why not present a luau or surfer theme?  Your guerrilla strategy should reflect your messages and surprise and delight your audience. Look to be smart, non-offensive, witty, but safe. This goes without saying, but you should always check with show management so you don’t fall afoul of the rules.

Guerrilla marketing at trade shows can be a surprise event or activity or promotion, or can be built over time. It certainly helps to be cognizant of your timing—competing with a keynote speaker isn’t going to get you much attention. That said, you can build a mystery or game for your audience, and create buzz before the event if you choose to.

Think of what would surprise you and make you feel that you’d exchanged a bit of your time for something worthwhile. Get people to laugh or smile and engage with you.

22 Guerrilla Marketing Ideas for Trade Shows

Pre-Show

1. Use humor. Do something that surprises people and breaks expectations. Pique people’s curiosities by giving them hints, but not the answer to what is coming.

2. Take a postcard page like one of these from Despair.com and put a funny twist on the old ‘stop by and see us’ message.

3. Hand out half of something small or a key. What does the key open? What does the other half offer?

4. Do a mock newspaper page with fun stories relevant to the show, including one highlighting you.

5. Put your social media channels to work building your story and engaging your audience. For more info on using Twitter specifically, click here.

At the Show

6. Make sure your company’s swag (shirts, hats, buttons, etc.) is cool, and hand it out.  Tip cab and shuttle bus drivers, bellhops, and bartenders to wear them.  Offer them an instant prize if one of your staff sees them wearing it.

7. Host a wireless charging station at your booth—and give them a fun activity to do while they wait.

8. Hold a contest or raffle – something simple, fast, and compelling.

9. Incentivize people to tweet something about your booth, preferably including photos.

10. Have people roam the floor with Etch-a-Sketches with drawings of your logo and/or products. Pass out etch-a-sketch postcards to come by the booth.  Give Etch-a-Sketches away every hour.

11. Hand out branded gum or mints that buck the status quo message. Leave them with a good taste in their mouth.

12. Build mini Lego items that resemble one of your products and hand them out at the booth or on the trade show floor.

Outside Conference/Onsite Promo

13. Tip out bar tenders to use your witty private coasters at restaurants and bars near the convention center. Number them and encourage people to stop by the booth to see if they won something.

14. Find out if pedicab companies are available and do a graphic wrap. Give the riders your branded T-shirt to advertise you around town. Have them hand out a gift or collateral to riders. Here’s a video of how Levi’s engendered goodwill during Giants appreciation week in San Francisco.

15. Hire a gospel choir to sing your praises.

16. Have a flash mob or impromptu dancers or a band.

17. Hire a hot dog vendor to give out food for free-with your custom paper holder. Works for popcorn or tacos too.

18. Get a celebrity impersonator or character outside the event. Who wouldn’t want to be near Austin Powers?

19. Have signage nearby, including on transportation and people on the sidewalk.

20. Have a street musician touting your message in witty songs.

21. Put up an interactive slide show broadcast on a building near the convention center.

22. Have a chalk artist make art on the sidewalk for you.

After the Fact – Evaluate Your Success

Start with a post-show debrief. Figure out what worked well and what could be improved.

When you measure the success of your guerrilla marketing efforts, look beyond immediate sales and leads and see how your social media engagement has changed. If you’ve got people’s interest, you’re on your way.  For some specific metrics, you should look at how many Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn followers you gained from the show, how many tweets you sent with the official hashtag, and how many social conversations you engaged in related to the show.

Make sure to take advantage of any momentum and follow up! If you used social media channels to engage and attract feedback, make sure you continue the conversation. Tweet photos, use Pinterest and Facebook and give people the validation that their effort was worth their time. Then, think about what guerilla tactic you’ll use at the next show.

If you’d had luck with any of the marketing suggestions we’ve listed here, or have some of your own guerrilla marketing tactics to share, we’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below. Best of luck during trade show season!