Trade Show Marketing: What to Do Before the Show

Sarah Leung
February 10, 2015

Though the stats vary by industry and individual show, Trade Show News Network reports that a whopping 81% of trade show attendees have buying authority. With the possibility of finding a new customer in 4 out of 5 people at a given show, the numbers seem to be on your side. One statistic you may not have heard, however, is the fact that roughly 70% of show attendees plan a list of brands/booths to visit before even setting foot on the trade show floor. By contrast, an average of only 10-15% of trade show exhibitors invest in pre-show marketing efforts, according to trade show and event marketing firm Exhibit Systems. From these numbers, it’s apparent that: 1) pre-show marketing has a serious impact on the ROI of your trade shows, 2) pre-show marketing is an area of weakness for many wholesale businesses, and 3) opportunities are lost as a result. Indeed, a study conducted by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research found that the conversion of booth visitors to qualified leads rose 50% when a pre-show promotion was used. It’s recommended to begin your trade show marketing efforts about two to three months in advance. If you want to make pre-show marketing a priority at your next trade show, whether it’s a matter of weeks or a year from now, here are some ways to beef up your pre-show strategy.

Trade Show Marketing Before the Show

1. Build your list of contacts for outreach:

The easiest way to start with this step is to include your customers, contacts, and known prospects. You want to not only let them know that you’re going to be at the show, but also market the show itself to entice them to attend if they weren’t already planning to. While it may be the trade show organizers’ job to get people to attend, it’s YOUR job to ensure you’ll have as many potential customers there as possible. You can also plan to contact the show’s registered attendees. If you’ve already reserved a booth for the show, you’ll probably be able to gain access to that list from the show’s management team.

2. Launch an email campaign:

Email campaigns are great because they’re cheap and easy to execute. You can also get a sense of how much engagement your email is getting by tracking open rates and click-through rates. You’ll want to do a series of emails, the frequency of which can be decided by you. It should include initial emails inviting your existing contacts and prospects to attend, while letting them know that you’ll be there. You’ll also want to send a reminder email right before the show to the registered attendees (who hopefully already received your direct mailing. More on that next).

3. Prepare a mailing:

Direct mail may be seen as a thing of the past, but it’s still an effective way to reach people about an upcoming event. Industry experts recommend postcards as one of the most effective direct mail assets, especially postcards printed in unique shapes and designs. The goal here is to make sure your company, products, and sales message are in people’s minds before the show even starts, so they can make a note to visit your booth. At the very least, they will already have heard of you and your products by the time they see your booth in person. The copywriting and imagery on the postcard, therefore, should be eye-catching memorable. This strategy is generally more effective for those who you already know will be attending the show (in addition, you can also do a mailing inviting people to attend the show several months in advance). Be sure to get an updated contact list from the show’s organizers. On your postcard, you should include:

  • The name and date of the show: they’ll already be attending, so they’re sure to be on the lookout for more information about the show.
  • Your booth number: tell them where they can find you at the show.
  • An eye-catching headline: the front of your card should prominently feature your main sales message--whether it’s about your product or brand.
  • Brief supporting information: include a few key benefits or features of your products/brand. Avoid filling the card with lots of text; we’re looking for brevity and clarity. You want to entice people, not overwhelm them.
  • Contact information (phone and email) and website URL: allow interested parties to find out more about your company before the show.

According to trade show expert Ruth Stevens, you want to “craft your direct mail copy to attract the qualified and repel the unqualified. An example of such a headline might be: ‘Attention, purchasing managers! Come find out how you can save time and money in your search for the best widgets.’” Beyond those essentials, you can also include a free offer on your card. Something like, “bring this card to Booth 70 for a free ______.” You can give away branded merchandise, product samples, or other extras. This is a great way to bring people to your booth and make sure they keep the postcard as a reminder. Stevens recommends targeting these offers only to those people you’ve designated as likely to become sales leads. In terms of timing, you’ll want to make sure you’re happy with the postcard’s design at least a month in advance of the show. it’s recommended that you then budget 1-2 weeks for printing, 1 week for labeling/addressing the postcards, and about 3-5 days in transit via first class mail. Time it so your mailing arrives approximately 10 days before the show. Any earlier, and they might forget about it. Any later, and they might not receive it in time, or be so mired in trade show preparation that they fail to notice it. Remember to follow up your mailing with a reminder email!

4. Consider more targeted marketing approaches for your biggest prospects and customers:

For the big fish you want to target more specifically, there are several pre-show marketing initiatives you can plan on:

  • Work with trade show managers to send out free trade show passes or discounted registration offers. This should be reserved for your biggest customers/leads.
  • Once you have the list of registered attendees, immediately go through the list to pick out high-potential visitors. Your sales reps can then begin reaching out via phone and/or email to set up appointments for the show. Try to schedule these meetings for times of low traffic during the show.
  • With anyone who’s scheduled an appointment, be sure to send them a confirmation email to remind them about the appointment. Use this opportunity to also remind them why it’ll be worth their time. Provide the sales rep’s contact information, so they’ll be able to get in touch in the event of a schedule change, etc.
  • Plan a special event at the show and invite high value prospects. Whether it’s a special cocktail hour or dinner, it may be worth it to set up an “event within the event” in order to create more opportunities for face-to-face meetings with potential customers. This can also help your reps begin building sales relationships with buyers off the trade show floor.

  In the frenzy of booth design & planning, travel arrangements, and logistics. pre-show marketing often gets lost. In order to be successful at your next trade show, however, you need to make driving qualified traffic to your booth a priority. Getting on your prospects’ agendas in advance can make a huge difference. Questions about pre-show marketing or trade show marketing in general? Let us know in the comments.   Sources: Exhibit Systems, “Ready, Set, Go: Pre-Show Marketing” Inc, “How to Boost Traffic at Your Trade Show Booth” Trade Show News Network, “16 Powerful Stats on the Value of Trade Shows” Ruth Stevens, “How to Triple the Effectiveness of Your Trade Show Marketing Program”