The Manufacturer’s Guide to Trade Shows

As a manufacturer, you have a lot to consider when it comes to picking a trade show that’s right for your organization. Will the time and effort (not to mention costs) of exhibiting pay off in the form of new leads or customers? Who should you promote your appearance to and how can you ensure your booth stands out from your competitors?

Look no further. This guide will talk you through this process and help you promote and create an exhibit that funnels new leads into your business. Read on to learn more!

Why Trade Shows?

Historically, the primary purpose of manufacturing trade shows was to source suppliers. Today, with the internet making ordering easy, this need has greatly diminished. With that being said, this doesn’t mean exhibiting at a trade show is an obsolete marketing tactic for your business. If a show meets your organization’s specific marketing goals, then you can enjoy the many benefits of exhibiting, including the opportunities to:

  • Demo products in front of your target audience
  • Hold instant one-on-ones with desirable distributors
  • Meet industry partners beneficial to your business

This guide will help you assess and take advantage of a trade show. In the following pages, we’ll help you figure out which event is right for your organization, walk you through all the steps you need to take to promote your appearance, discuss the collateral you need to develop for the show and finally share tips for following up with attendees.

Where to Find Trade Show Opportunities

So, how do you find information on trade shows that might be a good fit for your organization? There are a few places you should begin your search. These include:

  • Industry publications
  • Industry associations and other membership organizations
  • Local convention center schedules

You can also rely on your immediate network, asking your customers, suppliers, distributors and partners what shows they attend and which are worth exhibiting at. Feedback like this is invaluable and will help you choose the right trade show.

How to Decide Which Event is Right for You (Questionnaire)

After taking stock of your trade show options and making a list of potential candidates, the next crucial step is to determine which of these trade shows is worth your time and money.

To help you accomplish this, we’ve designed a questionnaire (link below) quantifies exactly what you’ll be getting back in return for exhibiting.

As you move through this questionnaire, assign a value to each of the five top-level questions using a 1-5 point system, with 1 = definitive no and 5 = definitive yes.

Building a Marketing Campaign

Once you’ve determined that a trade show is a good fit, the next step is to get out there and promote your upcoming exhibition.

Depending on the show you’re appearing at, the organizers may give you access to a list of attendees you can communicate with. You can reach the people on this list by sending emails leading up to the show, advertising giveaways at your booth or promoting after-show events you’ll be hosting.

If your show doesn’t provide you with an email list, you should still promote your appearance to your internal list and prospects who may be interested in the event.

To build a successful marketing campaign, you’ll need to begin by answering a couple questions:

  • Do you want to host an event after the show for prospects?
  • Will you be giving away a product or subscription at your booth via a raffle?

These opportunities allow you to add a unique experience for your prospects and, in the case of an after-show event, spend more time with them without having competitors — mere feet from you — fighting for their attention.

Again, you need to weigh the costs with the benefits — especially when it comes to hosting an after-hours event. Your attendees will expect things like free food and drinks, all of which adds up quickly.

Or Go Find Them

You might also find success meeting up with potential connections at restaurants and bars without having to host an entire event. If you’re a new exhibitor with little name recognition, you may struggle to easily draw attendees to your event. Attending an event here will probably be less expensive, while still presenting you with a great opportunity to meet people.

Rely on Experts

You may need to work with your printer, ad vendor or your designer to determine specs for your projects, in addition to relying on their expertise for what collateral tends to perform best. Do this all before you get started so you don’t have to rush to find this information down the road when you’re in a time crunch.

Creating a Landing Page

If you’re hosting an after-hours event, building your own landing page to keep track of registrations is a must. This will allow you to get their contact information and add them to a workflow that sends nurturing emails, keeping your business top of mind.

Even if you’re only exhibiting, you should still build a landing page for use at the trade show. With this, you can keep track of any interesting prospects by encouraging them  to fill it out on computers or tablets at your booth. Then, you can follow up with them — either personally or with a nurturing workflow — once the show has concluded (click here for more information on workflows).

Your landing page should include:

  • Easy-to-find event details. Don’t make visitors dig to find the who, what, why, when, where and how much. Include any pertinent information for things like parking, booth location and logistics at the trade show location and/or your stand- alone event.
  • A clear value proposition. Communicate the primary benefits of meeting you at the show — what will they get out of coming to see you? As a secondary value, mention any giveaways or raffles you’ll be holding.
  • A strong call to action and sign-up form. Make the call to action and corresponding sign-up form prominent, clear and concise. What do you want the visitor to do and why should they do it?
  • Good design. Studies have shown that design has the power to create strong impressions and improve conversion rates. Don’t overlook this step.

Write About It!

Once your landing page has been developed and launched, write a blog post to promote it. Don’t make this just a regurgitation of your landing page, though. Instead, add a more personal touch as you explain why your audience should sign up to attend.

Badge Scanners

Some trade shows feature scannable QR codes on badges which allow exhibitors to quickly obtain information on attendees. These can be used in place of a standard landing pages at your event.

Email Marketing

After your landing page has been built, the next step is to develop an email marketing campaign to let people know about your upcoming trade show appearance. Before you start blasting your list, determine how frequently you’ll be emailing. As a general rule, you shouldn’t contact anyone more than twice before the trade show. This goes for promoting an after-hours event and if you’re just exhibiting at a trade show.

The emails you send will fall under one of two categories:

  • Promoting your event. If you’re holding an after-hours event, you’ll want to let both your internal list and (if available) the trade show attendee list know how they can register to attend. Along with containing information about your event and a CTA to your landing page, you should also list where your booth will be located at the show — along with any demos or giveaways.
  • “Where to find you” emails. These can be sent as “We can’t wait to see you!” messages to the trade show’s list (especially if you’re offering any giveaways) as well as your internal list, encouraging them to stop by and check you out. For your internal list, you’ll want to send a slightly different email that also includes a link to the trade show’s website so they can register.

Think of these emails as a companion piece to your landing page — your email design, copy and offer should all be in sync.

Your emails should include:

  • Brief body copy detailing why readers should attend
  • Information on your booth number/location
  • Imagery (a logo or image from past shows)
  • Bulleted list breaking down what attendees will get out of stopping by your booth (offers, product demos)
  • Information on an after-hours event and a CTA to RSVP on the landing page of the event (if you’re hosting one)

Setting Up a Workflow

Once you have your initial emails built out, you should set up a workflow to stay in contact with those who sign up for your after-hours event or fill out your landing page at the trade show.

Workflows are a great way to stay in contact with members of your list. A workflow can send prewritten, automated emails to people who registered on your landing page. Marketing automation software like HubSpot offers easy-to-use, intuitive workflow building options.

Generally, these workflows should proceed with the following cadence:

  • Thank you email. The first message you send should be simple, thanking the contact for entering their information. If this email is sent in response to a person registering for an event, this email can also include an option for your contact to add it to their calendar. These should be sent immediately after registration.
  • Reminder email (event only). Set up your workflow to send an event reminder a day before the event. Keep this email brief and to the point — this is more of a convenience move than anything else.
  • Follow-up email. Have an automated email go out two weeks after the show ends. This should thank your contact for meeting with you, letting them know they can contact you and potentially linking to a free download. If you hosted an event, send a follow-up a day or two later.
  • Final email. This last message should include a more personal appeal, asking contacts if they’d like to schedule a time to talk or further demo your products.

Segmenting Lists

It’s important to note that your workflow should have rules built in which remove contacts from your landing page lists if they fulfill certain actions. For instance, if a contact responds to an early email in the process, they should then be removed from this workflow so they do not receive repeating messages.

Social Promotion

Social media is another great way to promote your appearance via paid ads to a list of attendees — if made available by your trade show. This will give your organization another avenue to get in front of attendees other than email, encouraging them to stop by your booth and learn more about your products.

Which social media platform should you advertise on, though? Facebook is by far the most used social media network in the world, and their dynamic ad options allow you to match directly with your target audience by uploading your attendee list. Using this function, you can create ads that appear similar to standard social media posts — only with grey “sponsored” text in the corner of the post — that appear only on your target audiences’ profiles.

Example of a sponsored ad on desktop.
Example of the same sponsored ad on mobile.

Organic Posts

If your trade show does not make available attendee lists, you should still use unpaid, organic social to promote your upcoming appearance. Link to a blog you wrote announcing your exhibit, promote your landing page or just share the events hashtag with a simple message. These posts will potentially catch the eye of attendees who already follow your organization, while also letting your other followers know you are active in the industry.

Digital Signage

Digital screens, monitors and even virtual reality have become staples of trade show exhibits. Although at least some of these displays are likely already a key part of your exhibiting strategy, we recommend getting creative with your usage of them to stand out. Here’s one example of how we helped a client do just that:

  • The image on this page is of a booth we designed for an IT services client who wanted to stand out at an architectural trade show. Rather than face off against their competing exhibitors’ ultra-modern booths and technology, they differentiated themselves by modeling their booth off mid-century modern design trends.
  • This included playing a company video we made for them using free stock footage from that era. This video was shown on a loop within a hollowed out old television set, complementing their theme.
  • This unique usage of digital screens allowed our client to draw more attention to their booth and easily start conversations.
  • This is a great example for how you can use electronic screens to creatively draw in attendees, then rely on one-on-one conversations and any printed materials or digital workflows to drive home your essential points in more detail.

If you’re interested in more advanced technology, then there are plenty of companies which can develop a virtual reality experience for your attendees (and rent you the required equipment). This can be a unique way to place an attendee in your facility, showing what makes your products top of the line, or simulating what it’s like to use your product outside of the trade show floor.

For more information on traditional signage, click here.

Tips for a Great Show

You’ve chosen a show that aligns with your goals, built a marketing campaign and created all your print and display materials — now it’s time to exhibit and connect with attendees.

Be conversational. Put yourself in the attendees’ shoes and look around at the overwhelming number of exhibitors before you. If you’re too pushy or salesy, you run the risk of driving them to a more comfortable booth.

Have products on hand — demos are great if possible! Why talk when you can show? Letting someone hold and test out your product is a huge benefit of trade shows.

Prepare for objections. Consider the common objections you hear during the sales process, and see what you can do to prepare for them at the trade show. Again, don’t be too salesy, but have a strategy in place to address negative feedback.

Avoid bad behaviors. Don’t just scan name tags, searching for the best title or company to talk to. Don’t just sit behind a desk, just hoping attendees will stop by. When you do speak with an attendee, don’t drone on and on. Look people in the eye, stand up and greet attendees as they walk by and be conscious of others’ time. For more behaviors to stay clear of, click here.

Follow Up!

Remember that automated workflow email we previously discussed? Once the show has concluded, have this workflow send automated thank you emails to everyone you spoke to at the show.

Just don’t email them too much or too frequently after the event — people will need time to recover from the trade show and don’t want to be bombarded. Send a thank you confirmation email as soon as they submit their info on your landing page and then one email a week to a few weeks later with more information — a content offer or download would be a great fit here!

Follow up more directly with people who expressed interest in your company or products at the show.

Need Help?

Marketing and building out your trade show appearance can be a strenuous process — as you’ve seen here. If reading through this already has you feeling overwhelmed, Simple Machines Marketing is here to help.

We’ve assisted many companies in manufacturing and other industries promote and execute trade show appearances that led to real results for their organization. If you’re interested in learning more about what we can do for your organization, contact us today.