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Promoting at Trade Shows

By Rachele Lawton

Making the most of a trade show appearance can be crucial to the success of any marketing effort. In committing themselves to participating in a show, companies hope that afterwards, prospective buyers will go home, think about them and call up with a large order. Making sales is the vendor's ultimate goal and the reason for the trade show's invention.

But things don't happen automatically. Trade show participation should be approached like any other marketing project. Advance planning is crucial, including targeting prospective buyers. Although the appearance of the booth (if you're exhibiting) is important, it shouldn't outweigh considerations such as selecting the best people to staff it and having the appropriate materials on hand. Besides product samples, brochures and other handouts, it helps to use premiums and promotional products with your corporate logo, especially when the items are linked to your current promotional theme. Logoed products can also be used in a too-often neglected aspect of trade show marketing: follow-up.

Start Before The Show
To the typical attendee, a trade show often bears a strong resemblance to a flea market or circus. It can be overwhelming. Anything you can do to relieve the stress of decision-making will be appreciated. Before people go to a show, they've generally outlined an agenda. They know what they want to see and where they have to go. It's up to you to plan accordingly - and well ahead of time. Even letting people know your booth number and location can increase traffic.

How to get the word out? In addition to a mailing - almost essential - there are many Internet resources where you can register information about your firm and its products. If you want to entice attendees by offering logoed products, coupons, or other items at the show, you can make them available online.

By getting an early start in promoting your booth, you embed your company in the attendees' decision-making process. This can often be a full-time job, so many exhibitors turn to their counselors. Often, they can help with other marketing aspects of a show, or, at minimum, steer you in the right direction.

That said, remember that while it's fine to help people learn about your company, it's equally important to target them. You don't want a bunch of folks who really aren't interested in what you have to offer. To profit from a show, you need to reach your desired audience beforehand.

A good place to start is with the show registration list. You can buy materials about the show and send them out yourself, or have them mailed by the show for a fee. These people are committed to attending the show; why not give them a reason to stop by your booth? Offer them a gift by mail or promise one when they visit your display. Don't forget a special mailing to current clients. Reinforce the relationship you have and remind them of all you offer. Often, they'll provide an invaluable service by spreading the word to others not on your list. Above all, give everyone a reason to visit you.

Gift Power
Promotional items are an excellent way to build traffic and remind people of your firm after the show. They stimulate and channel customer interest. That's what Jennifer Childress, senior director of communications for Tommy Hilfiger, found out when she was getting ready for a major trade show. "Someone had handed me a tin of mints with their logo on it," she recalls. "I thought using the same thing would be a great icebreaker. … it was a really fun item." Childress contacted a counselor, who put together a personalized program for her.

And remember; the selection of products is vast: "There's nothing you've ever seen with a logo on it that we cannot source," says counselor Jeff Pinsky.

Trade show excitement is built partially by showgoers' anticipation of returning home with a worthwhile imprinted item. If you plan to offer a promotional product, you can publicize it online and in your premailing. Mailing a coupon for an item increases the chances of someone stopping at your booth to pick it up. Or send half a product; people have to show up at the booth to claim the other half.

Unsubtle Embellishment
Another possibility: Information about your company and its services can often be enhanced by a promotional product - for instance, a logoed bookmark tucked inside a book or info packet.

The objective of using promotional items is to convey the message that you value prospective business. The standard $1 to $5 per person spent on these items is well worth the investment. Choose a gift that communicates your firm's message. At one show, for example, Foodline.com gave out potholders. Popular basic items include pens, T-shirts, highlighters, tapes, bookmarks and CDs. Some visitors will express more interest than others. It might be a good idea to give them a more elaborate gift that lets them know you really want to do business with them.

Regardless of what product you're giving away, it should be branded with your company's logo, and never hand out promotional items indiscriminately. They should be used to create an impression, usually after a prospect has set up a sales appointment or watched a presentation. Those interested in what you have to offer will express a heightened interest in the products because of their high perceived value.

"It depends on what they're interested in," explains Pinsky. "The best, newest, coolest, and most unique items can certainly … bring people to your booth. And if your product is hard to understand, you can give away an item that bridges the gap."

Booth Marketing And Beyond
Logoed gifts, combined with a booth that's dressed for success, should make the experience pleasant and memorable for visitors. Trade show booths are six times more powerful than any other sales medium, says the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR). Marketing your booth is an important part of attracting potential clients' attention. Attendees cover a lot of ground at major shows and will likely size up your booth at first glance. Consistent use of your logo is important. Your image is at stake here, so enhance it as much as possible. Shapes, graphics, and colors contribute to the visual effect. Select your best people to staff the booth. It helps promote your desired image to prospects. An uniformed staff - perhaps wearing something with your logo on it - conveys an element of professionalism. And don't let staff just stand around the booth. They should be ready to greet people, introduce themselves and tell prospects what they want to know.

Depending on your products/services, use hands-on demonstrations to show your customers how things work. Collect business cards from those who show an interest. They'll aid the follow-up process. Some exhibitors also have a guest book for visitors.

Afterward, Follow Up
The worst thing you can do is ignore a lead. According to the CEIR, an amazing 80% of exhibitors don't follow up on leads. That's a huge waste of time and money. Following up booth leads is as important as pre-show mailings and booth marketing. While someone may have displayed an interest at the booth, it's easy for them to forget about it after they've gone home.

Sending a small gift with promotional materials contributes significantly to the follow-up process. A phone call or a reminder will tell you where they stand and can possibly seal a deal. Just letting people see you're there for them often will turn a prospect into a customer.

If you have information packages assembled (something else to do before the show), you can quickly send them out to prospects. This is often better than handing out bulky literature at the booth, because it re-introduces your firm after you're out of sight. Include a note letting the interested party know you're happy to provide them with the information they requested, and include a logoed gift if possible. If you set up a face-to-face meeting, take along a well-chosen follow-up gift.

No Limits
Something else to remember: If your company's product/service really doesn't lend itself to exhibiting at trade shows, that doesn't mean you can't be a part of the generated traffic. Your firm can always help sponsor all or part of the show, providing logoed products whenever appropriate - for instance, logoed portfolios if you sponsor educational seminars. Your counselor can help you develop a strategy no matter what side of the aisle - or convention center - you're on.

COPYRIGHT © 2002 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Rachele Lawton is a freelance writer specializing in incentive writing.

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