The Four Pillars of Strategic Trade Show Participation (a.k.a. How to Rock a Trade Show)

Posted by Tom Hand on May 12, 2016 7:30:00 AM in Trade Show Success

Ret_BlogImage-06-Pillars.pngMarketing and sales teams are responsible for demonstrating positive and concrete return on investment (ROI) for trade show participation. This isn't news.

A lot goes into making a trade shows successful. Here are four strategic planning pillars to help you get the most out of your trade show participation, a.k.a. how to rock it.

Pillar #1: SMART Goal Setting

Not long ago, we posted How to Create Trade Show Goals That Guide Strategy & Execution. It discusses trade show goal setting and the corresponding tactics needed to reach those goals. We like to continue our goal-setting theme by suggesting your planning get SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.

The SMART goal setting process isn't new. It's usually employed during business planning and development. However, it's equally effective with trade show ROI planning. It helps your team set clear, concrete, attainable goals so that reaching your target ROI has a logical roadmap. "How to Set SMART Marketing Goals" is an outstanding tutorial on the SMART system. You can also use this downloadable SMART goal setting template to get started.

Pillar #2: Event and Attendee Analysis

Every trade show is different. It's important to asses each event's purpose and its attendees when deciding whether or not to participate and what your ROI will be. These factors are key to your overall event strategy.

For instance, a food industry event focused on the industry's technical aspects must be treated differently than an event catering to food industry executive management. The technical event requires your booth messaging, activities and collateral to speak to food scientists and other technical professionals. You'll need technical experts on hand to answer questions and address the scientific challenges. On the other hand, food industry executives need to be met by your executive leadership team. Your materials should speak to the industry's innovations, trends, and challenges.

Two very different strategies for two very different events and audiences. Using a generic plan for both would be ineffective and hugely damaging. Your ROI would be nil.

Pillar #3: Pre-Show, At-Show, Post-Show Planning and Execution

Planning and execution before, during and after the show must align with your SMART goals, the purpose of the event and the attendees. If the show is an event for a technical audience, white papers and technical presentations should be a large part of your pre-show promotion and at-show presence. It goes without saying that you also need a thoughtful follow-up effort post-show.

This is where the rubber hits the road, the proof is in the pudding and you walk the talk. Execute your plan! This is how you realize your projected ROI.

Pillar #4: Non-Booth Activities or Becoming a Trade Show Rock Star

So far we've been focusing on your booth and activities at the trade show itself. What non-booth actions can you use to up your trade show status? Speaking, networking and hosting opportunities can move your trade show results from good to spectacular. These activities boost your credibility and allow you to be approachable and personable.

Securing a speaking slot within the trade show conference program is a huge coup. It signals your expertise and demonstrates your company's thought-leadership status. It's a reliable lead generator.

Also, many shows feature formal networking and informal opportunities. These are designed to put you one-on-one with prospective clients. Go!

Finally, hosting or sponsoring cocktail parties or other social networking events can be quite powerful. First, it puts your company's name in the limelight. Second, it's a great way to demonstrate your company's personality, standards and ethics in a congenial atmosphere. Everyone remembers a great party.

Trade shows are big investments. Including the four pillars of strategic participation is simply good sense. Your ROI will benefit and, in the long run, so will your bottom line.

Have you used any of the four pillars? What were your results? Share your stories in the Comments section. We'd love to hear about your successes as well as answer any questions you may have about trade show planning. Contact us at 888-777-0223 or visit our website:

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