Maximizing Your Investment as an Exhibitor

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National Association of Convenience Stores trade show floor

It’s a Thursday evening and you’re flying home from that large industry event in Las Vegas where your company was an exhibitor on the show floor. As you settle back into your seat and think back on the past few days, will you consider the event a successful experience for you and your company? Did you meet or exceed the goals you created for the event?

To help make sure the answer to both of those questions is “Yes!”, here are four “keys to success” to consider in your planning process. These best practices were developed and honed during my years at Coca-Cola as part of my team’s responsibility for managing the company’s presence, messaging, and exhibit strategies and execution for over 150 industry and customer events annually.

    #1 – Develop a clear core message

Regardless of the size of your exhibit and your investment, everything begins and ends with creating a compelling presence on the show floor. As you work with your internal team, including marketing, product, sales, and management, everyone will have ideas on what your company should be talking about at the upcoming industry event/trade show.

The key is to put yourself in the shoes of the attendee; they are going to be bombarded with messages on the show floor, so how will you stand out? Attendees are coming to this event seeking insights and solutions that are going to positively impact their business. With that in mind, what is the core message for your exhibit? What is the one key message or idea you would like attendees to take away after visiting? That should be the highlight of your exhibit.

One of the greatest challenges in developing messaging for an exhibit is embracing the idea of “less is more”. But if you think about your display as a “living PowerPoint”, and you are walking an attendee through your exhibit, consider the story you want to tell and what that lasting headline, or message, will be after he/she departs.

    #2 – Have a plan to effectively engage attendees

You’ve developed clear messaging for your exhibit and production of your booth elements and collateral materials are underway. Now, what about the attendees you are hoping to spend some time with at the event?

Similar to the investment of time in creating your core messages for the event, take some time with your sales and marketing teams to evaluate your business plans and identify those attendees where there are opportunities to engage. Are they still considering a marketing program or campaign proposal you’ve delivered? Do you have new product information or strategic initiatives they need to hear about? Putting together a list of target attendees to meet with will help you and your team focus your time and attention and not be distracted by the multitude of things that can and always occur during a large industry event or conference with thousands of attendees.

One opportunity that many exhibitors miss is to suggest to an attendee that they attend an education session together. One of the key reasons business people attend industry events and trade shows is to learn about the latest insights in their industry and opportunities to grow their business. You know what your customer’s hot buttons are, so spend some time studying the education session schedule and invite your key contacts to attend a session with you, or ask if you may attend a session with them. By doing so, you’ll get to spend an hour with your customer, you will learn together, and you will have the opportunity to discuss opportunities in real-time after the session ends! Attending education sessions can be an extremely productive way to spend quality time with your customers.

    #3 – Connect with your target attendees through pre-event messaging

Your customers and prospects are beginning to make their plans for the event, and they have their own priorities for who they want to see and what they want to learn during their time on-site. Time will be at a premium for everyone, so once you have your target list you will want to put together a thoughtful communication about a week before the event that clearly expresses why you want to meet and why it would be of value to the attendee to get together.

This communication is also an opportunity to promote the key messages you’ve created for your exhibit and generate interest by referencing a new product or initiative you’re preparing to launch at the trade show.

It is also a good idea to evaluate the marketing opportunities being offered by the organization/ association producing the event as part of your overall communications plan for your company’s success at the event.

    #4 – Invest the time to have a well-trained exhibit staff

The last key to success is all about that moment of truth – an attendee walks up to your exhibit. How is he/she going to be greeted? What sort of questions will they be asked? Will your team keep attendees engaged and have the knowledge and information to answer the questions they may be asked?

All the time and investment of resources into your plan to exhibit at an industry event/trade show can be compromised if you have not held a briefing with your team attending the show. Just as actors need to rehearse before the performance, schedule a briefing session will all team members that are scheduled to work in your booth during the show. You’ll want to equip them with an overview of your key messaging, information on any new products or initiatives that you will be showcasing, and tips on how to engage attendees in a conversation so they stay in your exhibit those extra few minutes.

Just as importantly, and especially for those of you who are bringing multiple team members to a large event, make it clear that if a staff member is not scheduled to be working in the booth, then he/she should NOT be in your exhibit. Attendees really deserve to have your undivided attention, so you don’t want your team members chatting with each other in your booth or checking their messages on their smartphone. Make sure you are rotating your exhibit staff so everyone has breaks and the opportunity to get off their feet for a bit, so your team is fresh, energized and ready to engage with attendees!

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