By Austin Rowlands

It might be tempting to think that once you have booked your exhibition space you can just relax until show day and the rest will take care of itself. But, of course, a business can’t expect to turn up at an exhibition show without having done any publicity to promote the event. As any business that has exhibited before can testify, your marketing campaign begins long before the day your show opens.

Why is pre-show marketing important? According to Trade Shows Network, over 70% of attendees arrive at an exhibition or trade show with a fixed list of the exhibition stands they intend to visit. If you don’t engage in an effective pre-exhibition marketing strategy you could well miss out on a lot of potential leads, because attendees won’t know you are there.

The exhibition show organizer’s job might be to get plenty of attendees to the event itself, but it is still your job to make sure you get the best prospective clients to visit your stand. If you just wait for them to walk by randomly, you could lose out on some major business opportunities.

Ideally, you should aim to start your exhibition marketing about four to five months in advance of your show. This is when you should begin to plan how you’re going to let your target audience know you’re exhibiting at the event and what the theme of your exhibition is going to be.

Here are the 7 pre-exhibition marketing steps to prepare for a successful show.

1. Define Your Goals  

Before you launch straight into your pre-exhibition show marketing, you need to define exactly what you want to achieve from your show.

By getting clear on your goals, you can use them to develop your pre-marketing and measure its level of success. First, decide on the purpose of your exhibition and work from there. Remember your exhibition objectives should reflect your business’s overall goals.

If your business needs to increase profits, then you’ll be aiming for a sales generation target. However, if your business needs to raise brand awareness then a more communication focused goal would be more suitable.  

A successful exhibition show is one that sticks to one main objective rather than trying to achieve multiple goals at once – doing this runs the risk of spreading out your efforts and failing in each area entirely.

Once you have defined your exhibiting objectives, make sure they are measurable so you can determine their success. If your show is all about sales, then it will be quite easy to assess this by the number of sales you make. But if your aim is brand awareness, then this can be measured by the amount of exhibition stand visitors you get, and how much literature you distribute. 

One final point about your exhibiting objective . . .  make them attainable. Yes, you want to be challenged, but don’t set yourself up for failure by setting goals that are not within your reach. Whatever you hope to gain from your exhibition show, make sure it is achievable.  

2. Find Your Hook

Before you even start promoting your event on social media or launching an email campaign, you need to work what your integrated sales message is. This will be the “hook” which you can use for your pre-show marketing and the exhibition itself.

Be creative with this. Professionals are bombarded by similar marketing campaigns all day long. Exhibition show attendees will hear the same thing over and over as they pass by exhibition stands: sales pitches about what the company does and the features of their products.

But also keep it simple. Far too often a business exhibiting will come up with a marketing message that tries to convey too many benefits of their products or services. The result of this is an overwhelming campaign that lacks focus.

Create a brief that focuses on the core elements of your exhibition. This will help you to clarify the message you want to tell. 

3. Check Out Your Rivals

Having a strong competitor presence at an exhibition show shouldn’t be seen as a negative. The pre-marketing efforts of your rivals will also attract more potential customers for you.

Ask the event organizers for a list of all the confirmed exhibitors. Pose as a customer and contact your competitors to find out about their exhibition, and what marketing techniques and images they are using.

What are they already doing to draw attention to their upcoming exhibition show? Are they using competitions as the focus of their marketing tactics? Or are they promoting exclusive demonstrations of their products or services at their exhibition stands?

See what your rivals are doing so you can learn from their marketing tactics. This will help you refine your strategy so you can differentiate yourself and stand out from the crowd.

It also highly important to build a good relationship with your exhibiting neighbors. Find out who will be standing next to you, and get information on their schedule and stand design. This will help you plan your marketing schedule – you don’t want to be holding a demonstration at the same time as the stand next to you. By looking at the exhibitor list and doing some research on your competition, your business will be in good stead to formulate an effective marketing campaign.

4. Create a Buzz on Social Media

Social media is an easy way to improve your exhibition presence, generate more leads and pre-schedule meetings. If people are following you, then they are interested in what your business is doing.

About 8 weeks before your show, create a hashtag campaign that is consistent with your integrated sales message, but make it is short and sweet.  Make sure you use the same hashtag on all the platforms you use. This way your followers can keep track of you, without having to work out a different hashtag for every network you use.

The chances are the exhibition show organizers will also have social media accounts. Start promoting your presence on their social media as well. If they have their own hashtags you should try and incorporate them into your marketing – this is one of the easiest and most effective ways to let potential attendees know you’re going to be exhibiting.

A good pre-exhibition social media strategy would be to post “behind the scenes” content leading up to the event. This is obviously good for publicizing the fact you’re going to be exhibiting but it’s also more personal. This way your customers and potential clients will feel like they are a part of your story, rather than being directly targeted for sales.

Even if the vast number of people who read your social media posts aren’t able to attend your exhibition, this is still an effective way to promote your services. By posting pre-exhibition content to your followers, you make everyone aware that your business is serious enough to have a presence at a major industry event.

Although sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are great for raising awareness of your event, the best social network for those in the B2B sector is Linkedin. Invite any Linkedin connections you would like to personally come to your stand or arrange a meeting with. Send off Linkedin messages to the right people and ask to connect with them at the event.

5. Launch an Email Campaign

If you have a mailing list, you have the means to contact hundreds or even thousands of people who have an interest in your business. Also, many exhibition show organizers will provide email lists of attendees to exhibitors – don’t be afraid to ask for this if you don’t receive this information.

Once you have your target audience list, take time to think about their motivations and buying habits. By knowing this, you will be in a better position to determine the best subject lines, calls-to-actions, and promotions to use when sending emails. Ideally, you should start your email campaign about 8 weeks before your show – so you build up momentum.

Once you know who you going to be emailing and what you’re going to say, you should put together an email calendar. You don’t want to just fire off random emails sporadically. An email marketing calendar will help you organize all the information you want your contacts to know, while making sure you don’t overwhelm them by messaging too often.

It is also a good idea to coordinate your email calendar with your social media campaign, so you’re not hitting your audience with too much content repetition. Don’t fall into the trap of annoying your target audience with an onslaught of relentless pushy emails. This will be counter-productive.

Leave sufficient time between emails – no more than one a week – and make sure the content is going to be either useful or interesting to your recipients.  Also, give them reasons to come and visit your exhibition – such as a new product launch or a competition event.

6. Let the Press Know  

While generating awareness of an exhibition show on social media is standard these days, it might be tempting to disregard using press releases or other forms of public relations. But neglecting media coverage would be a missed opportunity to generate free publicity that brings in more visitors to your exhibition stand.

Before the event, research the relevant publications and websites you want to contact about your event – this could be media outlets in your industry or local news websites. Make sure you have the contact details for the editor or content editors as these are the people who will determine what gets published.

Once you have your list of media contacts, you then need to create a press release to send out. Sounds easier said than done? If you’re a small business without PR staff to take care of the press release, don’t panic. You’re not expected to write Shakespeare. The ideal press release should be written in layman’s English and is actually quite short – around 500 words.

It should also be straight to the point, so don’t over-complicate matters by trying to cram in too much information. Simply follow the 5 Ws rule: who, what, where when and why. So, explain who you are, what you’re doing (exhibiting), where and when you’re doing it, and, most important of all . . . why.

That really is all you to include in a basic press release. However, if you can find an interesting story angle to throw in the mix (such as the product you’re launching is the first of its kind variety), then you will stand a much better chance of getting published in more places.

7. Create a Lead Follow-up Plan

Whatever your exhibition show objectives, generating leads will certainly be one of the most important. If you have a successful exhibition then you should have gained a high number of leads from the event. Great news – but this is only half of the story.

It is surprising how many businesses don’t have a lead follow-up plan for their exhibition show. The result is they leave it too late to contact their leads, and then wonder why they have lost most of them.

Don’t let this happen to you. Before your exhibition show takes place, take the time to plan in advance how you are going to make contact with your leads after the event. For important leads, a phone call soon after the event would be the best approach. For others, sending emails inviting them to stay in touch might be more appropriate.

Decide exactly what you are going to say to your different leads and how you are going to reach out to them. Allocate people who will be responsible for following up your leads – this way you can start the process soon after the exhibition has finished. Don’t leave it too late!

Ready For Exhibition Success

A strong pre-show marketing strategy will have a significant impact on the ROI of your exhibition show. A study by the Centre for Exhibition Industry Research found that the conversion of stand visitors to qualified leads rose when over 50% when pre-exhibition marketing was employed.

One important point to bear in mind when it comes to your pre-show publicity and the exhibition itself . . . remember to make sure the messages of your marketing are about your customers and why they should spend time visiting your stand. You’d be surprised at how many exhibitors fail to get a good ROI on their show because they forget this vital step.

Good luck with your upcoming exhibition!

Featured photo credit: Depositphotos