Exhibitions are a powerful marketing tool. They provide the opportunity for face-to-face meetings with customers. Trade fairs and consumer shows allow you to provide hands-on demonstrations of your products. Visitors actively want to find out about your products and services, so they are extremely receptive.
Done well, the return on investment that exhibitions deliver can be higher than any other form of marketing. According to the Association of Exhibition Organisers (AEO), 91 per cent of buyers go to trade events to buy goods. What's more, 29 per cent of buyers only buy at trade events.
Choosing the right exhibition is about people. You must establish who you are trying the reach before you can decide which event matches your requirements. Every event organiser has information about exhibition attendance figures and visitor profiles. The AEO has developed its own code of conduct on exhibition data to ensure that statistics are accurate and transparent. Don't be seduced by huge numbers, though - quality is more important than quantity.
At the same time, you need to know about the companies that are exhibiting in order to find the right event for your business. It is worth asking the organiser what types of exhibitors are attending and how many have made a firm booking. A good indicator is the number of repeat bookings. The presence of your competitors is no bad thing - their promotional activity will bring more prospective clients through the doors.
The biggest exhibitions are not necessarily the best. For example, small firms can get lost in a giant trade fair, while a more targeted event could bring in far more business. That said, any firm can make a big impact at a show with the right marketing strategy.
Conferences and seminars that run alongside an exhibition attract visitors. You can make an impact by offering your services on a panel discussion or by sponsoring an event. At some events, the speeches are the main focus and the exhibition is less well-attended.
When it comes to booking exhibition space, the best spots are near the entrance and at the corners. The perimeters of the exhibition hall are also better than the inner aisles. It can be effective to position yourself close to one of the show's major players. However, while position can help, it's what you do with the space that counts.
Every well-run exhibition offers opportunities to maximise your PR and marketing. You can often send a promotional mailing to the trade fair's list of pre-registered visitors. Contact relevant magazines well before the event to ensure that your business is featured in the pre-show editorial coverage. Invite journalists to your stand and put copies of press releases and company literature in the exhibition press office. You can also sponsor events, advertise in the exhibition guides, sponsor free hand-outs or bags or advertise in places where delegates congregate, from transfer buses to cafes.
There are four main types of exhibition stand design and new systems are being launched all the time. Transportation should be factored into your choice of stand. Pop-ups, based on flags and banners, can fit in the back of a car. Shell schemes provide display panels with the company name across the top. Modular stands are re-usable kits that can be assembled in different ways. Custom-build stands are the most costly. They can be one-offs or they can be designed for re-use to keep costs down. When commissioning a contractor to build your stand, check for trade association bonds. These act as security that your contract is fulfilled in case the original contractor goes bust.
Exhibition halls are full of visual clutter. However, you don't have to spend a fortune to make an impact. Make your exhibition stand as open as possible and create an atmosphere that is welcoming and not intimidating. Avoid barriers such as steps and desks. Keep the flooring the same as the aisles so visitors can move into your space easily. You can even use your flooring for advertising.
An effective stand design should have a focal point that will draw attention and add a wow factor. It will help to attract visitors and ensure they remember you.
Exhibition stand personnel should be properly trained to ask the right questions and to help visitors with their enquiries. They must make a good impression at all times. If they look bored, are chatting amongst themselves or busy eating, no-one will approach them.
Some exhibitors use incentives or promotional gifts to attract visitors to their stand. These can be effective, especially if they are pertinent to your business, such as offering samples of your products. Sometimes, however, freebies can attract time-wasters. When you give things out, make sure you collect the visitor's data at the same time.
Exhibitions deliver excellent sales leads and yet 75 per cent of leads don't get followed up. You will have collected your own list of prospects from the visitors that came to your stand. You may also have visitor contact details from the show organiser. This information is marketing gold-dust. It is bang up to date, as it is a snapshot of your sector on that day. It is vital that you follow up all of these leads.
Many exhibitors use high-tech devices, such as light pens, to scan visitors' badges in order to capture their contact details. In fact, a pen and clipboard approach is friendlier and more effective, allowing you to ask more in-depth questions. You can establish whether the person in front of you has buying authority and find out what their needs and timescales are.
After the show, the work really begins. Hot leads can go stale quickly. It's worth sending a simple email saying thanks for visiting and offering your services. You must honour any commitments you've made by sending information or quotes to anyone who requested them. Most importantly, make a list of the hottest prospects, rate your leads and get in touch.
Always have a debriefing session with your staff after the exhibition to assess what has worked and what hasn't and produce an exhibition report. If, after a few months, your hot prospects have turned into new business, you will be able to book your exhibition space for next year with confidence.
Check out the Marketing Donut small business events calendar for details of the best upcoming UK small business events.
Find more articles, videos and tools in the Resources box on the right.