Exhibitions are a powerful marketing tool. They provide the opportunity to provide hands-on, face-to-face demonstrations of your products to potential buyers, ask for feedback and get valuable insights into customer reactions.
Visitors actively want to find out about your products and services, so they are generally extremely receptive. According to the Association of Exhibition Organisers (AEO), 91% of buyers go to trade events with the intention of buying goods. What's more, 29% of buyers only buy at trade events.
Done well, the return on investment that exhibitions deliver can be higher than any other form of marketing.
Choosing the right business exhibition
Choosing the right exhibition is about people. You must establish who you're trying to reach before you can decide which event is best for your business. Every event organiser has information about exhibition attendance figures and visitor profiles. Don't be seduced by huge numbers, though - quality is more important than quantity.
The presence of your competitors is no bad thing - their promotional activity will bring more prospective clients through the doors. You need to know about the other companies that are exhibiting. 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 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.
Getting ready to exhibit
Getting the best from your exhibition experience mean being well prepared. 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 pre-event promotion. You can often send a promotional mailing to the trade fair's list of pre-registered visitors. Contact relevant publications well before the event to ensure that your business is featured in their pre-show 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, such as transfer buses or nearby cafes.
Creating a great business exhibition stand
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 can be designed for re-use to keep costs down.
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.
Capturing visitor data at exhibitions
Exhibition stand personnel should be properly trained to ask the right questions and to help visitors with their enquiries, and to make sure they capture contact details so that enquiries can be followed up after the show. 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 genuinely useful to your target market, such as 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. Many exhibitors use high-tech devices, such as light pens, to scan visitors' badges when they exhibit in order to capture contact details.
In fact, a pen and clipboard approach can be 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.
Following up your exhibition sales leads
Exhibitions deliver excellent sales leads, and yet a high percentage of leads are never 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.
After the show, the work really begins. Hot leads can go stale quickly. It's worth sending a simple email or social media message, 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 to close the sale.
Always have a debriefing session with your staff after the exhibition to assess what has worked and what hasn't. 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.