Topic overview

Exhibitions and events

A smiling woman takes a break from networking at a business exhibition

Exhibitions and events are valuable for businesses, because they allow face-to-face communication and offer opportunities for networking.

Exhibitions enable you to meet plenty of people that matter to your business in one place, including existing customers, new prospects, suppliers, advisers, investors, competitors and key figures in your industry.

Exhibitions come in all shapes and sizes, but the two main types are consumer shows and trade fairs. There are events for every sector and profession, and for many small businesses these are a crucial part of their marketing strategy.

The benefits of business exhibitions

Many forms of marketing, including telemarketing, advertising and direct mail, involve intruding on customers, which can cause resentment. Not so with exhibitions. Customers go to business events and fairs prepared to give their time and attention and they are often ready to buy.

The face-to-face nature mean that you can have real conversations with customers. As well as presenting your products and services, you get the opportunity to find out more about your customers and their needs. You can use exhibitions to carry out valuable market research.

Trade shows attract qualified visitors, who often have buying responsibility. Indeed, trade fairs attract those people who can be difficult to get hold of at other times. Many visitors arrive with credit card in hand and will have done their homework beforehand.

Consumer shows can be a great launch pad for a new business or product, and also offer the chance to do live demonstrations in front of a large audience. Press attention and the power of word of mouth means that you can create a real buzz about your product or service.

As well as making sales, exhibitions can be used to forge new relationships, strengthen existing alliances, build databases and email lists, generate positive PR, scout for new staff and build your brand.

Stepping away from the stand - visiting trade shows

Even if you're just attending as a visitor, exhibitions and events offer you the chance to keep up with industry developments. They can give you a snapshot of what's new, and you may get access to the movers and shakers. What's more, they are a good opportunity to keep an eye on the competition.

You don't necessarily have to be an exhibitor to get face-to-face contact with key prospects. By going as a visitor, you still get to meet large numbers of useful people in one place. You may even find yourself on the other side of the table, meeting a potential new supplier or partner.

To choose the right event, contact your trade association or local Chamber of Commerce and talk to your customers about which events they attend and why. To make the most of the opportunities, it's worth planning ahead and fixing some appointments.

Another option is to create your own exhibiting opportunity, such as a launch party or a product demonstration. Holding your own business event is a good way to show off your product or service in a tailor-made setting, without the distraction of other exhibitors.

You can create an event that exactly matches your needs and the needs of your target market and you can invite the people you want to meet. Be prepared, though, for the amount of planning and hard work needed to make it a success.

Other opportunities to network

Networking is an important part of the marketing mix for small businesses. You can use networking to forge productive relationships with key people. Over time, these contacts can become powerful advocates that support and promote your business.

There are many opportunities to meet the right people. Become an active participant in the local community, and attend events aimed at your sector. Your local Chamber of Commerce will be able to point you in the right direction.

One simple tactic for start-ups and small firms is pop-up marketing. The big brands call this experiential marketing and they do it because they value face-to-face interaction with customers. You could rent a small area of promotional floor-space in a local shopping centre or bigger store. If you apply a little smart thinking to what you do with your space, then you can create a lasting impression.

There are a number of benefits to pop-up marketing of this nature:

  • get direct access to potential new customers
  • you can target particular geographical areas and local customers
  • it allows you to build brand awareness and trust
  • you can demonstrate your products
  • you don't have to spend a fortune, the space itself is usually great value
  • benefit from the association with the host venue

Pop-up marketing can be a huge boost for new businesses trying to make a name for themselves, and coupled with the face-to-face contact with customers, it makes it one of the best ROIs of any marketing tactic.

Emmanuel De Ryker, chairman and founder of Promotional Space said "This type of promotional marketing isn't just for big names; it's accessible to all and can be one of the most effective uses of a tight marketing budget in terms of generating sales and building brand awareness."

There are plenty of other ways to network online that can help build valuable business relationships. In particular, sector-related groups on LinkedIn and Twitter allow small business owners to link up with good contacts, suppliers and customers.

Whether online or in person, the best way to approach networking is to be helpful, likeable and knowledgeable. That way you create goodwill, an essential basis for any business relationship.

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