Attending trade shows might sound like something only large companies or multinational enterprises can pull off. But in fact, it can be a cost-effective way to build your small business quickly.
Attending the right trade show can help you raise brand awareness, cultivate business relationships, generate highly-targeted leads, learn about your competition and stay on top of the latest developments in your industry.
Here’s how you can take advantage of these benefits – without blowing your entire marketing budget at once:
1. Raise Brand Awareness
Trade shows run the gamut from small events with a few dozen vendors to major events that fill hundreds of thousands of square feet of conference center space.
But no matter what size they are, most trade shows offer business participants opportunities to get their names in front of attendees beyond simply signing up for a booth. For example, you may be able to pay to participate in a tiered sponsorship program or to put your logo on event swag (such as badge lanyards or attendee gift bags).
The problem? Most of these perks come with price tags that aren’t exactly small business-friendly. A better solution for small companies is to look into opportunities to give presentations or take part in panel sessions. Not only are you likely to get free tickets for doing so, speaking at an event can help you build brand awareness and position your business as a leader in your space.
To understand what kinds of pitches might be accepted, ask your customers questions to determine which topics interest them most. For example, if you’re hoping to give a conference presentation, send customers survey questions like this, asking what they want to learn about. Use this information to inform not just your presentation pitch, but your event marketing materials as well.
2. Cultivate Business Relationships
Once you’ve decided to participate in a trade show, put some effort into identifying exactly what you want to get out of the experience. Is your main goal to sign up actual customers? Are you trying to network with complementary businesses? Or maybe you want to learn more about the industry. Deciding what you want to get out of your investment will help you prepare better and determine what you can spend to produce a positive ROI.
For example, if you’re using trade show attendance as an opportunity to connect with your audience and build business relationships, there are several actions you can take ahead of time to improve your results.
Promote Your Attendance
Make sure your customers know you’ll be attending. Include the event’s hashtag in your social media posts to get the show on participants’ radar. Where appropriate, join conversations happening about the event on social media sites as well.
Some events will provide a list of attendees before the event. If you’re able to get a hold of this information, use it to improve your event outreach. Invite attendees to stop by your booth or schedule meetings to occur before or after the trade show to optimize your time.
It’s also a good idea to browse LinkedIn to find other contacts who have liked the event. Regardless of how you identify contacts, make sure you clearly state the value you’re providing or the perk they’ll score from stopping by to visit you.
Get Creative with Your Swag
Conference pens and other tried-and-true swag options are boring and unmemorable. Instead, look for items like these that are useful to your audience, relevant to your brand, and that have a quirky or humorous twist. Consider adding a witty on-brand tagline to help your small business cut through the noise at the event.
Items to consider include Bluetooth speakers, reusable water bottles, or umbrellas. Look for items that are relevant to your brand or industry. For example, if your company serves the music industry, headphones will be much more appealing to attendees than a tote bag.
Finally, consider creating an engaging experience or incentive for your attendees to get the swag— such as playing a game or solving a puzzle—rather than leaving everything out on a table. Attaching an item to an experience will create a lasting memory and also a better experience for the attendee.