What's the ROI on Tradeshows?

Tradeshow PanelWith less time, money and staff than their larger counterparts, it’s no wonder that small business owners tend to reject certain marketing tactics out of hand. But not so fast: It makes better sense to evaluate various tactics on their own merits, their ability to meet your objectives and budget parameters and the ROI they deliver. One of these is trade shows. Aren’t they time consuming and expensive? Can you measure outcomes?  At this point, many business owners move on to other tactics.

But the WSJ online says that trade shows can be worth it—that is, if you're smart about them. You don’t even have to exhibit to benefit. Even attending is worthwhile. Trade shows give you critical exposure to potential buyers, enable you to learn about unfamiliar markets, help build personal relationships and give you an up-close look at competitors. There’s no getting around the costs involved, especially if you’re traveling. But there are ways to manage or minimize the costs. First and foremost: Do your research! Find out which show(s) offer you the best prospects. Look at sales figures from past events. Get data on exhibitors and buyers from event registrars. Talk to others who’ve attended. Beyond that, you should explore things like co-exhibiting (and splitting the cost), multi-show discounts, even used furniture and display materials. And you don’t have to actually exhibit; you just need to be there—and be visible—which could involve hosting gatherings, speaking and networking. Giveaways don’t hurt, either. Timothy Carter of Smash Hit Displays suggests 4 trade show tactics for small business success at smallbiztrends.com. Planning ahead, Carter says, is the key.

    • Create a clear goal for the show. Why are you going: To promote your brand? Get response to a new product? Generate new leads?


    • Create a powerful image. You need a wow factor for your booth and presentation.


    • Do pre-show promotion. Get the word out and give people a reason stop by your booth with prices, contests, etc.


    • Opt for heavy traffic vs. small niche. More traffic means more exposure. Attending a bigger show(s) is more likely to pay off in the long run.

Ailcorp Incorporators Ltd., which helps companies with incorporation issues, says that with the recovering economy, trade shows are experiencing a resurgence. There’s real opportunity here for small businesses and to help maximize it, Ailcorp offers seven trade show marketing tips for small businesses.

    • Plan, plan, plan, far in advance. Do your homework!


    • Put out a press release. (Consider using a post card or PR Web.)


    • Develop marketing materials. Keep them simple, focused and professional.


    • Think about portability. Invest in small, portable (and affordable) exhibits.


    • Make your signage pop. Can you get your positioning statement down to six words?


    • Practice makes perfect. Practice presentations and sales pitches. The quality of one-on-one contact will trump your booth and marketing materials.


    • Have a plan for following up. Use the show as a springboard for building long-term relationships.

Serial entrepreneur and forbes.com contributor Patrick Hull has some insights for getting the most out of trade shows in terms of visibility and networking. Read his thoughts on researching the competition and attendee list, as well bringing people with you to maximize the networking opportunities that shows offer.
Image courtesy of sixninepixels / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Have you attended trade shows in the past as part of your marketing strategy? Which ones will you be attending in 2014?

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