Part 1: The plan
Tradeshows are a big investment. The sooner you start, the bigger the potential return.
For innovative technology companies, tradeshows are often one of the biggest line items on your marketing and sales budget. They are a heavy lift, any way you slice it. As budget- and time-intensive as they are, most companies don’t spend enough time or plan far enough in advance to get the most out of tradeshows.
When you work year-round on aligning sales and marketing efforts before, during and after the tradeshow, you can dramatically improve the return on your investment.
For the first in our three-part Tech Tradeshow Tips series, we’ll share advice and stories on the best and worst things to do in preparation for a tradeshow.
1. No rest for the tradeshow-weary
When you get back to the office after a show, you want to get back to work. The last thing you want to think about is another tradeshow. Maybe you’ll make some follow-up calls next week — but otherwise, you don’t want anything to do with tradeshows until the next one. This feeling is totally natural. And it contributes to the vicious cycle of tradeshow tardiness.
When is the ideal time to start planning next year’s tradeshow? The day you get back from this year’s show.
While the experience is fresh in your mind, document what worked, what could work better and put a plan in place for next year. Work backward from next year’s show date and plot out when you’ll need materials in hand. Factor in enough production time to avoid rush charges — whether or not it’s a line item on your invoice, rushing tradeshow materials almost always increases both price and risk.
Next, plot out the time you need to develop or hone your positioning messaging. Determine how your tradeshow strategy can dovetail with your content marketing plan for the year. How can you better align sales and marketing efforts throughout the year to make better use of your tradeshow investment?
Running your schedule backward from the show date will give you the time to do it right. You’ll compromise less, panic less and get a lot more out of the tradeshow.
2. Allocate funds for marketing and design
Coming from a marketing and design firm, this may sound a little self-serving, but hear me out.
Tradeshows cost a ton of money: conference registration, union fees, travel, hotels, lost work hours — the expenses add up. If you’re going to spend the big bucks required to attend a show, it pays to make that investment count. Carving out a budget for marketing and design will put you in the best position to make the best impression — whether you spend it in-house, with a freelancer or an agency.
A well-designed tradeshow presence can take you from, “Oh crap, we need a booth!” to “Oh yeah, we’re awesome and we look the part.” When you get to the show, it will be easy to tell the professionally designed booths from those that aren’t. You can and should be among the elite.
3. Think of everything you want to your booth to say, then cut 95%
There are enough best practices that go into designing an effective tradeshow presence to fill another lengthy article. But the most common booth design mistake is worth noting here: too much content.
You’ll have plenty of opportunities to tell folks everything about your company. Your tradeshow display is not the place to do it. Rather, your display should convey your high-level positioning statement and be designed to visually draw people in.
Determine the one big pain you resolve for customers and put that on your display. Make it nice and short. Make it nice and big.
Your pre-show outreach, in-booth talk track, handouts and follow-up materials can all dive as deep as needed. Make sure the first impression your brand makes is clear, concise and compelling.
You’ll have plenty of opportunities to tell folks everything about your company. Your tradeshow display is not to place to do it.
4. Set measurable goals
Some marketing efforts, like digital advertising and direct mail, are delightfully trackable. Some efforts, like a rebrand or ad campaign, are less so. Tradeshows fall squarely in the middle of the spectrum. Setting specific, measurable goals can help justify your investment. Are you there to get the word out about a new product release? Sell product? Gather qualified leads? Move prospects along their buyer journey?
Set realistic goals for the show, then plot out a strategy for hitting and tracking those goals. What needs to happen six, 12 and 18 months after the show for it to be a success?
5. Prime the pump
Prospects, partners, clients and colleagues are all likely to be attending the show. Let them know you’ll be there too and why they should care. Engage them prior to the show through postcards, emails and social media outreach. Consider sending a more premium mailer to your hottest prospects. If you’re hosting a happy hour or planning to schedule sit-downs during the show, get on their calendars before someone else does.