Trade shows, trade shows, trade shows... this will likely elicit a varying response depending on your past experiences with them. For some, the exchange of knowledge and passion among peers, and the vast networking and socialization opportunities make the shows exciting. For others, the thought of the amount of added work it takes to participate is cause for an exaggerated eye roll and heavy sigh.
For everyone though, before letting past experiences cloud your judgment, you first should think, "why bother"? This is not to imply trade shows are not worthwhile, rather, it's meant to ask: are you doing them for the right reasons?
How you evaluate and decide on the "why" and not just "what's in it for me—or the company" takes some upfront consideration. Here are some questions you should be asking to assess whether it’s worthwhile to invest in a trade show or not:
Are your objectives to gain new clients? To increase your sales by 10% from the previous year? Outlining and identifying your business objectives—and making sure they're aligned with your marketing objectives—will allow you to gain perspective on which type of trade shows you should be investigating. Will your presence at a trade show help you achieve your overall business objectives?
If you answered yes to the above, then you can start researching and evaluating which trade shows and what type of presence you can forecast will deliver your greatest return:
What is the purpose in attending?
Attending a trade show as a learning opportunity is different than attending because your clients—or prospective clients—will be there. If the purpose is to meet with prospective and current clients, what metrics will be used to measure a successful engagement? Aligning the reason for attending with your business objectives upfront will guide the research and evaluation of trade shows and furthermore, ensure the most "bang for your buck."
Who else is attending this trade show?
Before registering for a show, you should determine whether the attendees are your target audience. Are you attending this show to interact with prospective clients and to generate leads? If so, gaining an understanding of which stage of the sales cycle your clients are in will help distinguish whether you should be creating awareness and exposure for your company and products, or whether you should take a more proactive approach with your salespeople.
Are you attending to check out the competition and see what they've been up to? Trade shows can be a good source of business intelligence for companies, but once again—always look back to your business objectives and ensure they are aligned with the reason for attending.
Is this trade show within your budget?
When considering the cost of being a part of a trade show—whether attending, having a booth, or sponsoring the event—you should consider all costs associated. Everything from registration costs and travel, to hotels and meals, to marketing pieces and collateral should be accounted for in your budget. Planning a budget that's aligned with your overall marketing and business objectives will allow you to track, measure and maximize return on investment.
Is the content relevant to your business?
Who is the keynote speaker? Are the presentation topics relevant to your business objectives and target audience? Sometimes attending a more expensive trade show but with more relevant topics could be more worthwhile than attending a show that has little to no relevance. Making an informed decision after thorough research of potential trade shows will give you the greatest payoff since the shows you attend will be the right shows for your objectives.
Any marketing effort, including trade shows, should be approached as an investment; so be sure to balance what your total effort is going in, and coming out. Working through these questions upfront before you start investing in trade shows will give you the greatest return on your time and money.
Are there more questions you should be asking yourself? Do you have experience with a successful—or perhaps unsuccessful—trade show event? Share your thoughts below.
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