How to Build an Effective Trade Show Marketing Strategy

While trade shows are great for companies in theory, many are all too familiar with this scene: the booth right next to or across from them is buzzing with activity, but theirs is absolute crickets. However, you shouldn’t let this dissuade you from attending future trade shows; they remain one of the most effective ways to promote your company and your new products, but they are only as effective as your plan is.

So if your booth gets no traffic, where did it all go wrong? And what can you do to avoid this and make sure your next trade show is a success?

It’s really all about having a good trade show marketing strategy. Boring, right? But no secret or magic formula will ensure an engaging and attention-grabbing booth. You need to develop an approach that takes into account what happens before, during, and after the show. So how do you do it?

If you’re looking for answers, you’ve come to the right place! In this article, we’ll break down the ways you can build an effective B2B trade show marketing strategy. Keep reading to learn how the gears turn and how you can use them to your advantage.

Why Put Effort into Trade Shows, Anyway?

Before anything else, we want to discuss why you should still take trade shows seriously. Digital marketing is obviously the forerunner in the industry, and it’s so much easier to just post ads or some funny memes on social media to attract your target audience. But hear us out: trade shows are great at bringing up your audience’s excitement and hype for your next releases. It’s also an excellent way to take advantage of face-to-face marketing.

In fact, it only takes an average of 3.5 sales calls to close a lead from an exhibition, as opposed to 4.5 calls without real-life interaction. 81% of trade show attendees have buying authority, which means they’re the kind of people who can make purchasing decisions for their company. If you play your cards right, you could attract major deals during just the trade show alone. Here are some other key benefits of trade shows that make them worthwhile for your company:

  • You can see what the competition has to offer. There’s no better way to analyze your possible competitors than during trade shows. You’ll get to witness in real life what new developments they have and how they’re marketing them, so take notes!
  • You can gain new audiences. Trade shows are often a mishmash of companies from various industries. If you’re a company that offers solutions to a general audience, then trade shows are a great opportunity to showcase your stuff to attendees who’ve never heard of you.
  • You can establish connections. As mentioned, many trade show attendees have buying and decision-making authority for their companies. So, aside from selling them your services or products, you can establish connections with important people during trade shows. Remember to make good first impressions!

So how do you make the most out of your time at the show? Below, we’ll dig into what to do before, during, and after the show to make it a rousing success for your team.

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Before: The Planning Stage

Now, let’s get to the meaty topics. The first and most essential thing you need to do for your trade show marketing strategy is to create a plan. This will also take the longest time, so get started months before the trade show proper.

1. Determine Your Goals

Like any other marketing campaign, you need to plan your strategy based on your goals. As early as now, you should have a solid idea of your objectives to help you create a cohesive plan. Your goals will serve as the foundation of your entire strategy, so make sure they’re well-defined and realistic. To help you avoid setting unattainable or basic goals, follow the SMART framework and make sure that your goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. For example, you could aim for a specific number of sales during the trade show or a specific number of leads for the whole duration of the exhibit.

Once you’ve set your goals, you’ll have something strong to build your strategy on.

2. Understand Your Target Audience

If your goal is to sell products or services to a broad audience, then this section won’t matter much. More often than not, though, people who attend B2B trade shows have a very specific offering for a very specific kind of customer. So, during the planning phase, you need to get to know your target audience.

This means creating a buyer persona. This is the fictional character that represents your target demographic. Who is this person? Do they answer to higher authorities for their company? Are they looking for services that involve long-term relationships? What challenges are they facing that could lead them to your booth?

By answering these questions, you’ll be able to tailor your booth, marketing collateral, and other elements to attract your target audience. This will also help you determine which trade shows to attend, as people who fit your buyer persona probably won’t be at every event.

3. Create a Committee

Or, if you already have one, bring them on board! Having a dedicated team this early on will pay off in the long run. You’ll have people who can brainstorm ideas, choose the right trade shows, iron out kinks in the plan, and tackle the tasks that need to be done before the trade show. It’s also good to set schedules ahead of time to figure out who’ll cover the booth and what role each member will play once the event begins.

4. Start Marketing Aggressively

You’ll want as many people as possible to know that you’re going to have a booth at an upcoming trade show. This is how you’ll get qualified traffic to visit it so you can make your pitch, so start marketing aggressively weeks before the trade show.

This means utilizing all your channels or platforms to create a buzz about the upcoming event. You’ll want to — as they say on the internet — hype it up! From emails to social media posts, make your presence known far and wide.

Here’s one little secret to help you secure an audience: bring out your or your company’s list of ready or hot leads and reach out to them directly. Since they’re already ready to engage with your business, they’re more likely to attend the show and interact with your booth.

5. Plan the Specifics

This will either be the most fun or the most tedious part — that just depends on your level of enthusiasm and your willingness to work with a team. If you have both, then this stage will be exciting! While you figure out the specifics, make sure that all of the following details are covered:

  • The trade shows you will attend. You can’t join every trade show, so pick ones that promise the highest return on investment (ROI) for your team. Ideally, these will be events for the industry you belong to, but don’t be afraid to branch out and test new waters.
  • Your booth design. Your signs, lightning, and overall theme should be settled at this stage. That way, you can prepare ahead of time and stay within your budget. Keep in mind that your design should be engaging, deliberate, and cohesive with your branding. We’ll discuss this further later on.
  • The staffing schedules. Make sure that there’s always someone covering the booth, especially during the show’s busiest hours.
  • Et cetera. How will you travel to the destination? Will your team need accommodations? How will you handle unfortunate scenarios? What tools will you use to capture leads?

With all of the prep done, the day of the trade show will be coming up; get a good night’s rest beforehand and be ready to make great first impressions!

During: The Trade Show Proper

The day is finally here, and weeks of planning your trade show marketing strategy will finally be put to the test. So, how do you ensure that your efforts aren’t wasted and will lead to as many sales as possible?

1. Build an Attractive and Functional Booth

While your booth’s design should be finalized during the planning stage, not everything can be settled beforehand. Some trade shows will allow you to choose your location based on your seniority, which would give you more control over where you install your booth. However, if you’re a newer exhibitor, you’ll probably have fewer booth privileges.

Still, a good marketer will know how to play the cards they’ve been dealt. Whether you’re in a far-off corner or at the entrance (which you should avoid at all costs!), you can still make your booth attractive and functional. It all boils down to how you design it.

Your first consideration for your booth should be how you’ll showcase your products or services. The classic methods are:

  • Posters
  • Panels
  • Signs
  • Column Display Stands

However, marketers are coming up with so many more creative ways every day. While the classics won’t go wrong, you might want to upgrade them to something more interactive. That’s the keyword: interactive. Interaction is how you get attendees to actively engage with your products or services, which brings in sales.

Finally, there’s functionality. Nobody wants a booth where they’ll knock over something with just a flick of their wrist. Make sure that yours is easy to move around, spacious, and able to accommodate both your team and your audience.

2. Make Your Presence Felt

Okay, so you’re located in a very lonely corner away from all the action. Don’t fret yet — there are still many ways you can make your presence felt. Even if you are stuck in a bad section, you’re still going to attract attendees.

So how do you make your booth — as the song goes — bring all the boys to the yard? Well, you can never go wrong with some flash and dazzle. Make your brand stand out with colors, bright lighting, and eye-catching designs. You can also host games for your attendees, perform product demonstrations, and play jingles, so long as these are allowed by the show and fitting for your brand.

For those who want to be taken seriously, you can invite famous speakers, influencers, and celebrities to speak about your company and your new offerings. This will be one sure way to attract crowds, but budget is a major consideration. Still, an hour of their presence is usually enough to create a buzz that will last for the rest of the event.

3. Capture Leads Efficiently

Since you’re a B2B business, chances are that you won’t be selling products during the trade show, and that’s okay. Trade shows aren’t primarily made for sales. They’re about getting as many leads as possible during the entire event. Aside from making your booth attractive and engaging, you’ll want to ensure that the people who visit are turned into leads.

There are many ways you can do this, but lead management technology is usually the most efficient and easy to use. Use modern innovations that will help you list, keep track of, and manage those who are interested in your offerings.

Some of the most commonly used methods today are QR Codes. You can simply scan the IDs or badges of attendees and send the information to your cloud network or sales team. Manual input into your lead management software is also possible, but it’s far more inefficient. You’ll want to be quick, especially when many people arrive thanks to your very attractive and interactive design.

Whichever methods you choose, be sure to follow up on those leads immediately. Take advantage of their fresh and fond memories of your booth!

4. Giveaways Are Always a Good Strategy

Speaking of making your brand or company memorable, there’s one sure way to ensure that your leads will remember you: giveaways. If there’s anything that makes an impression on attendees, it’s a tangible thing that they’ll have some use for. This also instills a sort of loyalty to your brand and inspires them to take action and learn more about your offerings.

Today, the most common giveaways are interactive. You’ll want to offer something they can use in their daily life or something they’d always have to see. That’s why calendars are a safe bet. Other ideas for giveaway items include:

  • USB flash drives
  • Phone cases
  • Phone grips
  • Power adaptors
  • Chargers
  • Hand sanitizers
  • Water bottles

Whew — you’ve made it out the other side of the event in one piece. Get a good night’s rest to recover, but don’t let your guard down yet; there’s still work to do!

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After: Following Up the Trade Show

The event is finally over, but the work isn’t done just yet. So, how do you know if your trade show event marketing actually worked? Here are the things to do once you’re all packed up and back at the office.

1. Evaluate Your Numbers and Analyze the Results

During the trade show, you should be gathering data about the attendees, your strategies, and even your competitors. What type of people visited your booth and what position did they hold in their company? What industries were most interested in your product? How long did each attendee visit your booth? Knowing the numbers will help you see what worked and what you can improve on. This data will also help you recalibrate your strategy for a new or more specific buyer persona.

Of course, you don’t want inaccurate numbers, but it can be difficult to keep track of all the attendees checking out your booth. To make things more efficient, you should be using lead management software, as we’ve mentioned above. This will also help you analyze your data quickly and accurately, and you can adjust it to your business model. That way, you can make your report in as quick as 24 hours.

2. Contact Your Leads

The next few days are the most crucial when it comes to leads. This is the time in which they’re the most likely to remember you and be ready to purchase your products or services. According to Indeed, there are three types of leads. They have specific time periods dictating when it’ll be best to contact them.

  • Cold leads. These are the leads that don’t have interest in your company or offerings, so you’ll need to bring them around through follow-ups. Contact them two to three days after the trade show for the best recall. We recommend using emails since they’re easier to digest.
  • Warm leads. Warm leads are interested in your offering, but they aren’t ready to make a purchase yet. Contact them one to two days after the event via email. Depending on their response, you can call or email them again after two days.
  • Hot leads. These are the leads that are ready to make a purchase, so you can feel free to lead them further down your sales funnel. Strike while the iron is hot, as they say. Send the hot leads directly to your sales team; there’s no need to contact them for follow-up emails or calls.

3. Touch Base With Your Team

Don’t leave your people hanging! The next few days are an excellent time to regroup with your marketing team and anyone else who was involved in planning, making, and manning your exhibit. You don’t want to leave them in the dark not knowing how the whole event went, so be sure to share your insights, the numbers, and other important details. Your success will help boost morale, which makes them more excited for your next event.

During your celebratory meeting, you can also discuss areas for improvement. Don’t hesitate to suggest what could’ve been done better, but be sure to be objective. Keep your feedback revolving around the initial goals you set during planning. From there, encourage your team members to suggest ways that they can improve on those things. If it comes from them, then they’ll be far more willing to commit to these promises.

Here are some questions you can ask to start the discussion:

  • How effective was the brand messaging and design?
  • Were we able to measure up to the competition?
  • What were the challenges we faced in terms of staffing and scheduling?
  • How interested were the attendees in our exhibit? What about our offerings?

4. Plan for the Next Trade Show

So you’ve analyzed the numbers, reached out to your leads, and touched base with your team. It seems like the work is over, but this is a cycle. When the next trade show or another kind of event comes along, you’ll need to be prepared, just like you were for this one. Remember, as long as there’s a market for your company, your B2B trade show marketing strategy is essential.

Take the lessons you’ve learned from this trade show and apply them to the next one. Do you need better designs? Better pre-show marketing approaches? More people to man the booth during busy days? What were the other booths doing that made them more popular? What made YOU more popular? The only way to make your next exhibit surpass your last one is to adjust your approach and adapt to changing marketing trends.

Final Thoughts on Creating a Trade Show Marketing Strategy

Trade shows are a great way to showcase your latest offerings as a company to a quality audience, so make sure to take advantage of them as one of your marketing tactics. To successfully pull off an event, you’ll need to have a comprehensive strategy that covers the booth design, lead management, marketing, and lead follow-up.

We get it, though, your company might not have all of the resources to handle these things; don’t fret! You can partner with a trade show marketing agency like [company name]. We offer the right solutions for your trade show needs, so we can be right there assisting and guiding you throughout the entire process. With our help, you’ll be able to bring your exhibit to the next level!

Contact us today to get started — we can’t wait to hear from you.


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