Generating and qualifying leads should always be the No. 1 reason to exhibit at a trade show, but be sure to factor in these additional opportunities when deciding which events your organization should participate in:
- Gathering research and competitive intelligence.
The smartest companies are doing research at every show they exhibit in. Don't let your competitors get an upper hand by missing this opportunity to do your own intelligence gathering.
Start by reading the print or online exhibitor directory to determine which of your known competitors are there and identify any new companies or products that weren't previously on your radar. Read their company/product descriptions, make note of any sponsorship recognition they're getting, and, of course, be sure to check out their booth. Take the time to do a mini SWOT analysis based on your observations … What message and image are they conveying? What new products are they introducing? What are they doing better than you with their messaging, booth environment, etc.? If your event marketing person isn't onsite, be sure to compile your notes and forward recommendations in an email.
Go even further by conducting a survey in your booth—perhaps as part of a giveaway—or work with show management for permission to do an intercept survey elsewhere in the event facility.
- Garnering media exposure.
Some events are more of a draw for trade journalists than others. I wouldn't let this be a primary concern in your decision making, but if an event seems like a good fit for other reasons, be sure to take advantage of any opportunities to get the attention of the industry media in attendance. At a minimum, you should always pack a few press kits to have available when a member of the press stops by.
- Nurturing potential partnerships.
Expo halls are a great place to identify potential distributors or VARs. Or maybe your product or services compliments that of another exhibitor? Perhaps your two companies can work together to share a booth and related expenses or combine forces to expand into a larger footprint at other events? Maybe it make sense to strategically position your booths to feed off of each other's traffic?
- Generating marketing content.
Is your organization taking full advantage of the many content marketing opportunities that come from participating in a trade show? Face-to-face events are the perfect place to capture video interviews and testimonials, generate blog ideas, social media posts, and more.
- Leveraging speaking opportunities.
You really should try to submit a speaking proposal for every event that your organization is considering exhibiting at. Think about inviting a partner or client to participate in your presentation too. While it does take time and effort to draft a proposal, there's really no better way to add value to your investment in booth space. Just be sure that your presentation provides useful advice and is NOT a sales presentation.
Demonstrating your expertise through a speaking engagement is a great way to establish credibility and—though I cannot emphasis enough that you don't want to sell during your presentation—there's nothing wrong with subtly reminding folks that you can be found in booth X inside the expo hall. Invite folks to stop by during the show to ask additional questions and learn about your specific product or service. Just be sure to give some guidelines on when you're available and let the rest of the booth staff know your schedule—should someone come by looking for you.
Exhibiting at a trade show can be a large expense, but, done properly, the return should well exceed your initial investment. You'll gain an even greater ROI by including the above goals in your exhibiting plan.