Exhibitions are expensive. But you can exhibit successfully by building a marketing campaign around your booth to capture leads and justify your investment.
Our story begins with a common problem for new startups. Mixam had never done any marketing. Our booklet printing company was unknown, we didn’t have anything newsworthy and our customers (while very happy with our service), didn’t actively engage with us online.
We needed something big and flashy to create awareness and overcome all the things that were holding our marketing back. An exhibition seemed like the perfect platform to relaunch our brand by generating awareness and giving us something exciting to talk about.
But, how could we justify the cost of exhibition space? This is another common problem for new startups. I spent months researching and planning so that our team could exhibit successfully with the support of a marketing campaign that would help us to generate the sales we needed to cover our costs.
Go to expos you want to exhibit at. Even if you can’t afford the booth prices. Because you will see success and you will witness failure first hand. Talk to people, take photos, make notes and pay attention to the smaller booths. Consider what makes them successful, even beyond their booths. And remember that you don’t need to be the biggest fish in the pond to be successful.
All the learning from your research goes into your planning, which is why it’s so important to research thoroughly and take the time to think about what you’ve experienced.
Start planning at least 3 months in advance of your chosen event. Preferably 6! The further you plan in advance, the more prepared you will be. Booking your space early can also help you claim the perfect location on the expo floor to maximise your foot traffic.
While your primary concern will be costs, forecasting and return on investment, logistics can be easily overlooked. Think about how you will get all your materials to your space, how your staff will get to the expo and how everything will pack away and be transported back at the end of the show.
You also need to plan a schedule of marketing activity before, during and after the show.
Start with your booth design and a clear, concise, key message which states what you do. Your design needs to be big, bold and colourful. Text needs to be huge. Use icons to purvey concepts rather than writing about them. Because if someone cannot see exactly what your booth is about at a glance, read your key messages, or immediately understand them, they will not engage with you.
Repeat your key message on your tables, walls, pop up banners, business cards, flyers and video presentations. If your offering is complex, consider booklet printing to provide your prospects with lots of information they can digest at their leisure. And repeat your key message on the front cover.
These all serve as visual hooks whenever a prospect walks past your booth. The more visual hooks you have, the more prospects you will reel in. Just make sure that you have an open space for prospects to step into and talk with you in. There is nothing worse than a booth that’s barricaded itself in with tables. It feels like a fortress made to keep people out.
All of your marketing activity will derive from your booth design, which is why it’s so important to nail your key message and make your exhibition space look amazing.
Our planned marketing activity before, during and after the show included; an event landing page on our website, an easy to enter a competition with a must-have prize, a regular schedule of social media posts which were coordinated with social influencers in advance and shared to numerous facebook groups. We were incredibly active on social media during the week before and after the expo. During the show, we posted photos with people we met at regular intervals throughout each day.
For more information, we always pointed people to our event landing page, which had all the information about Mixam at the exhibition, a map with our exhibit clearly marked, the rules of our competition, a short video explaining who we are and what we do and download links for all our printed materials at the show.
We also approached other exhibits at the event before the show began in the morning, taking contact details and giving them a small gift box full of useful branded items. But nothing self-promotional. Also included was a competition key. This was intended for the recipient to visit our stand during the expo and try their key in our locked box to see if they won a prize. Many did! Which encouraged even more prospects to visit our booth and experience our full offering.
Often overlooked. A quick warm-up session with your team will ensure that prospects who come to your exhibit will receive a friendly greeting, helpful assistance and a clear explanation of what you do. A simple routine will also keep your team confident in speaking with prospects and giving them a flyer, business card or booklet before they leave your booth. This is especially important if your team aren’t natural salespeople. Keep a notepad and a pen handy for taking down prospect details to follow up on specific enquiries. Or take business cards from prospects, write on them and keep them somewhere safe.
Don’t let your new relationships go cold. Follow up all of your prospects the following week. Be sure to follow them on social media as well. I personally make friendships with people I have connected with. This way I ensure that I’m selfless in my communication with them and don’t make the mistake of hard selling. If they don’t get back to you, chase them the following week like the good friend that you are.
An exhibition booth on its own is a recipe for disaster. But if you use it as the centrepiece of a marketing campaign, it provides a platform for you to increase your brand awareness and acquire new business by having something interesting to talk about, whether on social media, via email or face to face.
Just be sure to research which events you want to exhibit at. Learn from the success and failure of others. You may also find that a small, upcoming show will be better suited to the scale of your business and budget than a massive established expo. Especially when it comes to covering your costs.
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