Step 1: Selecting the Right Exhibition for Your Company

Choosing the best exhibition that matches your company's sales, marketing, branding, or other objectives is your first step toward success. It is a challenge, however, since there are an estimated 30,000 business-to-business exhibitions held each year all over the world.

Here are some thoughts to facilitate your selection process:

1.Focus on those global exhibitions offered in the industry sector that are appropriate for your company.

2.Evaluate these exhibitions according to their importance within that sector, as well as their local, national, or international appeal. For example, how long have they been operating?

3.If your competition is exhibiting in these events, it may be a good indicator that you should consider exhibiting.

4.Carefully review the audience demographics (the published metrics or data about the visitors, exhibitors, press, VIPs, etc.). The exhibition visitor profile should offer your company a good potential for making sales or gathering sales leads. Do your customers attend the exhibition?

5.If your focus is on company branding, these visitor metrics should help you determine if there is an opportunity to achieve this.

6.Be sure that the company producing the exhibition has a good financial reputation. Find out how long they have been in business.

7.The total geographical area served by the exhibition should match your marketing needs.

8.The facility where the exhibition will be held should be evaluated, particularly for its technology offerings?

9.Evaluate the city where the exhibition will be held - are there good hotels nearby? What about entertainment opportunities for meeting with your current customers?

10.Consider accessibility to exhibition by air, rail, auto, since this will affect attendance. Are there other transportation options available?

11.Evaluate the support services offered at the exhibition. For example, translation services are usually required.

12.Finally, the time of year the exhibition will be held and political considerations can be important factors.

After a thorough study, contact those exhibitions that are appropriate for your company's marketing goals and needs. Remember that exhibitions are about making sales immediately, or significantly shortening the sales process for future sales.


Step 2: Setting Objectives

The second step toward exhibiting success is establishing objectives for your company's participation. The sad truth is that 71 percent of exhibiting companies do not set objectives or plan strategies for their participation. Even worse, only half of these companies with objectives ever follow through on their stand. However, those companies that establish and measure objectives consistently achieve great success.

Objectives provide direction for every aspect of your company's exhibition participation: your marketing strategies, branding plans, budgets, exhibit architecture, graphics, products, literature, IT support, and the necessary staff.

Objectives & Sales

Objectives also stimulate sales performance in the stand, particularly if they are measured in terms of their quantity and quality of contacts by the staff. This means you should turn your company objectives into personal goals for each member of your staff to achieve at the exhibition. Research consistently proves that successful exhibiting companies make sales related objectives their priority.

Basic Objectives

To set objectives, you must define what your company wants to sell, promote, market, brand, or communicate in an exhibition -- and to whom. Typical objectives are any combination of the following:

1.Increase sales through new orders or qualified trade show leads

2.Introduce new products or services

3.Enhance your relationships with current customers

4.Conduct market research

5.Obtain contact names for the company's e-mail list

6.Open new markets or territories

7.Gain media exposure

8.Check out the competition

9.Enhance the company image or brand

10.Conduct sales meetings in conjunction with the exhibit

11.Provide education to the visitors

12.Recruit new employees.

Setting objectives is the first step in any successful exhibition marketing activity. As the marketing guru, Lawrence J. Peter, wrote: "If you don't know where you're going, you will probably end up somewhere else."

Step 3: Target Marketing

Target marketing is the next important step in the exhibition marketing process. In theory, it's quite simple: you contact the visitors you want to see at an exhibition and tell them where your stand is located and what you are exhibiting, branding, demonstrating, etc.

Visitor Categories

At an established exhibition, the visitor group is composed of the following categories:

1.Buyers and/or specifiers of purchases, some of whom will be attending for the first time, while others are loyal visitors, returning year after year;

2.Press representatives (both print and electronic);

3.Very Important Persons, VIPs or Opinion Makers;

4.International visitors;

5.Students, who may be influential buyers in the future;

6.Others involved with the industry.

Actual Target Audience

It is important at this point to be realistic about the number of visitors you can expect to meet at any exhibition. You and your team must understand that not every visitor has an interest in what your company is exhibiting. In fact, research proves that approximately 15 percent of an exhibition audience has general interests in any product or service category. To be certain in your exhibition planning, consider 10 percent as your specific target audience.

Step 4: Pre-Show Communications with First Time Visitors

Contacting this target audience is a matter of choosing between many communications options, but keep this in mind: visitors spend their own money and give up valuable time to be at the exhibition - so you must do everything possible to make their investment worth the effort. Also, use the appropriate language or dialect in your communications.

At a typical exhibition,40 percent of the audience is attending for the first time. Furthermore,over 50 percent of these important buyers and/or purchasing specifiers will not attend another exhibition in the year ahead. This creates a tremendous marketing opportunity for your company. In fact,research shows that 88 percent of your prospects were probably not contacted by one of your field sales representatives in the previous year. So you need to let these new prospects know about your participation. Here are some suggestions about how to do that:

1.Advertise in pre-show publications - both print and electronic - and special show issues of your industry's trade journals. Remember to mention the important sales features of your exhibit, where it's located, who will be on the stand, etc.Pre-show advertising can more than double your stand activity during a show, since 83 percent of the visitors use show "previews" to help them plan their visit.

2.Offer "show specials" or other promotions in the stand to positively position your company and its products. And personalize your marketing message to each audience segment:Let them know that if they do business with you, life will be better and they will save money.

3.Take advantage of all the new promotion opportunities on the Internet. Most exhibition organizers provide direct links with your company's Web site, as well as excellent on-line advertising opportunities. "Banner advertising" or web logs, called "blogs," can effectively call attention to your stand's special featuresand its location. Remember to use the appropriate languages.

Step 5: Pre-Show Communications with Long Time Visitors

Another important CEIR Research finding: 60 percent of a typical exhibition audience has been attending for two or more consecutive years.

The exhibition organizer can help you effectively reach this visitor group by providing mailing lists and other database information. You can then use targeted direct mail to tell these important buyers and/or purchasing specifiers that you are hoping to see them at the show this year. An effective direct mail program can increase visitors to your stand by 53 percent.

Direct Mail

Personalized direct mail is a highly effective motivator, and you should try to send at least three mailings. Research proves that each mailing increases the response rate in your stand: one mailing gets 25 percent visitor response, two mailings generate 50 percent and three mailings create a 75 percent increase. Furthermore, the buyers' perception of your company's presence at an exhibition increases positively with each mailing you send.

Specialty Items

Give-aways, or specialty items, creatively used in conjunction with direct mail are also quite effective. Choose a unique item, if possible, one that is memorable and environmentally friendly. Consider this approach: Send one half of a specialty item to these previous visitors and invite them to pick up the other half in your stand during the show.


Advertising to this group is also important because it reinforces your show presence and enhances your company's recognition. You might even consider some follow-up telemarketing to key prospects and opinion makers; this personal contact makes a very positive impact.

Also, evaluate a variety of advertising opportunities, as each can be effective, depending on your needs: World Wide Web sites, print advertising in show publications, industry journals, local and regional edition newspapers, outdoor billboards, radio and television, hotel video programs, multimedia kiosks or banners placed throughout the exhibition, shuttle bus advertising, and more.


Either printed or electronic, newsletters are another effective way to promote your participation in an exhibition. It should be easy to read and filled with valuable information targeting your current customers and prospects. It can be in several languages, according to the visitor profile, yet focused on techniques to increase profitability. A newsletter permits you to position your company as an expert in your industry sector. It is more effective when sent before the event and post-show, as a final promotion.


Sponsorships are particularly effective in demonstrating your support for an exhibition. Be sure that the sponsorship package offers opportunities for increased exposure for your company. And make sure your target audience knows that you are a sponsor in the exhibition, as it underscores your commitment to their industry.

Finally, don't leave anything to chance: make exhibitions an integral part of your company's total marketing mix. Research shows that exhibitors who carefully plan and integrate other marketing media into their exhibit programs are more successful at attracting their targeted audiences and converting them into qualified sales leads.

Step 6: Management Perspectives

Never doubt that your pre-show activity is worth the effort, since 75 percent of all visitors arrive at an exhibition with a predetermined agenda as to whom they plan to see and very often what they plan to evaluate and buy. You want your company to be one of them and pre-show promotions are the best way to do that. Also, for the larger mega-shows where visitors must be highly efficient with their time, they are greatly influenced by what they see/hear prior to the show.

CEO Studies

Incomm International (based in Chicago, IL) asked chief executives why they attended exhibitions and their responses were overwhelmingly positive:
84 percent said they attended for personal contact with their customers;
78 percent wanted to assess the marketplace and exhibitions were the

best way to do that;
69 percent wanted to see what their competition was doing;
66 percent came to support their exhibition staff.

Here's another bit of interesting research:A survey of CEO's found that 18 percent attended an exhibition because some exhibiting company gave them a complimentary pass. If the exhibition organizer offers complimentary show registrations, by all means use them to further reinforce your participation with this management group.

Finally, a recent study of the most successful companies at exhibitions found that they had one thing in common: they all engaged in pre-show promotion, or target marketing. Some companies mistakenly think that the exposition organizer is solely responsible for getting a quality audience to the event. Smart exhibitors know that they share the responsibility and promotions are the key. The bottom line is that everything you do in advance pays real dividends at the show.



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