How to Maximize the Effectiveness of Trade Shows

Trade shows and industry events serve as critical opportunities to build B2B connections, and business promotional products play an important role when it comes to trade show marketing. We reached out to several marketing professionals and business owners to get their tips for maximizing trade show effectiveness.

The Right Trade Show Marketing Tools

Building an effective trade show marketing strategy comes down to resonating with booth goers. Virtually all of our respondents highlighted the importance of picking the right promotional items to connect with colleagues in a meaningful way. Matt Secrist, Co-Founder and COO of BKA Content, shared some factors in mind when determining a promotional product strategy:

“For us personally, we've seen the most value from just picking the right promotional product rather than using an in-show gimmick. My advice would be to pick a promotional product that has specific symbolism for your brand, has a higher quality value than other promotional items in the same category, and is also relevant for the prospective lead on a consistent basis. Once you've found that item, the key is to stick to it year over year and it will ultimately become a part of your branding.”

Establish a Clear Goal

In order to make the most out of your trade show marketing efforts, it’s essential to have a clear objective in mind. Whether this goal is lead generation or brand awareness, your marketing efforts before, during and after the show should follow a clear purpose, according to David Poulos, Director of Marketing at Pinnacle Advisory Group and published author of trade show marketing advice:

“Any marketing effort at trade shows should be connected to and geared toward reaching the specific goals for that show or series of shows. If you’re there for lead generation, there should be goals for that, and your choice of promotional material should connect to that.

If brand awareness is your goal for the show, your choice of items should reflect that – you’ll want something big, flashy, colorful, noisy, obvious, that sticks out of the attendee conference bag, can be seen across the floor.”


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He went on to share some specific examples of goal-oriented conference marketing techniques:

For lead gen, you want to drive QUALIFIED traffic to the display into the hands of the sales staff. If you tie your pre-show marketing into that effort, you can use the promotional item as a guide or lure to get folks to stop by the booth. I’ve found great success using some type of item that comes in two pieces–you send the first “portion” out ahead of time to a qualified list, and the recipients have to stop by the booth to pick up the second part before the item will be functional or valuable. We sent out the handle scales for a Swiss Army Knife ahead of time, and attendees could come by to pick up the guts of the knife and have it assembled at the booth–very effective, broke all kinds of records for the company. ROI of 20x or more.

[For brand awareness] we had one company give away bright yellow yardsticks, as part of a campaign for measuring your success with their software products–you could see yellow sticks poking out of the bags walking up and down the aisles for half a mile down the show floor. Clean, functional, appropriate, and carries out the brand effectively.”

Four Keys to Trade Show Marketing

Our respondents developed their marketing expertise over years of experience on the trade show floor. Adeel Shabir of Gigworker shared his four steps for marketing mastery, which are especially useful for new businesses looking to establish an industry presence:

“1. Make sure you have the utmost *perfect product* without any flaws—you don’t want the customer to see any flaws. Remember, first impressions last forever. Even if they are considered to using the product, if the product had flaws on the display, it will stick with the customer forever.

  1. Make sure you have *bulk products* ready to purchase by the customer. Even if you are trying to sell it at a later date or it will soon be announced in the future, you should have ready stock available for the customers.
  2. Print out a detailed *pamphlet* for the product description and usage. The customer wants to know the details without guessing. If you let the customer guess the details, they will eventually lose interests in the product.
  3. *Goody bags* go all the way—make sure you have goody bags with all the details your product and stationery in the bag. Ask the customer about their experience, email (for future email marketing) and give them the goody bag for free. This bag will stay with them for a longer period of time.”

Skip the Consumables

Digital marketing expert Nigel Ravenhill stressed the importance of offering promotional items which will last, rather than find their way into the bin.

“Don't spend anything on consumables. The branding is always on the packaging that is quickly discarded. Bottled water is a complete waste of money. This is about the WORSE swag expense you can incur. It costs a crazy amount of money from the hospitality vendor. Bottles are quickly consumed and thrown away. No one will recall 30 minutes later where they picked it up.”

Nigel went on to share an example of a unique, novel and useful trade show offering which would stand the test of time:

“One of the most useful promotional items that I've wanted to do but have never, alas, convinced a client or employer to do is cedar shoe trees. They will never be thrown away. If you're in an industry where the target market wears dress shoes, banking, etc., these are a great idea. Think of usefulness when choosing ideas.”

Practical Promotional Solutions

Not only should your promotional items be free of flaws, but they should be used regularly by your target market. This requires understanding the needs of your prospective customers and industry connections and delivering promotional items that are relevant to their interests. “A promo product becomes more effective the more it is used,” said Stan Tan of Selby’s. “The cost per impression becomes lower the more times the product is viewed.”

Wearables are a common solution for making a trade show impact. Custom T-shirts and other branded apparel are universally popular ways to give a logo the freedom to travel. Nneka Brown Massey of Innovative Supplies Worldwide noted how custom apparel can be connected with a deeper sense of purpose:

“I met a VP of marketing for a company that placed its brand name on sustainable clothing made of recycled plastic water bottles. Having a story to share on why a particular promotional product was picked can really help a company further express their goals and values indirectly.”

Utilizing A Variety of Swag

When your business utilizes a wide variety of promotional items, you make valuable repeat impressions which drive brand awareness for the long term. This is as true on the trade show floor as it is on the streets. “At trade shows the promotional products we’ve found to be most popular are items people will use or wear,” said Alex Membrillo of Cardinal Digital Marketing. “This includes things like pens, eyeglass wipes, tee shirts, and coffee mugs. Usually, we have a variety of swag items out, and booth guests can take what they want.”

Building Personal Connections

Before your next trade show or industry event, it’s worth taking a step back and considering what the core purpose of these conferences is. “It’s all about the connection,” replied Tim Brown of Minneapolis Web Design. “A personal connection is best. If you want to stand out, having friendly, engaging, relatable, and fun people at your booth will set you apart. You can have the fanciest booth in the world, but if your people are boring you won’t get anywhere. Be personable, be outgoing, and win business.”

Robert Piller of Geek Tech Branding agreed. “The purpose of promo items is to gain attraction and more business, so make sure everyone is learning about your product(s)/service(s) through a vivid imprint. Techniques will need to be used that help you stand out from the crowd. Offer up several freebies. Be engaging. Utilize social media. Raffle off a big-ticket item. Do whatever it takes to promote in an effective, memorable and successful way!”

Your Solution for Trade Show Products

As you can see, the right promotional items can make all the difference at your next industry event. No matter what your trade show visibility goals are, we have the solutions!

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