6 min

How to Prepare for a Trade Show: Marketing Goal and Strategy

By Amy Silberman

Does your company participate in trade shows? If so, you’ve probably developed a system to book, exhibit, and market at these shows in hopes of gaining new leads.

Trade shows can be expensive and clients often tell us they wish they could do more with their leads, especially considering how much each lead costs.

The answer to this? Go into your trade show prepared with a pre-determined marketing goal and strategy!

To truly maximize the ROI you see from leads generated at trade shows, planning must begin 6 months to a year before your actual attendance at the show.

We have found that this time frame will allow you to develop goals for your trade show and then create a marketing strategy around accomplishing those goals.

While there are many administrative elements that go into planning a trade show, let's specifically cover how to create a marketing goal and strategy for the trade show during months 12 through 4 leading up to the trade show.

Timeline for Pre Trade Show Prep

18 to 12 months before the Trade Show:

Determine trade show goal

Most companies who attend trade shows go into the show hoping to gain new qualified leads. After all, you aren’t attending the trade show just for fun - you need to see a return on the money spent to get there.

The best way to plan your trade show marketing strategy is to develop a specific and attainable goal you wish to accomplish with your attendance.

This goal could be:

  • “I’d like to gain a set number of new qualified leads per day”

  • “I’d like to grow our email list by a specific percentage”

  • “I’d like to increase our social media following by a certain number”

All of these goals have a specific target in mind more than just “generate leads from our trade show participation.”

Once you have a specific goal in mind for your leads, you have a much better chance of actually seeing a trade show ROI because there is a clear plan surrounding what you want to accomplish by gaining a new lead.


Book trade shows whose typical attendee lists match the requirements you set for your goal and trade show strategy

Once you have set your goal for your trade show, do some research to determine which trade shows typically attract attendees that will match your pre-determined marketing strategy and goal.

Research past years of the trade show, see what types of companies and people typically attend and determine if they will fit or help you accomplish your goals.

You may even want to create a buyer persona to determine who your target market and audience is for each trade show. Once you find a trade show that works, book it!


6 to 4 months before the Trade Show:

Narrow down your goal to a SMART goal

You have already set a specific goal for your trade show marketing strategy - now clarify that goal even further. Ensure that every goal is SMART:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Attainable

  • Realistic

  • Time bound 

For example, if your goal was to grow your email list, you could say

  • “I’d like to grow my email list (specific)

  • by 20% (measurable, attainable, realistic)

  • by the end of the trade show (time bound).”

By further defining your goal for the trade show, you can now work towards creating marketing materials that will help you accomplish your specific goal in the time frame you set for the trade show.


Develop trade show marketing materials

After you’ve developed your goal into a SMART goal, you can then work on creating the marketing materials you will need to accomplish this goal at your upcoming trade show.

Using the example of increasing your email list, you will want all of your trade show marketing materials and offers to have the end result of obtaining a lead’s email address to add them to your list.

To accomplish this, you could:

  • Create trade show giveaways or a contest. To enter, booth visitors must fill out a form on a landing page, which will ask them for their email address.

  • Create an informational offer, such as an e-book or video series, that will provide value to your trade show booth visitors. To download this offer, visitors must fill out a form and provide their email address.

You can also develop promotional materials that can be used to help you accomplish your goals:

  • Instead of offering pens with your company name, consider offering objects you can place a QR code or memorable URL on such as a magnet or a sticker.

  • Ask a fun industry trivia question and provide the answer by having the visitor scan the QR code. Once they are on your landing page from the QR code or URL, offer a subscription to your email newsletter.

This way, even your promotional materials will lead your trade show booth visitors towards your goal of gaining email addresses.

While your goal doesn’t have to be gaining email addresses, the above examples show how you should consider your overall trade show goal when developing each and every piece of your trade show marketing materials.


Invite your current contacts

One of the best ways to spread the word about your trade show participation is to invite the people you already know.

Take a look at the contacts currently in your CRM - are they a part of your target audience for this trade show? If so, invite them!

Let them know about the trade show, what booth you will be at, and tell them about any special offers you have for them at the trade show.

Another way to generate interest about your upcoming trade show is to leverage social media platforms. Promote your trade show presence on your social media platforms and announce any special offers to current social followers.

If there is a hashtag or other specific tag for the trade show you will be attending, use it in all your social media promotions. This will ensure that your current social media followers see your posts as well as any other potential customers who are interested in the trade show.


Prepare your website to assist you in meeting your trade show goal

When you are creating your trade show marketing and promotional materials, don’t forget the one you already have in place - your own website.

Use this time leading up to the trade show to ensure that your website is set up to help you meet your goal.

Some ways to do this include:

  • Make sure that any landing pages you create for the trade show match the rest of your site.

  • If you link to other areas of your site on the landing page, be sure the links work and lead to the correct place.

  • If you have a product catalog, be sure it is digital and visible on your site. Thumbing through a printed catalog might be time consuming if you have a large number of SKUS and products.

If your website is set up correctly, you could have a tablet at your booth that will allow your sales team to easily and quickly show your booth visitors the products they are interested in.

Websites take some time to tweak and you want to give yourself plenty of wiggle room for any redesign you may need before the trade show.

Take a look at this early on in the planning process so you are ready to put your best foot forward, so to speak, come trade show day.


Why Plan Ahead?

Trade shows are a large investment for companies, in both time and resources. You want to ensure you are getting the most out of both, so take the time to plan out a specific goal and trade show marketing strategy early.

Determine your goal and then build your strategy so that every action you take at the show leads you towards accomplishing that goal.

By starting to plan at least 6 months to a year ahead of your trade show, you will give yourself plenty of time to develop a solid marketing goal and strategy for your trade show that will allow your to see the maximum ROI on your new leads!


Amy Silberman

Amy Silberman

Client Success Manager and Content Marketing Specialist