Scary Trade Show Marketing Mistakes

Trade Show FloorIt’s the week before Halloween, stores are full of merchandise, homes are decorated and kids are getting ready to trick or treat. Recently, I participated in a local business to business trade show – Trade Nassau in Farmingdale, NY, where over 1,000 people attended and over 100 businesses exhibited their products and services. Shows like this are where businesses and businesspeople introduce themselves to prospects and contacts. Participating in this show got me thinking about the mistakes business owners and entrepreneurs make when they decide to take part in this kind of an event. Thankfully, most of the exhibitors at Trade Nassau did a solid job marketing. However, there is always room for improvement.

Throughout the year businesspeople spend significant amounts of funds and resources on trade shows. From attendee reservations, exhibit space, displays and marketing materials as well as promotional giveaways, they want to have a presence. The concept behind shows is to make a good impression and attract people to your brand. Efforts should get those passing by to engage with you and enter your exhibit space.

The four biggest mistakes that small and medium size businesses’ make at trade shows are the following:

  1. Inadequate preparation – no plan for trade show activities (before, during and after).
  2. No advanced promotion – failure to market to attendees and prospects
  3. Poor presentation – e.g., an unprofessional booth; no time invested thinking about the impression the company will make at the show.
  4. Inattentiveness – failure to look for opportunities to engage. Too many people at trade shows sit behind their exhibit tables all day texting, reading, making calls and looking disinterested.
Trade show attendees at Trade Nassau in Farmingdale, NY on Oct. 21, 2015.

Trade show attendees at Trade Nassau in Farmingdale, NY on Oct. 21, 2015.

Why do businesspeople attend trade shows? The answer is simple: to attract attention and build relationships. To do this you have to create the best temporary environment to generate those conversations. This starts with strategies for drawing people to or into your booth. Quality signage, video monitors, interesting product displays and open layouts all play a part.

Have trouble standing for long periods of time? Bring a high chair or stool to enable you to make direct eye contact with attendees as they pass by or enter your space. To draw trade show attendees’ attention, your booth needs to be visually pleasing and interactive whenever possible. Use your iPad, a laptop or other screen to show off your business, show success stories, provide product demos, re-purpose news media coverage. To succeed you must stand out from others in your industry as well other exhibitors. Being different, as I have emphasized in the past, is critical. If you look and sound too much like others, your message will never be heard.

Once you have attendees’ attention, you should welcome them into your space. Create a space that will coax them to enter and stay. For small businesses and small business shows, during setup you should push your table back to create a larger area for you to have a conversations and conduct demonstrations for people. This gets people out of the isle and they won’t get pushed by passersby.

At Corbett Public Relations we are all about education and making people better marketers. We work with businesses to get their brand message heard in the media and for individuals we work with them to grow their personal brands.

Bill Corbett (l) interviews WRHU radio host Tim Healey (r) at the Corbett PR studio at Trade Nassau on Oct. 21, 2015.

Bill Corbett (l) interviews WRHU radio host Tim Healey (r) at the Corbett PR studio at Trade Nassau on Oct. 21, 2015.

At the recent show we differentiated our booth by creating a show within the show. We did this by setting up a unique video and audio studio environment. Throughout the day we interviewed sponsors, business leaders and exhibitors in talk-show fashion. This was done live on Periscope; we also recorded on video and audio. The interviews will be used as a future podcast and as videos to further support the show’s value for our firm and for the show producer.

Earlier, I mentioned the importance of planning for trade shows. I worked with my team for weeks to plan and prepare but the effort paid off in several ways. We attracted considerable attention during the show with attendees stopping by to watch and also take photos of what was going on. Some of these photos were posted on social media creating an additional buzz. We took photos with guests and these were shared online. The process created content for my soon to be launched podcast and videos for the Corbett Public Relations YouTube Channel. The investment of time paid off with leads for business. We helped to strengthen our brand awareness and recognition in our home market of Long Island.

Bill Corbett Jr. at Trade Nassau on Oct. 21, 2015.

Bill Corbett Jr. at Trade Nassau on Oct. 21, 2015.

During the recent show I played “double duty” as a featured speaker for one of the seminars. For those who are speakers or offer seminars at a trade show, remember you need to give your audience an incentive to visit your booth after your presentations is over. I offer tips sheet on how to use LinkedIn more effectively and questions to ask to identify your key differentiators.

There is a saying that the “real” trade show starts after the trade show ends. This is when you will follow up on your leads. Unfortunately, there are those who expend their time, energy and money at shows but never follow up. An estimated 61 percent of trade show leads are never followed up on – truly a frightening statistic.

Remember to block off a full day to follow up after the show. I usually wait one day then follow up with my best contacts. Have a follow up system and process. Identify the best prospects and work your way down the list. You may have to try to reach people four or more times. Keep trying, you made the investment and this is why you were at the show to begin with.

To avoid such horror stories, remember to plan out your trade shows activities including marketing strategies. Think about what you are going to do and be sure to follow up with what you are going to do after. Take the time to assess your show activities, examine what you did well and identify areas for improvement. Review your plan and make notes about how you will make your next trade show more successful. Avoid the scary mistakes I have outlined and look for ways to be different, attract attention and find more prospects.

By Bill Corbett

Corbett Public Relations Long Island and the World 




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