This past week I attended the National Plastics Exposition (NPE) to do some videotaping for a client. As I walked the massive show at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando I marveled at the booths. One had a machine that was literally as big as a house. Others had smaller, but still impressive, equipment, videos and displays. So I started to wonder if trade shows are a viable marketing activity for small business… or are they just for the “big guys?”

The answer is not as easy as you might think.

Today everyone is talking about digital marketing. There are so many ways to reach out and touch potential customers and build a following through websites, blogs and e-mail campaigns. These are really cost-effective ways to get multiple impressions with potential customers and stay connected to existing customers.  That’s why many small business owners use the tools.
But, should you consider exhibiting at a trade show.

Trade shows are a great way to build awareness of your company and your brand. They can also generate great leads and build better connections with existing customers. Face-to-face interaction, especially in our digital world, is critical. But, there are a few things to consider.

Find the Right Trade Show
There are many of them and some will be better opportunities than others. I think the best way to gauge that is to actually attend the show at least once to evaluate the opportunity. This is not always possible and some shows are held every other year so that might cause some difficulties. If you can’t get to a show, try to connect with some of the exhibitors and see how satisfied they were with the results. Cost is also a consideration for smaller organizations.

Know the True Costs
It not just the cost of a booth that you need to consider, there are other factors. You may need design assistance. You also need create any materials for handouts or giveaways. You may need to ship the booth and materials.  Travel costs for those manning the booth can add up quickly.  And, if you are going to entertain customers you will want to plan for that.

Design a Great Display
If you don’t make the effort to really wow attendees then there is no point in exhibiting. The display should reflect your company brand and be engaging.  You should consider getting expert help because there is a lot that goes into the design.

Train Your Staff
It’s not that easy to staff a booth. You can’t just expect that your people will know how to handle all the different types of interaction. You need a “script” for those who will be on site. They need to be prepared and also be trained on how to field questions and handle rush times when many people are in the booth at the same time.

Use Technology
I love to see video incorporated into a trade show plan. You can use video teasers prior to the show to invite people to visit you. In the booth, consider having plasma screens or interactive kiosks. Go one step further, and think about capturing video of your booth to share after the show. This lets you reach out to those who did not make it and leverages all the work you did for marketing after the fact.

I have attended lots of trade shows, worked for clients who are exhibiting and even exhibited myself a few times. Some were great experiences, others… not so much. Because smaller companies have fewer dollars to spend, it is important to really evaluate the return on the investment.  You might do just as well as an attendee and make great contacts by walking the show.  Or you could exhibit, really make a splash and get lots of new leads. If you do decide to exhibit just be sure you have the manpower to follow-up quickly on leads or you won’t convert them into customers.



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