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Ask an Expert: Karen Cohen’s 3 Essential Tips for a Successful Trade Show

December 20, 2016

A lot has changed since the beginning of trade show exhibiting, but its importance for marketers like you has not.

According to a Simmons Market Research Bureau study, 91% of respondents ranked trade shows as “extremely useful” for product purchasing information. That’s huge. So, why are some exhibitors coming up short?

We recently talked to Embarq Creative’s Managing Partner, Karen Cohen, to get to the bottom of it. With over 30 years in the exhibit industry, Karen knows a thing or two about developing successful trade show strategies. Below, we’ve distilled her top 3 essential tips trade show marketers, so you can have a better shot at capitalizing on your next exhibit.

Tip #1: Build engagement with pre-trade show marketing strategies.

Your modern buyer is an educated buyer.

The days when prospective customers attended trade shows to “see what’s out there” are over. Your audience no longer relies on sales reps as their source of product and brand information. They’re online: combing through customer reviews, press, your website, and social media channels.

To respond to these changes, Karen recommends engaging your prospects and consumers long before the event starts. Pre-trade show marketing strategies keep your audience informed, engaged, and excited to attend your exhibit.

Perhaps the biggest opportunity for pre-show marketing is social media. With tools like Sprinklr and InGo, you’re able to identify and partner with industry influencers, as well as engage with potential event attendees.

Social media has become so engrained in winning expo marketing strategies, it has even become an ROI success metric. Bloomberg Businessweek recently ranked exhibitors at the Detroit Auto Show by number of Twitter interactions, with Ford coming out on top.

Brand exhibitors who’ve built social media engagement into their pre-show strategies will likely enjoy a competitive advantage. But there are other strategies you can employ to reach your audience before the event too. These include:

  • Send e-blasts out announcing your participation in the conference and offer incentives for prospects to drop by.
  • Share your booth number, an interactive map of the show’s floor plan and your agenda for in-booth activities.
  • Integrate a live trial-version into your app, if your product is digital or mobile.
  • Add a demonstration or information request form in your app and integrate it with your CRM program
  • Use Push Notifications to encourage attendees to come by your booth, and announce any special events before they happen, such as conference sessions or networking opportunities.

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Tip #2: Include booth activities that encourage participation during the show.

Your job as a marketer is to empathize with your potential customers. You need to understand their challenges, and provide a way to solve them; so, to keep attendees engaged at your booth, demonstrate your willingness and ability to do so.

One of Karen’s favorite booth activities is an industry “hackathon.” According to Wikipedia, a hackathon “is an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development…collaborate intensively on software projects.” And while hackathons may have originated in the tech world, at their core is collective, marathon problem solving.

Take this idea and apply it to your industry. Invite groups of attendees to stop by your booth to talk, brainstorm, maybe even scribble on white boards together to come up with a new idea or solution to a common industry problem. The benefits are two-fold: You’ll keep booth attendees engaged, as well as demonstrate your brand’s commitment to innovation.


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Beyond hosting a pseudo hackathon, you can also encourage participation by integrating these into your trade show strategy:

  • Pop-up industry education
  • Q&A panel discussions with industry experts
  • Custom digital games

No matter the activity you choose, Karen stresses one single must-have: It needs to be purposeful. Your booth content should educate, facilitate networking, and solve your customers’ problems.

Tip #3: Engage with your prospects and customers after the show.

You’ve just lit a fire with several new relationships at your exhibit. Now, it’s time to stoke the flames.

Too often, trade show marketers neglect the post-show follow up. Brands need to stay top-of-mind with newly acquired leads by employing a targeted and deliberate follow-up strategy.

Karen recommends sending your leads an email, a message on social media, or even a Push Notification on your app a few days following the event. Provide them with personalized content and make it clear what you want them to do next.

Overall, the golden rule that applies to your follow up strategy is the same one that applies to all marketing: Send the right message, to the right person, at the right time.

Whether it’s before, during, or after the show, this aphorism rings true in all of Karen’s trade show tips. Yet, there’s still much more to developing a truly successful trade show exhibit. If you need a trade show partner to help brave the competition, we can help.