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Lights, Camera, Leads: How to Make Your Trade Show the Blockbuster Event of the Year

Trade shows, expos, conventions—whatever you call them, these events can put a lot of added pressure on an already busy marketing manager. Will the sales team like the booth? Do I have all the right materials prepared? Will the technology work? How can I drive traffic to the booth, ensure prospects are engaged, and then drive quality leads after? These are just some of the questions that keep even the most seasoned marketing pros awake in the nights leading up to the year’s biggest industry events. 

What if instead of looking at trade shows as just another tactic on your to-do list, you saw them as an opportunity to be the blockbuster event of your integrated marketing plan? All you need is a money-making script (aka super-smart strategy) and the best cast and crew in the biz. Cue the Element team—we’ve worked on tons of trade shows across a variety of industries, and we’ve got the chops to have people buzzing about your brand well before the show begins and long after it ends.

Picture it: You’re the director of your brand’s next big hit and, like a major motion picture release, trade shows require meticulous planning and promotion to ensure a box office success. They’re both about crafting unforgettable experiences that captivate audiences and leave them clamoring for more. No one flocks to the theater to see a movie they’ve never heard of, right?! Grab your popcorn and settle in as we walk through how approaching trade shows like blockbuster events can help you create marketing magic. Let’s roll …

Pre-Production Phase: Planning for Success

Before a movie hits the silver screen or a trade show floor opens its doors, there’s a whirlwind of preparation behind the scenes. And similar to a film’s pre-production phase, trade shows require meticulous planning and strategy.

Starting six to nine months in advance (no, that isn’t a typo), begin the planning process by identifying the key components of any trade show: the goal, the budget, and the team.

The Plot (Setting Your Trade Show Goal)

First, it’s imperative that you plot out your business goal, or focus, for the show, i.e., launch a product, drive leads/sales, generate brand awareness, or build connections.

The Money (Allocating Your Trade Show Budget)

Next, how much you do you plan to spend? The key word being plan. You hear all about the big-time bankrolls attached to making movies. We guarantee that doesn’t even include the pre- and post-promotion efforts that come with the territory. On a much smaller scale, the same holds true for trade shows—they’re an investment. But when done well, they have the potential to drive sales through the funnel before, during, and after the show.

As you begin to lay out your trade show budget and plan, review and audit your marketing spend from previous years and adjust as necessary. Consider what elements did or didn’t work in the past. Was there something you saw at another booth that really caught your eye? Do it, but in a way that works for your brand. Let’s put it this way: if it’s a show where you’re launching the biggest innovation your industry has seen in years … don’t shortchange it. But if your focus will be on entertaining existing clients and maintaining relationships, maybe plan for more of a sequel budget.

The Cast (Assembling Your Trade Show Team)

Once you’ve set your goal (and budget), make sure all your internal stakeholders are aligned on the plan, then identify who will attend the show—oftentimes the sales team makes up a majority of the crew. A clear goal sets the stage and helps your salespeople sell. Marketing may drive the coordination of the event, but sales become the star once you get there. Engaging the experts early and considering their thoughts and recommendations will set the greater team up for success.

See how sales and marketing can team up to drive even better results.

Scripting Success: Integrating Your Marketing and Trade Show Strategy

Once the plan is set, you can begin to develop a comprehensive trade show strategy. It’s important to remember that it isn’t as simple as just showing up. How you promote your brand pre- and post-show is just as important, if not more so, than how you showcase your brand in the booth itself.

That means a few weeks to a few months out from the trade show—depending on your industry and the season you’re in—you’re going to want to get the buzz going. Start planting the seed that you’re planning to attend. Like a movie press junket, you’ll want to ensure you have a strategic PR campaign outlined with a thoughtful media plan. Remember, media pros’ schedules book up early too.

And then, get people talking! There’s power in amplifying your message and drumming up excitement via plenty of posting on social media.

That’s just a taste of the pre-show promotion on your to-do list. So, what about post-show? While it’s tempting to simply collapse and sleep for days, you’ll need to consider how you plan to nurture and advance leads after the show ends. This can include a mix of tactics tailored to your brand and target audience, one example being a custom e-blast thanking attendees for stopping. No matter the strategy, planning in advance can help take some of the stress off the team once they get back into the office.

Building the Set: Standing Out From the Crowd with Compelling Booth Design

One of the easiest ways to drive traffic to your booth? Show up in a unique way and stand out from the crowd. Differentiation is the name of the trade show game. Instead of developing creative that goes with the flow in the sea of sameness, start a new trend all your own. For example, take the recent PACK EXPO 2023 booth Element designed for our client, Fresh-Lock® closures.

great tradeshow booth design by fresh-lock

The booth, which featured a unique, brand-centric theme, drew attention because it highlighted an important and timely topic for showgoers—sustainability—while also breaking out of the mold of the “typical” booth. Many trade show booths tend to feature eerily similar colors and layouts. Don’t blend in; stand out!

Back to the Fresh-Lock booth … The sales materials were centered around the future-based sustainability theme and the brand’s focus on collaboration, with all marketing support tactics employing on-brand, cohesive colors and language. We worked with the Fresh-Lock sales team to ensure that materials aligned with their goals and answered frequently asked questions (FAQs) from leads and show attendees alike.

Note: there’s only so much space in those trade show booths and only so much information showgoers can retain. Consider adding QR codes to your collateral or even your booth design to prompt further engagement—and leads—post-show.

Notice, we did not mention tchotchkes … It’s not because we don’t like free stuff. It’s because we firmly believe that creative booth design, comprehensive sales materials, and an integrated promotional strategy draw more traffic and leads than random swag. While free goodies can be a useful and fun supplement to the booth, they need to work in tandem with the overall brand strategy by amplifying the message and leaving a lasting impression.

Prepping for the Big Event: Promoting & Marketing Your Trade Show Presence

Just like the spotlight seems to find the Hollywood stars (thanks to their highly paid publicists), your organization spends a lot of valuable dollars to attend these shows, so people better know you’re there. Create a promotional strategy that extends across all forms of media: owned, earned, social, and paid.

For starters, update and build out your exhibitor profile on the show’s website. And on your own website, consider developing a landing page dedicated to how you’ll show up at the trade show. This page will serve as a central hub for all show information. It’s also a great measurement tool when reviewing post-show results as you can review clicks, downloads, and more actionable data.

Capture the Experience in “Reel” Time

Social media is also a powerful communication tool for the total trade show experience, reaching those who may or may not be able to attend every event or speaking engagement by connecting them with your brand’s content. Before the trade show begins, share teaser posts with booth information and any special events you have planned. This is also a great opportunity to utilize paid or sponsored social posts to ensure your content is reaching your target audience. You can also monitor relevant trade show accounts and hashtags to join the conversation when appropriate.

It’s Showtime! The Blockbuster Event (aka Trade Show) is Here

Whether you’re walking the red carpet or revealing your latest products at a trade show booth, this is your moment to shine. Just like a movie premiere, trade shows are all about sharing a story that wows your audience and leaves a lasting impression. From interactive demos to captivating presentations, every aspect of your booth becomes part of the show. And just like a blockbuster movie, the experience extends beyond the trade show floor, with networking events, afterparties, and opportunities for more meaningful brand engagement.

Bring It in Your Booth

You’ve planned, you’ve prepped, and you’ve arrived at the show. Now, it’s time to work it—generate leads and get those sales, baby! Just like the actors and actresses run lines, make sure to host an in-booth training for your sales teams. Prior to the show opening, provide relevant key messages and discuss talking points for meeting with potential customers. Review all materials (they’re not just props!) in the booth, so everyone understands the resources available to them and their value for the attendees visiting. This way, everyone who visits receives a warm welcome and an engaging experience.

It is also important to scan badges or find other ways to track leads as visitors enter your booth. This not only serves as a guestbook, so you know who visited your booth, but it also creates an active list for post-show outreach. Don’t forget to bring plenty of business cards for a good, old-fashioned exchange of contact information.

Take the Trade Show on the Road

Your company’s trade show presence needs to travel well beyond your designated floor space. Be sure to not only explore other booths but also leverage your exhibition across the entire expo center. Becoming a show, stage, or other type of sponsor guarantees your brand’s name and logo will gain extra eyes over the course of the show. Attend general events such as concerts, luncheons, or demonstrations to network and meet attendees that you can invite to visit your booth.

In addition, speaking engagements and stages are a great way to spread your brand message and thought leadership to your industry audience. (Keep in mind these opportunities are often up for grabs months in advance, so be sure to plan early and toss your hat into the ring.) We’ve found that speaking opportunities are one of the most effective ways to generate leads—in and out of the show—as they give exhibitors the platform to share their expertise with an audience that extends well beyond the walls of the event space, especially with the ability to reshare recordings through a variety of platforms.

Similarly, awards allow brands the opportunity to highlight their excellence in front of potential leads and industry editors. These, like speaking opportunities, require applications or nominations well in advance of the event. During the planning stages of your trade show strategy, consider which products or people might be good fits and review award opportunities, which are usually listed on the trade show site. When it comes to credibility and visibility, it truly is an honor just being nominated.

That’s a Wrap(ish): Remarketing and Leveraging Your Trade Show Success for the Future

As the credits roll, it’s time to shift gears to the afterparty. Think of this phase as leaving the door open for the sequel. Plant the seeds for future engagements, whether it’s hosting post-show webinars, launching exclusive promotions, or planning for the next big reveal. Either way, the possibilities truly are endless.

Trade shows and movie releases may operate in different industries, but they share a common goal: to create unforgettable experiences that captivate audiences and drive results. Trade shows are the Hollywood blockbusters of the marketing world—with careful planning, strategic promotion, and relentless follow-up, you can turn your brand into a box office sensation.

Now Auditioning: Cast Your Next Trade Show Team

Planning a trade show is a big job, but it has the potential to generate big business. With an integrated strategy and the right crew to execute it, the hard work and budget you invest can add value well beyond those few days in the booth—serving as the foundation for your entire year of marketing as your team utilizes the assets and leads it will produce.

Let us be your behind-the-scenes crew. We’re ready to help you make marketing magic with a blockbuster event sure to boost your brand’s bottom line.


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