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Trade Show ROI – Lessons From Those Who Achieve It

Updated: Feb 27

The benefits of exhibiting at a trade show can surpass any other form of marketing, especially on a B2B level, however lots of people are led to believe that getting positive ROI from an exhibition stand is tough to do. With plenty of businesses achieving it – we thought we would take a closer look at the lessons we could learn from those who have managed to master it.


First Impressions Count

Malcolm Gladwell is well known for writing his best seller Blink which details how important first impressions are, and how quickly we make them. First impressions set the tone and success of any business relationship going forward, and with our first opinion of someone forming in only one tenth of a second, the pressure is on when you are an exhibition stand designer!


Creative exhibition stand ideas can give you the edge at a trade show. You don’t have to spend lots of money, but you do need to invest your budget wisely. In order to do this, make sure you know why you are attending an exhibition, what you want to promote and what result you want to achieve. By communicating this to your exhibition stand designer, they should ensure all elements of your exhibition stand answer those needs.


The Jamie Oliver stand featured below is a great example of the brand ethos emanating from every space with the walls, flooring, lighting and fixtures all reflecting the fun, rough and ready nature of the Jamie brand. Various cast iron and steel mismatched hooks and handles were sourced and applied to the walls to hang products and full wall graphics applied to create a visual feast of colour and texture, reflected in the product packaging. The floor is laminate wood which has been treated to appear worn, which lends itself to a friendly, inviting environment. This stand at Ambiente in Frankfurt caused a real stir, attracting many new visitors onto the booth.



The Jamie Oliver stand features textured walls, crates and mis matched hooks to create an ambience


Encourage A Following

This is based on a theory that social proof generates trust, in other words, if we see lots of people queuing to go to a restaurant or exhibition stand, our initial reaction is that there must be something of interest there. With our interest piqued, we then tend to head over to investigate further. So how do you do this when your stand is empty? Well, some exhibition stands hire people to walk on and off their stands to make them constantly look busy, but when this is not an option, think about how you can create an event to attract people. This could be a live cooking or craft demonstration, in the fashion world perhaps it might be someone putting the final touches onto a model and featuring a live catwalk. Alternatively think about engaging your audience with high value giveaways for their participation in an event which is timed to go live at intervals throughout the day.



A Chef draws the crowd in to the Le Creuset trade show stand

Pre-show Sales meetings

Sometimes the pre-show initiatives can be more exhausting than the show itself! By reaching out to attendees 4-6 weeks before the show to set up meetings during the show, you can guarantee yourselves an audience and space your appointments to ensure you get to see your key accounts.


This is more than just an email to ask customers if they are attending – it is a programmed approach of emails, phone calls and meetings to ensure you are front of mind when it comes to the show going live. Make all pre-show communications about the potential of what will be launched as a teaser and enquire about what your customers are looking to see when they visit. This way you can make sure you display products which are of interest at the front of your stand and be prepared with sales promotions which meet their needs during the show.


Pre-exhibition networking

This is similar to the above, but it focusses on conversations with other exhibitors who may have the same target audience as you. By meeting with or connecting with other exhibitors at the show and discussing potential leads or customers who may be attending, you might gather some new contacts which will help to increase your sales opportunities. Clearly undertaking this activity with your direct competition is not the way to go, but if you are in the business of selling home lighting, then a business who is selling soft home accessories could be a great ally.


Alternatively, if you are a member of a trade association try to meet up with them in advance of the exhibition going live to see if they can assist with encouraging visitors to your stand or growing your contact base.


Let Visitors Interact

By encouraging visitors to “stay and play” with products or trial software, they will stay on your exhibition stand for longer and will slowly draw a crowd. Although this might not be easy to do in all cases, facilitating hands on activity for visitors will reap rewards. The below stand is a fantastic example of how one exhibitor encouraged this by positioning machines demonstrating their software against an aisle. With 3-4 lined up next to eachother, all it took was for a few people to step on the stand and try them out, to encourage more to do the same.


Tipwin software ready for use on their exhibition stand

Create An Experience

If you are unable to make your products interactive, take some time to work out how you can create an experience to either demonstrate your businesses purpose, or create an environment which is experiential in some way. This will make your stand memorable, and will also differentiate you from the competition. We love the stand below which features a tapas bar theme. It may be small in size, but it is big on personality!


The Rushton tapas bar on their stand at a recent trade show

Keep Your Staff Motivated

By making sure your team are trained on all your products and services before the show and they are aware of the overall company strategy and markers of success for the show, they will be able to represent your company and brand properly. Make sure you have your best sales people for that kind of environment on the stand and see if you can introduce a competition to keep them motivated. Trade shows are hard on the feet and energy levels, so a little encouragement will reap rewards!


Be Welcoming

Being hospitable goes a long way so tea, coffee, croissants in the morning and chocolates/freshly baked biscuits in the afternoons along with comfortable seating will work a treat. Using a little aroma marketing will work to your advantage here too, the scent of fresh baked goods is one which many a hungry and tired visitor will not be able to ignore!

The stand below was designed to be a truly welcoming space, with plenty of comfortable seating for meetings, it was dedicated to networking and engaging with their customers, rather than displaying lots of goods and services.




A welcoming trade show stand for buyers to relax and engage with the exhibitor

Start The Planning Early

Booking your space early on and engaging with an exhibition stand designer as soon as you can will help you stay ahead of the curve and prevent those last minute rushed jobs which cause stress and puts a strain on budgets and resources. Most experienced exhibition stand builders will be able to tweak designs where necessary as you near the show’s live date, so thinking about your stand early on will give you time to properly immerse yourself and your team in the environment and gives you all the opportunity to spot anything which might be improved before you get to the exhibition.


Learn From Your Peers

Exhibitions are expensive, so taking some time out to look around an exhibition hall in preparation for future exhibitions is important. Make a note of who is busy and what is attracting people to their stand, different methods for showcasing graphics and products as well as the type of experience visitors are receiving from visiting other booths. All this information will come in handy for when you are designing your next exhibition stand, it doesn’t matter how prepared you are, the competitive environment is always changing and everyone can learn from others in their industry.


Clear The Diary!

Letting leads drift after a trade show is perhaps the No1 sin. It is undoubtedly also the most common! Your day to day work gets put on hold when you are at an exhibition, so it is natural when you get back to the office, to tackle the mounting workload first – but this gives rise to ignoring the leads you have just generated and as time passes, the cooler those leads become, so give yourself a few clear days in your diary after a trade show to follow up all of your leads, sending out samples and information where necessary, arranging meetings etc to create a strong pipeline and support your year ahead.


Ultimately, the success of your trade show is down to how much effort you and your team want to put into it. You cant expect to book the space, hang some products up and make magic happen – there has to be a formalised plan and involvement from many stakeholders within the business to manage overall costs against what you need to achieve in order to call the show a success. The best way to measure ROI is to test it, and the best way to test it is to measure it – so make sure you have the means to record and measure activities before, during and after the show which will help to develop constant ROI data to be used for future trade shows strategies.


Want to learn more about reporting on trade shows and measuring your ROI? Click here to read our article on how to measure success.






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