Using trade shows, exhibitions and other events

Whether your business is focused on business-to-consumer (B2C) or business-to-business (B2B), this guide can help you decide if and how you should promote your business at business events.

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Role of business events

Business events can be a useful tool as part of your marketing mix. Trade shows, exhibitions and other events can be an excellent way to:

  • showcase your products and services
  • increase awareness of your business
  • launch new products and services
  • network with industry members
  • explore partnership opportunities
  • see what competitors are offering
  • generate new business leads
  • attract and convert customers.

Depending on what you want to achieve, you can:

  • attend as a visitor
  • set up a trade stand or booth as an exhibitor
  • organise and run your own event.

However, not all businesses will benefit from these opportunities. Before deciding to take part in an event:

  • consider your industry and business situation
  • research all options.

Common types of promotional events

The names of these promotional events are often used interchangeably and the differences are not always clear-cut, but it's good to have some idea of what type of event will help you target the right customers.

Trade shows are organised events where different businesses in a similar industry display and demonstrate their products and services.

  • Trade shows are often business-to-business (B2B) events attended by businesses in a specific market.
  • Visitors are typically representatives of companies, distributors, resellers, suppliers, and media in the industry.
  • Examples: Beauty, software, architecture and medical trade shows.

Exhibitions are organised events focused on promoting products and services in a specific category or topic (which may span across industries).

  • Depending on the theme, exhibitions may focus on either B2B or business-to-customer (B2C) audiences, but often aim to attract the general public.
  • Examples: Food, travel, pet, computer, and camping-and-caravan expos.

Conferences are formal, structured meetings of professionals to exchange information and ideas about a defined topic. They usually feature expert speakers.

  • Conferences typically focus on B2B interaction.
  • They can:
  • Examples: Accountancy, engineering, marketing and legal conferences.

Before you commit to an event...

You need to know if attending an event and displaying your products and services is right for your business. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does this event align with my marketing objectives?
  • Will this be the best way to invest our marketing budget?
  • Will it deliver a return?

Before you commit to a business event:

  • weigh up the potential benefits and risks
  • do research.

Benefits

Promoting your business in person in a different environment can have many advantages. For example:

  • Trade shows are typically targeted at an industry niche, so can be a great way to build your brand and reach your ideal customers.
  • As exhibitions often attract large and diverse audiences, they provide a great platform to market your business and attract new customers.

The primary advantage is person-to-person contact. This allows you to:

  • demonstrate products
  • explain your services
  • ask and answer questions
  • assess reactions
  • make new business contacts
  • test new concepts and markets.

Risks and disadvantages

Promoting your business at an event might require a significant:

  • time commitment from you and your staff – before, during and after the event
  • investment – for example, for the cost of registering for the event, travel and transport, setting up a display and developing marketing materials.

Be aware that:

  • there can be increased competition in the same environment
  • choosing the wrong environment to exhibit your products and services can mean your effort and investment is wasted
  • a poorly planned or delivered promotion can damage your brand
  • the cost of taking part could be more than the extra income it delivers.

To make the most of your resources, you need to research the event and your audience.

Find and research events

  • Search the internet for trade shows and exhibitions that relate to your industry and business.
  • Attend events as a visitor for a first-hand view of the format and audience.
  • Contact industry associations for advice on what events could work for your business.
  • Ask questions of your partners and suppliers to find out what works and what does not.
  • Use our business event calendar to find events that provide business advice and assistance.

Know your audience

  • Research your customers to find the best way to highlight your products and services.
  • Find information on the kind of events your target segments attend.
  • Understand how events influence customers choices in your industry.
  • Make sure the event and display meet the needs and expectations of your customers.
  • You should have a budget for events in your marketing plan.
  • Know what you want to achieve. Your marketing objectives can be:
    • direct (e.g. leads, sales)
    • indirect (e.g. awareness, perception).
  • Work out the total cost (e.g. booth hire, pamphlets, and promotional items to give away). Include the value of the time you or your staff will commit.
  • Use our return-on-investment calculator to find out if the event will be worth it.
  • Consider if it will be best to focus your efforts on 1 important event.

Outsourcing to specialists

There can be many businesses competing for attention at business events. Customers can easily compare your business with the competition.

To make sure you're showcasing your business in a relevant, professional and effective way, consider using an events specialist – for example, suppliers who have expertise in the design and production of trade stands and booths.

How to get the most out of events

Once you've read through the exhibitor agreement, and signed up for the event, it's time to get to work. Here are a series of tasks you need to organise before, during and after.

  • Plan carefully to ensure you have enough time and budget to deliver everything you need to.
  • Promote your attendance through channels such as your website, social media, and emails.
  • Contact and invite influential customers or potential customers by phone, email, social media, or letter.
  • Get quotes from visual-display providers to design and erect an effective booth that can stand out from the competition.
  • Ensure that your chosen theme is also used in your marketing collateral and promotional items.
  • Consider using incentives, giveaways or demonstrations to attract potential customers to your display.
  • Think about ways to generate leads and collect customer information and get feedback (e.g. using online surveys and competition entries).
  • Work out what you want to say – write down your key points based on your value proposition.
  • Inform and train your staff to ensure they'll have the knowledge and customer service skills to handle customer queries

Make your sales process easy so customers can buy at the show and in the future.

  • Attract visitors through effective visual displays that clearly promote your products and services.
  • Have meaningful conversations with the visitors to your stand – make eye contact and smile.
  • Avoid sales tactics that are pushy, aggressive or overbearing – this will only damage your brand.
  • Make this an enjoyable and interactive experience – and remember your business networking.
  • Consider contributing to discussions, presentations or demonstrations that are part of the official program.
  • Hold a debrief meeting with staff and explore the formal and informal feedback from visitors.
  • Evaluate how effective you were at the event – compare your planned and actual results and calculate your return on investment.
  • Develop and implement a program to convert leads into prospects and ultimately customers.
  • Document what worked and what didn't work to help shape future opportunities.

Hosting an event

Depending on your business, you may want to host your own events. This could be for internal or external audiences. For example, you may want to inform and inspire your staff and your customers by:

  • launching a new product
  • hosting a seminar or webinar
  • arranging a networking function
  • celebrating business milestones
  • organising a fundraising initiative.

Action item: Plan your own event

  1. Look at the list above and decide if your business can benefit if you host an event.
  2. Read more about hosting a webinar, live streaming, and video conferences.
  3. Do an internet search to find free templates and advice to help plan your events.

Business event checklist

  1. I know the event will be well-attended by my target audience.
  2. I've allocated enough time and money to deliver all event requirements.
  3. I've established our key performance indicators (KPIs) – for example, number of competition entries or sales.
  4. My employees are able to represent our business in a professional way.
  5. I can deliver an 'on brand' display that supports my business brand, stands out and captures attention.
  6. I've organised marketing material and promotional items that add value.
  7. I've developed creative ways to display our products and generate leads.
  8. I know how to create positive interactions and conversations with visitors.
  9. I know how I'll gather feedback (formal and informal) to guide future decisions.
  10. I keep up to date with the relevant laws and regulations and know how to meet them.

Also consider...