The 6 marketing stages of a trade fair participation

Planning and workflows are foundations for success

Peter Desmyttere
February 24, 2020
⏱ 7 min. read

Participation in one or more public fairs or trade fairs is part of many marketing plans and budgets. Anyone who plans an event knows that there are many steps in a planning process that must lead to a successful trade fair participation. From my point of view – as a marketing consultant and founder of a planning tool for marketeers – I see a lot of ad hoc work during this planning process. Marketers run from deadline to deadline and never get a grip on or an overview of the planning process for the trade fair. I plead for a radical turnaround, away from ad hoc work and rushing to the next deadline. The solution? Divide your fair trade participation into 6 clear stages, with detailed workflows attached to each stage. In this article I sketch the 6 key stages for a successful trade fair participation and give you tools for workflows and trade fair planning.

Stage 1: Objectives

Start your trade fair process by answering the question "What do we expect from trade fair participation?". This is a good guideline for setting up your entire further strategy. Participating in trade fairs takes quite a bite out of your marketing budget. It is therefore important to put the 'return on investment' in perspective beforehand: what return do you expect? Some common examples of objectives for participation in trade fairs are:

  • number of product demonstrations
  • number of appointments for the period after the fair
  • number of sales (turnover) on the fair itself (general or specific to a product or service)
  • number of sales talks with prospects

With Husky we regularly take part in trade fairs at home and abroad. The most important objective for us is the number of registered demos of our software on the booth. If we count the conversion of these demos to a paid subscription against the trade fair cost, we know exactly what the trade fair has brought us.

Stage 2: Booth design

Whether you use the trade fair organiser's interior design, re-use an existing booth design or build a completely new booth: the interior design of your booth is extremely important. What's more, it has a direct effect on achieving your objectives. A booth design with lots of space to (discreetly) talk to customers and prospects justifies a different goal than a booth design where products are in the spotlight. Some common examples of booth designs are:

  • Focus on demonstrating products (the product gets priority in the booth design)
  • focus on establishing contacts with customers and prospects (the booth design ensures many spontaneous visits to the booth)
  • focus on selling products or services directly (the booth design follows the logic of a shop)
  • focus on sales talks on the booth itself (the booth design is an extension of an office design)

With Husky we especially want to give demonstrations at our booth. That's why we always go for an open booth design with 2 demo units at the front. The screens are directed towards the hallways, which stimulates 'watching'. At the back of the wall is our pitch with which we create the power to stop and stimulate demo-requests.

Stage 3: Trade fair team

Surprisingly, this stage is a non-issue at many companies. "On a booth, sellers have to be there." it's cliché. Nothing could be further from the truth ... especially when 'selling' is not an objective. Therefore, think out-of-the-box when the fair team is determined. Based on your objectives and your booth design, profiles other than sales profiles could add special value to your booth. Some common non-sales profiles on an fair stand are:

  • administrative staff to welcome booth visitors and direct them to the right contact person.
  • marketing staff to give presentations and workshops
  • product employees to give product demonstrations
  • technical staff to assist with (more complex) demonstrations
  • animators (mostly freelancers) to animate your booth visitors 
  • higher management to get more out of strategic meetings with customers
  • trainees to carry out non-strategic processes consistently
  • Supplier employees to give more weight at demonstrations, presentations or sales talks

With Husky, we sell software. However: the decision to subscribe is never made after a demo on our booth. So we regularly put a marketeer or a product manager on our booth to give demos. Even talented trainees are allowed to get a taste of customer contacts on our booth, with the assistance of an account manager.

Another tip when putting together your fair team: also check in advance (open or discreet) whether the people assigned to the booth have the will and personality to be part of your fair team. Nothing worse for a visitor to your booth than an employee who is against his or her will or who is not at all made for the smoothness of conversation that characterizes fair participations so much.

Stage 4: Announcement

Strangely enough, many teams 'just' go to a trade fair. They stand there and eagerly look forward to visitors. That's a shame, because then you put all the responsibility for your exhibition success in the hands of the exhibition organiser. Of course, he has to take care of the visitors, there is no doubt about that and that's what you pay for. But you, as a marketer, have many trump cards of your own to attract visitors to the stand. Some of the most common promotional channels for trade show participation are:

  • the e-mail signature
  • a banner in your e-newsletter
  • a personal mail to customers (and prospects)
  • LinkedIn messages (very useful for prospects whose email address you don't know)
  • the website (with a banner and/or news article)
  • social media posts
  • social media ads
  • an interview or advertisement in the trade fair magazine or in the trade fair catalogue

Tip: use all the tools of the organization, in particular the possibilities offered by the fair's website. It is not uncommon for visitors to a trade show to prepare themselves via the organisation's website. There they will find an online catalogue of all participants that provides them with crucial preparatory information. Too bad if your registration page is not filled in! Also don't forget possible smartphone apps that visitors use as a kind of GPS during their presence at the fair.

At Husky, we always make every effort to highlight our presence at a trade fair to our customers and prospects. Below you'll find 2 examples from our own trade fair communication.

Stage 5: Showtime!

Perhaps the most important stage is that of the trade fair days itself. The period between the set-up and the breakdown of the booth is 'when the magic happens'. Marketing also bears an important responsibility in this stage, because we marketeers ensure that the trade fair team can work professionally and that the outlined sales and marketing processes are streamlined. Some of the most common marketing actions during the trade fair days are:

  • Providing POS material (tickets, leaflets, flyers, catalogues, brochures, gadgets, etc.).
  • Setting up the CRM database to capture leads
  • deployment of tools to capture visitor data (e.g. badge scanners)
  • organising catering (feeding the fair team)
  • setting up and maintaining specific dashboards to monitor results in real time (in the case of an exhibition with a focus on sales, this can create a special dynamic within the sales team).
  • contact with the organisation in case of questions or problems on the booth
  • guiding strategic prospects to the booth
  • managing the planned entertainment on the booth
  • setting up specific marketing actions during the trade fair days

At Husky we provide leaflets and gadgets (stylo's and notepads) on the booth. The latter are always eagerly brought along. But we like to experiment with marketing campaigns that put our brand in the spotlight at the trade fair itself. For example, we gave away a delicacy 'Gentse sneeuwballen' to visitors at a Dutch marketing fair (they were gone in 'no time'), we let a Husky mascot walk around at a fair and we even gave a live performance.

Stage 6: Follow-up

The days after the trade fair are necessary to let off steam. But watch out for too much decompression! Even after the trade fair, the marketing engine must not be stopped. Some common marketing actions after the trade fair days are:

  • Social media posts that highlight the dynamics on the booth, or that share important information (e.g. most sold product at the trade fair, most striking visitor, the best experiences on the booth,...) with followers. 
  • an e-mailing to booth visitors thanking them for their visit, combined with useful additional information about the product or service they were interested in
  • an e-mailing with a special fair promo, valid until ... (possibly packaged in a competition formula) 
  • a news article summarising the most important innovations and trends at the trade fair

At Husky, every booth visitor receives a personalised e-mail in the week after the trade fair with a thank-you note, a handy planning document and a motivation to start a free trial or subscription.

Getting started! From planning to workflows

Below you can see an example of an trade fair planning in our marketing planner Husky. In the top row of the planning (we call it channels) you will discover the different stages of the trade fair planning. Below that is the specific marketing communication that we do to promote our trade fair participation. Well organized, don't you think?

Behind each of these planning items is a more detailed planning with specific tasks for our team, we bundle the budgets, map out the results and centralise all important information in the 'Notes' tab. 

The cherry on the cake of your trade fair planning are the so-called workflows. These are task lists that are attached to each planning item like a checklist. In our white paper 'The ultimate checklist for trade show participation', we have expanded the 6 stages of the trade fair with all possible tasks that you as a marketing team have to deal with when you participate in a trade fair.

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