by Eric Z Horn, CMP, PBA Associate Executive Director, Business Development

In just about every industry around the world, exhibiting at trade shows is a tried-and-true tradition for companies big and small. Trade shows remain an extremely effective marketing activity to reach highly targeted buyers with significant purchasing power.

Year after year, the number of companies participating in trade shows continues to increase. Companies are finding trade shows a viable and cost-effective selling tool. But beyond just moving product, there are many other benefits to exhibiting in industry trade events, including networking with current and potential clients, enforcing your brand and company culture, getting new products in the spotlight, and performing informal market research.

Connect With Decision Makers

More and more, we live and work in a digital, around-the-clock business environment. Although technology has allowed us to connect in many new ways, face-to-face interaction remains essential to standing out in the eyes of your customers. The interactive trade show environment is the most powerful marketing opportunity, bringing current and prospective business partners and clients together in one venue.

It also puts your company’s brand and representatives directly in front of major industry players. According to a recent study by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), more than half of trade show attendees are top decision makers or influencers, “More than nine out of 10 attendees have net buying influence, which means they serve in at least one of the listed buying roles (i.e., influences purchases as an end-user, specifies, makes recommendations or is a final decision-maker).”

Make Your Time and Investment Count

Like any marketing activity, getting a maximum return on trade shows requires skillful planning and execution to produce the desired results. It is no longer enough to just set up a stand, hand out company literature and hope for the best. Consider these steps as you plan for your next trade show:

Set realistic objectives

Be clear, specific and reasonable about your expectations. Remember to include less tangible, but highly important outcomes; for example, creating energy around a new product or re-enforcing your company culture and product standards.

Focus on the “big” picture

While trade shows might seem like a great platform for large companies to gain more business, the truth is that smaller companies experience an excellent return on their investment at trade shows. Larger companies have already claimed their place in the market with a stable customer base, therefore focusing less on their presence at trade shows. According to the same CEIR study cited above, approximately 50 percent of attendees and 60 percent of exhibitors are from small businesses with fewer than 100 employees.

Determine the resources necessary to achieve your objectives

Between your staff, booth, marketing literature and the overall brand message you are trying to portray, there are many ways you can set yourself apart from those around you. Choosing the right color palette, making your booth easy to maneuver, and keeping your staff upbeat and informative can truly impact the number of attendees actually stopping at your booth. Approachability is key in making all of these factors work together to achieve your objectives.

Plan a strategy and set a budget

A year or more away from your show date is not too soon to begin researching and formulating and effective plan. Include everything associated in your strategy in your budget, including staff travel and expenses, pre- and post-show marketing and communications, and any promotional expenses you will do at the show, such as sponsorships, giveaways or contests.

Establish methods for evaluating results

There should be two major sides to your trade show evaluation: Evaluating your own performance regarding the functionality and effectiveness of your booth and your staff; and determining the outcome of your efforts and how your product or service was perceived (i.e. feedback from customers and/or increase in post-show sales). Measuring the results of the first is the most difficult as you are essentially evaluating your abilities, but it is important to ask yourself the difficult questions. The second can be measured through current and prospective customer surveys either given at your booth or sent as a follow up, asking new customers if they are buying from you due to the trade show, and watching your online marketing media, such as your webpage or social networking site, to see if there is an increase in traffic.

Train your exhibit staff to ensure consistency in messaging

One of the highly variable parts of your trade show experience lies with your staff. Pre-show training is imperative to having a successful show. You can’t listen to what they say or do every second, but making sure their information, energy and appearance are on point can ensure that your image and message stay consistent.

Integrate publicity and promotions in your plans

Use the energy of the show to promote your product news to media. Talk to show organizer staff or the PR firm managing the media office to inquire about the availability of a list of registered attending press and about general media opportunities before, during, and after the event. Have press materials with your booth location and an immediate contact available at your booth and drop some off in the show’s press office.

Ask show management about speaker and sponsorship opportunities

Talk to the show organizers well in advance of the event to learn about speaking and sponsorship opportunities to get your brand in front of a qualified and engaged audience.

Most importantly, follow up on the connections you forged and fulfill any commitments you made. Evaluate the success of the show with your team and revise your trade show strategic plan accordingly. Maintaining your commitment to focus on exhibiting and evaluating your goals will give you a lasting blueprint for continued success.

About the Author

Eric Z Horn is the Associate Executive Director of Business Development for the Professional Beauty Association (PBA) and the Show Director for the Cosmoprof North America trade show. Eric has been certified by the Convention Industry Council as Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) since 1993. PBA advances the professional beauty industry by providing our members with education, charitable outreach, government advocacy, events and more. Visit or call 800.468.2274 (480.281.0424) for more information.