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Top Trade Show Trends for 2022-2023: How to Be the Showstopper on the Show Floor

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

Trade shows have been part of our business economy since they were very literally traded services in medieval times, with vendors showcasing their wares. Today’s trade shows are more like the Muzak of business development, and yet, we just can’t quit them. On one hand, if we don’t attend them, we could lose opportunity, face time, and even some pretty decent educational tips to our competitors in attendance…and on the other hand, they are extremely costly and it’s almost impossible to get the financial ROI you would hope to achieve.

We often think of trade shows as advertising, but they are a hybrid of marketing and advertising. We lose track of the difference, but it’s important, as they have very different goals and outcomes, and they shouldn’t be benchmarked equally. With most companies spending 8% of their annual budget on marketing and advertising, this translates into a significant expense that needs to be strategically outlaid.

So, let’s put it this way:

If you’re dating, marketing is working out, keeping it high and tight, and putting out that positive and open energy. Advertising is then using that swagger to ask someone out or express your interest overtly. Marketing establishes, expresses, and enhances your brand and brand exposure. Advertising is a specific call to action related to a conversion/sale.

Trade shows truly are a hybrid of both – probably in the vicinity of putting a profile on an app, but keeping it hidden for now. It's possible we've pushed that metaphor beyond its reach, but based on pure conjecture and life experience, we'd say trade shows are 60% marketing and 40% advertising. That’s certainly not a reportable statistic, but stick with us on this.

Even if your prime goal is sales and that’s all you’re measuring, you are still heavily marketing your presence by showing up, repeatedly, to these same shows. The more people see you, the more they trust you. The more they trust you, the more they will consider you as a resource. See, that’s why it’s gray. At what point does the marketing transition into the advertising? That’s almost impossible to quantify, but as long as you measure and track your trends, you can tailor your approach accordingly with great results.

Your trade show efforts can translate into sales by leveraging some of these tricks of the trade (show):

· Instead of staffing your booth with only your most knowledgeable or experienced team members, utilize people who are friendly, engaging, interesting, and fun. You can hire them by the day if you need to. There are services that do this regularly, and it’s surprising how well the great ones are able to blend in.

· Save your experienced team members for the heavy lifting, as the show floor stars attract the potential clients. After a brief screening, they can connect the potential client with a team member to sit down one on one and close the deal. Lures are shiny for a reason. That is not a gross suggestion that all of your trade show talent need to look like they are models; there are many ways to be shiny, and it’s good to have some range and diversity in your lures. You never know what the fish are going to bite for on a given day.

· If you are physically able, don’t sit down behind a table. Stand up; project energy and welcome. When it’s time for a conversation, grab a seat one on one, but sitting at a booth sends a message of disinterest and a lack of hunger. We like our vendors hungry. We like to feel special and wanted, so show us you care and that we matter. Don’t tell anybody, but we like that even more than discounts!

· Do not underestimate the value of a creative and aesthetically engaging booth. We have been to hundreds of trade shows over the years, and depending on the industry, 70-95% of the booths are almost offensively boring. Why are you spending $10,000 - $250,000 and not spending the fraction of that it would cost for good design? Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. Also, don’t be Pennywise.

· Make sure your trade show giveaways are not the ones we all throw away before we leave the show. What do you keep? Why did you keep that? Reverse engineer that same concept, et voila, you have your own swaggy swag. (Hint: most people keep things they will actually use. Office supplies that aren’t poorly made, travel related items of function and not frill, candy/mints/water – but those have a short shelf life, data storage solutions, clothing items, and other resources typically make it past the hotel room trash can…but it’s hard to make those things seem fresh, so that’s the challenge/opportunity.)

· Swim upstream. There is no benefit to blending in. Even if you alienate certain potential clients with a bold strategy/look/approach, being seen on a broader scale is so very worth it. You don’t need ALL of the clients, you just need more of the clients. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. You’re more of an asset than you realize.

If you keep the marketing/advertising concept front of mind in your trade show strategy, the points above will fall in line. If you consider the show the large marketing resource it truly is, you’ll take more care in the way you present yourself and your company. If you use your trade show talent to recruit the clients, and your trusted team to close the clients, you will in turn maximize your sales volume.

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