Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Are Trade Shows Worth It For Small Business?

In today’s world of video conferencing, social media marketing, digital marketing and other forms of technologically-enhanced marketing, are old-fashioned trade shows still a good way to win business?
Over the past five to 10 years, trade shows have gone from a “must” to a “maybe” on many small businesses’ marketing plans. Scandals in the news surrounding extravagant trade show spending tax-payer funded entities and other businesses left a bad taste in the mouth of many business owners when they considered trade show marketing. However, exhibiting and attending trade shows remains a viable method for small business owners to make contacts, introduce products and services to new clients, and forge lasting business relationships.
According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, trade shows and exhibits, the number of attendees at trade shows rose 2% in 2013, the last year for which figures are available. Net square feet devoted to trade shows increased slightly, by 0.8%, and the number of exhibitors grew by 0.5%. Although these are slight gains, the chart below shows the trends continuing to tick upwards from a low in 2009 2010.
CEIR Index
Source: Center for Exhibition Industry Research
  • NSF: Net Square Feet (of exhibit space)
  • EXH: Number of Exhibitors
  • ATT: Number of Attendees
  • REV: Revenues
Among the industries that saw the most increases in trade show activity, industrial and heavy machinery showed the most growth, with 6.9% increase in trade show attendance, followed closely by food (5%), sporting goods and travel (2.8% each) and business services (2.6%). If your small business works in these industries, you may want to investigate attending or exhibiting at a trade show next year.

Key Take-Aways

  • Trade shows and exhibits make sense for small business owners who rely upon networking, in-person product demonstrations, and experiential sales. If your product must be shown in person to be understood, believed or sold, consider exhibiting at an industry-specific trade show.
  • To assess your company’s return on investment for trade shows and exhibits, set goals that align with your firm’s strategic initiatives. You can measure factors such as booth traffic, session attendance, and leads obtained.
  • Work with a professional trade show marketing firm to create an exciting booth. Even a simple tabletop booth can be enhanced by professional graphics and backgrounds. Don’t wing it. You’re already investing in your trade show presence; make a great first impression with professional marketing materials.
  • Give-away items can be a great way to promote your company. Just make sure the give-away items are relevant to what you do. While stuffed animals and funny gag gifts will be snapped up by attendees, do they enhance your firm’s brand reputation?
  • Presentations at trade shows are an excellent way to showcase your knowledge, experience and industry thought-leadership. Just make sure that the presentation focuses on an issue, timely topic or sharing knowledge; nobody wants to sit through a sales pitch when they think they’re going to an educational seminar. Panel discussions that include a few clients willing to share their experience around a problem are a great way to highlight your company’s solutions. Other ideas may include sharing a before/after project, sharing research or data your company has collected, or presenting an educational seminar on your area of expertise. Visit the trade show website to fill out the appropriate session suggestion documents and plan at least one, if not two years, ahead of time when pitching sessions.
  • Attending trade shows can be as valuable as exhibiting at them if you are comfortable networking. Make sure you spend time getting to know people at the show. Don’t just hand out business cards willy-nilly. (need business cards? Go here)
  • Follow up within a few days after the trade show with potential contacts. If you let too much time elapse, they might not remember where they met you.

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