This fundamental question in marketing is especially important when you’re considering exhibiting at a trade show:

  • What is our message at the trade show and how does it relate to our ongoing marketing effort?
  • Should we have different messages for different target groups?
  • How will these be delivered through our booth graphics?
  • How are we reinforcing these in everything we’re doing around the trade show?

While all three are challenging for most early-stage companies, the third is one we’ve seen trip up some CEOs and CMOs. There are very few environments that are more challenging for a small company than trying to get your message out at a major industry trade show.

Here are the mistakes we’ve seen teams make, some of which have been driven by CEOs focused on the wrong thing:

  • Focusing the message on their company or their service without linking it to things that their audience is already interested in.
  • Creating messaging that is too dense and complex.
  • Creating messaging that is too high-level and simplistic.

As with all marketing, the only perspective that matters is that of your target customer. When your team presents you with sketches for your trade show booth, do not view them in isolation. Ask them to bring the map of the show floor, which will help you identify traffic patterns and obstacles (both of which should have been taken into account when the space was booked). Also ask for photos from last year that show other booths, ideally including booths of your main competitors.

As you go over all this, put yourself in the mind of someone walking down the aisle who might be thinking, “Is it worth stopping to find out what these guys do? It may make me late for another meeting I have back at our booth. Is it worth the time? Can’t quite tell what they do or how it’s different. I’ll have someone from our business development team stop by.”

Occasionally people will seek you out, but most of the time you’re competing with all the rest of the exhibitors for the thousands or tens of thousands of attendees at the show.

  • Will your message stand out?
  • Will they be able to quickly decide why they should walk into your booth?
  • Will they be able to quickly see what’s new or different with your offering as compared with what your competitors are saying?

We’ve heard people say, “We want them to come in to the booth and ask questions.” If your message is so poorly presented that the first question most people ask is, “What do you do?” then you’re wasting the time of your booth staff, time that should be dedicated to the customers you know you want to be talking with. You’re also more likely to have a busy executive at a target company walk by. Who do you end up attracting? People who were “sold” in advance and knew they wanted to meet with you—and people whose time isn’t that valuable.

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