Make exhibitions work for your business

Jim Boulton of Large Design reveals how to maximise returns through exhibitions

An exhibition is a unique marketing medium.

It is the only one where prospects can comprehensively experience your product through proper handson demonstrations and one-to-one conversations. Combined with the neutrality of the exhibition environment and the fact that prospects pay to visit you, this means exhibitions can be enormously powerful – if you make them so.

There are some key and simple ways to make sure your efforts produce an end-product with new or increased custom. First up, you’ve got to be absolutely clear about what you want.

Step 1
Determine objectives

You can achieve an enormous amount at an exhibition – providing you know what you want. Like any marketing exercise, exhibition design is best treated as part of your entire strategy.

Only once you have established your overall marketing objectives can you consider the role an exhibition might play. Some of the potential rewards of a successful exhibition are:

… A qualified, up-to-date prospect database

… Visitors provided with hands-on exposure to products

… A new product or company introduced to the market

… Media exposure generated

… Raised brand awareness

… Customer feedback

… The opportunity to learn from your competitors

Step 2
Pre-show promotion

Pre-show promotion is the area most often overlooked but can make the difference between successful and unsuccessful exhibiting. One of the most powerful tools for pre-show promotion is the visitor registration list, with a well-crafted email marketing or direct mail campaign you can invite these people straight to your stand.

Organisers also often provide a marketing guide from which you can order complimentary visitor tickets for key customers. The guide will also outline advertising opportunities in the exhibition brochure and other show-related media and provide event logos to include in your literature.

Step 3
Train staff

Staff should be given a thorough overview of the objectives and every evening when the show is over a debriefi ng meeting should be held where goals are reviewed. Discuss what approaches worked well, those that didn’t and what products and services were of most interest.

Ensure that the lessons learned are incorporated in the following day’s activities. Adjust your goals depending on their performance. If you come to the conclusion that the goals are too easily achieved then raise the bar accordingly.

Step 4
Break the ice

Make yourself available, stand near the front of the stand, be aware of your body language (don’t fold your arms) and actively engage people in conversation. Your opening statement should be polite, unthreatening and open.

General questions can work well as openers, for example ‘What do you think of the exhibition?’ or ‘What brings you to the show today?’. A generic, open question like this gives you the opportunity to agree and then open up dialogue about your products.

Giveaways are another great way to break the ice. Toys, stickers, T-shirts and headache tablets have worked well for us in the past. Also, get to know the other exhibitors; unless they are direct competition they will refer people from their stand to yours.

Step 5
Make your stand impossible to escape

It is vital to design your stand to gain maximum attention, to attract the right kind of visitors, to maximise lead generation and to develop a successful follow-up strategy. The ultimate aim being to convert exhibition visitors to clients.

Despite effective pre-show promotion there will still be people arriving at the show with no idea that you are exhibiting there. Your challenge is to quickly make your presence known and entice them on to your stand.

One of the best ways of doing this is to use promotional staff to trawl the aisles giving out leaflets promoting an on-stand competition. Competitions are great at generating traffi c to your stand, but you must make sure that it does not distract people away from the products and services that you are trying to promote on the stand. Prizes must be relevant or little is achieved – except hundreds of unqualified business cards.

Step 6
Lead generation and follow up

Lead generation is one of the main objectives of any exhibition but it’s easy in the heat of the moment to omit key information. In addition to contact details you should record: the specific products or services that appealed to them, the name of the decision maker (if not them), the industry they are in, the follow up action they required and the date that action has to be completed on.

A good tip is to give potential leads a rating, indicating your assessment of the value of the lead, say a grade from A to E, which will enable you to prioritise the follow-up campaign. Unless the prospect has stated otherwise, the sooner you follow up the more likely you are to find that your prospects will still be interested. Remember what excited them about your products. Even if you do not close all of the leads keep this data safe, contact them regularly and invite them back to next year’s show. Persistent contact reaps rewards.


The ultimate aim is to convert visitors to your stand into real clients and the best way of doing this is to maximise the opportunities to put your brand messages under the nose of your prospects – on the flyer, on the stand, on the website (where you announce the result of the competition) and via follow-up emails and phone calls.

Jim Boulton is managing director of online branding agency Large. Clients include Agent Provocateur, De Beers, Haven Europe, Siemens, Weber Shandwick and YO! Sushi.

Case study: Wild Republic

Large co-founder Lars Hemming Jorgensen on how to turn an exhibition stand into a golden opportunity As with so many other companies, Wild Republic?s stand seemed to be the only thing they took seriously.

We attended a fair with the company ? who produce educational soft toys ? and took notes on all the variables where there were opportunities to brand. The possibilities were almost endless. Our list included emails, audio, hand-outs, freebies, wall graphics, plasma screens, T-shirts and even the carpet.

After discussing the options the staff were briefed on the proposed tactics. Firstly, all customers and prospects were sent an invitation, which doubled up as a card full of stickers. The stickers could be peeled off and placed on colleagues or even yourself. Every day at the fair these stickers were also being placed on passers-by and were naturally on all the sales team?s T-shirts (which incidentally had ?Scratch my back and I?ll purr? on the back of them). It was clear who worked on the stand, they felt confident to approach people because it was easy with the stickers and it always got a laugh and broke the ice.

Wild Republic had a great fair offer, which consisted of buying 200 toy birds endorsed by the RSPB and you got a free point-of-sale tree to place the birds in ? they opened over 200 new accounts in four days. And it doesn?t end there. Not following up leads from fairs is fatal. Wild Republic sent everybody a soft toy through the post as a thank you.


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