The Value of Tradeshows, and How to Evaluate Them

Tradeshows are one of the oldest forms of marketing. Evidence shows they can be traced back to ancient bazaars in the Middle East and open markets in medieval Europe. After all, the tradeshow in its simplest form is really just an opportunity to showcase, exchange or sell a product or service, and humans have been doing that for centuries! It’s fundamental to our survival.

We’ve certainly come a long way since medieval Europe—tradeshows have evolved into multimillion dollar events. There’s a lot at stake in such a crowded marketplace, but when executed properly from start to finish, it can be one of the most effective marketing tools in your arsenal.

Think about it. There are few other places where you’ll experience a higher concentration of potential customers in one setting. In a macro sense, this environment provides companies the opportunity for building brand awareness, meeting with prospects and qualify sales leads, connecting with current customers, making product announcements, interacting with media contacts, exchanging knowledge with peers and learning more about an industry or field. This is one of the few times when you can do all of this face-to-face. You can’t discount the significance of emotional connections when meeting someone; they are the sparks that ignite relationships.

So how do you know if a tradeshow is a fit for your company and marketing strategy? As with any other marketing investment, tradeshows should be approached with careful consideration and strategic planning.

Here are five questions to ask when considering whether your company should invest marketing budget in tradeshows:

1.  What is our goal?

It may seem obvious, but it’s important to establish why you should attend a tradeshow. What is your end goal? Is it to obtain qualified leads? Establish your company as a subject matter expert? Build awareness? Answering these questions will help you determine the appropriate level of involvement at a show, whether that means booking a speaking opportunity, exhibiting, providing sponsorship, or hosting a focus group. And these questions should be asked every year. So many companies attend the same tradeshow year after year because they “always do it.”  It’s possible that tree doesn’t bear fruit anymore.

2.  Will our target audience be there in sufficient numbers?

Most shows offer an exhibitor prospectus that breaks down the expected attendee demographics by industry, title, buying power and geographic location. Typically, the previous year’s attendance details are available, too. Look for the percentage of expected attendees within your target audience. A show may attract hundreds or thousands or people, but if only a small percentage of them are the people you want to get in front of, it may not be worth the investment. If you can’t find the attendance data you’re looking for, or still have unanswered questions about attendance, get on the phone and have a candid conversation with the organization planning the show. In my experience, most show coordinators and sales representatives are pretty honest about whether or not the show will be a fit for your company based on their attendee demographic and interests.

3.  Who else is exhibiting?

Review the list of companies exhibiting or that have previously exhibited. Are your competitors there? And what kind of presence do they have? Are they exhibitors, sponsors or speakers? What about industry partners or potential partners? If key competitors or partners are there, they are probably there for good reason. At the very least, it’s a sign that you should investigate the show further.

4.  How much does it cost?

Tradeshows can be expensive. Securing a booth space alone can be thousands of dollars, so be sure you understand all of the costs associated with going and exactly what they include so you can build them into your marketing budget. Are there additional marketing opportunities you can take advantage of? If you’re making the investment, you want to be sure to maximize the opportunity. And don’t forget about the other costs involved: travel expenses, marketing materials, booth displays and giveaways, as well as costs that are a little less straight forward, but can be significant, including shipping, storage and material handling costs for your booth and labor costs for assembling your booth.

5.  What will our return on investment look like?

If you decide to exhibit, how many qualified leads would you need to obtain and eventually sell to achieve a positive ROI? If your goal is sales, ideally, you only want to exhibit at shows where you can generate enough sales to make up for the cost of going to the show. How you gauge the sales potential of a particular tradeshow is a big topic that we’ll explore in depth in a follow-up post, so stay tuned for that.

At the end of the day, if you’re still not sure if you’re ready to make the investment, consider sending a scout to the show as an attendee for a day. Have them walk the exhibit floor, monitor foot traffic, check out competitors’ exhibits, inventory the best sponsorship opportunities, and mingle with exhibitors and attendees. While they’re there, you might even have them attend an educational session to learn more about the industry. This is a cost-effective way to get an inside look at the show before you invest in exhibiting. Still stumped on whether the costs are worth it? Shoot me an email. I’d be happy to give you my two cents. At least you’ll be two cents in the black to start!