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6 Things You Can Test To Improve Your Trade Show Marketing

6 things you can test to improve your trade show marketingWant to improve your trade show marketing?  Put it to the test.

In direct mail you can test the list, the format, and the offer.  In print ads, you can test the headline, the ad size, and the placement.  In internet advertising you test the pay per click ad, the ad bid, and the landing page.  But what can you test in trade show marketing?

You would be surprised at the amount of productive experimentation you can do to refine and improve your trade show marketing.  Here are 6 things you can test:

1. Trade Show Selection
This may seem obvious, but you really can choose which shows you keep and which you stop exhibiting at.  Last month I met an exhibitor that has for years tracked the sales they get from every show they exhibit at, and only keeps exhibiting at a show if the profits they get from the sales generated are greater than the cost to exhibit at that show.  He focused on shows outside his industry that were in the vertical markets of his best clients.  That’s a great item you can test.

2. Booth staffers
Sounds odd to test people rather than a headline or an offer, until you realize that your staff is the headline, offer, and more, rolled up into one.  So track how many qualified leads each of your booth staffers bring per hour they staff your booth.  (You track that by having them write their initials on each lead card they fill out.)  You’ll be surprised at what a range of results you get.  Then strive to keep the top performers for future shows.  (I am assuming that you’ve already given each booth staffer equal training.)

3. Engaging lines
While veteran booth staffers have their favorite engaging lines, there is no guarantee they will always work.  If you exhibit at different vertical market shows, or have a different promotion in your booth, you should encourage your staffers to try various opening lines to engage attendees in the aisle.  Huddle with the staff after an hour or two into the show to see which ones are working best, and then ask your booth staffers to all use the winners.

4. Promotions
You can test different promotions at different shows, or even different promotions at the same show.  We’ve gone to a show with two different at-show promotions, one fun and one more professional, and tried both simultaneously.  After an hour, we stopped using the fun promotion that had been a major hit at a previous show.  The more professional promotion did better because it was better tailored for the second show’s specific vertical market.  You can also test whether you get more bang for your buck with pre-show or at-show promotions.

5. Exhibit design
Just as you can try a different message in an ad, you can also try a different image or main benefit statement on your trade show exhibit graphics.  If you exhibit at lots of shows, it’s a justifiable expense to get two mural graphic to see which gets the most leads.  You just have to count the leads during the times you have the different graphics up.  You’re best off switching the graphics for complete show days, or even entire shows.  But be aware of a variance in the traffic level in the exhibit hall during those two time periods to make it a fair test.   Hint for your test:  Try exhibit graphics that have fewer, but bigger, elements and that emphasize client benefits.

6. Trade show marketing strategies
When you’re ready to tackle the big stuff, go for testing your trade show marketing strategies.   Do you get more from a show when you target the entire audience equally, or just try to get appointments with a select few top prospects and existing customers?  Do you bring lots of products and set up a temporary store in your booth, or do you just bring your best sellers and communicate your main company benefits with big, bold graphics?  Do you spread your budget among 30 shows equally, or concentrate on your best 10 with a bigger exhibit and a more integrated program of pre- and at-show promotions with fully trained booth staffers?  

One of the premises of A/B split and multi-variate testing is that you can isolate specific elements to precisely track their effect in the response rate.  However, with trade shows, it’s difficult to isolate test elements well enough to get a highly accurate test. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try testing at all. While you may not be able to track results to the 3rd decimal point, you should be able to recognize clear-cut winners when they emerge.

These 6 items are worthwhile elements to test.  When you get clear winners you can noticeably, if not dramatically improve your trade show ROI.  If you have ideas on other elements, go for it!  And if you’ve reaped the benefits of testing parts of your trade show program, feel free to share with us in the comments section below.

uncertain-times-white-paperWant more ideas on how to improve your trade show marketing results?  Click here for your free copy of the Successful Exhibiting Strategies in Uncertain Times White Paper, which includes 16 proven methods for generating greater trade show results.

About the Author

Mike Thimmesch was Skyline Exhibits' Director of Customer Engagement, for over 25 years. He is now retired and spends his time freelancing, traveling, and enjoying time with his family.

3 responses to “6 Things You Can Test To Improve Your Trade Show Marketing

  1. Many companies forget the importance of tracking trade show success. Now more than ever, with budget cuts in marketing, it is important to track your success.

    Trade shows are not a dying industry; attendance may be down but that only leaves room for opportunity. Show attendees are qualified and closer to the final decision maker.

    Keep tracking those trade shows and invest in the shows that are providing a return.

    Always remember that you worked hard for your leads, follow up with them, without timely follow up it is hard to convert your lead!

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