It doesn’t matter if you’re an industry pro that can map out the year’s trade show circuit in your sleep, or if you’re just starting to get the lay of the land, choosing the best trade shows for your brand is critical to your success. No matter how long you’ve been living the experiential life, it’s always worth starting with fresh eyes each year and asking: Am I going to the right trade shows, or do I need to shop around?
We asked Cary Davis, Account Director at Group Delphi with two decades of experience managing large, complex trade show programs, to take us through the process of how she helps her clients select the best trade shows for their exhibits.
“There are a lot of key issues I think about to ensure my customers are picking the right show,” Davis says. “With the right inquiries, you can make sure everyone gets the right pick for their brand and what’s more, make it the most effective experience.”
Know Your Target
To start, clearly identify your goals. The best trade show for your brand is the one that maximizes the return on your effort. Taking the time to narrow down the purpose of exhibiting at a show can help identify any potential hazards down the road, and it will tell you which metrics to focus on when you’re assessing performance. Ask yourself, why do you want to participate in this trade show? Are you trying to reach a new audience? Debut a new strategy? Don’t pick shows based on what’s trending in the field, where your competitors are, or which appealing city it might be taking place in, but what uniquely suits your brand and budget.
“Make sure you identify your target audience,” says Davis. Building sales personas is an effective and fun way to identify your audience and maximize your ROI.” But measuring ROI doesn’t have to pertain only to closed sales. “It may be a bit challenging to get anyone from sales to share numbers with marketing. Plus, sales cycles may also be long, further delaying results,” says Davis. Not to worry — you can create measurable goals for your marketing efforts where you are most certainly in charge. “Just make sure they are S.M.A.R.T. goals, that is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based,” offers Davis.
Put Your Money Where Your Audience Is
Budget, and how you will maximize it, is key to determining which shows to attend. “A good way to do this is to break your audience out into tiers, identifying which shows will get which percentage of your limited funds,” says Davis. When it comes to budgeting your show, there’s what you are paying and why you are paying it. Understanding the ways and means of the latter is critical to getting the most out of your budget and avoiding problematic overages.
Tier One might be your most highly selective customers. “These are the top dogs,” says Davis, “or the one who are worth more of an investment in terms of time, money and manpower.” Tier Two could be the key players with the same attributes on a smaller scale. And finally, Tier Three is an audience that has great future potential but might not present an opportunity right away. If your budget is limited, follow your most important tier to where they go.
Do Your Research
Make sure you turn your attention to astute, detailed research on shows by gathering data from the most reliable sources. “You want to look over year to year attendance numbers and satisfaction,” says Davis.
Research which shows are well-attended with the most recent data. If the numbers aren’t easily available, ask. The prospectus for the shows you are interested in will help you learn all about the attendees and other historical data. Ask yourself, where does your target audience go to learn about new products and services? Do you want a huge show with a variety of attendees, or a small show targeted at a specific audience? Read the blogs and industry articles your target audience might frequent.
So where might one find all this useful information (other than the Group Delphi blog, naturally)? “You’ll also want to consider the Center for Exhibition Industry Research webpage,” says Davis. Industry news sources like Exhibitor, Event Marketer, and Trade Show News Network will help keep you on top of the trends and show-related updates. And never underestimate the power of your personal network to provide honest word-of-mouth reviews of different shows.
At the end of the day, trust the numbers and adapt accordingly. A trade show program will evolve over time. If a show doesn’t produce the results you need, it’s time once again to look for one that will.