Trade Shows or Expos, call them what you will – but they are a mainstay of targeted marketing and networking. Should you be taking your small business to a trade show?
Every year around Australia, there are countless trade shows that take place, each with their own niche interests and markets. They’re a means for companies within a specific industry can come together and showcase the latest and greatest advancements in that particular field… but, of course, everyone knows that.
But have you considered that a trade show is also a golden opportunity to not only see what your opposition is up to, but how they’re doing it and how it’s being marketed?
There’s more to a trade show than simply wandering around a large hall, collecting brohures and talking to sales reps… and you could be missing out by not being a part of the program.
Trade shows began, as far as we can tell, way back in medieval times – when tinkers and other craft producers would wander from town to town in organised groups, showing off their wares and trying to drum up some business.
With industrialisation came the kind of trade shows and expositions that we see happening to this day – large companies taking the opportunity to gather in one place to talk shop, exchange ideas, do business and network among other organisations.
And, just like today, some of the trade shows were designated ‘trade only’ – but some were, in fact, open to the public, giving the rest of society the chance to come and marvel at the latest in technological advancement.
Today, things are a little bit more sophisticated – and trade shows have become absolutely massive in scope, and scale. Dedicated superstructures have been built to house the shows, with the largest one – the Hanover fairground, in Germany – covering a staggering 496,000 square metres of floor space. That’s nearly 100 complete football fields.
And when it comes to numbers, some of the international trade shows – such as the Tokyo Motor Show – can see as many as 1.5 million people surge through the doors to find out what’s happening in the world of automobiles.
At a local level, Australian trade shows and expos can pull in some pretty big crowds as well. The Sydney Royal Easter Show, which combines all of the elements of an agricultural trade show with the entertainment aspect of an exposition, is one of the largest shows in the world, routinely attracting more than a million visitors every year.
But on a smaller scale are the true trade shows, where industries such as jewellery, home improvements and technology, will attract a smaller, more targeted audience – and they are perfect vehicles for getting your brand noticed by the people who matter in your industry.
According to a report by the Centre for Exhibition Industry Research, revealed that at the business-to-business (or ‘trade only’) shows, 81 percent of the people attending the event have ‘buying authority’ – which means that if your product is or brand is a stand-out, then you’ll have a very good chance of meeting a large number of clients who are ready to sign on the dotted line.
The main issue, then, for any small business is visibility – you probably don’t have the kind of money that the big boys have to play with, and exhibition space can get pretty expensive. And, as it’s normally sold by the floor area your exhibit will be taking up, it can be tough to compete from a tiny stall in the corner, far from the massive central display areas held by the big guns.
Getting noticed is the first part of the battle – but there are some direct strategies available to any small business. Visual merchandising and signage are the keys to any trade show strategy.
Alan Macdonald is the Marketing Manager for Bannershop, which specialises in visual marketing. His three tips for being seen at a trade show are all very good points. Alan’s first point is about location.
“Most trade shows will offer prime location booths for a premium and prime locations sell out fast,” Alan says. “For that reason it’s best to signal your intentions early with the event organisers, and try to negotiate on the best position for your business. If you plan on attending a trade show year after year, you can always use your choice of location as something to leverage off when signing a contract with the event managers and many exhibitors do exactly that.”
But if you can’t afford the big display area in the centre of the exhibition floor, there’s still a way to make sure you’re on the visitor’s radar.
“Go loud, and go proud,” Alan says. “It’s your brand. Make sure that it’s displayed professionally, because branding is about residual image. Residual image is when customers and prospects remember your brand long after the trade show.”
The best way to achieve this is to engage a signage company with a graphic design service to guarantee you get your message across in the best possible way,” Alan continues. “Work with them closely to get the designs to your satisfaction and make sure they match your fonts and colours.”
If you do have a bit extra cash, but not enough to dominate the entire exhibition, then Alan has some advice that could be the difference between making great sales, or being an ‘also-ran’.
“Tailor your display to the event,” Alan says. “Everyone is familiar with the standard 3×3 exhibition booth or table, populated with a poster or two and some brochures. As uninspiring as this sounds (and looks) it may be how your competitors will be exhibiting, giving you an opportunity to go one-up on them by employing a professionally designed exhibition solution.”
“These days there are some brilliant portable exhibition solutions and expo packages commercially available,” Alan continues. “The great thing about these solutions is that they are extremely easy to set up, and dismantle in just a few minutes. On top of this, they don’t require any tools and they pack away in the back of your car.”
“This means you can arrive at an event and have your display installed quickly and easily,” Alan says. “Installing and dismantling your own displays also keeps your operating expenses down, and you won’t incur any large storage costs.”
Lastly, a small piece of advice from Alan, to help any small business owner to keep their feet on the ground when putting together their display.
“For most of us, attending trade shows is not our core business,” Alan says. “We all have businesses to run and trade shows should be a benefit to the business, not a distraction from it.”