The Inbound Way to Do Trade Show Marketing

Download Now: The Ultimate Guide to Virtual and Hybrid Events
Rachel Leist
Rachel Leist



 Planning for a trade show doesn’t start a month in advance. It doesn’t start two months in advance, either. In fact, it can take anywhere from six months to a year of planning to do it right. Trade show marketing is a very strategic process. You have to determine your strategy and messaging and make sure everything relates back to your business goals. This includes all of your online and offline promotions as well as any handouts and giveaways you distribute. It's no simple task, and not every trade show is the same, but in this post, we'll teach you how to apply an inbound approach to your trade show marketing efforts.

Free Guide: How to Scale Your Global Event Strategy

1. Set Your Trade Show Marketing Goals

Your marketing campaigns should help your business achieve specific goals and metrics. Trade shows are no different. Trade shows present an opportunity to generate quality leads , spread brand awareness, and meet other objectives. The goals of trade show marketing can include:

  • An Increase in New Leads and Sales
  • An Increase in Organic and Direct Traffic
  • An Increase in Social Media Following
  • An Increase in Email and/or Blog Subscribers

As you set your goals, make sure you have access to metrics that will enable you to track
progress. Ensure that your marketing system can measure these channels and provide evidence to management about the performance of your event.

2. Identify Your Call-to-Action

Once you set your goal and decide which metrics you will use to track progress, you will need to figure out how to get there. What will be the means of achieving your goal?

While you are creating your strategy, make sure you are thinking about what your call-to-action (CTA) will be. Your CTA should be integrated into every aspect of your strategy because, ultimately, it will be the key to reaching your goal. Consider the CTA’s role in everything, including your signs, landing page, booth, goals, and metrics.

call to action As a reminder, a call-to-action is an image or text that prompts visitors to take action, such as subscribe to a newsletter, view a webinar, or request a product demo. CTAs should direct people to landing pages , where you can collect visitors’ contact information in exchange for a valuable marketing offer . In that sense, an effective CTA results in more leads and conversions. In trade shows, as in all other marketing campaigns, the call-to-action remains the key element connecting your marketing goal with the means of achieving it.

Pull in people from different areas of your company to brainstorm about what your message should be. Your marketing goals are important, but you may be surprised to see the extent to which other parts of your company can benefit from a trade show. Simply including them in the process of figuring out your strategy can really improve your presence at the trade show.

Your CTA should have a lasting impact. When people attend trade shows, they can get caught up in the moment and seem excited about your company. However, when they leave, that excitement may falter. If your CTA brings them back to your company’s website after the trade show, you are more likely to convert them from trade show attendee into a lead, and then into a customer.

That's why your CTAs should be everywhere. They should be on your signs, handouts, and giveaways. They should be mentioned in conversations when people visit your booth. Everything you say and do at a trade show should get tied into your CTA. Before you continue with planning your trade show marketing, you need to be fully aware of what your CTA is and what it’s prompting visitors to do. Knowing this will bring your whole campaign together.

3. Create a Dedicated Landing Page

As we have already established, the most successful usage of calls-to-action is when they link to a dedicated landing page that is tightly connected to the overall campaign. Your landing page could offer free material, such as an ebook or whitepaper, relating to the messaging you decided on for your trade show presence. That is why you need to ensure that you can easily customize the language on your landing page.

Screen Shot 2012 02 23 at 11.55.25 AM

Sending trade show attendees to a dedicated landing page on your website will also provide you with an opportunity to gather information about them. You want to be able to keep tabs on who is interested in your company and how you can follow up with them, especially after they speak with potentially hundreds of companies at the trade show. It's also a good idea to include trade show-specific questions on your landing page form that will make it easy for your sales team to follow up with the most engaged leads. For example, if your goal is to drive registrants to an upcoming webinar about your new product launch, create a dedicated landing page that you only send trade show attendees to. This way, you can track just how many webinar registrants and attendees can be attributed to your trade show presence.

4. Be Unique

Everyone has a cookie-cutter booth. You put your logo in a few pre-assigned areas, place your handouts in the stand, and display images of your product or service on your LCD TV. If you look at the booth next to yours, you see the same thing. The only difference may be that your neighbor is handing out branded magnets, and you are handing out branded pens. The key to making your trade show marketing successful is to do something that makes your business stand out.

Start with the booth. Do you need to have the typical booth structure? Or can you create something that stands out? Maybe you can have a lounge or activity area that completely ignores the normal booth structure but achieves the same goals you have set for your trade show marketing. It may cost extra to have something “different,” but the price is worth it if it attracts passersby. You can then create a more memorable experience and lasting impression so people are talking about you way after the trade show is over.

Next, think wardrobe. The majority of people at trade shows will be in business suits. Integrate your wardrobe with your messaging. Anyone walking by the booth area may ask you why you are dressed differently: that's just another excuse to talk about your theme and message!

Dreamforce Group Shot 7690

Decide which types of signs you'll use. The biggest trade show sponsors will have large signs hanging from the ceiling. Other sponsors may have a sign near the aisle so people will see it as they pass by. But what can make your sign really stand out? It may be the message that gets the attention of people as they pass by. Or you may not even want to hang your logo from the ceiling, but instead do something else that will do a better job of attracting people to your area. Be creative. Think outside the box. Do something extraordinary. For example, this is what HubSpot did at's Dreamforce trade show:

2011 08 26 to 2011 09 02 Dreamforce 042

5. Make Your Handouts Web-Friendly

Although handouts come with the risk of getting lost amongst all of the other paper-based collateral that companies typically distribute at trade shows, some people actually request them. Often, someone will come up to your booth, ask for information in the form of a handout, and leave if you do not have it. So to be safe instead of sorry, it is best to have handouts handy; just don't rely on them as part of your core strategy. 

So how can you make your handouts stand out? What about integrating them with your online marketing? How about including a QR code on it, which attendees can scan to take them to your dedicated landing page? Or how about creating a hashtag to include on the handout that encourages trade show attendees to share their feedback about what liked about your trade show presence or what they want from your business' content or products/services? Take that feedback and incorporate it into your marketing and product strategy.

6. Optimize Your CTA for Mobile

Take your calls-to-action a step further by making it more accessible to trade show attendees on the go. Instead of using a CTA that reads, “Visit our landing page at!” turn it into a QR code , like we mentioned earlier.

describe the image

Not everyone will have a QR code reader on their smartphones to be able to read the QR code, but those who do will appreciate it in this form. To easily create a QR code, you can visit websites such as Kaywa or Microsoft Tag . If you create one, place it on all your trade show resources, including signage, handouts, presentation slides, etc.

Before the trade show, test your QR code to make sure it works by downloading an QR code reader for your smartphone. Simply hold up your phone’s camera as if you are about to take a picture of the QR code. It will then lead you to the web page ( which should be optimized for mobile devices ) that you programmed the QR code to take scanners to. For people who rely on their smartphones for everything, this can be a great way to give them the resources they want and prevent them from losing your company information.

7. Encourage Internal Communication

It's important to ask others in your company for their input on your trade show strategy. Most likely, other departments such as Sales will contribute ideas that the marketing department hadn't considered, and you'll discover new ways to incorporate your business' initiatives into the strategy.

As you are planning strategy sessions for your trade show planning, encourage people from different departments to attend. Every team can contribute a new perspective and enrich the trade show planning experience. Before you leave for the trade show, orchestrate a dry run, and talk through everything that could go wrong. This may sound pessimistic, but it can actually be very valuable. Generally, only a few people are completely dedicated to preparing for the trade show. Getting an outsider’s point of view can help you come up with problem areas that may not have been taken into consideration.

Finally, make sure everyone at your company knows why you are going to the trade show, and why it is important. Companies spend a lot of money on trade shows, so it's helpful to communicate why it is an important business initiative.

What are you doing to make your trade show a success?

New Call-to-action

 New Call-to-action
Topics: Trade Shows

An actionable guide around creating events in a digital world—from virtual to hybrid.

    Marketing software that helps you drive revenue, save time and resources, and measure and optimize your investments — all on one easy-to-use platform