5 Ways to Keep Exhibitors Coming Back Year After Year

April 25, 2019

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Businesses continue to trust trade shows and exhibits to help them achieve many of their business objectives, particularly in increasing brand awareness among decision makers in their target market:

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This is why it comes as no surprise that 32% of the biggest trade shows in the United States experienced a surge in the number of exhibitors while 57% reported sustaining the same level of participation:

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The forecast looks bright for the trade show industry. However, trade show organizers shouldn’t be complacent. From the same survey above, 10% of trade shows experienced a decline in the number of participating exhibitors, a decline rate that has been consistent over the past 7 years.

This means that the trade show sector is performing well overall. Those who are experiencing a decrease in exhibitor participation lack certain elements to keep exhibitors happy.

What Disappoints Exhibitors?

In a survey involving 200 Chief Marketing Officers, PR firm Bospar uncovered the primary trade show letdowns that make exhibitors unhappy:

  • Cost of attendance
  • Not getting the right spot in the exhibition venue
  • Given the wrong speaking opportunities
  • Getting low-value leads
  • Being overshadowed by bigger brands

On the flip side, Bospar found that the following things make exhibitors happy:

  • Being able to connect to customers
  • Getting a thought-leadership speaking opportunity
  • The ability to host receptions/mini-events with less competition
  • Securing positive media coverage
  • Participating jointly with a key customer

Seasoned meeting planners would know the going rate for booth prices. So, assuming that it’s not the booth price that’s turning exhibitors away, here are 5 tips to make exhibitors happy and keep them coming back year after year.

1. Get Superfans and Decision-Makers to Attend

This addresses the concern regarding getting low-quality leads. Trade show organizers should recognize that not all trade show attendees are the same. The most successful trade shows, such as Comic-Con, are able to attract not only attendees but highly-engaged, marketing-qualified, ready-to-buy prospects for their exhibitors. These trade shows are magnets for superfans and are sought after by decision-makers.

In order to achieve this, trade show organizers should know their exhibitors’ customer avatar(s). If different exhibitors are targeting different segments, it’s up to trade show managers to figure out shared customer segments or find a way to bring different customer avatars together in a manner that makes sense.

2. Provide Custom Networking Opportunities

When small business owners/marketers join trade shows, they are putting their day-to-day marketing and sales activities on hold. Time is of the essence for exhibitors and they will try to milk every second of their trade show presence.

Event planners and managers, with the use of an event planning software, should be able to accommodate this need. With proper scheduling, you can schedule custom networking opportunities for exhibitors and their target customers/clients. This can either fall within or outside of the actual trade show hours.

If not all networking requests can be accommodated, organizers can include this as a perk for new joiners, super loyal exhibitors, and sponsors.

3. Offer Marketing & Sales Consultations

Exhibitors who don’t get a positive ROI on their trade show participation investments will not be highly motivated to be a recurring trade show exhibitor. Sometimes, this would happen not because a trade show was planned poorly, but because of the marketing and sales tactics that the exhibitors used on the floor.

The success of a trade show relies heavily on the success of its exhibitors. Offering marketing and sales consultations goes beyond the traditional scope of work that trade show organizers do. Moreover, going beyond what’s expected usually produces good business results. Some of the things that organizers can help exhibitors with include:

  • Backdrop/booth design
  • Creating compelling offers
  • Lead generation strategies
  • Tactics on closing a sale during the event
  • How to market their own booths before the trade show

4. Provide Event Marketing-Centric Technology and Tools

Technology is taking a more central role in events management and trade shows are no different. According to Network Events, Inc. President and CEO Sam Smith: “It’s no secret that exhibitor trade show technology is continuing to evolve. And while some of these new apps and software were designed for the trade show industry itself, some were designed with the trade show attendee in mind. In either case, new technologies are changing the way events are planned and experienced.”

Of course, exhibitors can bring their own tech to trade conventions. However, organizers should provide some default technologies to help exhibitors network, market, and sell better.

Trade show managers should consider providing the following for their event:

  • Mobile apps that push notifications, driving traffic to certain booths based on interest
  • Beacons that alert exhibitors when hot leads are nearby
  • Smart tags that make information exchange easier
  • Event management software that allows easier scheduling of networking opportunities

That said, organizers should encourage exhibitors to bring their own tech that will work best with their brand and marketing goals.

5. Connect Exhibitors with One Another for Potential Collaboration

On a trade show floor, not everyone is in direct competition with each other. There’s going to be a good balance of brands who are direct competitors and those who are offering complementary and supplementary services/products. Trade show organizers should be on the lookout for possible collaboration opportunities among non-competing brands.

How does this add value?

For two primary reasons:

First, these brands can drive traffic, leads, and sales to one another. Having an ally on the floor means exhibitors can potentially get twice the exposure.

Second, exhibitors may actually benefit from the expertise of one another. For example, at a marketing conference, an agency specializing in marketing analytics can help a firm specializing in paid advertising and vice versa.

This way, organizers are not only helping exhibitors to get the most out of their participation in terms of traffic, leads, and sales. They are also helping build peer-to-peer networks, which is important in any type of industry.

Happy Exhibitors are Repeat Exhibitors

According to a survey conducted by UFI (The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry), 19% of trade show organizers feel that competition with other trade show organizers is the biggest challenge they’re facing. At the same time, 3% believe that competition with other platforms is eating away at their business.

This is why it is important for trade show organizers to retain their current roster of exhibitors and cultivate a long-term and results-driven relationship with them. It takes more time and resources to find and acquire new exhibitors than to keep existing ones happy and make them come back trade show after tradeshow. By making exhibitors happy, trade show organizers are building relationships built on loyalty and mutual success.

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