The current accepted wisdom is that social media, content marketing and maybe some bulk SMS is the way to be successful and promote yourself! The buzzwords are inbound marketing, meeting people, is so last century and just an expensive waste of time. Attending exhibitions is out of date.

On the 18th September some brave people paid for stands for the Business Networking Show at Wolverhampton Racecourse and set up their stand and waited for people to come. After all they thought it’s good to get your name out there whatever they say about digital marketing.

People did visit even if they might have got a discounted a ticket from 4N and even a lift with someone so just thought it would be a good day out? 

At the end of the day these exhibitors and visitors had got business cards and met some people. We certainly had and this weekend we’ve been clearing the car after it.

And the digital marketers will be right it will have been a waste if  the cards we got lay in the office for a few months until they are thrown away and we don’t track what has happened.

Digital content supporters will quite rightly sneer and say we know what results we achieve with the money we spend why waste your time going to things like that?


Don’t underestimate the cost. Just for two of us to go to the one day exhibition using mostly existing materials  cost over £2,500. We would be mad if we had invested this time and money just to mosey on up on the day, and sometimes we have, when its local and that was mad.

But this time we had goals a strategy and a plan, so here is what we have found works even if you are just visiting.

Step one – Working out your why – 27 potential reasons

Why are you going to the exhibition?

Here are twenty six potential objectives that you might have for exhibiting and many of them also apply if you are visiting:

  1. get orders
  2. sell on the stand
  3. book future sales appointments
  4. launch new products or services
  5. get ideas for new products and services based on the response you get
  6. test new products and services and see what reaction they get
  7. open new markets or geographical areas
  8. test new pricing or offers
  9. enhance your relationships with current customers
  10. conduct market research
  11. get contact names for your database for email marketing (of the right type of prospects you want in your sales funnel!)
  12. get mobile numbers for permission based mobile marketing(as for 10)
  13. get media coverage
  14. check out the competition
  15. enhance the company image or brand – particularly if the other exhibitors are prestigious
  16. conduct sales meetings at the show(pre-planned) ‘let’s meet at…’
  17. provide education or information to the visitors including sampling of products
  18. recruit new employees
  19. purchase bargains at ‘show only’ prices from a shopping list of things you need, like printing, promotional items, business support
  20. meet people you have only previously met or networked with ‘virtually’
  21. renew relationships with your existing network of contacts
  22. identify potential collaborators
  23. look at what’s available and if any of it would be good to add to your products or services, to enhance your offering
  24. get inspired by speakers
  25. learn some useful information at seminars/workshops
  26. meet people who can introduce you to people you want to work with
  27. learn what’s new in areas like marketing and technology

This is a pretty impressive list and I bet you can think of more reasons than this, but I had to stop somewhere.

They all sound good don’t they but even if all were possible at a single event, one, you would die trying to achieve it all, two, you could never do them all justice, and three, it gives you no focus.

Step two – decide on your focus and your main goal

If you are deciding whether to attend an event then you need to think what you might want to achieve and then assess whether the event can actually do this for you.

Ask people who have previously attended what worked for them and what they got out of it. But beware they may be in very different businesses. Look at who the organisers are targeting to attend and exhibit. Look at what is on offer in terms of speakers and workshops which you might feel worthwhile or you feel will attract the right type of visitor/person you want to meet.

This is all much easier if you know who you are targeting and have a clear strategy on what you sell with some entry level products that are suitable for people to purchase immediately on the day or for you to promote.

So, for example, for us we decided that the Business Networking Show was likely to attract business owners and entrepreneurs who wanted to grow so it would be a good fit for us. It would also allow us to meet people in 4N that we had only met online.

Do a cost benefit analysis – does it make sense?

The cost of Business Networking Show was too much to just use it for getting names for the database, market research for more PR and general promotion.  It was high because to really use the networking opportunities we would need to stay two nights and we know it would  take preparation and time afterwards.

We decided to justify the cost we needed to develop clear services/products that we would be able to explain and sell on the day and at a ‘show price’ so we had to develop a strategy to make this work. This also forced us to look at other ways of packaging our services which was a major benefit.

71% of exhibiting companies don’t set objectives – stand out from the crowd by knowing what success will look like at the end of the day

Step three – develop a coordinated strategy and plan

To maximise the value out of the show think in terms of planning before, during and after.

Early on we decided part of our strategy was to speak if possible at the event so we applied early and got a spot. This was very successful as many people who heard me speak then came to the stand.

Planning an Exhibition

This mindmap was our strategy document and plan in one. We had a strong visual theme based on sunflowers to make our stand memorable and to attract people.

Publicise your attendance

Promote that you are going.

  • When you meet people tell them
  • Have it on your signature of your emails
  • Put it on your facebook page
  • Tweet regularly
  • Use social media groups like LinkedIn and the 4N forum if you’re a member and it is an appropriate event
  • Send emails to your database telling people
  • Do a blog like this

Do your research about who will be going

Find out who is going to be there in terms of speakers and exhibitors and identify who of these you would like to talk to and see if you can contact them beforehand to at least make the contact warm.

If you have other people who you would like to meet, email or phone them to ask if they are attending because you would like to meet them/catch up.

This could be at the show or before or after if they are around. It is particularly useful for people who are based at a distance as you can save time and money by arranging meetings around the event.

Plan your diary, but be realistic – if you have a stand there is no point leaving it unmanned or under manned so you don’t capitalise on the opportunities

Step four – make your stand work  for you.
9 tips for getting the most from an exhibition stand

Get your strategy right to maximise your impact:

1. Make your stand interesting

2. Give people reasons to come to your stand. Examples could be:

a. a free e book

b.a chance to win champagne if you complete a survey – the survey will give us information for a press and social media campaign discounts on exciting marketing products and business and sales boosters

3.Convert objectives into personal goals for the people on the stand

4. Have a timetable and clear guidelines for everyone on the stand

5. Have icebreaker questions which identify potential prospects. For example, for us  one question “is where is your business in terms of business lifecycle?” This encourages people to look at our banner

6. Allow time for networking with other exhibitors and for people to rest – its hard work

7. Classify leads so you follow up hot prospects urgently

8. Get contact details rather than giving leaflets at the show – it is more likely to be read if you send it afterwards and you also get details for your database

9. Follow up – this is just the start of the relationship

12 ways to stop your stand being a success

If you prefer to have a quiet day without too much disturbance then this is how you can do it:

  1. Look miserable and sit with your arms crossed
  2. Leave your stand unattended
  3. Chat to your colleague or neighbouring stands – visitors are so rude when they interrupt
  4. Make sure you stand in front of any promotional information so visitors can’t see it
  5. Put as much as possible onto the stand so people can see everything you do
  6. Just give out leaflets to anyone and don’t try to get any contact information or find out what they might need
  7. Have a sales script prepared that you use – probably no longer than 5 minutes and use it on people before they talk to you
  8. Just use your company name – people should know who you are and what you do so there is no need to explain
  9. Take business cards and just keep them in a pile, if you follow up they can all get the same mailing
  10. Make it difficult for people to buy at the show – it wastes so much time taking money
  11. Don’t let anyone interrupt you when you are having your coffee or eating your lunch
  12. Sit behind a table so you can feel safe and people can’t get to you

Step five – follow up and learn from what has gone well and what hasn’t worked

Plan before the show how you are going to follow up so that you know what information you will need to collect from the people you meet at the show.

How will you get individual details into your CRM? How will you rank prospects and prioritise who you call, etc?

How will you analyse any research and use it in PR?

Analyse your results and what you achieved and do a cost benefit analysis. Record what worked well and what you need to do differently next time. Celebrate and learn, talk to others to see what they did while its fresh in their minds

Conclusion –if an exhibition is worth doing, it’s worth doing well!

If all this has made you think this is too difficult then don’t do it. Don’t take the opportunity to capitalise on someone else getting your target market together in one place, don’t take the opportunity to expand your network and develop new ideas and maybe test whether people like new product and service ideas. Don’t use it as a focus for wider publicity and marketing.

If you go expecting it to fail it will.

Stay at home and think about content marketing and social media, but to do that well is not easy either. But after all everyone knows marketing doesn’t work and exhibitions are a particular waste of time.


Sarah Brown

Ideas Inspirer inspire2aspire
My passion as an Ideas Inspirer is to help people more successfully achieve their vision. I’m an ideas factory and can help you differentiate your business from your competition, develop new products and services and generally supercharge your marketing in cost effective ways.

I’ve been involved in marketing for over 30 years and have advised everyone from BT and Colgate to start ups. My mix of strategic skills and creative idea generation means I’m particularly good at things like e books and infographics which need more than design and words, they need a careful strategy to mean that they encapsulate what you need. If you are having trouble seeing the wood for the trees I’m the person for you.

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