10 exhibition planning tips for startups looking for success
Posted by Tom Oakes
Exhibitions can be crucial to the success of a new business.
They are a place to create a name for yourself. To give people the chance to connect with your services or products. And to meet lots of prospective new customers.
With industry growth suggested by CEIR to continue in 2019, attending these events has never been more important. But with such big investment—in terms of time, money and effort—it’s essential you get it right.
Here are our top ten tips to having a successful exhibition.
1 Choose someone to take charge of the exhibition planning
It’s always good to have a single point of contact for everything exhibition related. This will ensure there is no confusion over strategy and no mixed messages when dealing with exhibition stand designers, etc.
Having one person (sometimes known as a show manager) control the process will also help it stay on track, no matter what obstacles crop up.
2 Decide on your exhibition goals early on
You need to have a think about what you want to achieve by attending an event.
Are you hoping to create brand awareness? Will you be launching a new product and want to give prospective customers the chance to get their hands on it? Are you entering a new market? Or simply trying to keep up with your competitors and gather a few sales leads at the same time?
Deciding on your business goals up front is essential to having a successful exhibition. Not only will they help you make the right choices when planning, but they will also help you measure your success afterwards.
3 Confirm your budget for the event
It’s good to be able to show your shareholders why you’re attending these events and how much your projected ROI could be.
So make sure you set your exhibition budget early on. This should cover everything from registration and marketing to exhibition stand design, transport, and attendance on the day itself. Having a budget will help you set a projected ROI and then measure it against the actual ROI later. And it will also allow you to set a benchmark of success by which you can then refine your strategy to be even more efficient in future.
4 Pick the right event
This sounds simple, yet so many people get it wrong and end up investing a hell of a lot into attending an event with no reward to show for it.
Do your homework by looking into reviews of past exhibitions and asking organisers for information about previous demographics, visitor numbers, etc. Then ask yourself: will this event be appropriate to what your exhibition goal is? Will your target audience be there in sufficient numbers? Will the market leaders be there? What kind of press or media will be covering it?
It only takes a little research, but doing this with every potential event makes sure you filter out those which are a waste of your time.
5 Get a good location at the venue
It’s ideal to reserve your venue space as soon as possible. The prominent high-traffic areas will probably book up as much as 6-months ahead of time, so you’ll need to be quick.
However, don’t rely on what looks good on paper. Try and schedule a visit to the venue during another event to see for yourself the locations that might suit you—and to spot those dead zones you want to avoid.
Of course, in order to book the best spot for your business, you’ll need to know what kind of exhibition stand you’ll be taking along, which brings us to…
6 Think about the type of exhibition stand design you want
This is where you need to consider how best to hit those goals you made early in the exhibition planning process. Can you do what you need to do with a cheaper, easier shell scheme or will you need an open space display area in order to conjure up some magic for prospective customers?
While it would be tempting for startups to view the shell scheme as the definitive way to go (although, for some, it absolutely will be) because it saves money, it is crucial to align the design with your goals. There is no point being cheap if the better ROI lies in being more creative with your stand.
As yourself questions like:
- Do you need to tie the design in with a particular marketing campaign?
- What emotions do you want to invoke in visitors?
- Will you need somewhere to talk to prospective customers quietly or will videos be able to convey your messages?
- Do you need interactive displays or VR, and, if so, where you can place these so as not to interrupt the flow of foot traffic through your stand?
All these answers will inform your design. And while we’ve talked previously about what you need to know about bespoke exhibition stand designs, don’t hesitate to talk to any professional stand designer for more advice. They should be able to help you find the best solution for your business needs.
7 Warm up the prospects
You’ve booked your location at the event. Your stand is being designed and built. Now all you need to do is wait until the day itself, right?
No! This is the ideal opportunity to warm up those people who are planning to attend and others who might want to come too. Most people decide what stands they’re going to visit before attending, so you need to make sure you’re on their list. You can do this through advertising, emails, direct mail campaigns, competitions, and social media—and we recommend starting as far out as 6 – 9 months before the event.
By letting everyone know you’ll be there, and the kinds of things people can expect to see at your exhibition stand, you’ll be able to create some buzz ahead of time which will get people excited to come and find you on the day itself.
8 Selecting the right staff for the stand
It doesn’t matter how great your stand looks, if you’ve got the wrong people on it you won’t get the results you need.
Make sure you choose individuals who are enthusiastic and helpful, without being overbearing. Give them roles according to their personalities and skills (e.g. front of stand, walking the venue, product demonstrations, etc) and ensure they are all well versed in your business and the goals you’re trying to accomplish by attending.
For example, if your business needs to show off a product, there’s no point having someone charming but uninformed doing the demonstrating. You need someone who knows the product inside out and can articulate this with enthusiasm.
9 Attend on the day and have fun
If you’ve done all of the above, then you’re all set for a successful—and, importantly, fun!—day at the exhibition.
But this doesn’t mean the work stops. You still need to be engaging as many potential customers as possible. Even if it’s just as simple as making eye contact with casual visitors to the stand or passersby, just make sure people know you’re available to help if needed.
Keep your social media feeds continuously updated (especially on Twitter with the relevant hashtags), as many show visitors will be checking these regularly to make sure they’re not missing anything. Take photos of other great stands to help generate excitement (and show your exhibition colleagues some love). And if you can grab and share a selfie with an industry celebrity, you can be sure it will help boost your profile in online circles.
Above all, don’t forget to give your staff time away from the stand to walk around and see the exhibition for themselves. You never know what they might find or who they might talk to in casual conversation—there are opportunities everywhere.
10 Always follow-up after an event
Finally, don’t forget to build in the time and resources for following-up after an exhibition.
Give it a day or two, allowing people to return to work and deal with their overwhelmed inboxes after being away. Then write to all those contacts you made during the exhibition to confirm how great it was to meet them, what you discussed, and lay out any future help you can offer.
Meanwhile, it doesn’t hurt to keep posting photos and any other useful information about the event on social media for a few days (or even weeks) afterwards. This will help you continue to engage other attendees and build your network (and profile) further, which will help you find even more success with your next exhibition.