Several years ago, I managed the largest farmer’s market in my region. Each weekend we would have around 5000 attendees, over 300 booth applicants, and 165 booths. Now that I run a consulting business for women business owners and entrepreneurs, I take my clients to farmer’s markets, expos, and other types of trade shows to help them build up their businesses.
A trade show is the best place to network with fellow professionals, grow your customer base, and promote your brand, all in-person. It’s fun, too! That said, there is one other thing you’ll always find at trade shows: competition.
You and other business owners in your niche will be competing for customers’ precious time and attention. The bigger the trade show, the harder you will have to work to stand out amid all the other vendors. I’ve learned that the key to out-marketing your competitors is not to focus on what they are doing in their booths. Instead, you should make your booth as attractive and inviting to customers as possible.
This task will require all your creative skills. It will also take a lot of mental energy and physical stamina. But believe me, the it will be worth it. I’ve seen businesses go from making products to sell out of their garage to selling those products to national brands, just by having a booth and interacting with their customers in person at fairs, trade show and markets. With all my experience, I’ve been able to break out-marketing your competitors down into 7 basic strategies which will help you stand out at any trade show.
Top 7 Strategies To Stand Out From The Competition At Trade Shows
1. Find A Great Location For Your Booth
The location of your booth is crucial. This is especially true if you’re working at a large trade show. Chances are high that many customers won’t visit all the booths, as making an entire circuit could take hours out of their day.
If possible, try to snag a booth close to the front entrance. This way, your brand is one of the first ones that customers see, and they are more likely to stop by.
2. Charm Customers With Free Gifts
Everyone loves free gifts! In fact, that’s one of the main draws for attendees of a trade show, is all the goodies they can get for nothing.
When you plan your next trade show, set aside part of your budget for purchasing gifts which you can give out to customers. Order them online so you can customize them with your brand logo. You can also put them in little plastic bags with your business card so that if the customer decides to contact you after the trade show, they already have your information.
As far as what to give as gifts, the sky is the limit. I’ve seen brands give out everything from nail grooming kits to keychains to cookies!
3. Get Customers’ Contact Information With A Raffle
One of your goals for attending a trade show should be to get the personal contact information – name, phone number, and email address – of the people who visit your booth. With these crucial details (given to you with their permission, of course), you now have an avenue to follow up with them and convert more sales in the future.
A smart way of getting contact information is to raffle off a basket of goodies associated with your brand. You can even raffle off one of your products or services. Make sure it’s a wonderful prize! People won’t give out their contact information for just any old raffle. But make it enticing enough, and they will gladly fill out those small slips of paper for a chance to win it.
Pro Tip: Develop a follow-up strategy. When will you contact the people who filled out contact information slips at your booth? Which method will you use first: text, phone call, or email? What call to action message or offer will you send them? Do you want them to purchase a product, book a service, or just follow your business on social media?
Think about your answers to these questions and have a plan in place before you go to a trade show.
4. Hand Out Informational Brochures
In addition to gifts, you should give customers a brochure or another type of informational packet that educates them about your business. That’s how you stand out and engage customers: hit them with a one-two punch of gift and free information about your business.
As you’re designing your informational brochure or packet, make sure it matches your branding. Keep the information brief and easy to read, while also including any details that you anticipate your customers would want to know.
5. Decorate Your Booth
Nothing catches a customer’s eye like a beautiful and tastefully decorated booth! You’re sure to out-market your competitors if you make your booth look like you put thought and care into it.
Pro Tip: Decorate using colors and iconography that match your branding to create an atmosphere of cohesion. In addition, instead of buying disposable plastic tablecloths and Party City-style décor, use real fabric tablecloths, glass vases, and other higher quality, well-made items. You can usually find the latter in your own home or for low prices at local thrift stores.
6. Visit Other Vendors
Just because you’re competing with the other vendors doesn’t mean you should be rude or standoffish. Remember that trade shows are networking opportunities. Take some time out of your day to visit the other booths at the trade show, talk with the vendors, and exchange business cards. Later, you can contact or meet up with them, swap business strategies, and help one another grow in your own niches.
7. Take Care Of You
This last strategy is one of the most important that I have to share. The most essential ingredient you need to make your trade show booth a success, is you. Your positive energy and smiling face will attract visitors to your booth even more than beautiful decorations or an exciting giveaway. On the other side of the coin, nothing will repel attendees more than a crabby, complaining attitude.
It can be hard to stay cheerful all day long, especially if you’re tired and hungry. That’s why you need to follow this seventh strategy and take care of you. Below are a few ways to do that.
- Start your day with a great breakfast and your favorite music to get you pumped up.
- Pack snacks and a healthy lunch with you, as well as plenty of water.
- I also recommend bringing a painkiller like Tylenol or Advil just in case you’re like me and develop a headache from all the trade show noise and activity.
- Wear comfortable shoes because you’re going to stand up a lot!
- If possible, ask a friend or friendly member to come relieve you on booth duty a few times during the day. Use this precious time to get away from the noise and collect yourself. Go outside, get some fresh air, and soak up some much-needed vitamin D.
The thought of trying to out-market your competitors at trade shows may seem daunting, especially to new business owners. You may think you need to be cut-throat and ruthless. But my experience has taught me that that’s not the case at all. All you need to do is use the above 7 strategies and remember that if you can put your unique vision and voice front and center at the trade show, then you’ve already succeeded.
What are you waiting for? Find a trade show in your region that caters to your target audience, make a budget, and start showing your community who you are!