5 Tips for a Successful First Trade Show

Thomas Hilton

Thomas Hilton


Going into your first trade show as a startup or established brand trying out a new marketing tactic can be a daunting experience with conflicting advice on how to pull it off, depending on where you look.

Online advertising and marketing efforts continue to reign supreme for reaching large audiences, but that’s not to say a good old-fashioned trade show is something to neglect. In contrast to online marketing strategies that usually take a lot of impressions to convert to sales, the in-person effects of talking one-on-one with potential customers can often be much more effective on a smaller scale.

If trade show attendees are looking for a company like yours, being able to explain your products and services with examples for them to look at is one of the most effective ways to connect with new customers.

As in-person events continue to become more common following pandemic shutdowns, we’ve rounded up some of the most valuable tips for a successful first trade show.

1. Figure out Who Will Be in Attendance

If it’s an industry-specific trade show, chances are you know what type of demographics to expect, though if it’s a huge expo, you’re likely to see a wider spread of attendees. An attendee list is often available in advance to help businesses and those attending the trade show network with one another.

You might consider sending out a quick, friendly message to specific business’ representatives, or guests in general, to “prime the pump,” so to speak, and get them thinking about stopping by to see what your business has to offer. Keep it short, though, and remember people don’t like spam. Annoying people and scaring them off is the last thing you want.

2. A Great Setup with Places for People to Sit

One of the smartest ways to get people to spend time at your booth is to have comfortable places to take a break from walking around the trade show. Even folding chairs will work — anything is better than nothing.

Depending on how much space you have to work with for your setup and how extravagant you want to go with it, you could even set up a lounge area where potential customers can hang out.

Setting up a comfy area where you can talk to attendees about your product or service nearly guarantees you’ll not have any shortage of visitors to your booth.

3. Freebies and Promotional Swag

Promo swag and other freebies are an expected part of trade shows, and if you’re handing out cool stuff, people will see it and be looking for your booth to check out what you’ve got to offer.

The cost per impression for most swag items is incredibly cheap, with quality swag usually costing less than a penny per impression for the product's lifetime. Promotional swag has the highest impact with the lowest cost-per-impression as an advertising medium.

If you give people stuff they like and will use, they’ll keep using it, ensuring more people are exposed to your brand just by seeing the item. Simple as that.

4. Be Prepared with All the Answers

In addition to sending your most outgoing, personable employees, it’s crucial that they have the answers or means to quickly provide the answers to questions attendees are likely to ask about your business’s products or services.

Like any good team, you’ll want to send a group that complements one another. A designer or product manager will be able to tell people all about what your company offers, salespeople can convert leads, and a go-getter marketing manager orchestrates the whole show, ensuring everything goes off without a hitch.

5. Follow Up on Leads Afterwards

If your primary goal of the trade show was to gain business leads, be sure to follow up afterwards with anyone that could prove to be a fruitful relationship. Be proactive in talking with attendees — strike up a conversation.

Don’t overthink it. The goal is to make the connection and leave everyone you meet with a positive impression of you and your business. Take notes on leads you meet. Whether you use a smartphone app or pen and paper, make sure you have a system to follow up with prospective customers.

Set Up and Show Up

You can scour the internet for longer trade show tip lists than ours, but many will provide similar information that essentially all comes down to “be prepared.” And the best way to be prepared is to practice. So get up, get out there at some trade shows this year, and see what works best for your organization.

After each trade show, be sure to debrief with your team to discuss what went well and what needs improvement, and start preparing for your next event. Good luck, and get ready for your first trade show starting today with help from Stitchi marketing consultants.

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