Building Brand Engagement: A Primer for Trade Show ROI


When a marketing initiative commands significant resources, the tendency is to focus on tactics. This is especially true of trade shows. Strategy often takes a back seat to the complicated logistics, and rather than determine the best way to increase trade show ROI, even the most astute marketing managers get caught up in decisions about wire management and carpet padding.

Tactics are easily delegated to an experienced exhibit partner. However, the development of a trade show marketing strategy should align with corporate and product marketing goals and objectives.

Because trade show marketing rarely makes it into business school text books, many marketing managers scramble to find a workable template. Although steps we recommend are broken into three areas of activities:

  • Pre-show
  • Show-site
  • Post-show

The planning for each step needs to happen well in advance of the show.

Pre-show marketing:

Let’s assume you know why you are attending the show, know the demographics of the attendees because you requested an audit from the show organizers, and are working from an established budget. If you neglected any one of these, we won’t tell—but don’t let it happen again.

  • Probably one of the most effective ways to promote your attendance at a show is through social media.
  • For years, trade show marketing wisdom suggested sending promotional mailings to attendees, resulting in a flood of emails and postcards to mailboxes virtual and real. If you send any promotional mail, include a call to action. Give attendees a reason to show up at your exhibit beyond features and benefits.
  • Provide sales reps with invitations to your exhibit so they can share company plans with their customers.
  • Create a hashtag that uses your company’s name and the name of the show. Use it liberally.
  • Develop a microsite on your website with exhibit information, and update it often.
  • Post your show participation in the “press” section on your website, and generate press releases that talk about what you are doing at the show. Post these on social media.
  • Don’t limit your PR/social media to your external customers; sell internally as well.
  • Finally, look at all methods of customer contact before the show: for instance, how about adding the show, dates, and your booth number to email signatures?


Every element of your presence should further your marketing goals and objectives.

  • Consider the attendee journey. The engagement activity in your exhibit should not only be focused on your goals and objectives, but should take into account how adults learn, how a multisensory appeal reinforces your message, and how staff can interact with attendees.
  • Train your staff. Yes, you might have experienced sales people, but the trade show environment is completely different from the field. If you have a staffer who is not open to training, replace that person.
  • Keep up your social media activity. Delegate the job to someone on site—and create support in the office.
  • Sponsorships: If there is an option among the offerings from show management that enhances your brand promise, by all means do it. But when that is not the case, either forgo the sponsorship or create your own. Work with the show organizer to develop a relevant sponsorship, and grandfather that sponsorship for your company for the next year.
  • Work with organizers to book a high level company representative as a speaker. If the show website does not contain a call for papers, call the organizer and find out how you can have speaker representation. Yes, this is labor intensive and requires advanced planning—but remember, you have delegated the tactics.
  • Collect meaningful, actionable data in your exhibit and design the collection to feed into your company’s CRM system. Rank the leads by their conversion potential. To prove the effectiveness of trade show participation, you need to show that you are advancing the sales continuum.
  • Trade shows are a great forum for market research. Learn what competitive products are in use, determine how memorable your advertising is, decide what you need to learn to be a more effective marketer — then create a survey. The survey can be accessed on an interactive kiosk, or you can outsource the function to hired facilitators.
  • Because a sizeable part of your customer base is onsite, consider having an event off the show floor. It need not be elaborate—breakfast is always a winner!—but find time away from the noise and competition of the show floor to be with your key customers and prospects.


Long before you leave for the show, have a plan for using the data you collect.

  • A follow-up thank you email is always appreciated, and it should arrive no later than the first week after the close of the show.
  • Partner with sales leadership to distribute leads to the field for follow-up. Because you established criteria for ranking the leads, the sales team should be able to act quickly with “hot” leads and establish a relationship with those where the potential for conversion is a ways off.
  • Input your data into the CRM system.
  • Start planning for the next show!

Learn to go beyond tactics and build a trade show marketing strategy. Find out here.