Measurement at Trade Shows: Yes, You Can!


When they hear the word “measurement,” many, if not most, exhibit managers get a glazed look in their eyes because the conversation rarely gets concrete. Measure what? Why? How?

Instituting a measurement program requires planning and buy-in. The planning part generally helps to get the buy-in—so let’s start with that.

First Step: Measure what?

What are you going to measure? Here are some of the things you can measure at a trade show:

  • Booth traffic: how many people actually came to your exhibit?
  • Leads/contacts/qualified leads: how many badge scans did you collect? Assuming the lead form, whether digital or paper, allows you to rank the viability of the lead, how many of these were qualified leads? How many existing customers visited?
  • Changes in perception: an exit survey in which you ask visitors questions about their experiences or increased awareness of your company, products, or services yields important information.
  • The effectiveness of program elements: have you invested in digital elements? A theater presentation? There are methods for measuring these initiatives with or without the use of technology.
  • Purchasing intentions: did you talk to prospects with real budgets? Are they buying within two years? Six months?
  • Media/publicity: how much media attention did you generate at a particular trade show? Include articles, tweets, press mentions, interviews, speeches, etc.
  • Market research: trade shows are perfect for conducting market research since a sizable portion of your market is in attendance, and you can assess the direction your industry is headed.
  • Competitive intelligence: measure the impact of competitors—what are they doing in their exhibits? What new products are they promoting? How do their exhibits look on the floor?

Second Step: Start Early

Start thinking about measurement at the very beginning of your planning process. Everything will be more cohesive and make more sense because your planning will focus on results.

Third Step: Set goals

To guide your goal-setting, create a mission statement for your trade show, a simple sentence that clearly articulates your goals, what you would like to accomplish. This statement allows you to check back to make sure everything you are doing fulfills your mission.

Next, be sure you understand the goals of senior management, marketing, brand teams, and the sales organization by asking them:

  • What do we want to get out of this event?
  • Who are our targets?
  • What are our major concerns?
  • How does our product or service fulfill the needs or solve the challenges of our targets?
  • What is the personality of our brand? What is our brand promise?
  • What is our competition doing and saying?
  • What do we want to measure?

Once you have these answers, you can create measurable objectives for your trade show.

Fourth Step: Define measurable objectives

There is a difference between goals and objectives. Goals are big picture outcomes while objectives are measurable entities. A good way to create objectives is to remember the acronym SMART. Objectives should be

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Actionable
  • Reasonable
  • Time Sensitive

Here are some sample measurable objectives:

  • Make contact with 500 attendees
  • After visiting our exhibit, 50% of attendees are more likely to buy our product
  • Demonstrate our product to 100 qualified attendees
  • After seeing a demonstration, 50% of qualified attendees say they are more likely to purchase
  • 80% of those who saw a presentation took away our key message
  • Distribute qualified leads to the field within 72 hours

Fifth Step: Measure how well you met your objectives

Whatever objectives you set, plan how you’re going to fulfill those objectives, and how you’re going to track your efforts. There many ways you can collect data and measure how well you met your objectives. Here are a few:

  • Lead capture technology, either show-supplied or custom. Decide what information you want to collect such as contact and demographic information, buying plans, budgets, viability of the lead (code your leads!)
  • Exit interviews where you probe for additional information by addressing 1-3 specific issues in detail. You can also gather subjective information. Recommendation: outsource this to a third party to reduce bias.
  • Booth audit: evaluate your own exhibit. Compare your exhibit—size, properties, use of technology, graphics, interactive stations and the like with 2 or 3 of your competitors.
  • Competitive analysis: again, best left to a third party who can collect information and competitive intelligence with anonymity.

Step Six: Report Results

Create a report that you send to senior management, marketing, brand teams and sales. In this report,

  • Recap your strategy, tactics, and creative execution
  • Reiterate your mission statement and your goals
  • Compare actual results to measurable objectives
  • Include feedback from the event team
  • Make recommendations for your trade show program based on the results

Prepare this report by including

  • A one-page executive summary with bullet points of the “hot” items from the report
  • Recommendations for the future
  • Contextual information: give meaning to the results in the light of your entire measurement plan.

If possible—and push on this–present your report in person so you can get immediate feedback and consensus about the value of your program. In doing so, you communicate the value of your trade show program (and your job!). You are perceived as a strategist, as the person who made measurement a reality.