5 Step Strategy for Trade Show Success + Tips for Marketing and Displays

Plan Ahead for Trade Show Season

With trade show season approaching it is time to nail down your trade show plan and space. Planning ahead and evaluating your current plan will help make sure your trade show marketing dollars are being used productively.

Below are 5 steps that will help you prepare for your most effective trade show season ever.

1. Establish Goals

Trade shows present an opportunity to meet prospective customers, generate leads, create brand awareness, connect with current customers and partners, and more. Trade shows are a big investment involving hefty registration fees, displays, collateral, prizes, travel, lodging, and significant human resources - before, during and after the event.  Like any significant marketing investment, it is important to establish measurable goals that can be used to evaluate the ROI or quality of the marketing spend.  Often goals of trade show marketing include:

  • Increase leads 

  • Increase sales

  • Increase web site traffic

  • Increase social media following

  • Increase email subscribers

  • Identify new strategic partners

Use SMART goal setting and measure your performance against those goals.  This will help you evaluate the overall effectiveness of your trade show investment.  For example, your goal may be to increase leads - a SMART goal would be to increase leads by __% or generate ___ new leads.  Check out this Wikihow on how to set your SMART marketing goals for your upcoming trade show events.   

2. Create the Right Trade Show Display

They say you've got about 6-10 seconds to win or lose the attention of someone passing by your booth.  The good news is you don't have to win everyone's attention, just the attention of those in your target audience.   So focus on winning their attention with compelling visuals and a clear, succinct message.  Your trade show success depends on setting your company apart from the crowd with an eye-catching table or booth.  Planning ahead and evaluating your current setup will help make sure your trade show marketing dollars are being used productively.

Whether evaluating an old set up or developing a new one - be clear about your communication hierarchy.

Establish a Clear Communication Hierarchy

Your booth is not your brochure - have a communication strategy and stick to it.


The human brain processes an image 60,000 times faster than text.  Before anyone reads a single word, they are already forming an impression about your company based on their general visual impression of your displays and space.  Do your displays or table throws contain bright colors, eye catching graphics, compelling imagery?  Do your colors or graphics - engage? intrigue? delight? invite?  If you are using multiple display and signage elements, is the whole greater than the sum of the parts?  Sometimes an unexpected object (that fits with your brand) can create visual attraction and draw people in.  Almost any object or surface can be custom wrapped with digitally printed conforming vinyl to create a one of a kind visual impression.  For example, we bring a custom wrapped vintage pedal car to our trade show events - everybody wants to stop by to get a closer look.  In the process, they learn about our products and services.

Check out 12 Compelling Reasons to Use Visuals in Your Marketing Communications to understand some of the science behind how it works.  


Is your branding up to date?  If your company has recently re-branded, or has added new products and services, make sure these are reflected in your trade show display.   Is your brand well known by your target market?  If so, then prioritize your branding in your communications to leverage that familiarity and create accessibility.  Is your brand small, new, or generally unfamiliar to your target audience?  Then as painful as this may sound, prioritize your visuals and message above your brand.  Your brand may mean the world to you, but if it is unknown, don't rely too heavily on your brand to draw people in.  Always integrate your brand, but manage it appropriately in your communications strategy.


What is your key selling proposition?  Can you put it in a single sentence or phrase?  Does your tag line carry the weight of that proposition or just support it?  Once you've caught a prospective customer's eye this is the next thing they will look for.  They want to know if what you are offering is relevant to them.  Generally speaking, there are too many demands on their attention for you to assume they will come over simply because they don't "get" what you're about.  Be clear.  Be concise.  Giving customers relevant information in a proposition or benefit statement is key to creating qualified sales leads.


Do you offer samples or sales collateral?  Make sure all product and contact information such as phone numbers, email addresses, social media accounts and websites are correct. Trade show attendees quickly become saturated with information.  That take away may be their only way to remember you and your business.  Make your handouts web friendly, consider including a QR code to people can get to you or a special trade show offer or landing page quickly.

Oddly enough, the communication hierarchy of a trade show display is not unlike a great vehicle wrap.  You have a few seconds to get attention and convey a message.  Of course trade shows have the significant added benefit of being able to speak directly to a prospective customer in real time - not something you are likely to do driving 55 mph on the highway.  

Use "Hardware" that Maximize Your Display Size, Quality and Impact

Evaluate your Current Displays

If you have participated in trade shows in the past, take time to set up and evaluate your current trade show displays.  Do they deliver on the communication strategy you've addressed above?  Is your display, floor graphics, overhead signage or table throw creating a great first impression of your products and services? If you notice that your display has seen better days, chances are show attendees will notice too.  

Update or Refresh your Displays

The good news is, most displays can be updated with new graphics.  If your structure is sound, use your budget to update your displays with new outstanding visuals that will get you noticed.  A booth should be showcasing your company's best image.  If your booth is looking outdated and worn consider investing in an updated display and bright new graphics that will leave potential customers with a lasting impression.  

Update or New Displays

A booth should be showcasing your company's best image.  A new display or back drop will not only look fresh and sharp, but you'd be amazed at the new constructions and designs.  They are light weight, portable and pop up with ease.  The advent of high resolution digital prints on fabrics have revolutionized the display possibilities.  These fabrics are not only light weight, they are easily replaced when you have new branding or messaging.  They also provide a non-reflective matte surface that works well in brightly lit trade show environments.  You paid dearly to participate in a trade show (think of it in terms of dollars per minute) and think carefully about how important it is to look your best.  When you are evaluating your trade show booth, take time to reflect on your floor plan. Make sure your booth floor plan is open and conducive to networking. Creating an inviting space will draw people in to learn more about your products and services.

There are endless trade show display options for every kind of budget.  Today, trade show displays are designed to be light weight, portable, easy to set up and take down.

3. Market Before The Trade Show

Do you have existing customer targets in your data base that will attend the show?  Before the show, reach out to your prospects. Create an email and social media campaign to let them know where you can be found - invite them to stop by.  Consider creating an incentive.   Find the LinkedIn group, Facebook Event Page, or Twitter hashtag for the show, and interact with other attendees there. Don’t wait until you arrive to start networking!

  • Personally invite prospects to meet with you at the show - offer a free demo, trial sample, etc.

  • Blog about the show - highlight  key speakers or not-to-be-missed sessions

  • Create a press release about new offers, products or service you are launching at the show

  • Sign up as a speaker 

4. Market at the Trade Show

Sharing information and connecting with prospective leads are the goals of any trade show, so make sure that your business cards, brochures, white papers, and other marketing materials are in great shape before you go. Be ready to send your booth visitors home with something that will remind them why doing business with you is a great idea!  Use social media at the event to create connections with other trade show attendees.  Here's a short article from HubSpot about using Instagram to market at your next trade show.  

  • Staff your booth with energetic and enthusiastic employees

  • Consider a wardrobe for your team that will stand out from the crowd

  • Consider contests and give always but don't let that distract from your core message

5. Market After the Trade Show

After the trade show, your job is just beginning. Make a plan to nurture all those great leads with email campaigns, special offers, and personal follow-up once you get home. Your fellow attendees were surely overwhelmed by the number of companies they saw on display, so take a moment to remind them who you are and why they want to work with you. Then do it again a few weeks later.

Success is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity 

You don't have to have the largest or most extravagant booth at the show to have a highly successful trade show event.  Any company on almost any budget can be successful at trade show marketing if they take the time to develop a solid strategy, execute it and follow through on post-event activities.

RainMaker Signs specializes in visual marketing communications for trade show displays.  We believe great visual communications make great things happen.  Consider us part of your brand execution team.   Give us a call at 425-861-7446 or email us at sales@rainmakersigns.com.

About RainMaker Signs

Great visual communications make great things happen! Our mission is to help our clients to effectively communicate their brand with event displays, banners, and other graphics.

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