Memorable marketing solutions exclusively for small businesses in Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire   Feb 2008




Making an exhibition of yourself

In some business areas, exhibitions and conferences are really useful ways of communicating with potential customers.  They are also potentially very expensive in resources, management time and money.  So it's important that they are properly planned and fit coherently within the rest of the marketing strategy of the business. Here are a few tips ...

Know what you really want

I've been involved in planning attendance at many exhibitions over the years and remain surprised at how often the exhibiting business doesn't really know what it wants to get back from the event.

"We need to remind all of our potential target customers that we are still in business".  "We need to fill our sales pipeline with well qualified prospects".  "We want to show everyone that we are a big player in this market".

If any of the above are what the business really wants, then they probably shouldn't be using an exhibition as the way of achieving it.  There are other marketing tools that are more cost effective.

Exhibitions are very good at helping target customers form initial impressions of your products or services and your business.  They can be good vehicles for making initial contact and providing some early information.  If you have a product that is highly visual or tactile, or is novel in its approach and benefits, then an exhibition is a good way to 'introduce' it to new potential customers.

Think of an exhibition as just an interactive sales introduction letter, and then you won't be disappointed with the results.

Attracting visitors

Designing the stand to attract visitors is often made over complicated by a poor definition of what the business wants to achieve by attending the exhibition.

I've seen many stands that use themed gimmicks to attract visitors.  There was one I recall that had a Formula One theme and included a real F1 car on a raised podium.  Next to the car was a big glass bowl to catch business cards that would, according to a sign, be entered in a draw to win a day out at the next UK Grand Prix.  Guess what? There were loads of cards in the glass bowl (including mine), but how many were from potentially serious customers for the business? ... not many.  Clearly their goal for the stand was to catch as many business cards as possible.  Not a very good goal really, in my opinion.

As with much of marketing, keeping it simple is often the best policy.  Be very clear about what your business does and what benefits it offers its customers.  If a theme for the design of the stand lends itself to reinforce that then go ahead, but don't try to shoehorn an irrelevant theme into your key messaging.

A simple stand that communicates the key messages well will attract the visitors who are genuinely interested in your offer.  You will get less visitors than the stand with the F1 car on it, but they'll be of much better quality.

Wait or pounce?

I am often asked about exhibition 'etiquette'.  "Should I stand at the back and wait to be approached or should I stalk the aisle and grab likely looking punters?".

The answer does depend very much on the nature of the exhibition, what kind of product or service your are offering and the specific design of your stand.  The default though should be to wait until a visitor comes onto the stand and then you should approach them in a warm and helpful manner. But, don't be afraid to leave them to browse the stand alone if that is what they'd like. 

However, it is important that staff are available to converse with the visitor when the visitors wants. Staff standing in little groups talking to each other is a definite no-no as visitors often find breaking into such a group intimidating.  It helps if staff on the stand are clearly identifiable with a badge or a 'uniform'.

Remember that the visitor chose to come onto your stand so they must be interested in your offer at some level. The role of the staff is to help refine that interest into something specific that can be discussed at the time or followed up later.

Before an interested visitor leaves the stand, make sure to capture basic contact information and record their area of interest.  Let them know that you will follow-up after the exhibition to see if there is any more information that they'd like. And make sure that you do. 

The real value of the exhibition is in following up the contacts that were made.  Many businesses forget this.

Memorable marketing

Thinking and working pragmatically like this will help you to make your marketing work better for you in a more memorable way. This means that your target customers will be able to differentiate your products and services from those of your competitors and clearly see the value in buying from you.

If you would like some advice on memorable marketing techniques for your own business, or you know someone at another business who might need help, then please contact us. The sooner you start, the sooner you will benefit.



Download this handy guide which explains how to get the best from attending an exhibition in order to improve business effectiveness.

Written by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as part of their Directors' Briefing series, this document makes easy reading for business people of all experience levels.


Marketing Effectiveness Assessment

A free service to small businesses in the Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire area, the Marketing Effectiveness Assessment delivers a professional audit of how a business is using the tools of marketing to communicate to existing and potential customers. It also includes a series of simple and cost-effective marketing activities that the business can implement immediately and at low cost.

Download the factsheet now.


Useful Links ...

Adduce Marketing

Chartered Institute of Marketing

Marketing UK (information portal)

Marketing Profs (free articles)