How to Ace Marketing at Trade Shows — And The Checklist To Help You Do It

Sara Kern
January 20, 2023
How to Ace Marketing at Trade Shows — And The Checklist To Help You Do It

Trade show exhibits are a tried and true marketing effort that has proven their worth to companies from all different industries.

In fact, according to Statista, more than a third of companies plan to increase their budget for marketing at trade shows this year.

In this guide we’ll cover how you can be successful at a trade show, and provide you with a checklist for every step of the way.

If you haven’t exhibited at a trade show yet, use this article as a guide for preparing and acing your first trade show!

Table of Contents

1. How to Be Successful Marketing at Trade Shows
2. The Ultimate Trade Show Marketing Checklist

How to Be Successful Marketing at Trade Shows

It’s normal to feel nervous about how to make the most of your first trade show and related business travel.

To ensure your upcoming trade show is a success, follow our five steps to success.

Step 1: Define Your Goals

There are many reasons for attending a trade show. For the best results, you need to clearly define yours. Don’t be vague. Be specific.

The best way to lay out what you hope to achieve at this trade show is to define SMART goals. There is nothing vague about a SMART goal. SMART stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

What are some examples of specific, measurable goals for a typical trade show event?

To name a few:

  • Collect 100 email addresses on the day(s) of the trade show
  • Hand out 50 flyers
  • Connect with 20 qualified leads
  • Make ten sales
  • Find five new vendors

These goals are specific, measureable, achievable and relevant, and most of them will be “time bound” by taking place during the trade show (or immediately before and after).

To make sure your effort, time, and investment into this trade show was worth it, you will want to see some Return On Investment (or ROI) and Return On Objectives (ROO).

We’ll cover ROI and ROO more later, because understanding how you perform against your SMART goals can help you plan for your future after your event is over.

Step 2: Locate the Best Trade Shows (For You)

Not all trade shows are equal. You’ll need to pick and choose which trade show best suits your goals.

You can search trade shows here and here to find potential events.

When searching for trade shows, look for two categories:

  • those in your industry, and
  • those that interest your ideal audience

For example, if you sell computer parts, you might search for trade shows in computer engineering.

But you could also look into trade shows for computer-related hobbies, repair, or a computer niche related to the types of parts you produce — because those are things that interest your ideal customer, so they are likely to be there.

Related: 15 Best Hospitality Trade Shows

Create a Shortlist

After you have a list of some potential trade shows, you need to do some extra digging to see which trade shows will present the opportunity to meet the goals you have already defined.

Some things to consider are the size of the show, its audience, the dates of the show, its cost, and whether there will be space for you there. There may also be speaking opportunities or events to consider.

Size and Audience

Facts such as the participants in past years, the number of trade show attendees, and the number of years a trade show has been held can provide a gauge of what to expect.

One of the most significant criteria for a successful trade show is if the visitors match your target audience.


Consider the timing of the event. Is it around national holidays? Are there other events happening in the city that day?

The answer to these two questions can provide a baseline of the amount of traffic the event can bring, which impacts the cost of meeting spaces packages.

Also think about your own business. Will you have a new product launch to debut? Is it ready, or will it be? Are you expanding your small business or making plans in the near future which you could announce?

Attending a trade show at the ideal time can help you to make the most of your event marketing.


Attending this trade show must align with your marketing budget.

Trade shows closer to home will cost significantly less in lodging and travel expenses. With events farther away, the longer the distance to travel, and the more expensive it will be to make sure you have everything you need.

There’s the price of the booth rental at the event, and the cost of decorating it with displays, products and swag.

You’ll also need to take into consideration the cost of lodging for yourself and all who are helping if you’re away from home. Hotel Engine can help you find the best rates on hotel rooms for all size groups, no matter where the event is held.

Remember: overspending also affects your ROI.

Every cost incurred needs to be considered and noted before choosing the trade show you’ll attend.

Space Availability

If you contact the event hosts early, you should be able to get a booth in a good location. However, if you are late to the game, you may not find a booth at the event that will be suitable.

What makes a booth location a good one? The best booths have the maximum traffic flow in the event, preferably near the entrance or middle of the venue, which is well-lit and highly visible.

You will also need to ensure that you can get a booth big enough that your booth design will fit and not be cluttered.

Seminars or Speaking Opportunities

To increase brand awareness and establish authority and trust at a trade show, sign up as a speaker or deliver a seminar.

Not all trade shows offer this opportunity, but if they do, it can significantly increase your reach for new leads.

Step 3: Establish a Timeline

A marketing campaign for a trade show is an all-year process.

Once you’ve selected the right trade show, you’ll need to announce your exhibit at the right time and continue to promote your trade show presence after it’s over.

A great way to organize your timeline is to use exhibitor management software, with help from the checklist we provide below.

Step 4: Determine Your Marketing Channels

There are many ways to market your trade show, so it’s a good habit to determine your main marketing channels ahead of time — as well as when you will employ each.

Let’s discuss your options and how best to leverage them:


Many people claim that email marketing is dead, but the proof shows otherwise.

Perhaps one of the best ways to get the word out about your upcoming trade show is to craft an email campaign.

This tactic will work best if you have a large number of email contacts, but if you do, you’ll want to take advantage of that.

Either way, make sure to send the news out with social media posts. The more frequent, the better.

During the Trade Show

If you have the capacity, try to post during the trade show as well. Post images of customers trying products, of your fully decorated booth, or of giveaways you have on hand.

Try to provide directions to your booth as well.

Also, make an effort to collect contact information that you can use for marketing after the show ends.

Post Show

After the trade show event, you can still market your booth with short-form video of your booth or demo on social media, your website, and even as a link in emails.

All those emails and contact information you collected during the trade show aren’t just going to collect dust.

Send thank-you emails to those who left their info and/or connect on LinkedIn to keep the communication channels open.

Build Your Content Around the Trade Show

Is there a Trade Show theme? If so, adjust your content calendar to include this theme with information on your booth and build anticipation for visitors.

Add a banner on your website announcing the event so that all regular website visitors can be informed.

Lastly, if your budget allows, run targeted ads on social media in the local area where the event is being held.

Piggyback the Event’s Social Media

You can adapt your social media posts to piggyback your marketing off the buzz on the internet about the event by adding relevant hashtags of the event to your posts.

By utilizing these hashtags, you can gain a wider audience, including all those who plan to attend and those who are interested in attending.

Another tactic is to give influencers who might attend a little nudge by offering promotional products or exclusive access discounts.

Ask them to promote your booth to their audience in return. This will require the right influencer with the right audience. Vet your influencer well by asking essential questions to find out if they’re a good match.

Step 5: Stay Organized With a Checklist

Planning a trade show is a lot of work. To make sure you achieve all your goals, use a checklist for all the things you want to accomplish before, during, and after the trade show begins.

To get you started, here’s ours:

The Ultimate Trade Show Marketing Checklist

Checklist for marketing at trade shows

Before the Trade Show

1. Promote Your Booth Early

In your early event marketing, provide your booth number and a map.

Cultivate interest and excitement for the trade show by announcing giveaways, contests, demos, etc.

2. Reach Out to Certain Attendees

Look through the attendee list and find good prospects or potential customers and see if you can schedule an appointment with them at your booth ahead of time.

3. Get Your Swag Ready

Design and order promotional products early. They could be flyers, business cards, t-shirts, etc.

Think of something unique but valuable to offer that will help your booth stand out. Freebies are a great marketing tactic but they need to be useful. Offering a free pin is nice but if you offer something larger or more valuable, you can request more contact info.

Consider one big product giveaway (keeping the budget in mind).

4. Ship Your Materials Early

Shipping products, signage, or promotional materials early can save money on express shipping. It also ensures you have everything you need on time.

5. Test Everything

Ensure all equipment, demo and activations are working properly before the event begins so that you aren’t faced with a disaster mid trade show.

During the Trade Show

6. Setup Your Booth With Intentionality

When setting up your booth, your products should be front and center. Treat your booth like a storefront. It needs to draw people in, stand out, and be consistent to your brand identity. Your products should be front and center.

Include an attention grabber and an attention retainer in your booth design.

A grabber draws visitors in, gets them curious. An example would be to gamify some of your content.

A retainer keeps them at your booth. This could include educational content that is engaging such as infographics, video product demos, etc.

If you can, provide social proof of the value of your products or services (and document them via your channels). These can include video testimonials, reviews, etc.

7. On-site Survey

Get your visitor’s opinion on your booth and marketing materials. This will allow you to adjust next year based on the feedback you receive.

8. Schedule Post-Event Demos or Follow-Ups

For those who are interested in your product, but don’t have time for a full demo during the event, you can get another chance to land a new customer by scheduling a demo for after the event is over. Consider creating a sign up for that.

Keep in mind: depending on the number of post-event demos you land, you may need to stay in town longer, or offer demos remotely if you can.

After the Trade Show

9. Follow Up

Send personalized follow up emails to every contact you collected during the event. Don’t reuse emails you collected at past events. Your contacts will know.

Adjust your emails to include every stage of a buyer’s cycle. Event leads are different from your typical leads. You really don’t know how eager they are to buy, so you need to cover all your bases.

Looking to hold meetings with potential prospects while you’re out of town? Check out Business Meeting Facilities: What to Look For.

10. Go Over the Data

Professionals discussing marketing data

After the trade show is the perfect time to look at the data: the ROI, or return on investment, and ROO — return on objective.

Is it really worth it to you to put money and effort into trade shows? Can you really see results from your marketing plan?

According to the stats on trade shows, there is plenty of potential in marketing at trade shows.

For example, converting a trade show lead costs 38% less than relying on sales calls alone, and 52% of business owners believe trade shows produce a better ROI than any other marketing channels.

What about the ROI from your trade show marketing? Did you stir up new business?

What about your other objectives? Did you get as many new emails or sign ups as you hoped for? Did you meet your goals?

The Lead Liaison provides a helpful calculator you can use to measure trade show ROI.

If you aren’t happy with your ROI or ROO results, how can you improve in the future?

You may also like: The 5 Best Hotel Chains for Business Stays and Events


Trade shows can be a powerful marketing tool when you implement a well-structured trade show marketing plan.

Of course, your first trade show will be a learning experience and you will no doubt discover different things you want to try at your next trade show.

Do yourself a favor, and don’tunderestimate the need for quality lodging. A great hotel experience ensures that organizers, sales teams and staff are well cared for, well-slept and ready to crush the trade show.

Why wait? Find the best hotel at the best rates with Hotel Engine.

Article written by
Sara Kern

Sara Kern is a Copywriter at Hotel Engine. She worked as a writer in the tech and apparel industries for almost a decade before joining the HE family, but also has experience coordinating business travel for fast-moving nonprofits, so she knows firsthand how hard it can be. She joined Hotel Engine in 2022 and is excited to be a part of the movement to radically simplify trip management for everyone.

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