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Small business marketing can be tricky. You want maximum exposure to the right audience, but you don’t have the same budgets as global brands. That’s why alternative marketing strategies have proven to be so successful when included in a small business marketing mix.

Be honest, have you ever considered exhibiting at a trade show? The most likely answer is no because exhibitions seem to have taken a back foot since digital marketing took its place at the table.

The exhibition industry has still been doing very well for itself, reporting year-on-year growth of exhibitors and attendees. New events are cropping up, targeting even more niche audiences. And the huge, corporate brands are putting on a newsworthy performance. It must be nice to be given a never-ending budget, huh. The question is if you run a small business should you even bother to exhibit?

An Convention Center

The answer is yes. Trade shows give you the opportunity to market your brand face-to-face. You can show potential customers that you’re human and build those crucial relationships. You can build relationships with other businesses operating within your industry, leading to long-term (and profitable) partnerships. And you can gain real-life, real-time feedback and data from both your customer base and your competitors.

Digital marketing simply isn’t capable of that. Even social media, and our obsession with our smartphones, cannot replace real-life connection. You might think that all that engagement on your recent Instagram post counts as interaction and relationship building, but you’d be wrong.

Industry focussed events give you opportunities that are unlike anything you’ll get using other marketing strategies. These expos make it possible to spy on competitors, follow industry innovation and generate leads. Leading exhibition stand designers, Quadrant2Design, think small businesses would benefit more from exhibiting than anybody else due to the heavily targeted audience and face-to-face communication.

That doesn’t mean that digital marketing is a waste of time, this is far from true. These six effective digital marketing tactics can help you refine your digital marketing strategy. You’ll have more than enough time left for an exhibition or two.

If you’re not sold yet then I’m not surprised, we haven’t even got into the good stuff yet. But hopefully, I’ve got your attention just enough for you to forget all about content marketing, email marketing, PPC, affiliate marketing, SEO, viral marketing… you get the point.

Let’s breathe, grab a strong cup of coffee, and find out what marketing in the real world is all about.

Here are 7 reasons that your small business should exhibit at trade shows:

1) Increase Brand Awareness

This is certainly one of the main reasons that any small business should exhibit. If you have attended an exhibition before, then you’ll be well aware of how many start-ups and SMEs are there exhibiting. You’ll have been introduced to a number of businesses that you’d never previously heard of. Maybe you’ve even got a few business cards in your top drawer. You never know when you’ll need an artificial grass wall or a Zünd G3 Digital Cutter so it’s best to keep hold of every single one.

Let’s not forget about the freebies. Businesses hand out branded pens, mugs, calendars, hand sanitizers and practically any low-cost merchandise that has a long shelf life. By sticking their brand name and logo on the label, they’ve acquired long-term promotion with a minimal budget.

That’s the great thing about exhibiting. With a well-designed exhibition stand and a strong sales team to lure people in, you’re guaranteed to raise brand awareness. Here are six exhibition stand design ideas to get you started. Engaging with visitors who wouldn’t have come across you otherwise is one of the most enticing reasons to exhibit.  

2) Generate Hot Leads

Expo’s are extremely industry focussed events. Therefore, people who attend expos are extremely focussed on that industry. Make sense? By showcasing your brand at an exhibition you are positioning yourself in front of an incredibly relevant audience, making the potential to generate hot leads increasingly likely.

An Indoor Concert

Generating leads is one of the small businesses’ key objectives when they decide to exhibit. It works, for obvious reasons. Some business managers choose to reach out to new prospects, whilst others choose to reach out to existing customers. Whatever your strategy, it may help you to know that the cost of meeting these leads at a trade show is more than 50% less expensive than the cost of a face-to-face meeting at a potential client’s office.  

Over three-quarters of the business decision-makers that attend an exhibition leave the show has found a new supplier. Each trade show gives you the opportunity to create an international client base, as over half of those in attendance travel more than 400 miles. Statistics like these highlight the huge lead generation potential from attending an exhibition.

3) Network & Discover Collaboration Opportunities

Not everyone in your industry is a competitor, some may benefit you and your company one way or another. Trade shows are fantastic networking opportunities. You get the chance to meet and engage with other individuals working within your industry.

Exhibitions are primarily B2B marketing events, although you get the occasional B2C show as well. This means that business directors, and those in charge of making decisions, are going to exhibitions in a mindset to meet new people. You don’t have to hunt down great networking opportunities in your area, just look up your closest trade show.

At the very least this could lead to a few beers after the show. But in the best-case scenario, we have seen profitable business partnerships being formed on the trade show floor. These partnerships may only last the course of an event, and you could help each increase footfall on your booths. Or you may find yourself creating long-lasting ties with businesses that can boost your reputation and sales. It doesn’t hurt to have an ally.  

Directions to An Exhibit Hall

4) Instant Customer Feedback

The most important thing about running a successful business is understanding your customers. If you don’t know what your customers really think then how can you effectively market to them? How are you ever going to grow your business?

Exhibiting gives you a one-off chance to gather feedback from your customers in real-time. Your booth staff can build rapport and welcome them into a fully branded environment. Then, following a product demonstration or brief explanation of your company, ask for feedback and insight into what works and what doesn’t.

Obtaining this kind of data can help you improve your business model, correct anything that people don’t enjoy and become a more profitable company. This should be a standalone reason for a small business to exhibit as, often, they don’t have the available budget for extensive customer feedback surveys.  

With this in mind, you should consider hiring staff to work on your booth purely to obtain customer feedback. This data is incredibly valuable, and it isn’t every day that you and your product are dropped into a hall featuring hundreds of your leads. Gathering real-time data should be one of your exhibition goals and is definitely a reason why a small business should consider exhibiting.

5) Build Crucial Relationships

As mentioned in the introduction, exhibitions are a rare opportunity for you to build relationships with new and existing customers. This face-to-face interaction is extremely rare in today’s technology-driven society. The majority of business decisions are made over email, with some deals even being finalized in Twitter DM’s.

The irony of all this is that humans actually need face-to-face communication to build relationships, trust and create lasting bonds with a business or individual. So why has digital marketing shot up in popularity? Obviously brands want to use platforms that their audience actually uses to market themselves, in most cases those platforms are technology. Smartphones, laptops, iPads and social media have all seen a rise in demand for advertising opportunities.

It is a good idea to exhibit at a trade show to prove to your customers that you are human. By putting a face to a name they will be able to trust you, and you are likely to generate more sales as a direct result of positive word of mouth and rapport building. Trust has been proven to accelerate your small business’s success. 

The key to all of this is the people that you use to staff your booth. This is a very important decision, it’s not always your sales team that makes the best booth staff. Think about this carefully when you get to the planning stages.

6) Spy on your Competitors

Forget everything that was covered in point three. Sometimes, the other businesses operating within your industry are your competitors. And if they’re not nice to you then you’re under no obligation to be nice to them. Why wouldn’t you want to take a sneaky peek at what they’re up to?

One of the greatest things about exhibitions is that you get the chance to legally spy on your competitors. Especially in a busy hall where you’re likely to be located near each other on an aisle. Take off your lanyard and head over to their stand to receive their sales pitch for the complete run down. If they willing to try to sell you their product, it’s not cheating… right?

You can find out what new products or services your competitors are offering. Hear all about their unique selling points. Even get a bit cheeky and start asking them the information they wouldn’t usually disclose. What are their profit margins? What is their annual turnover? What are they having for lunch? And then you get to head back to the office and figure out a way of doing it bigger and better. Plus you’ve got an idea for a nice lunch.

A Trade Show Exhibit

7) Keep up with Industry Trends

That brings us to our final point. The final reason that you should definitely become an exhibitor if you run a small business. Exhibitions are where huge players in the industry go to launch their latest products.

It’s your responsibility, as a small business owner, to keep up with the latest trends in your industry. The last thing you want to do is look stupid or behind your competition. You need to be able to sell your product or service with complete confidence, knowing that you are not falling behind on the latest update. That’s not the only reason that small business should be keeping up with industry trends by attending exhibitions.

CES is renowned for introducing innovative technology into the market. Global brands such as Samsung will ensure they have a product to launch there. Press, consumers, and business decision-makers are desperate to attend the event every year. Can you imagine the potential that kind of audience has for a small business?

Attending exhibitions, either as a visitor or an exhibitor, can help you monitor the progress within your industry. You can update your business model and ensure your product aligns with customer expectations. You can also have a presence at global brands’ product launches, giving you free media opportunities and a new, highly targeted mass audience.

To Sum it All Up

If you own a small business, or you run a marketing team, then now you have seven reasons why you should start exhibiting. If this article doesn’t have you fully convinced then I don’t know what will.

As well as being a great opportunity for lead generation and to increase your brand awareness, exhibitions also offer you the opportunity to spy on your competitors and keep up with industry trends. Doing this will ensure you are positioned as an authoritative voice within your industry. That will also lead to more customers.

Really, there is nothing else that I can do to tell you what a fantastic opportunity exhibitions are for small businesses looking to grow in 2020. I suggest you get online and you hunt down the next industry event for you, attend as a free guest, and see for yourself!

Written By
Natalka Antoniuk is a full-time content writer for leading exhibition stand design agency, Quadrant2Design. Her passion for content, SEO optimization and writing developed following the growth of her blog, and it was when she was selected as a finalist for the UK Blog Awards 2018 that she knew she had to pursue a career in content.

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