The Business Case for Trade Shows

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Trade Show Background

If you work for or own a small business or a startup, creating a business case for trade shows might be new. Deciding whether or not to spend thousands of dollars participating in one is a difficult proposition, especially when outcomes are not guaranteed. There are plenty of companies that choose to avoid trade shows altogether and opt for “safer” marketing channels. These are places where ROI is more easily measured and the initial commitment is low. Certainly, a measured approach, especially when money is tight, is a good idea but if you are eliminating trade shows altogether from your marketing program, then you are limiting your business growth. 

Fear and Uncertainty Isn’t Good Enough

Unfortunately, the vast majority of companies that already dabble in trade shows (and mostly attend the same events every year) don’t know whether or not the shows they participate in are the “right ones”. They typically go for one of three reasons:

  1. Fear of missing out: they go “just in case” or because it is a big event
  2. Emotional attachment: they simply “go every year”
  3. They believe it “works”: but they can’t explain how
John Wannamaker Image

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is that I don’t know which half

John Wannamaker

While we certainly encourage repeating marketing or sales activities that actually work, the above scenarios are all potentially poor uses of marketing or sales dollars. This is especially likely when there is no hard analysis before and after each event. The standard we advocate at Ellivent is having an understanding of the landscape (shows that are relevant to you), and knowing exactly what you expect to get out of it. Simply put, there is nothing stopping you from figuring out which shows have the best ROI. When you have a repeatable system, trade shows can become a measurable (and defendable) channel for generating sales.

Creating a Sustainable Framework

This first step is to create a framework for evaluating trade shows. This requires upfront work and a lot of estimates. With the right framework in place, you will generate a cohesive and sensible plan for growing your trade show program. With practice, you can start treating trade shows like other marketing channels where ROI is easy to measure. As you experience success with the trade shows you attend, you will also have a plan in place for expanding and improving upon those early successes.

It is important to get a holistic view of the trade show landscape that is specific to your industry or audience, whether those shows are nearby or far away, and using a consistent approach to evaluating the opportunity that takes emotion (and fear) out of the planning process. When you can have conversations about budget and trade-offs early in your processes you will prevent the issues and costs that often come about due to last-minute decision-making.

Create a framework and each show will continuously get better. With each show you will have more experience and can refine your framework so that it is more precise. We’ve made it easy for you to copy our framework through these articles and our book “Building a Better Trade Show”.

Next, learn how to evaluate trade show opportunities >

This article is part of our ebook “Building a Better Trade Show”. Download our free ebook today.

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We hope you also enjoy our ebook, Building A Better Trade Show. It’s our step-by-step guide to finding new opportunities, creating a budget, and planning for success.

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