There is a tendency for companies to focus on booth aesthetics at trade shows. Yet it’s the less flashy aspects of trade show marketing that lay the foundation for success. This guide presents a holistic, straightforward approach to trade show marketing before, during, and after the event.

Trade Show Marketing – a Strategic Approach

An effective trade show is not just about showing up at the event with a briefcase full of brochures. It’s about creating an extended, targeted campaign to deliver a high return on investment. Effective trade show marketing requires a strategic approach that covers all the marketing campaign elements that will happen before, during, and after the show.

It’s important to identify the primary trade show objectives and goals and to measure their success wherever possible. A holistic trade show marketing approach raises a lot of important questions.

What is the primary purpose of the show: lead generation, on-site sales, networking, or all of these?

Who is the target audience and what is known about their demographics and psychographics.

What do our competitors plan to do at the event?

What key performance indicators can be measured?

What marketing campaigns will happen before the show?

When should pre-show marketing begin?

Which media should be used?

How will leads be collected at the show?

What is the sales strategy for personnel at the booth?

What marketing will happen after the show?

Having clear objectives keeps the team focused and provides a benchmark for success. It’s not just about the sales made on the day, but the relationships built and the potential for future business. Trade show marketing is a commitment, but with a strategic approach, it’s an investment that can deliver impressive returns.

We’ve outlined some simple, effective strategies below that can help companies answer these important questions that will make for a successful trade show event.

Trade Show Marketing – Before the Show

trade show marketing before the show

Think about this—trade show organizers typically start marketing the next year’s trade show during this year’s trade show. Marketing efforts continue throughout the year leading up to the next show.

In the same way, it’s never too soon for exhibitors to start planning and promoting their next event.

There are also financial incentives to plan and implement as early as possible.

Last-minute orders of banners, signage, or other marketing material are costly, especially if a company orders from the event organizer.

Last-minute shipping and drayage costs can also be a shock to the checkbook and the budget. Drayage, or material handling, is the movement of items from the carriers truck to the booth. Drayage, especially for last minute items, can often cost as much or more than the original shipment to the show. Incorrect packing and multiple shipments will also skyrocket drayage costs, sometimes running into the thousands of dollars. For example, sending multiple shipments of individual boxes to a show will cost substantially more in drayage and shipping than sending the same boxes on a single pallet.

To avoid these substantial financial shocks, plan as far in advance as possible for the production and shipping of all marketing materials needed for the event. This will minimize shipping and drayage surprises.

Promotional Tactics

There is a wide range of pre-trade show marketing ideas that can be used to build anticipation and generate leads well in advance of the show.

Crafting a solid pre-show strategy, employing effective promotional tactics, and using direct mail, email, and social media for maximum outreach are just as important as on-site show operations.

Engaging with attendees before the event not only increases booth traffic, pre-qualifies leads so that all that’s left to do is close on the show floor. Here are several pre- trade show promotion tactics that can be put to good use long before the show starts.

Direct Mail

direct mail marketing statistics

Direct mail, often overlooked, can easily increase trade show attendance. It generates an average 4.4% response rate and boasts an 85% open rate. Compare this to the average email response rate of 0.6% and open rate of 17%.

Personalized direct mail outperforms slightly better, boasting a 4.9% response rate.

A promotional offer related to the show can boost direct mail response rates by an extra 20%.

Anticipation for the trade show builds when direct mail is used beforehand in a well-planned direct mail campaign.


A well-crafted, personalized email campaign can also drive attendees to the show.

Segmenting email lists based on attendee interests is key to successful engagement. For example, if a prospect is interested in a specific product or service, it makes sense to tailor their emails to that product or service. Otherwise, a generic or broadly focused email will probably not get opened or read.

Teaser content in emails builds anticipation, while reminder emails guarantee no one misses out. Such emails are friendly nudges to keep the event on top of their mind.

Trade show organizers sometimes offer a limited number of free exhibit hall passes to exhibitors. Take advantage of this by offering these complimentary passes in an email series (as well as in all other media channels.)

Email automation tools play an integral part in this process by handling all the tedious work and ensuring timely communication. Email campaigns and automation take some time to set up. So, as with all other event promotions, planning should start months ahead of the actual event.

Social Media

Social media is another powerful channel that marketers use to stir up excitement and foster engagement before the event. Social media marketing allows for dynamic pre-event marketing, making potential attendees feel like part of the community.

Countdown timers on social media platforms and company websites serve as a reminder and engage potential attendees. Releasing sneak peeks of trade show marketing materials can generate buzz and offer exclusivity.

The use of event hashtags not only amplifies reach, but also fosters a sense of belonging.

Engaging with attendees via polls or contests encourages active participation. It gives exhibitors opportunities to ask questions and gauge interest in products and services.

Sharing behind-the-scenes activity offers exclusive insights and creates anticipation.

Press releases related to the show are another good way to amplify a brand marketing message. Trade publications are hungry for information about new or innovative products and services. A trade show related release will likely get picked up by such publications and online media outlets.

When an audience is excited to participate in a trade show, they are more likely to engage with the brand during the event and long after it concludes.

Event Sponsorship and Ads

Event sponsorship and targeted ads can play an important role in trade show marketing prior to the event. Strategic ad placement in trade show materials, both digital and in print, can increase booth traffic, credibility and relevance.

This approach can lead to a surge in lead generation and networking opportunities. With sponsorship options ranging from $500 to $50,000 and up, brands are not just buying space, but are establishing a reputable place in the community and industry.

Trade Publication Ads

Placing ads in trade publications is a smart move for creating awareness and generating leads among highly relevant industry professionals. Pre-show trade publication ads are also likely to reach those prospects that can’t be reached via other marketing channels.

Done right, these ads can attract targeted, qualified leads that can be added to a pre-show engagement campaign.

They provide an additional avenue to showcase innovative products and services. Ads can highlight special promotions or exclusive offers, adding an extra layer of intrigue.

Trade Show Site Marketing

Once the pre-show marketing is planned, there’s much to think about with on-site marketing. Attention-grabbing booth design and relevant signage play an important role in attracting attendees.

Additionally, providing printed and digital materials such as catalogs, flyers, and product spec sheets will improve visitor engagement, lead generation, and brand recall.

Trade show booth design

An eye-catching trade show booth design isn’t just aesthetic. An exhibitor’s booth is an essential tool that drives attendance. By using interactive elements, it creates an engaging experience that can boost attendee participation substantially.

A visually appealing booth, reflecting a strong brand identity, can increase memory retention, making brands unforgettable to attendees. This not only enhances a brand’s visibility but paves the way for increased sales conversion as well.

Here’s how a well-thought-out booth design works:

  • It makes your brand stand out amidst the competition.
  • It attracts, engages, and educates attendees about the brand, products, people, and services.
  • It creates a lasting impression, ensuring the brand is remembered long after the trade show ends.

Banners and signage

Trade shows’ unsung heroes, traditional banners and signage, play a pivotal role in attracting attendees, with a whopping 76% of attendees choosing to enter a booth based on its signage.

Don’t underestimate the power of a well-designed trade show booth banner. A properly designed sign or banner instantly invites attendees into a brand’s world. Carefully crafted signs for a booth can increase foot traffic by up to 83%, making them invaluable tools for creating a buzz and motivating prospects to action.

Another type of banner is the pull up banner, also called a retractable banner, like those shown below.

retractable banners for trade show booth

They come in various styles and sizes and are packed in their own compact, lightweight protective shipping case.

Effective branding on these materials will boost brand recognition among attendees, helping to etch key messages into their minds.

Print catalogs with digital version

Print catalogs (paired with their online versions) serve as a powerful marketing tool. They provide attendees with tangible materials to revisit and discover more about the showcased products before, during and after the event. They’re an integral part of trade show marketing materials that clients will undoubtedly request.

They improve brand visibility and offer a unique blend of traditional and digital tactics to engage potential customers.

  • Print catalogs allow attendees to physically interact with your brand, making the experience more tangible and memorable.
  • Online versions cater to the tech-savvy audience, offering convenience and accessibility anywhere, during and after the event.
  • The use of QR and AR codes in a print catalog can give prospects nearly unlimited information about all of a brand’s products and services.
  • Print catalogs have a long shelf life. Research shows that 45% of mailed catalogs are kept for a week or more. Consumers, both retail and industrial, like to read and research at their leisure. Catalogs let that happen.

Flyers and brochures

brochures for a trade show

Printed flyers and brochures are another effective vehicle to amplify show site marketing efforts. They act as a brand’s handshake, offering a first impression to attendees and drawing them into the brand’s solutions.

Brochures can be customized to feature your key messages, contact information, and social media links, encouraging further engagement.

Like print catalogs, brochures can be omni-channel with the addition of AR and QR codes. While they may be considered “old school,” don’t underestimate the importance of printed brochures in forging connections and offering solutions to the target audience.

Product spec sheets

Product spec sheets are basically flyers that are packed with detailed information about a product’s features, specifications, and benefits. They play a pivotal role in educating trade show attendees and aiding their purchase decisions. They’re a proven way for potential buyers to get a thorough understanding of a company’s offerings.

Effective spec sheets include visuals, which can make complex product features more appealing and easier to understand.

They also incorporate technical data, letting customers know exactly what they’re investing in and what is required.

Spec sheets can also include pricing details to provide transparency and allow customers to evaluate their spending decisions on the spot.

Table top displays

tabletop display boxes for a trade show

Often used by retail brands for their portability and cost-effectiveness, tabletop displays serve as dynamic exhibit elements that showcase products or information at trade shows.

For brands with small physical products, counter displays effectively showcase the products on the show floor.

For brands with larger products or service-only offerings, tabletop counter cards can display information. Clear brochure holders can be attached to the counter cards to contain relevant brochures and flyers.

Social Media at the Show

Social media promotion from the show floor can amplify your presence at the booth. Live tweeting, Instagram stories, or Facebook live sessions from your booth can create buzz and extend your reach far beyond the exhibit hall.

Lead generation mechanism – getting contact info for followup

lead generation system for a trade show

Unless the show is a commerce centered show in which most transactions are done on the show floor, a lead generation mechanism is needed. In most trade shows, much of the purchasing takes place after the show during follow-up communications.

A good lead generation strategy means that a brand must have something to offer that compels the attendee to give up their contact information.

This strategy involves engaging attendees with interactive activities, offering exclusive discounts, and utilizing QR codes for seamless data capture.

As part of the lead generation strategy, consider the following:

  • Use interactive activities like games or quizzes that engage attendees and that are relevant to the brand’s products and services.
  • Use QR codes so attendees can easily scan to share their contact details.
  • If the show has a lead generation system that scans badges, get one. It is well worth the investment. These systems typically collect contact info with a quick swipe of their attendee badge. They also include lots of useful demographic and industry-specific information to help segment contacts after the show. These systems also let the exhibitor download all this data in an Excel file to use in nearly any contact management system.
  • Offer a compelling prize draw that attendees can enter in exchange for their contact information. The prize should be highly relevant to the brand’s products.

The key is to be an exhibitor with a solid trade show lead generation and data collection system in place prior to the event.


Posters, like signs and banners, serve as powerful tools to attract attention and guide visitors to your booth and inform them while they’re in the booth. They aren’t just visual aids, but dynamic branding elements that build connections with your audience.

Strategically positioned in high-traffic areas, they amplify your message and enhance your brand’s visibility. Incorporating interactive elements, like QR codes, can boost engagement, making your posters a conversation starter.

Posters should resonate with your overall trade show marketing theme, telling a cohesive, compelling story about your brand. Remember, a well-designed poster doesn’t just inform, it invites. So, use them wisely to turn casual passersby into potential leads and make your presence felt in the hectic trade show environment.

Post Trade Show Marketing

post trade show followup

Return on Investment (ROI) for trade shows often have a sales conversion time frame of 18 to 24 months or more, according to trade show event specialist Freeman. This means that post-show marketing is an integral part of maximizing trade show success.

The first step after the show is to quickly touch base with contacts made during the event. It’s a proven way to make a lasting impression. Memory fades fast. Potential clients appreciate and expect fast follow up. After all, they usually have a pressing problem to solve and there are typically several competitors doing their best to solve it first.

Over time, maintaining new-found trade show relationships through continuous campaigns will foster loyalty and drive sales.

Fast follow up right after the show

One mistake of post-show marketing is inadequate follow up. One or two phone calls or emails is not going to cut it. Lots of money will be left on the table for competitors to scoop up.

It’s easy to see why follow up suffers. Exhibitors are tired from the stress and long workdays of the event, yet the first few days are critical for follow up.

Fast, strategic follow up is a powerful strategy that connects brands to their audience.

  • Quick response: Swiftly reaching out to leads maintains momentum. It’s about striking while the iron is hot and the brand is fresh in the prospect’s mind.
  • Personalized emails: Personal touches in follow-up emails increases engagement. It shows your business values each interaction and understands the unique needs of the potential customer.
  • CRM tools: Using CRM tools for follow-ups aids in tracking and managing leads effectively. These tools are invaluable in measuring success and refining strategies for future trade shows. Considering that the cost of a single lead from a trade show can be several hundred dollars, companies don’t want to leave any of them out of the sales pipeline.

Continuous long-term campaigns

newsletter campaign for trade show follow up

Building on the momentum of swift follow-ups, continuous long-term campaigns are the next step in creating a powerful post-show marketing strategy. These campaigns extend the life of your trade show interactions for months and even years to come.

CRM tools play an important role in managing these campaigns, tracking interactions, and ensuring no lead is left behind. Follow-up messages, particularly personalized ones, keep the conversation going. An email campaign, meticulously crafted and tailored to each prospect’s needs, can be an effective tool in maintaining engagement.

Print newsletters are one of the best ways to keep prospect interest alive for the long term. A good direct mail newsletter offers helpful tips and advice, things that compel the reader to open. A rule of thumb for newsletters—80% helpful information, 20% sales content.

One colleague in the print industry was able to close numerous trade show prospects who had been on their monthly newsletter mailing list for up to 12 years.  The minimal cost of mailing to those clients meant that their print newsletter trade show follow up had a healthy, profitable ROI. Granted, the normal sales cycle is much shorter for him and for most companies. Yet this story backs up the marketing idea that “there is no such thing as an old lead.”

Newsletters, both print and email, nurture the relationship beyond the trade show floor. With a consistent, personalized post-show marketing strategy, you’re not just selling – you’re building a community of loyal clients.

Key Points on Trade Show Marketing (Summary)

Trade show marketing, when planned and implemented successfully, can generate leads, captivate potential clients, and lead to high sales conversion rates before, during, and long after the trade show event.

Effective planning is the linchpin of a successful marketing campaign. It means:

  • Researching industry events, target demographics, and competitors to select the right trade show.
  • Setting specific, measurable goals for sales, leads, networking, and reputation building.
  • Making use of the event organizer resources such as ads, sponsorships, and booth design.
  • Making the best use of print marketing materials like brochures, catalogs, banners, signs, displays, flyers, and spec sheets.
  • Making the best use of digital marketing assets and using a cross-channel approach combining print, digital, and the in-person event.

Post-event strategies include personalized follow-up emails, tracking interactions with CRM tools, and calculating ROI based on sales and leads.

Done right, good trade show marketing helps businesses stand out, connect with their audience, and, ultimately, drive long-term financial success.

If you’d like to discuss trade show marketing materials for your next event, the team at Clear Print is always available to discuss your needs. There are 3 ways to get in touch:

1 – Go here to send specs on your trade show marketing materials and someone will get back to you as soon as possible.

2 – Call 818-709-1220 to speak with someone today.

3 – Email or use the Contact Us form.

Published On: April 8th, 2024 / Categories: Marketing, Printing, Signage /