Best Trade Show Marketing Advice From Exhibit House Experts

Over the past few years, our company has increasingly partnered with leading Exhibit Houses to create interactive trade show game activations for their exhibiting clients. We have been impressed by the commitment, care, and expertise they bring to their clients’ trade show marketing.

We also wanted to uncover their vast experience creating effective trade show marketing campaigns, especially with technology.  So we asked them to share with a survey.  Survey respondents were all either Exhibit House Account Executives or senior management, all with client-facing responsibilities.

So first, we’ll provide their best advice on what exhibitors should do to create effective trade show marketing campaigns.  Then, we’ll share their answers to our more detailed survey questions.

What Exhibitors Need For Successful Trade Show Marketing Campaigns

Most of their expert advice focused on the same 4 elements: the exhibitor’s brand, their target audience, planning, and objectives.  With so many other potential ideas to discuss, those four must be important!

Here are their answers.  Note: some survey respondents answered anonymously.

1. Focus on your brand

The most popular topic of advice from Exhibit House survey respondents?  They advise exhibitors to focus on their brand when creating their trade show marketing campaigns:

  • “Take the time to really think about your brand message and purpose. Begin from there.” — John Mitchell, MC2
  • “Whatever it is… it needs to be memorable (and associated with the exhibitor’s brand and drive an action that will drive the exhibitor’s goals.” — David Brull, Kubik
  • “Stay focused on the brand presence that has been created, and if that doesn’t exist, it would in our best interest to guide them toward creating one. Integrate it with other media – social, advertising, etc. Also utilize pre-show campaigns to get in front of your target audience in order to make it a success.” — Gary Donatell, CenterPoint Marketing
  • “Any campaign should strengthen the brand and be consistent with the other marketing they are doing.” — Aaron Reitmeier, Showcraft
  • “Create a brand activation where you engage at least (1) of the attendees (5) senses.” — Erik Streight, Excalibur Exhibits

2. Focus on your target audience

Many other Exhibit House experts also advise their clients to focus on their target audience first and foremost:

  • “Do what’s best for your target audience, and create buzz with what you’re doing.” — Conner Brown, Pinnacle Exhibits
  • “Start with the key visitor experience and work backwards to the campaign.” — Anonymous
  • “It doesn’t need to be complex or expensive but know who you are targeting, what they worry about, and how you will make their life easier. Also connect with them all over the show, not just at your booth.” — Anonymous
  • “Envision who you want to enter your booth space at least six months in advance. Then target your marketing to that audience.” — Mel White, Classic Exhibits

3. Plan in advance

Planning is another very popular focal point of advice:

  • “Start planning months before you need to.” — Tim Patterson, TradeshowGuy Exhibits
  • “Allocate the appropriate amount of time and budget to execute a comprehensive campaign!” — Rick Klimek, Epic Experiential Marketing
  • “Plan accordingly and then execute effectively.” — Kevin Carty, Classic Exhibits
  • “Planning then implementing.” — Jay Burkette, ExpoDisplays
  • “Start the planning process as early as possible. Be open and transparent about your budget. Hold creative solutions and concepts accountable to measurable objectives to avoid subjective decisions.” — Anonymous

4. Set goals and objectives

Exhibit House experts also repeatedly advised that exhibitors stay focused on their goals and objectives.  (A few of the comments above also mention goals):

  • “Have a goal. Target the top tier you’d like to be in front of. Then get creative on ways to get time with that dream group of prospects. Make an internal contest for your sales force so they have incentive to be the difference.” — Robin Clinton, 2020 Exhibits
  • “Trade shows, like any marketing, should be thoughtful, strategic, targeted, executed flawlessly and measured.” — John Reisert, Skyline Exhibits Kentucky
  • “Create objectives upfront and make sure everything you do along the way aligns to those objectives.” – Anonymous

To create a winning trade show marketing campaign, you need to set campaign goals, create campaigns that focus on your brand and target audience, and then create a plan that gives you enough time and resources to succeed.

Exhibit House Survey On Trade Show Marketing & Technology: Perspectives, Roles & Preferences

Survey Executive Summary

Some of the most interesting insights from this survey include:

  • Exhibitors value sales results more than marketing results
  • Exhibitors value the marketing potential of trade shows, but often deploy insufficient resources for marketing success
  • Exhibit Houses do far more marketing than just exhibit design
  • Top trade show marketing methods include experiential marketing, interactive technology, and integrated marketing
  • Exhibitors could improve results with more booth staff training
  • Exhibitors want marketing campaigns most of all that are creative and innovative, appealing to their target market, and brand-centric
  • Exhibit Houses report that their exhibiting clients’ most-likely issue with a viable marketing campaign is lacking the funds to implement it
  • 96% of Exhibit Houses are involved in their exhibiting clients’ interactive technology
  • Exhibit Houses are three-times more likely to favor experiential marketing

Here are the results of their responses to a number of questions about trade show marketing and technology.

Exhibitors Driven More By Sales Than Marketing Results

This may be a surprise to some of the people who pursue trade show marketing: it’s actually sales results that matter most to exhibitors.

While 52% of Exhibit House survey respondents agreed that their clients viewed sales and marketing as equally important, 44% said that sales results were more important, but only 4% said that marketing results were more important.

Therefore, almost all exhibit houses say that sales results are important (52% + 44% = 96%), while only 56% (54% + 4%) say that marketing results are important to exhibitors.

Sales more important than marketing

So, while there are nearly 3 times as many people who search Google on “trade show marketing” versus “trade show selling,” it’s sales that matter more to exhibitors.

Exhibitors Value Trade Show Marketing More In Spirit Than Action

We asked Exhibit House experts to choose any of six statements to agree with about their exhibiting clients’ attitudes and actions regarding their trade show programs. They told us that four out of five exhibitors (81%) value the marketing power of trade shows.  It’s how they execute on that value that differs from their attitude.

That’s because two-thirds (67%) of exhibitors choose to have a logistics-based person managing their program, rather than a marketing person.  Plus, almost two-thirds (63%) of Exhibit House survey respondents agreed that exhibitors invest too little time or resources to drive marketing success.

Having watched their exhibiting clients for years and years, exhibit house executives say that only a quarter of exhibitors (26%) put sufficient time and resources towards their trade show marketing, and only a fifth of companies (19%) give their trade show program to employees who can bring a marketing background to all their trade show interactions and duties.

marketing versus logistics for trade show programs

The hope is that the more-common logistics-based person is getting enough guidance from a marketing supervisor, or that their exhibit house is filling the marketing gap, so that exhibitors can create winning trade show marketing campaigns. Otherwise, exhibitors are not committing enough internal marketing resources to succeed.

Exhibit Houses Do Far More Marketing Than Just Exhibit Design

Exhibit Houses act as outsourced marketing partners for their exhibiting clients.  Fully 85% of Exhibit Houses have some marketing involvement with their client’s trade shows.

  • Nearly one in five Exhibit Houses (18.5%) are right there from the beginning, helping exhibitors brainstorm potential marketing campaign ideas. These tend to be the largest Exhibit Houses that act as marketing agencies.
  • Almost half (48%) of Exhibit Houses are asked by exhibitors to execute a marketing campaign based on the theme provided by the exhibitor.
  • Another 15% of Exhibit Houses say their marketing participation is asked for only for their client’s largest shows.
  • Only 15% of Exhibit Houses say their exhibiting clients restrict their marketing participation to only exhibit design.

Marketing involvement of Exhibit Houses with client trade show marketing

If exhibitors are employing logistics-based personnel to manage their trade shows (as seen in the previous question), exhibitors can lean more on their Exhibit Houses to help enact their trade show marketing campaigns.

Most Often Asked-For Trade Show Marketing Campaign Elements

We asked these client-facing Exhibit House executives what marketing campaign types and elements were their clients asking about more in the past two years. Of the 15 choices, the top 5 were:

  • Experiential marketing (83%)
  • Interactive technology (79%)
  • Integrated marketing campaigns (54%)
  • Measurement (54%)
  • Social media (50%)

greater exhibitor interest in trade show marketing choices

The top two choices, experiential marketing and interactive technology, are elements that help derive greater value from the face-to-face medium of trade shows, and help differentiate trade shows from increasingly popular digital media.  All 5 top choices are hot topics covered extensively in trade show industry publications and blogs.

These 5 choices are what exhibiting clients ask their Exhibit Houses for the most, and they closely mirror what Exhibit Houses say works best (with one notable exception), as we see in the next question:

Exhibit Houses Value Exhibitor Staff Training A Lot More Than Exhibitors Do

Of the 15 possible trade show marketing campaign elements, Exhibit Houses gave top 5 marks to 4 of the 15 choices, for both what exhibitors ask for, and what they think are effective.  They chose experiential marketing, interactive technology, integrated marketing, and measurement for both lists.  This is extra confirmation that these are tactics and elements that exhibitors will have success pursuing.

However, Exhibit Houses listed staff training as the second-most effective choice for trade show exhibitors, even though staff training was ranked far behind, as the 11th most-asked for element, by their exhibiting clients.  This startling insight points to the underappreciated need for booth staff training to enable more successful trade show marketing.

most effective trade show marketing campaign elements

What Exhibitors Want For Their Trade Show Marketing

We asked Exhibit Houses to report which of 15 different attributes their clients ask for in their trade show marketing. Some of the noteworthy results include:

  • Exhibit Houses say “creative and innovative” is the number one attribute their exhibiting clients want in their trade show marketing.
  • The second-most desired attribute for their trade show marketing is “appealing to their target market’s needs or pain points.” While #1 is an aspirational goal, this #2 reason is a more tangible strategy that every exhibitor can more easily follow.
  • Just under two-thirds of Exhibit House respondents say their clients want their trade show marketing to be company brand-centric. Which means almost 40% of clients are willing to go beyond their brand for their trade show marketing, or don’t realize how important brand consistency is.
  • Technology is wanted by over half of all exhibitors. Tech-aided face-to-face interactions is the norm at trade shows.
  • Under half of exhibitors want their trade show marketing to integrate with their other marketing messages. Either exhibitors want to remain unshackled to their company’s existing marketing, or they don’t understand the benefits of integrated marketing.
  • Exhibit Houses say 43% of their clients want their trade show marketing to be both low cost and easy to implement.
  • About a third of exhibitors want education built into their trade show marketing, and also want their trade show marketing to be fun for attendees. (What about both educational and fun?)
  • Unfortunately for the aspiring barista, less than one in ten Exhibit House respondents say their exhibiting clients want food or drink as part of their trade show marketing.

trade show marketing desired attributes

Problems Faced By Exhibit Houses When Creating Marketing Campaigns For Exhibiting Clients

We asked Exhibit Houses to select which of 5 potential problems they have faced when helping their exhibiting clients with their trade show marketing. Note: These numbers look high, but Exhibit Houses were reporting which problems they had experienced, not faced every time.  So, in actuality, these problems happen less frequently.

  • Money is problem #1 for exhibitors, according to the Exhibit House survey respondents who work with them, as 83% say they have experienced clients that lack the budget to invest in a viable trade show marketing campaign.
  • The second-most common problem experienced, at 57%, was insufficient time to create an effective trade show marketing campaign.
  • Half of Exhibit House survey respondents (48%) said they have had clients who lack the knowledge to judge potential marketing campaigns. (Again, this doesn’t mean half of clients don’t; it means half of exhibit houses have had a client who didn’t have the marketing know-how).
  • Almost 4 in 10 (39%) Exhibit House survey respondents have experienced having a client who had more than one trade show marketing idea to choose from, but couldn’t get internal consensus on which campaign to implement.
  • One in six exhibit houses (17%) were asked by their clients to execute a campaign they felt was beyond their internal capabilities or vendor network.

Problems faced helping with trade show marketing campaigns

96% of Exhibit Houses Involved In Exhibiting Clients’ Interactive Technology

Exhibit Houses are very involved with creating interactive technology for their exhibiting clients, with 96% having some role.

  • Twenty-two percent of Exhibit Houses rely mostly on their own in-house tech team to create interactive elements for their exhibiting clients.
  • About 4 in 10 have some in-house tech capabilities, but rely most on outsourced tech companies to create interactive elements for their exhibiting clients.
  • About one-third manage tech interactives for their clients, but outsource the development to outside tech companies.
  • Only 4% of Exhibit Houses don’t get involved with their clients’ interactive exhibiting elements.

Exhibit House high involvement in interactive tech for exhibitors

This 96% statistic demonstrates Exhibit Houses’ deep involvement in exhibit marketing technology, far beyond the traditional, limited role of exhibit design.

Exhibit Houses Favor Experiential Marketing Nearly 3 to 1

Experiential marketing was rated #1 in both interest by exhibitors and as promising by Exhibit Houses. And it’s perhaps the most talked about trend in trade show marketing.

  • Exhibit Houses have a mostly favorable view of experiential marketing, with 71% agreeing that experiential marketing is a trend they encourage their clients to pursue with their help, and a way for exhibitors to stand out and make a strong impression.
  • Only a quarter (25%) of Exhibit House survey respondents think experiential marketing is too difficult and expensive for most of their exhibiting clients, or that it’s talked about a lot but not often implemented.

exhibit house views on experiential marketing

Survey Respondents: Number of Employees At Their Exhibit House

While our survey respondents work at a wide range of sizes of Exhibit Houses, 70% work in Exhibit Houses with 51 to 500 employees.  However, these smaller companies wield outsized influence. They help far larger companies create and implement major trade show programs. It is not uncommon for an exhibit house with 100 employees to manage the trade show program for an exhibitor with 10,000 employees.

survey respondents number of employees at exhibit house

Trade show marketing continues to evolve, with greater use of technology and interactivity.  Because Exhibit House Account Executives work hand-in-hand with many high-level exhibitors, they have unique insight into exhibitors’ perceptions and results. A big “Thank you!” to our survey respondents for sharing their insights.  I hope you’ve gained useful insights into how to increase exhibit marketing performance through this survey.

If you’d like to see more about how you can quickly create a branded, interactive marketing activity that drives more booth traffic and measurably captures leads, feel free to contact us for a demo of our trade show games. We’ll help you increase excitement, crowds, and trade show leads.

Written by

Samuel J. Smith is a thought leader, researcher, speaker and award winning innovator on event technology. In 2011, BizBash Magazine added Sam to its annual innovators list. Since then, Sam has won awards from Exhibitor Magazine, IBTM World, RSVP MN, International Live Events Association and MPI for innovation in event technology.