In many companies, trade shows are a significant part of the marketing budget. Given their cost, the amount of time and effort they require, and their ultimate importance in reaching prospects and clients, it is vital to ensure an impressive return on investment. Promotional products, in conjunction with relationship marketing, are one of the most effective methods to boost your trade-show ROI.

Send an Invitation They Can’t Refuse
Prior to a trade show use your relationship-management database to create a list of clients and prospects that might visit the show. You can also contact trade-show management and ask if a mailing list of attendees is available. Once you have this information, plan a direct-mail campaign to advise prospects and clients that you’ll be exhibiting, and encourage them to visit your booth.

Your promotional consultant can suggest products that may be delivered in two parts – the first as part of the direct-mail piece and the second redeemed at your trade-show booth. Or, you may choose a more expensive incentive for your top clients. This can be delivered at a scheduled meeting where you sit down with their representative during the trade show.

Dress for Success
You may choose to dress everyone at your booth in company colours and styles. Whether everyone’s in polo shirts and caps or business shirts with ties – your salespeople will be immediately identifiable with your brand, product and company name, strongly reinforcing your corporate image. Also, when members of your team walk around the show, attendees will notice their presence, creating another subtle reminder to look for your exhibit.

Treat Them…and Improve Your results
Make attendees feel special when they stop by to talk with you-when appropriate, have them sit down and offer them a drink or a treat. Refreshments reduce barriers and increase concentration, and are often very much appreciated by the tired show attendees. A simple idea that is always well received is to offer hot chocolate or other candy imprinted with your logo.

Give Them Something to Remember You
Needless to say, you want to stand out from your competitors. A low-cost item that is practical and useful, which gets your marketing message in front of the recipients for days, weeks, or even months after the show, helps to ensure that you remain on the top of their “shopping list” when the time comes to act on a purchasing decision.

It’s a good idea to keep a stash of imprinted products in various value levels, so that you can give a “lukewarm” lead a useful but less-expensive item, while offering a “hot” lead a gift that is more appropriate to their value to the company. The key here is to be discreet so that no visitor to your booth is offended.

Be Mobile and Visible
Consider positioning extra staff or friends in company apparel promoting your booth number and special deals around the show. Highly visible balloons touting your logo and booth number, or useful, imprinted tote bags in the hands of show-attendees can further increase your presence at the show.

Another idea is to have an incentive promotion, for which staffers roam the show floor looking for attendees wearing a button imprinted with your company logo and booth number. The button may be included in trade-show gift bags, distributed at the door or mailed in advance of the exhibition. Those people found on the show floor wearing the button may receive a small gift, or perhaps be entered into a drawing for a much larger incentive. Such incentives encourage attendees to wear your company’s “little billboard,” thus spreading the word about your brand.

Manage Your Database and Don’t Forget to Say Thank-you
After the show, send thank-you notes to all your qualified prospects, and include an invitation and incentive to contact you again. Send your post-show offer in the form of something that can be kept or used, such as a key-tag or magnet, even if the prospects don’t act on your offer immediately. A friendly gift in the mail is an extremely effective way to encourage prospects to talk with you further when you make a follow-up call.

Marketing in a show environment involves encouraging prospective buyers to first look at you, and then to remember you when the time comes to buy. Prospects that leave without buying on the day of the trade-show aren’t lost to you as long as you follow-up promptly and generously, creating positive feelings about you and your company.