Any manufacturer who invests in a trade show should ask these questions: What are we trying to accomplish? What does success look like at the end of the show? Sometimes they’re looking for a simple answer, and there may not be one — at least not for the overall audience of attendees.

Is success based on booth traffic? The number of attendees who give up personal or business information, sometimes in exchange for a giveaway item? Sales leads, or what at least appear on the surface to be sales leads? Or, “warm” leads that are later qualified further? “Hot” leads? Sales during or immediately following the show? Brand perception? I’m sure this isn’t the full list, but just these are a lot of factors to consider.

“Success” is probably a combination of these, and the makeup of the success metrics may be different from exhibitor to exhibitor — depending on their broader marketing initiatives and goals — and from attendee to attendee. Keeping track of your attendee mix and understanding what you want to do with each type of attendee will allow you to better measure your booth’s success:
• Current customers: Reinforce your relationship
• Competitive customers: Generate interest in switching to your brand or product
• New buyers, no manufacturer or brand alliance: Inspire them to make you their first choice
• Non-buyers, but influencers: Increase their likelihood to recommend you
• Casual lookers; non-buyers, non-influencers
Note: You should identify these individuals quickly (the casual lookers with no influence). Be polite, of course, but you are not at the trade show to spend time with individuals who will have no impact on your business. It’s important to ensure these individuals don’t end up in your system as prospects, because time spent marketing to and qualifying them is an investment.

So, how do you improve your chances of success at your trade show? There are two important questions to ask trade show attendees as soon as they enter your booth:
1. Are you a current customer of ours?
2. Do you buy — or have reason to buy — the type of products we sell?

Simple, but important. With just two questions, you could immediately categorize an attendee into an objective area that becomes dramatically easier to evaluate. The trick is to keep track of how many of each type of audience stops in your booth to know if you are really meeting your goals and what kind of audience you are attracting.

In a couple of weeks, almost a third of our agency staff (30-plus associates) will head to Las Vegas for the CONEXPO-CON/AGG trade show — called the “Big Show” (respecting trademark) for most of our agency’s clients. CONEXPO-CON/AGG is the construction and aggregates industries’ largest North American trade show, happening every three years in Las Vegas and drawing more than 130,000 attendees; spanning contractors, equipment dealers and distributors, service providers, engineers, producers and municipalities. It’s a pretty big deal for anyone in the industrial trades — the once-every-three-years opportunity to launch products; announce mergers, acquisitions, and industry alliances; strengthen positioning in the market; and, of course, interact with buyers and prospects.

The majority of our team will be working on behalf of clients, helping with media relations, special at-show promotions, customer events, and in some cases, filling a role in a client’s exhibit space. Others will be there to gather industry intelligence and explore the latest trends in experiential marketing. They’ll also monitor how clients and other industry players are evaluating success. It takes quite a substantial effort to make an impression at a show as large as CONEXPO-CON/AGG, so it’s obviously important to somehow assess the impact from brand recognition to sales. But it can be a challenge trying to blend it all into one and define what success looks like.

Takeaway: Every marketer has a “big show.” Next time you are struggling with how to set overall objectives or evaluate your show effort’s success, consider breaking up the audience. Definitions of success will become much clearer.

Go team.

About Two Rivers Marketing

Two Rivers Marketing is a full-service business-to-business (B2B) marketing communications agency. Email us with your thoughts or questions at