You are about to attend a trade show. While most of your duties will involve standing, smiling, greeting visitors, answering questions and standing some more, it’s also an opportunity to gather marketing intelligence that could make you more strategic during the rest of the year.

You may be asking, “Have you ever been to a trade show? I’m like a crazy whirlwind that never stops moving from sunup to sundown. When do you expect me to gather intelligence?”

Yes, I’ve attended trade shows and they stink. You have to stand on the hardest concrete known to humankind for approximately 22.6 hours per day. It’s grueling. That’s why I’m giving you a really good reason to escape the booth for an hour. It’s easy to get approval for a one-hour fact-finding mission if you explain to your boss (or your clients) exactly what they’ll gain from it.

Offer to recap your findings in a nice report with photos, customer quotes and marketing ideas. Being a strategic marketer means understanding your customers, defining your company’s place in the industry and always knowing what the competition is up to. Trade shows are ideal for mining all of that data. (See the “Official Checklist for Trade Show Research” at the end of the article.)

Here’s what to do: Change out of your company shirt (you can’t go incognito if you’re heavily branded) and spend some time observing the attendees, the competitors and the overall show by doing the following:

Practice Espionage
Eavesdrop (discreetly, of course) on attendees’ conversations as you’re walking the floor. Understanding your target audience is key to communicating with them in a relevant, meaningful way. What are people talking about? What at the show is exciting them? What questions are they asking at your booth? At competitors’ booths? Jot down any interesting topics and future content themes for your marketing efforts. These topics make great articles for your website, e-newsletter and PR efforts.

Take a Picture (or Video)
You’ve got a smartphone — use it. Walk the floor and take pictures of anything that’s drawing a crowd or that gets your attention. Photos will jog your memory after the trade show ends, and also help you explain and show cool ideas to your boss or clients. What are the most unusual or interesting booths, events and ideas? Take photos of your top competitors’ booths. How does your company stack up? What could you do differently next year to attract more visitors?

Locate the Shiny Objects
What promotional tactics did the competitors use to draw people to their booth and engage with their staff (e.g., interactive technology like touch screens or simulators, celebrities, games, free stuff, demos)? Was anyone promoting a new app or technology? What brands were competitors partnering with for their giveaways and promotions? Jot down your observations and take a few photos.

Find the Experts
Were competitors hosting special events, sponsoring seminars or speaking in panel discussions or keynote addresses? What topics did they discuss? What issues and challenges were brought up? Can you snag any examples — brochures, catalogs, newsletters, magazines, etc.? Jot down the biggest and most relevant topics you observed. Again, these are great content ideas for your company channels.

Infiltrate the Opposition
What were some of the biggest product launches at the show? Did they do anything new or interesting to announce the product launch? What benefits and features were they touting? Did show attendees seem interested? If possible, take some photos and write down what you saw.

Now get back to work at the booth! Once you’ve returned to the office, compile all your notes and photos into that report you promised. Take time to think about new marketing strategies to reach your target audiences, and brainstorm new tactics. Finally, wrap it up with some insightful observations about what the competition is doing and how your company could respond.



Want more?

If you’re preparing for trade show season, you’ve come to the right place. Check out these past Undercurrent articles written by seasoned trade show pros:
5 Things NOT To Do at a Trade Show
4 Steps to a Knockout Trade Show
Winning CONEXPO-CON/AGG: Tips for Trade Show Success


The Official Checklist for Trade Show Research from Two Rivers Marketing


About Keesia Wirt

Keesia, sr. content marketing strategist at Two Rivers Marketing, is a self-proclaimed content nerd. Her favorite tools include audience personas, crochet hooks, whisks, and duct tape. If you want to talk content, email her at