By Susan Friedmann

Organizations that provide water conditioning and purification products and services frequently find themselves exhibiting at conferences, professional meetings and trade shows. But little guidance is available for these would-be exhibitors. Providing such guidance is difficult today because of the wide variety of organizations involved in water treatment marketing and rapid changes in its structure in recent years.

Nevertheless, a few considerations are relevant for any organization planning to exhibit. The following are 10 of the most common marketing components that exhibitors most often overlook. Learning to address them will increase your chances for a successful trade show.

Plan ahead
1. Have a proper exhibit-marketing plan: Having both a strategic exhibit-marketing and tactical plan of action are critical starting points. Making trade shows a powerful dimension of your organization’s overall marketing operation requires total alignment between strategic marketing and your exhibit-marketing plan. Trade shows shouldn’t be a standalone venture. Know and understand exactly what you wish to achieve. Do you want to increase market share with existing users? Introduce new products/services into existing markets? Or introduce new products/services into new markets?
2. Have a well-defined promotional plan: An important component of exhibiting is promotion, including pre-show, at-show and post-show activities. Unfortunately, most exhibitors don’t use a plan that encompasses all three areas. Budget is naturally going to play a major role in deciding what and how much promotional activity is possible. Developing a meaningful theme or message that ties into your strategic marketing plan will then help to guide promotional decisions. Know whom you want to target and then consider having different promotional programs aimed at the different groups you’re interested in attracting. Include direct mail, broadcast faxes, advertising, public relations, sponsorship and the Internet as possible ways to reach your target audience.
3. Use direct mail effectively: Direct mail is still one of the most popular promotional vehicles used by exhibitors. From postcards to multi-piece mailings, attendees are deluged with invitations to visit booths. Many of the mailings come from lists of registrants and, as a result, everyone gets everything. To target the people you want visiting your booth, use your own list of customers and prospects––it’s the best one available. Design a piece that’s totally benefit-oriented and makes an impact. Mail three pieces at regular intervals prior to the show, starting about four weeks out, to help ensure your invitation is seen. Wherever possible, use first-class mail. There’s nothing worse than a mailing that arrives after the show is over.

The welcome mat    
4. Give visitors an incentive to visit your booth: Whatever promotional vehicles are decided on, make sure to give visitors a reason to come and visit you. With a hall overflowing with fascinating products/services combined with time constraints, people need an incentive to come and visit your booth. First and foremost, their primary interest is in “What’s new!” They’re eager to learn about the latest technologies, new applications, or anything that will help save them time and/or money. Even if you don’t have a new product/service to introduce, think about a new angle to promote your offerings and attract visitors.
5. Have giveaways that work: Tied into giving visitors an incentive to visit your booth is the opportunity to offer an enticing premium item. Your giveaway items should be designed for increasing memorability, communication, motivation, promotion or recognition of your company and its products or services. Developing a dynamite giveaway takes thought and creativity. Consider what your target audience wants, what will help them do their job better, what they can’t get elsewhere, what’s product/service related, and what’s educational. Think about having different gifts for different types of visitors. Use your website to make an offer for visitors to collect important information, such as an executive report, when they visit your booth. Giveaways should be used as a reward or token of appreciation for visitors participating in a demonstration, presentation, contest, or as a thank you for qualifying information about specific needs that can help you better target prospects.
6. Use press relations effectively: Public relations is one of the most cost effective and successful methods for generating large volumes of direct inquiries and sales. Before the event, ask show management for a comprehensive media list and find out what publications are planning a special show edition. Recognize that magazines generally have deadlines one to three months in advance of publication. Newsletters and websites may be better options closer to the event. Send out newsworthy press releases focusing on what’s new about your product/service or highlighting a new application or market venture. Compile press kits for the press office that include information about industry trends, statistics, new technology or production information. Also include good product photos and key company contacts. And have staff members at the booth who are specifically assigned to interact with the media.

Separate from the pack    
7. Differentiate your products and services: Too many exhibitors are happy to use the “me too” marketing approach. Examine their marketing plans and you’ll find an underlying sameness about them. With shows that attract hundreds of exhibitors, very few seem to stand out from the crowd. Because memorability is an integral part of a visitor’s show experience, you should be looking at what makes you different and why a prospect should buy from you. This is particularly important with standardized products and services. Every aspect of your exhibit marketing plan—including your promotions, booth and people—should be aimed at making an impact and creating curiosity.
8. Use the booth as a marketing tool: On the show floor, your exhibit makes a strong statement about what your organization is, what it does and how it does it. The purpose of your exhibit is to attract visitors to achieve your marketing objectives. In addition to being an open, welcoming and friendly space, it needs to be a focal point with a strong key message communicating a significant benefit to your prospect. Opt for large graphics rather than reams of copy. Pictures paint a thousand words, which very few attendees will take the time to read. Your presentations or demonstrations are a critical part of your exhibit marketing. Create an experience that allows visitors to use as many of their senses as possible. This will help enhance memorability.
9. Realize your people are your marketing team: Your people are your ambassadors. They represent everything your company stands for, so choose them well. Brief them beforehand and make sure they know why you’re exhibiting, what you’re exhibiting, and what you expect from them. Exhibit staff training is essential for a unified and professional image. The objectives of the exhibit personnel should reflect the marketing plan, and the staff should know how to close the interaction with a commitment to follow up. Avoid overcrowding the booth with company representatives and be sure to assign specific tasks for company executives working the show.
10. Follow up promptly: The key to trade show success is effective lead management, and it’s to your advantage to develop an organized, systematic approach to follow-up. The best time to plan for follow-up is before the show. Show leads often take second place to other management activities that occur after everyone has been out of the office for several days. The longer leads are left unattended, the colder and more mediocre they become.

Establish a lead handling system, set time lines for follow-up, use a computerized database for tracking, make sales representatives accountable for leads given to them, and then measure your results. By following these 10 steps, water conditioning and purification companies will be able to make the most of exhibition opportunities.

About the author
Susan A. Friedmann is known as The Tradeshow Coach, and works out of Lake Placid, N.Y. She works with exhibitors and show organizers to improve their trade show success through coaching, consulting and training. She can be reached by email: or website:


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