It's Tradeshow Season - 3 Tips to Increase Your ROI

There is a famous line by Kevin Costner in the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” That's a great hook for a movie but in real life, not so much. And if this was your attitude for your last trade show, chances are that your ROI was not as high as you had originally predicted.

If this is the case, there are a few things that you need to change – design, marketing, and increasing value.

(note: This article is targetted towards the small business market that typically books 10' x 10' standard tradeshow spots)  


Regardless of your budget (big or small), the design of your booth plays a large role in your trade show success. A bad, outdated, and/or unnecessarily lavish booth design can push customers away and reflect negatively on your product.

Successful trade show displays use design, technology and marketing to their advantage. Make sure your booth is “a sign of the times,” and make sure it is something you are proud to stand behind! Tabletop displays are "cheaper" but as the old adage goes - you get what you pay for.  They look cheap too.  Don't spend $2,000 renting a booth and another $1,000 on marketing materials and then put up a crappy booth to save $500.  And whatever you do - do not go with a plain Velcro wall and a bunch of stick-ons. The local non-profit Boys and Girls Club can get away with that because the expectations are low, but you can't.  Unless you want to look like you're setup for a 5th grade science fair. Go with a nice full-wall backdrop with clean, professional graphics.  This can be had for around $2500 - $3500 (graphics and hardware, all-in). They last a long time and provide a great value.  In most cases the graphics will become passe' long before the hardware gives out.

Power User Suggestion:  If you buy a nice portable display, the graphics can be updated and swapped out for about $1,000 many years down the road.  I've also created alternate sets of graphics to use at different shows. In otherwords, after incurring the roughly $3000 to get a fully portable, lightweight system with graphics for one show, I was able to get a different set of graphics (aka "skins") for just $1,000 more, but utilizing the same hardware, and it was like I had 2 different booths with two different looks, targetted to different shows!  


Trade shows are social events, so building pre-show hype and encouraging attendees to visit your booth is a must! However doing so requires updated social media, running concurrently with your customers trade show experience.

The benefits of this are two-fold: not only does it help draw people to your booth and creates a buzz, but it shows that you are “hip” to the new culture of media. Tweeting and posting to Facebook are two simple (and free) ways of garnering popularity at your next trade show.

But remember no one wants to see an unprofessional Facebook/Twitter page, so make sure graphics, apps and posts are up to date and of the utmost quality, before implementing this step.  

Increasing Value 

It’s no secret that giveaways draw people to your trade show booth! Attendees want to see a value in spending time at your booth and giveaways, sweepstakes, discounts & coupons are all viable ways of increasing your value.

Running a sweepstakes via your social media page will not only grabs people’s attention but also gets your page more likes/followers. This helps to draw more traffic, engagement and most importantly, stores applicants contact information.

Giveaways are great ways to foster value! However giving away the same old trade show novelties (i.e. pens, bags, etc.) will not make you stand out from the crowd. Be innovative at your next, by giving away branded tchotchkes (i.e. promotional premiums/gifts) that people are not expecting.  Like what? Well, here are some ideas.  

Five Giveaway Ideas

  • Stylus for iPads/Tablets – Because pens are so 90's
  • USB Flash Drives – Great for the on-the-run techie.  Just plug-in, save and go!
  • Post-it notes – Even the busiest of clients need a place to jot notes. These get used, and can reinforce your branding for months.
  • Shot Glass – Maybe they use it, maybe they don’t…but no one throws away a shot glass, even if just put aside for entertaining. 10 years later, they'll still have it.
  • Cell Phone Car Charger – Perfect for the traveling business professional, and very likely to be used and kept.

At 401 Consulting, we generally look for things that will be kept around a long time and actually used.  Consumables aren't a big favorite with us, so you'll notice only Post-It notes made it onto our list.  Everything else are practical items that will stay around for months or years to come.  

In Conclusion

When exhibiting at a trade show, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the immediacy of trade show events, leaving you wondering if your ROI was worth your time and money. By using design, social media and marketing strategy, you can extend your presence long after the show has ended; effectively increase your ROI.

There is one well-documented statistic:  79% of tradeshow leads are NOT followed up!  The single best way to increase your ROI and get a leg up on the competition:  merely showing up and following through!   Let that one sink in for a moment.   Why would you spend about $5,000+ (for a small business -- it can be tens of thousands of dollars for large corporations with a huge footprint) and then not bother to follow-up on the fruits of the efforts afterwards?

We hope these tips help.  Of course we are here and more than happy to help you achieve your trade show goals.  We can help with pre- and post-show marketing efforts, tradeshow booth design, and even choosing, designing and procuring your cool little tchotchkes.

Good luck - It's a jungle out there!