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Mastering Trade Show Marketing Strategy for Positive ROI

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December 22, 2023

By Kendra Ellis

Mastering the art of trade show marketing requires going beyond conventional strategies. In my years of experience, I've witnessed the evolving landscape of these events and how adaptability and innovation have become more and more important.

You can approach trade shows with one of two marketing strategies: developing one theme for all events you attend or customizing your strategy for each show. The former is cost-effective, especially when promoting the same call to action, products, and industry vertical. The latter, though more time- and resource-intensive, allows for varied CTAs, products, or industry focuses.

For trade shows, return on investment (ROI) carries distinct meanings for different stakeholders. Marketers track MQLs and SQLs, while the sales team focuses on leads that are likely to become closed deals. Leadership gauges overall costs versus successful deals or the broader market impact of participation. These priorities intertwine, shaping the intricate evaluation of trade show success.

Trade shows are important for businesses—but they can also be expensive. Allocating a properly cost-effective budget takes strategic planning, a tech stack that supports the goals you set, and a team to carry it out.

A Budget That Aligns with Strategy

Budget allocation during the planning stage is critical for chief marketing officers (CMOs). A 2023 study shows that businesses spend a lot of money on trade shows, with budgets increasing by 70 percent over the previous year. Understanding cost breakdowns stresses the importance of attentive budgeting. 

How much money you should spend on trade shows depends on factors such as industry, target audience, and event frequency. Be conservative and allocate 25-30 percent of your overall marketing budget for trade shows, especially if you couldn't track ROI before. I highly recommend that sales and marketing teams collaborate on trade show budgets to share event expenses.

Another general best practice recommendation is to take the cost of booth space and triple it so you have enough budget for the show. In my experience, quadrupling it is a smarter strategy if you don’t have strategic partners planning to participate with your organization at the event.

Tech Stack and Reporting

Integrating efficient systems and robust reporting mechanisms is crucial. Embracing sophisticated customer journey software, such as HubSpot, can improve tracking and help with analyzing event ROI. Establishing clear parameters for ROI measurement ensures that every effort contributes tangibly to the bottom line.

With the right tech stack, you can get creative with on-site employee performance and the bottom line. As an example that event industry expert Julius Solaris cited in his newsletter, the Head of Global Events at Informatica uses a complex data collection process for event leads. They've created a gamified data collection process that motivates sales professionals to take notes on-site. Notes are processed daily, creating an incredible layer of qualitative data in the CRM. That data then helps identify leads who are just there for the freebie, so they can quickly be disqualified.

If your organization is new to tracking trade show and event ROI, start with the basics. Once you establish a foundation, you can make improvements each year.

To get started, first, you should deploy the proper tech stack and assemble teams. Do you need someone to train your teams or set everything up for your organization? We can help your team be successful. 

Attendee Expectations in Today’s World

Enhancing the prospect experience at trade shows is imperative. First impressions greatly impact attendees' perceptions, hence the importance of meticulous planning and execution at every stage.

Exhibitors must offer more than routine presentations. Creating unique, entertaining experiences is a must. User-generated content that fosters connections among attendees has become the new frontier.

Understanding attendee expectations in today's landscape is crucial. Networking and gaining inspiration are important for trade show attendees—a survey from GCB discovered that 91 percent of respondents go to events to network, and another 82 percent go for ideas. Make a booth plan, organize special events, and use effective marketing automation and CRM systems. This approach cultivates customer retention and attracts new prospects effectively.

Ashling Partners booth at in-person conference

HubSpot Technologists Meet Event Experts

At SmartBug®, we're embarking on an exciting venture: crafting an innovative service offering focused on event marketing and management. Imagine a team of experts offering various services for all aspects of your event.

This service aims to encompass everything from meticulous budgeting and strategic marketing to flawless execution. We're also introducing flexible options for specific needs that fall in between the standard procedures.

The feature I’m most excited about is that everything will seamlessly integrate into your HubSpot instance. Say goodbye to clunky integrations with event apps (that will remain unnamed) that often mismanage data. With our approach, your event information will seamlessly align within your HubSpot platform, streamlining operations and ensuring precision.

Show your executive team the value of your sales and marketing efforts connected to every yearly event. We’ll use our expertise to show the impact of your efforts. This will help turn them into measurable outcomes and valuable returns.

Our event service is not just about planning events. Use your sales and marketing to create a clear story that helps your brand succeed. As we pioneer this venture, we extend an invitation to join us on this journey. Let's collectively turn your events into pivotal moments that drive success for your organization.

Check out how SmartBug assisted Ashling Partners use a digital overlay on an in-person event to increase MQLs.

Ashling Partners In-Person Event


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Topics: Marketing Strategy, Event Marketing