7 Tips for Driving Traffic — And Leads! — To Your Booth

How to create interest before the show, attract attention onsite, and pull away from the pack all year

Here's some good news. You don't have to stand by and hope that trade show attendees will visit your booth. Imagine this instead: Plenty of attendees, especially those who are actively looking to buy, are eagerly heading your way. Some of them have been planning to meet with you for weeks. Others have just now seen your booth for the first time, and something about it has drawn them to visit you.

Does it sound like a fantasy? It isn't. A few proven principles and practices can bring leads your way while your competitors sit in their booths and wait.

1. Build a strong guest list
Remember the last time you threw a party? You didn't just open your front door and hope that people would happen to amble inside. You assembled a list of people, and then you reached out and invited them to attend. And so it goes with trade shows.
One of the best places to find guests is your own database of sales leads, customers, and business partners. Let them know that you'll be exhibiting at the trade show and that you'd love to meet them there. Contacts near a show site are likelier to attend than those farther away, but it may be worth casting a wide net to reach those who do intend to travel, as well as to show the others that you're out there actively participating in your industry community.

2. Take a multi-channel approach
You've probably seen giant operations such as movie studios and fast-food chains use billboards, TV commercials, direct mail, web ads, and many other media, all at the same time. They do this because using multiple channels helps you both broaden your reach, so your message gets to as many people as possible, and maximize your impressions, giving you opportunities to reinforce your message multiple times to the same person. You can use the same idea, albeit on a smaller scale, to up your chances of capturing attention and getting your desired outcome. Some of the best channels to use include:

  • Email. Take the invite list you've assembled and begin an email marketing campaign. You can start sending each contact on your list an invitation once a week, starting about a month or two before the show, and more often as the show draws near. To encourage recipients to open your emails, focus on making your subject lines fresh and compelling, highlighting what you'll feature at your booth, a new product you might be launching, or any other attention-grabbing news you have to share.  
  • Social media. If you're already using social media to market your business (and you should!), be sure to announce that you'll be at the show and that you're available for meetings. The main reason a prospect will be interested in meeting with you is because you offer a product or service that solves a key business problem or is critical to their needs. Make sure your social posts talk up what your company offers, how you can help meet your followers' needs, and how they can talk with you at the show to learn more. But you can also get them to visit you if there are fun giveaways or other attractions at your booth, so be sure to promote those, too. It's a good practice to use the show's hashtag in all of your event-related posts so they'll appear in the stream of content related to the show, extending your reach beyond your own followers. In addition, the show will likely have its own social accounts, where you can comment on their social posts and engage with their followers. You can also direct message the show's social profiles and ask the account manager there if they'd be willing to share content that you post on your page, helping you amplify your message to the right audience.
  • Direct mail. Whether you're mailing to your own contact list or a rented list, a simple postcard promoting your event presence can grab attention, especially in today's world when nearly all communication travels electronically. And it never gets blocked by a spam filter.
  • Advertising. Paid ads can be very effective and accommodate a range of budgets. From print ads in industry trade publications and banner ads on websites and newsletters to promoted posts on social media or outdoor advertising around the event venue, you have a lot of options. The show itself typically offers several promotional opportunities as well. Options vary widely from event to event, but print ads in the show guide, logo placement on the event website, banners in the show's emails, signage at the show, and sponsorship of sessions or event features are often on the menu.  

Be sure to include a call to action in all of your show promotions. You can direct the audience to a web form to set up an appointment or simply ask them to visit you at your booth.

3. Pick a well-traveled spot to place your booth
There's no ironclad rule about which booth spaces in the exhibit hall are best for attracting visitors, since every trade show venue is different and every exhibitor's needs are unique. But a few guidelines apply.

  • Face front. If the venue has only a few entrances, placing your booth near one of them increases your chances that a lot of people will see you -- and that they'll do so when they're fresh rather than tired from all the exhibit hall hubbub.
  • Go where people gather. If a space up front isn't an option, don't despair. You can still set up shop in other high-traffic areas. Main aisles, where the biggest exhibitors set up, are often full of attendees. The trade show organizers can also tell you where key event features will be located. Expo networking spaces, cafes, and stages are all typically high-traffic areas.
  • Sign up early. If you book your booth before other exhibitors do, you'll have more options when selecting your space. Besides, trade shows often offer the best rates to exhibitors who book early.

4. Make your booth stand out
When you're on the floor with hundreds of other booths, sticking out from the masses will help attendees notice you. And they're likelier to approach a booth that's noticeable than one that blends in. Some basic things you can do to stand out include:

  • Review photos from previous years. At some shows, certain furnishings, signage, and other features tend to show up in booth after booth. Can you imagine ways to outshine them or do something different? (Pinterest is a great resource for fresh design ideas.)
  • Use big, bold signage. Inexperienced exhibitors often cram complex images and too many words into their signs. By contrast, a bright banner with only one picture, plus minimal copy in very large type, can draw attendees' eyes.
  • Create an oasis. Attendees slog through crowds, their tote bags heavy with promo items, as exhibitors fling images and sales pitches at them. If your booth can offer a comfortable place to sit and a soothing atmosphere, attendees will be happy to visit you.

5. Give your leads relevant goodies
Plenty of exhibitors hand out free swag, and for good reason: it attracts attendees. But you can offer your leads something better than the hats and keychains that they can get from other booths. Show your leads that you think about their needs with giveaways such as:

  • Product samples. Can you offer a sample that will fit easily in your leads' luggage? If so, sending it home with them can keep them familiar with your products.
  • Trade show supplies. Hand sanitizer, breath mints, a note pad -- who doesn't need these while at a trade show? Pick an inexpensive, useful item, have it customized with your logo, and attendees will flock to your booth. A particularly handy item will be something attendees will show others, prompting even more people to come to visit you.
  • Valuable prizes. Instead of handing out lots of small trinkets, you can offer just a few high-value items, and give them only to the winners of a contest. If you announce the winner late in the day, some leads will visit your booth twice -- first to sign up for the contest and later to see if they've won.

6. Offer exciting activities
Activity attracts eyeballs. Attendees usually want to visit a booth that's lively and busy, where people seem to be having fun. Activities that are easy to execute include:

  • Demonstrations. Showing how to use your products is a dependable way to attract attendees, especially if your demonstrations show off your expertise and enthusiasm. If you can let the attendees try out the products themselves, all the better.
  • Photos. A dedicated picture spot, like a photo booth or a backdrop imprinted with your logo, can attract the attention of anyone passing by. After you take a visitor's picture, you can email the photo to him or her -- a touchpoint to remind the visitor of coming to your booth.
  • Massage. A 10-minute mini massage from a professional hired for the day can be a great perk for weary trade show walkers. Portable massage chairs make this a simple, space-saving activity.
  • Games. Light-hearted competitions create a fun atmosphere that attracts participants and crowds that root for them. The events can be mind games, like a trivia challenge or a how-many-are-in-the-jar counting contest, or something physical, like a beanbag toss. And the classic spin-and-win prize wheel almost always seems to draw a crowd.

7. Train your booth staff
The energy of your booth workers sets the tone for attendees' experience with your brand at the show. If they appear friendly, knowledgeable and approachable, you're more likely to attract attendees. Whether in your offices in the days leading up to the show, or onsite before the show starts, devote some time to getting your crew ready. Some training pointers you can use:

  • Role-play common scenarios. Provide a script or demonstration on how best to describe your products and overall value, how to give a demo, how to greet attendees, or any other scenarios you anticipate. Then have your staff run through these scenarios until they're comfortable.
  • Focus on building relationships. Not every attendee you meet on the show floor will be ready to buy right away. Emphasize that booth staff should be willing to listen, answer questions, and help in any way they can. This goes a long way toward leaving a lasting, good impression, so when buyers are ready to act, they'll have a positive perception of you.
  • Set firm, simple rules for booth behavior. Don't eat in the booth. Stay off your cell phone. Avoid chatting with each other; visitors often shy away from people who talk only to one another. Rules like these can help your workers look sharp and focus on leads, not on themselves.

Remember too that booth workers have to stay energetic and enthusiastic all day amid an exhibit hall's constant commotion. They'll need water and snacks (to be consumed away from the booth), plus brief breaks to recharge or explore the exhibit hall.

Are you applying some of these strategies already? If so, congratulations. You're on your way to being an attendee magnet. Giving yourself the best opportunity to get the most leads at every event can lead to huge returns. Sometimes, all it takes is one good lead to turn into a big sale. If you're new to these tactics, don't worry. The attendees are on your side. A chief reason why they attend shows is to see what's in the booths. If you give them good reasons to drop by, you'll attract plenty of visitors -- visitors who could turn into customers.