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Trade Show Strategies That Actually Work

Are trade shows still viable for building materials manufacturers? Find out in this week's episode, along with how to maximize your strategies for the biggest ROI.

Photo of Zach Williams
Photo of Beth PopNikolov
by Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov

Elena Grant joins the show to discuss how building material manufacturers can maximize their trade show strategies to create better leads and get a better return on investment.

More About This Show

The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insight on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.

In this episode, Zach and Beth talk to Elena Grant to find out how to effectively use trade shows as a core component of your overall marketing strategy.


Elena Grant is Vice President of Marketing at Taffy Events, which produces major industry trade shows like Coverings, the American Society of Plumbing Engineers Convention and Expo, and PWX. With a decades-long career in the trade show industry, including heading up international marketing for the Consumer Electronics Show, Elena shares why trade shows are still relevant for building materials manufacturers and how you can maximize your investment with immersive booths and interactive content that prospects actually want to see.

Evolution of Trade Shows

According to Elena, trade shows used to get a bad rap when it came to keeping up with technology. Today, however, exhibitors can access real-time data to find out things like the types of people who came to your booth and peak times for visitors. Trade show technology has become incredibly sophisticated so you can be smarter about your exhibiting experience.

Your overall marketing should be based on what makes the most sense for your company, and trade shows can be an important part of that mix. Elena points out that there are so many disruptions and distractions when trying to reach a prospect, including email saturation. But if someone goes to a trade show and walks the floor, you know they’re already interested in finding a project or a solution for an issue.

Relationship building is the key to sales, and trade shows help you meet prospects face-to-face. They instantly get an idea about your company and culture, and the exhibition floor is where you can market and sell in the same space.

While other areas like digital marketing are important and oftentimes less expensive than attending a trade show, Elena warns against losing those personal relationship-building opportunities with both prospects and current customers.

048 Trade Show Strategies

Smart Trade Show Strategies That Work

A holistic strategy is key to getting the most out of your trade show experience. Elena says that the most successful companies are the ones that take a step back, research ahead of time and create a comprehensive strategy.

Other effective tactics include integrating impactful graphics into your booth design and offering an educational component, such as hands-on demos, videos or virtual reality stations. People are drawn to these types of experiential booths.

Another growing trend among trade show exhibitors is becoming integrated into the overall show program, whether it’s contributing to the conference by giving a talk or by sponsoring an educational experience.

This is a shift from 10-to-20 years ago when you could just stand in your booth and give out branded pens. Now you have to find creative ways to pull people in with fun elements. Consider adding a coffee station in the morning or craft beer station in the afternoon. Gamification and motion graphics can also draw people in. Your booth strategy has to change based on customer expectations.

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Who’s Doing Trade Shows Well

One standout manufacturer at Coverings is Mapei, which provides installation solutions for tile and stone floor coverings. Elena says they do a great job of creating a comprehensive strategy with clear branding and a hard-to-miss video screen over the booth. They’re typically an event speaker and also do demos at the booth. Overall, they have a strong presence at the trade show and see a lot of success because of it.

In order for a trade show to really have an impact on your business, you need to understand why you’re exhibiting and what you’re trying to get out of it. Also, don’t assume that attending the traditional trade show for your industry is the smartest choice just because your competitors will be there.

Avoid this “me too” mentality, and instead, focus on a new industry to which you’d like to reach out. Your booth will automatically stand out because your competitors aren’t there.

Trade Show Mistakes to Avoid

The biggest mistake Elena sees at trade shows is a lack of planning in advance. Your team should meet multiple times to get everything in sync, including messaging, elevator pitches, graphics and giveaways.

Also, train your sales team on what to do and what to say while there, so they don’t engage in faux paus such as sitting down or staring at their phones. Show them how to welcome people and have them practice their elevator pitches.

Crafting a post-trade show plan is just as important. Know what you’re going to do with your leads before you even arrive in the exhibitor’s hall. Plan ahead with your sales team so you can take advantage of those new relationships and nurture your leads after the show.

Driving Traffic to Your Booth

Education is a huge trend in successful booths, according to Elena. Be sure to send out invitations in advance to get prospects excited about stopping by. This type of content should be hands-on and help people learn about your industry.

Hospitality is also a welcome traffic driver, whether it’s some sort of lunch, happy hour or coffee. Bring people in, then provide informational content once they arrive.

Want to get in touch with Elena? You can reach her via email at [email protected] or on LinkedIn.

If you have questions about how to create a trade show strategy that includes digital marketing efforts before, during and after the event, we can help. Just send us an email at [email protected].