How to Leverage Today’s Manufacturing Trade Shows

Trade shows are back ... but they're different. Are you ready to hit the show floor?
Manufacturing Trade Shows

Manufacturing trade shows have a strong legacy in marketing for manufacturers, not only for industry gatherings and personal sales networks but also for showcasing products and innovations.

But manufacturing trade shows were losing their effectiveness prior to the pandemic, as sales veterans were  aging out and digitally native employees, from engineers to facility managers and purchasing agents, brought their research savvy to a growingly complex buying journey. 

Yes, the timing of the pandemic forced a lagging industrial sector to evolve its digital marketing at a much faster rate in order to educate and engage prospects. But it also has presented new possibilities for manufacturing trade shows, broadening the scope of multi-channel tactics while also honing in on the true value of in-person events, which is relationships. Trade shows are back, and they are definitely evolving.

A quick snapshot of the global trade show industry shows that 70% of companies expect to be operating at “normal” levels of trade show activity by September 2022. Global exhibition revenues are expected to reach 73% of pre-pandemic levels in 2022, and 87% in the first half of 2023. So trade shows are back. In the latest episode of the Industrial Marketer podcast, co-hosts Joey and Nels discuss how to ensure you get the most value from your return to the exhibit hall.

Why Trade Shows Still Matter for Manufacturers

Your website should be an always-on exhibit of your solutions, products and services. Anything you are showing off at a trade show should be available on your website. But that does not make manufacturing trade shows obsolete. A trade show is an “and,” not an “or,” in your manufacturing marketing mix. The ability to meet face-to-face with prospects who have already done research on your products can be invaluable.

Among the many factors that drive value for trade shows are:

  • In-person conversations
  • Attendees with buying power
  • Live demonstrations  
  • Competitor knowledge
  • Focused learnings
  • Innovation showcase

Here’s a roadmap for how to prepare for manufacturing trade shows in 2022 and beyond.

Pre-Show: From ‘Go’ to Strategy and Initial Messaging

Your decision to attend a trade show should a) aligned with business goals and 2) made many months in advance in order to leverage the investment. 

If you haven’t been to a trade show for a couple of years, there will be some differences, subtle and/or significant. One is that you can often participate virtually, not only as an attendee but perhaps even as an exhibitor. Another is that many events are selling premium services, such as access to exhibitor or attendee databases. Some levels of investment might come with representation on a panel or an opportunity to present.

If you are going to a manufacturing trade show, you should be able to articulate to company stakeholders your strategy for what you want to accomplish and how you will do so. Developing this strategy begins with simple questions. If you are an exhibitor, why should someone come to your booth, and what do you want them to see or do?

The other component of pre-show preparation is your marketing strategy. You can approach this like a multi-channel campaign, with something for each of the following channels:

  • Email marketing
  • Social media
  • Sales team outreach
  • Website presence

Again, align your pre-show messaging with why an attendee should come by your booth. 

During the Manufacturing Trade Show

Preparation for a trade show is more than making sure your team members have the right size for those branded polo shirts. Does everyone have the key talking points? Have you shared the goals for the trade show with them? Are you coordinating schedules so that your booth is staffed while team members check out competitors or innovations or industry discussions? Having a plan for your communications and activities will help clarify roles and expectations, which helps position you to get the most out of your manufacturing trade show investment.

You also can take advantage of outreach during the event. You might be able to do a live stream from your booth or a trade show event. At a minimum you can post a blog on your site, send emails to promote industry panels and discussions, and discuss the event on social channels. 

Post-Show Essentials Include Follow Ups and Outcomes

It’s important to maintain discipline post-event to fulfill your plan. Your checklist will probably include:

  • Follow-up messaging: This could be a thank-you to people who stopped by your booth or a touch point with segments in your database to share something interesting from the trade show. 
  • Sales outreach and CRM updates: Capture those leads using a CRM, which every manufacturers should know a thing or two about
  • A recap of results: You will have short-term results, such as number of booth visitors or qualified leads. But you also should be capturing attribution for long-term results, such as a prospect source for original contact or determining the trade show ROI. One of the primary benefits of manufacturing trade shows is their potential for converting leads and building brand awareness at the same time and with one investment. Take that into account with your KPIs. 

Oh, and don’t forget to take down that “visit us at the trade show” interstitial message on your website.

Listen to the Podcast for More About Manufacturing Trade Shows

For more insights into how to leverage manufacturing trade shows as part of your marketing mix, tune into Episode 34 of the Industrial Marketer podcast.

Subscribe to the Industrial Marketer Podcast

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And if you have any ideas for topics you’d like us to cover on the podcast — or here on the Industrial Marketer website — send us a message on Facebook or Twitter and let us know!


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