Editor’s note: Per Ohstrom is CMO with Chief Outsiders, a fractional CMO firm focused on mid-size company growth based in Knoxville, Tenn. 

We’re more than a year into the pandemic and we’ve all gotten used to Zoom meetings and conference calls. In the past, many saw trade shows as a necessary evil. But COVID reminded us that trade shows can be a cost-effective way of generating leads and flying our company colors. 

Trade shows help us keep a handle on the competition. And there’s also something to be said about talking to people face-to-face. Maybe you’ll have a chance encounter that couldn’t happen online.

Now with so many people vaccinated in the U.S., trade shows are making a comeback. However, you must still pick the right show and plan how to participate to get the best bang for the buck.

Each industry typically has flagship trade shows, where industry leaders exhibit and important customers visit. Smaller, targeted shows put on by associations or industry organizations remain narrower in scope, but highly focused. They can offer an opportunity to cost-effectively reach important target segments. I’ve had good experiences with specialized events like the Concrete Decor Show but also mega-events like World of Concrete.

Let’s take a look at planning, executing and following up on highly effective shows, and explore what metrics to use for success.

A good trade show booth has a striking design, one that visitors can easily find on the floor. After you secure a good booth location, you should set goals for show participation. These should include number of leads, number of booth visitors and sales directly related to a show.

Next, define a communication plan. Build a foundation starting with your existing mailing list. Then combine that with targeted lists and advertising opportunities from the exhibit organizer. The plan could include mailings inviting customers to ...