By Mike Schmidt, AEM Industry Advisor Editor

Attendee EngagementIf every exhibiting company is trying to secure the greatest possible return on its investments in trade shows, then why are some organizations so much more adept at maximizing attendee engagement?

A trade show lasts just a few days, but its impact on both attendees and exhibitors extends far beyond the hours they spend on and around the show floor. So exhibitors must position themselves to leverage the full effects of a trade show by implementing and executing a well-conceived marketing strategy, one which extends to every phase of an event’s lifecycle.

“You can’t just show up,” said Nancy Drapeau, senior research director for the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, a non-profit professional organization for the marketing, promotion and importance of exhibitions. “You need to be aggressive prior to the event and while you’re on-site, you need to continue to engage those who visited your booth after the event concludes, and you need to be very thoughtful and strategic about everything.”

There’s Always Room For Improvement

According to Drapeau, a recent study conducted by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research found 77 percent of exhibitors are looking to improve their attendee engagement efforts at some point in the very near future.

“That shows a real commitment on the part of exhibitors to evolve and ramp up the quality of their engagement efforts,” added Drapeau.

But no company can truly begin to enhance attendee engagement and improve its return on investments in trade shows without possessing a sound understanding of why it’s exhibiting in the first place. Common reasons include increasing sales, lead generation, building brand awareness and launching a new product, or some combination of all of them.

"It’s so important to define the objectives,” said Drapeau. “Then plan your exhibit program with the end goal in mind.”

Align Your Program With Attendee Objectives

There are a number of reasons why an attendee would opt to visit a trade show. However, chief among them are a desire to shop for the latest products and learn new and valuable information. Exhibitors in turn must work diligently to align their individual program with attendees’ needs, so as to effectively foster engagement and meet objectives.

“If you’re thinking about your business goals for exhibiting and why you’re investing, and then tie in attendee engagement activities to achieve those goals, then you’re more apt to be successful,” said Drapeau.

Aligning engagement activities with the varying needs, wants and preferences of attendees is no small task for exhibitors. It takes time, effort and resources, all of which come at a premium in today’s business environment. And depending on an organization’s size, it can be difficult to create and implement a strategy. Challenges often arise in larger organizations as they struggle to keep key stakeholders focused and moving toward the same exhibition goals, and silos within these companies are capable of disrupting – or even derailing – the successful execution of strategic marketing initiatives.

“It’s incredibly important for everyone within an organization to work together to make sure the face-to-face marketing channel is helping to achieve overall sales and marketing goals, there’s integration between sales and marketing functions, and there’s integration between marketing channels,” said Drapeau.

Be Strategic And Passionate

There’s no overstating the importance of a company’s ability to guide the development of its exhibiting program with specific end goal in mind. Once a desired outcome has been determined, though, organizations must then carefully evaluate who they are trying to reach with their trade show marketing message and confirm they are exhibiting at the right events.

“If you are, then be realistic as to what you can accomplish in the time spent at the show,” said Drapeau. “There are boundaries as to what can be gained based on the level of investment. Either you ramp up the investment, or you bring it down. Look at the outcomes and decide whether the show delivers.”

Above all else, noted Drapeau, exhibiting companies need to employ trade show staff members who are both knowledgeable and passionate about their products and the customers they serve.

“It's not rocket science,” she continued. “It’s the power of face-to-face marketing, and it’s magnifying the impact of connections with the booth staff. And it’s a big deal.”

Want to learn more? Nancy Drapeau from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research will present a session entitled “Develop A Killer Strategy to Win the Attendee Engagement Battle" at the upcoming EXHIBITORLIVE Trade Show and Corporate Event Marketing Conference. EXHIBITORLIVE runs February 25 – March 1, 2018 in Las Vegas.

Exclusive offer to AEM members and exhibitors, receive a 25 percent discount off the cost of registration! Simply go to the EXHIBITORLIVE website ( to register and enter code AEM25 in the Special Promotion Code box to receive the discount.

To learn about the value of leveraging digital technology to create an effective trade show strategy, check out this article:

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