Trade shows are a proven way to increase business and recognition. I recently had a conversation with a client who decided they wanted to try their hand at trade show marketing. They asked me how to make the most of their investment. Sometimes a good way to be noticed is think outside the box – er, the booth. These ideas involve an additional expense beyond booth rental, but they can be well worth it.

1. Sponsorships:
Sponsor a workshop, coffee break, reception or local site tour. Usually there are sponsorships to fit all budgets. Choose the sponsorship wisely. It should – no, it must – be something where your ideal clients will be gathering. You want to target the decision makers or important influencers in the buying process. If you can arrange to be a sponsor to a facility where your product or service is being used, that would be brilliant! Attend the event you are sponsoring. That way you are on hand to chat with people and exchange business cards. You may even get to answer a question, which shows off your expertise (but don’t upstage the presenters of a workshop). Sometimes sponsorships make you eligible for prime booth space, too.

2. Something in the delegate bag:
For a fee, organizers will insert a copy of your promotional piece in every delegate bag. It means you get your name in one form or another in front of every single attendee. The down side is that you don’t get a chance to make that important personal connection and your insert may be treated as just another piece of clutter. The challenge will be to come up with a something that really gets their attention. You don’t want it to look like the rest. Try for a non-standard size or shape. Consider including an offer – maybe something they come to your booth to redeem. Regardless, the design will have to be attention-grabbing.

3. Promotional products:
Hand outs at your booth have benefits for remaining top-of-mind, but are certainly not necessary. More and more, people are becoming jaded and really dislike ‘trinkets and trash.’ Be smart about what you decide to offer. It must be functional – something they will want to keep – and it should be relevant to your product or service offering. Unless you are a pen manufacturer, my opinion is that inexpensive promotional pens are a waste of money. Chances are, they will be lost quickly. Instead, think creatively about an item that could be tied to a slogan that reminds your visitor of your business your organization. Some items I’ve used or seen used include: a small tape measure (for your marketing tool kit), a lens polishing cloth (clear vision), a small flashlight keychain (bright ideas), letter openers (cutting through clutter), a ruler (results that measure up) and magnifier (service that stands up to scrutiny). Note pads – including sticky notes – are always useful, but remember to keep most of the sheet blank so it remains useful as note paper. What you give out can also be something in print – like a conversion chart or other handy reference card. If the event is happening in the last quarter of the year, a calendar for the upcoming year is useful.

Your money will be better spent if you don’t just have these giveaways on your table for people to help themselves. That encourages scavengers. Rather, once you determine they are a good prospect, you can offer them a gift to thank them for stopping by. It means more to the visitor and you aren’t giving out as many, making it more affordable.

4. Promote it:
Once you’ve committed to the trade show, promote it in advance of the show. Let your contacts know you’ll be there and invite them to drop by. Put a notice on your web site, you can even add it to your e-mail signature. A warning: My experience is that delegates complain about getting bombarded by dozens of e-mails from exhibitors just before a show. Instead, I send something by regular mail. I get a lot of positive comments from it. Last time, I sent a small, easy to mail item to a few particularly promising prospects – a small notebook so they could ‘plan their show experience’. Most of them made a point of coming to the booth to thank me for it, which gave me a chance to talk to them about their needs, as well as my recent projects and new services. Include loyal clients to drop by. They can end up giving a testimonial to someone else who happens by the booth at the same time. Instant referral!

Trade show marketing is a big investment, even if you just rent a booth and stand there. I would consider extending your investment a bit and see how it can extend your presence – for great results.