Trade Shows – Making the SMART Choice

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the number and types of trade shows in the U.S. Many small and even mid-sized businesses forego these events because it’s hard to predict an accurate return on investment. But using a simple management objectives strategy, you can identify which shows to attend.

The big question to ask is about your goals for the event. To determine these, use the SMART criteria. While this is usually applied to business development circumstances, it can help you articulate your trade show goals and determine which events are going to get you where you need to be.

Is the event Specific to your product or service? Attending an exhibition with a broad stroke approach to attendees might be beneficial, but one with an audience targeted specifically at the industry in which you do business is more likely to get you in front of long-term customers.

How will you Measure your success at the event? Looking past the event itself to likely returns (or lack thereof) is crucial in determining its worthiness of your time and resources. Establishing measurable criteria for success before you attend will also help keep you focused on your marketing plan once you’re there. Just showing up isn’t enough – design a strategy from start to finish (including post-event evaluation and follow-up) to determine the extent of your participation.

Is your attendance at the event going to help you Achieve the growth of your business? That is, ultimately, the bottom line in determining which events to choose. While some events may have a specific lure, and might be tempting to attend, if they do not ultimately increase your bottom line, your time would be better spent elsewhere.

Is it Realistic to expect a positive outcome from the event? For example, if you’re a small business, taking your first plunge into a trade show, and your competitors are global giants who will occupy more floor space at the exhibition than a small city, is it realistic to think you’ll have a positive ROI? On the other hand, if you’re thinking of attending a small, locally focused event that targets your customer base, it’s more realistic to believe you’ll have the chance to claim some of the market.

Time-specific can be a harder aspect of the SMART plan to articulate. Assuming you have an annual marketing strategy, how does this event fit in with your strategy? Is it one you’ve incorporated into your marketing/expenditures plan or is it a sudden opportunity you’re tempted to take? Another take on this aspect is whether or not your immediate investment will have a timely return. If your intent is to gain a broader customer base, how will this event move you in that direction, and how soon can you expect to see growth?

There are many variations on using the SMART strategy in business, but don’t overlook is usefulness in your plans for trade shows. It can help you stay focused and outline a strategy for determining your best bets for trade shows.