using exhibitions to market your business

Using Exhibitions to Market Your Business

Exhibitions are a powerful resource for marketing, but many businesses overlook the possibility and put their time and money into other areas such as advertising. In fact, exhibitions can be used to advertise your business but can also benefit you in ways that no other marketing can provide.

Nearly 100,000 businesses market themselves at exhibitions every year in the UK, although many people will tell you mixed stories of their success.

Do not let any negative stories put you off: every business will run their exhibit differently and so it may have been their poor organisation or attitude that prevented them from any benefit. On the other hand – maybe it was just a bad day or as the case may be, their product was simply no good!

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Why Attend an Exhibition?

Let us see it this way- people attend exhibitions to see what businesses have to offer. At a majority of exhibitions, particularly the larger events, it has been researched that over 60 per cent of visitors are from middle management or above, of which 90 per cent of these people are in a position to buy.

This paragraph alone has just opened a potential door to sales leads but the benefits have only just begun. Research further suggests that one-third of visitors are looking for new suppliers.

These figures will vary from place-to-place but you can guarantee that potential customers (people just there to browse) will also be visiting and so you may pick up a few sale s during the exhibition.

You have to appreciate that some of the visitors will be attending for educational purposes such as students and new business starters (looking for advice and tips).

You should therefore treat these people with respect as they could form the basis of viral-marketing (word of mouth) for your business: having a prepared fact-sheet with your business/product/service/contact details will always suffice pure window shoppers.

Your exhibition stand should allow people to see, handle, and experience your product or service: just like a web site, give them something to do when they (the viewer) get there.

This type of marketing gives you the benefit of a hands-on response with potential customers and therefore, sales leads. Any further information they seek can be clarified with you in face-to-face communication.

How many other forms of marketing allows this – are you seeing the opportunities already? Further benefits will be highlighted in the publicity section.

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Finding an Exhibition

There are hundreds of exhibitions held every year in the UK at various locations and cover every business industry available. Consequently, finding an exhibition should not be a problem.

Exhibitions are advertised in business newspapers, the business section in your local, regional and national newspaper, trade and business magazines, and on the Internet.

Many of the exhibitions will provide a contact number to apply for a position and some will provide an address to send for an application form.

Either way, you should apply early to avoid disappointment or to get a favoured position at the event. In the UK, some of the most popular exhibitions are held at the following locations.

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The degree of preparation will be the difference between getting the most from the exhibition and being a complete waste of time. Preparation will require considering the following:

  • How many people will you take?
  • Who will you take?
  • How will you display your exhibit with respect to design, size and interactivity?
  • What information will you display?
  • How much stock will you take for possible sales?
  • How will you deal with potential sales leads?
  • Will you give away any freebies, say; leaflets, brochures, snacks, etc
  • Write a press release
  • What other forms of marketing can you conduct whilst you are there?

You have to decide what is important to you over the course of the exhibition. Are you:

  • Gathering potential sales leads
  • Conducting research by interviewing visitors
  • Establishing your name in the industry
  • Launching a new product
  • Testing exhibitions as a marketing option
  • Looking for new partners and alliances (if so, say so on your stand)

If you are attending a two-day exhibition it may be useful to have two display strategies: say, main strategy to get sales, but if you are not successful on the first day, change to gathering leads, or use the concentration of people in your industry to gather research.

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Designing an Exhibition Stand for Your Business

Once you have applied for a place at an exhibition and you have been given your stand number, why not let people know that you will be there.

Advertise in the local newspaper, shop windows, on your web site (if you have one), etc. For example, “…come and visit us at stand 123 on 1st June, Exhibition of…”

Most people will be tempted to pos iti on their stand next to the entrance but often, many visitors will walk into the ‘heart’ of the exhibition before they begin to interact.

Locations on the main/bigger aisles are often favoured but also try thinking about areas where visitors will congregate for example toilets, refreshments, seating areas, and so on.

Corners of intersections give a feeling of openness and catch many visitors, many times. Try to avoid the small cave-like exhibit space, but if you must use one, don’t stand inside the shell waiting for people to stop.

Get some marketing aids and pace about in your front space: now is not a time for letting people go about their business un-hindered!

Many exhibitors will be put off by having big companies as neighbours, but this can also work to your benefit: if visitors find it hard to get into their overcrowded stand, they may visit your stand whilst they are waiting for their opportunity and develop an interest.

The following section looks at a typical exhibition layout so that you can distinguish between the best and worst locations for your stand. It is important to remember that all stand locations are subjective and that each venue will have a different layout.

Although this layout guide may be helpful, there is no substitute for visiting the venue at an earlier date to identify the best locations through your own eyes and experience (as a visitor).

Sam Jayne Design is a independent retailer, popular for her quotes on instagram. Her stand at a Pop-up event.

Designing Your Exhibit

Well, you have an ideal location at the exhibition but what good will it be if visitors are drawn away from your stand because of poor design and interactivity. The design of your stand will be the key for the visitor gaining interest: after all that is why you are there – to get people to stop, talk, look, listen, take, buy…

When designing your stand, you should keep in mind that you want to speak to as many visitors as possible. You should therefore design your stand so that visitors get as much information and experience as possible in the shortest time.

Many people immediately think that the use of a video presentation is a good idea. This is true so long that you use it in the right context: do not make the video too long, say, 3 minutes (on a continuous loop) and make sure that the video is informative.

Charlie Humphries is an digital illustrator with a range of products, frequently attends local markets.

If you feel that video is not necessary, than do not use it. Quite often, it can be hard to hear as the noise at an exhibition can be very loud. If you do use video, try to blend the TV into the design and surroundings of your stand.

Because exhibitions are noisy, try to deliver information with the use of visuals such as photographs, diagrams and prototypes. Do not over do it with text displays as visitors will get bored of reading: if they want further information, they will talk to you.

If text is unavoidable, make sure it is appealing (use punchy and descriptive words) and readable (size). Put finer details and general business information into leaflets or brochures so that visitors can read further at a later time: you have to respect that they too want to see as many exhibits as possible.

Make sure that people can easily move around your stand without the hassle of dodging equipment and furniture. Do not think that the bigger your stand, the better: bigger stands can be harder to control.

Use appropriate colouring to liven up your stand. Avoid colours that are too dark and at the same time do not use colours that are too bright. Visit exhibitions before hand to get some idea of colouring schemes so that you can find something that best suits your business, but try to add a little originality.

Use large printed posters for your display walls or easy to transport and erect pop up systems which can be carried in a car. The cost of poster printing is now within everyone’s reach, and the effect is professional.

Most large towns have walk-in printer services and they will help with the design if you are not a budding Picasso. There are a number of on-line printers who can accept your design by, say, Microsoft Word, and then deliver it to you.

Lighting is also important as too much can cause excessive heat, making it difficult for you to work and remain comfortable: visitors will also be affected as the heat will reduce their attention span.

In addition, not enough lighting can reduce the effects of visuals and make your stand look dull. You should therefore try to find the right balance of lighting to provide good working conditions and to compliment your display.

exhibition lighting
An example how Chameleon Farm uses lighting for their display stand.

In business to business events, the objective is usually to get hold of every business card that passes your stand. Why? This is the quickest and most accurate way to get the details of potential sales contacts.

Some people use a prize draw to extract the card and some will offer ‘more specific’ information, or will ensure their ‘expert’ will be able to cure all ills… whatever the tactic, collecting business cards is a vital requirement for all B2B exhibitors.

When designing your stand, remember that you are trying to attract attention and so it is important that you add as much originality as possible: but try not to over-do it.

Staffing and Publicity for Your Exhibition

Staffing Your Exhibit

The individuals that staff your exhibit should be those that are knowledgeable, enthusiastic and can sell the business very well.

The number of staff that you bring along may be determined by the number of expected visitors at the exhibition. It may further be determined by how many people you expect to talk to, say, every hour.

Try not to overcrowd your exhibit with staff but make sure you have enough to liaise with visitors at any time. Two or, maximum, three members of staff is usually the norm for small business exhibits.

It is important that you and your staff are presentable (smart, uniform, etc) and can be identified with the use of, say, name badges (make it easy for those interested in your stand to identify you.

Be polite and as informative as you can to ALL visitors even if they do not appear to be interested in making a purchase: you may have just been rude to a journalist in an attempt to make better use of your time with interested customers.

I have been to a number of exhibitions where stands have no one to talk to during lunch-time: an exhibition is about hard work and maximising opportunity, not a few days away from the mill! Your behaviour and habits are all common sense so treat visitors like you would customers at your business premises.

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Exhibitions are prime resources for journalists to find news and so this is your chance to gain as much free publicity as possible. Journalists will not have the time to visit all stands looking for news so it is down to you to grip their attention: this all links back to the design of your stand.

Prepare a Writing a Press Release Editorial so that they can be taken away by the journalists but try to be as newsworthy as possible because they may have collected over 100 in the last six hours!

You should also prepare a Press Information Pack to give to journalists (not everyone else) that will include your press release, photographs, product/service information and contacts: display a card size request for reporters to request your PR information.

Journalists will consider following up news on your business if you provide them with such information. On the big front: if you want to set up a press conference, provide them with details concerning location and time.

Advertise your stand outside and around the exhibition to make people aware of your location. As we covered earlier, advertise your attendance to customers and to the public in newspapers and magazines, say, during the month before the exhibition date.

All exhibitions create a catalogue/programme, so why not buy space for an advert. Getting one of your family to hand out flyers/leaflets to those coming and going is a very low cost way to distribute your name, and to hopefully make visitors see your stand before leaving.

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After the Exhibition

When the exhibition has closed, you should write down the things you did well and the things you could improve on for future exhibitions (if you decide to do it again).

If you were successful, you will probably be nursing a pile of sales leads and so it is important that they are dealt with in quick response.

Distinguish the more promising leads from the list and contact them by phone at least within the next two weeks in priority to those leads that you consider less promising.

You should further post information to ALL leads at least within the next seven days so that their interest is maintained.


Exhibitions are excellent for potential customers to view and experience your products or service.

Being face-to-face with potential customers and suppliers is arguably the best way to promote your business as any questions or queries can be clarified with you in person: as a result, exhibitions can usually generate good sales leads.

The added advantage of exhibitions is that they can offer free publicity as journalists and photographers will nearly always be present.

Your stand will act as a shop window for your business and so you should make it as informative as possible with an increased respect for design: failing to show quality and organisation will be a major turn off for visitors.

Be helpful and willing as possible by giving everybody the attention and time they require to learn about your business.

Arguably, the businesses that benefit the most from exhibitions are those that implement good planning, organisation and management.

This applies to before, during and particularly after the exhibition, as many people will tell you that much of the hard work starts after the exhibition: turning those sales leads into solid sales.


Caroline Hagan

Caroline brings over 20 years experience as a Designer and Developer; featured in .NET magazine, the only woman in the UK accredited for Google Mobile Sites. A STEM Ambassador and Google Women Techmaker Ambassador. Previous clients include Blackberry, FIAT, Clark Shoes and Sky.

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