Trade shows aren’t just about the glitz and glamour of the main event. It’s the anticipation, the build-up, and the aftermath where the real deals go down.
Think about it. If you’ve ever been to a firework show, you know that the beauty isn’t just in those sparkling explosions in the sky — it’s in the entire experience. You’ve got the eager wait before, the collective oohs and aahs during, and the lingering sense of wonder after.
Trade shows are no different. You might be distracted by the brightest booth or the loudest presentation, but the real magic? It’s found in the conversations happening outside the show.
If you’re phoning in your pre-show and post-show marketing, you’re essentially tossing your money into a bonfire.
Imagine throwing a party and forgetting to send out the invites. Sure, some might show up, but you’ve missed out on creating that electrifying buzz. That’s your pre-show marketing. It’s not just about getting attendees to your booth; it’s about engaging them, piquing their curiosity, and making them want to seek you out amidst the crowd of competitors.
Now, think about the day after the party. Do you just move on and forget all the connections you made? Nope. You follow up, you send thank-you notes, you keep the conversation going. That’s your post-show marketing. The glow of the trade show might have dimmed, but your opportunity to shine hasn’t.
When you don’t create a holistic trade show marketing strategy, you waste your investment.
You don’t have to spend $20,000+ to speak, host a trade show booth, or sponsor an event to ensure you benefit from the time and cost investment in a trade show. But once you have proven that an event is a match for your ideal client profile and you go all in to move from attendee to sponsor, you can’t forget about adding a layer of content marketing around it.
Attendees with decision-making power usually fly in to speak and host an event — and then are out immediately. Attendees looking to learn are those you are trying to sell to. And your “sweet spot” person is probably looking at their phone, keeping their team moving back home while balancing an in-person client visit and trying to be present all at the same time.
If you don’t layer the communication around what’s actually happening at the event, you are hoping for a big finale too soon. The real deals are in the process of being made throughout the event — pre-show, mid-show, and post-show.
At a minimum, this means you need to figure out the right pre-show cadence, personalize post-show communication, and keep track of metrics related to ROI. Start here:
Your trade show marketing strategy should begin early, but that doesn’t mean you need to bombard people every day for months. Reach out no more than four weeks before the event. Trade show attendees are already being overwhelmed with information about sponsors, logistics, and formal events, so they will appreciate your restraint.
If you sponsored an event and got a list of attendees, use it. But don’t send the same message to each person. CUSTOMIZE. If someone doesn’t meet your ideal customer profile or partner persona or if you send out an inauthentic request, your outreach will come across as too salesy. We all know when we are being sold to, so it’s even more important not to be lazy here.
With that in mind, you should think about what you’re going to say in your outreach. What’s a big enough reason to be in their inboxes? Will you be speaking on a topic you think they would benefit from? Do you have something at your booth that would be of value to them? Do you want to learn about their success over coffee or a happy hour drink? If you don’t have anything with this kind of value to offer, just connect with them on LinkedIn and say you hope to run into them at the event. Save your true outreach for after.
You can also make a good first impression by keeping your messaging short and sweet. An initial announcement and sign-up link could come a month out, followed up by more details about a special giveaway a week before the event. Last-minute buzz simply reminds people of the hype you’ve already created and gives attendees practical information they can use to find you at the show.
While following up on trade show leads might seem like a formality, your post-trade show marketing can actually be the most personal, rewarding part of your strategy.
Picture this: A Loom video pops up in recipients’ inboxes, and there’s a familiar face from your booth genuinely thanking them for their time and referencing a shared conversation or joke. That human touch is priceless. It’s about acknowledging their presence and rekindling the rapport you built.
This illustrates the importance of just being human. So many people have surface-level conversations at the events. Take the time to connect on LinkedIn, send an email with a few bullet points of why you enjoyed the actual conversation, and see whether you can reconnect again after the show. And really mean it.
Of course, you should also invite these contacts to your next webinar, share your follow-up blog post on the event, and encourage them to sign up for your mailing list. We are content marketers, after all. But we know even the most effective marketing strategy isn’t as impactful as genuine human conversations that cut through the inauthentic, exhibit-floor prattle.
And you don’t have to stop there. You can make your follow-up communication stand out even more by offering exclusive content tailored just for recipients. Maybe it’s a whitepaper diving deep into a topic you discussed or an invite to a niche webinar that aligns with their interests. The goal is to prove your value. Show them that you’re not just another brand vying for their attention but a partner who can add genuine value to their business.
If you aren’t doing all of these content marketing efforts, your ROI isn’t going to be as high. Coincidences don’t just happen. Convert your ideal leads by being prepared.
Trade shows are an investment, and like any savvy investor, you need to know whether you’re getting a return on that investment. To do that, you need to meticulously measure ROI and tie your tactics to tangible outcomes.
Your customer relationship management software isn’t just a tool to log conversations; it’s your treasure chest of insights. Every conversation and interaction is a data point. Regularly updating your CRM, checking in with leads, and understanding their post-event behavior will give you a clearer picture of your efforts and their impact.
Now, let’s talk metrics. Beyond showing you numbers of leads or sales, they can help you understand the story those numbers tell. Some of the most important metrics you can monitor include:
• Referral traffic.
• Social media engagement.
• Meetings booked.
• Email subscribers.
• Introductions made.
• Organic traffic from location-based or event-specific keywords.
Notice a spike in sales in a particular region post-event? Perhaps your booth resonated well with that demographic. Spot a trend in website traffic or a surge in social media interactions? That’s your brand basking in the limelight, gaining traction and building its reputation. A sudden surge in website traffic or an uptick in social media mentions? That could be a direct result of your presence at the trade show. The qualitative, often intangible aspects, like brand exposure and reputation, can also be gleaned from trends in digital footprints.
Still, it can sometimes take months or even years to see the value of these events. But if these efforts become part of your long-term marketing strategy, I am confident this authentic, thought leadership-driven approach to trade show marketing will lead to qualified leads and more referrals. In fact, we built our business on this strategy for the first several years of Intero Digital Content & PR Division.
But ultimately, without pre-trade show marketing and post-trade show marketing, your event will be more of a footnote than an epic showcase. Trade show success is a full journey — there’s a before, a during, and an after.
Email teasers and social media sneak peeks create pre-show hype that sets the stage for engagement, and real conversations and connections create memorable experiences for attendees at the event itself. Tailored post-show communication can then turn these brief encounters into lasting business relationships. Every phase matters.
This strategic approach of blending human touch with smart marketing turns trade shows into a powerhouse for long-term growth, partnerships, and results.
I'm the president of Intero Digital's Content & PR Division. Intero Digital is a full-service digital marketing agency whose Content & PR Division helps businesses improve their lead generation, SEO, sales enablement, and thought leadership — all powered by content marketing and PR.