Preparing for International trade fairs can be extremely complicated and you are unlikely to get it 100% right the first time. That’s why I decided to prepare this mini-series to offer as many ideas as possible. You should also read Part 1 of this series if you didn’t already.
The following topics are dealt with in the first part of this series:
- why should you attend trade fairs?
- useful resources for identifying the RIGHT trade fairs for you
- hints about how to decide what is the right show for you
- why visiting the fair before you exhibit there can be a good idea
- setting strategic targets for trade fairs
- designing the stand with your aim in mind
This second part will go into more detail about the tactical preparation.
Table of Contents
First come first served
It’s really essential to book space early for the most popular international trade fairs. That can mean up to 12 or even 18 months in advance. Realistically speaking you won’t be offered the best location in the exhibition hall the first year that you exhibit there so you need to be prepared to be somewhere on the edge.
If you go with your national pavilion (e.g. a UK pavilion or German pavilion) due to budget restrictions you may only have a small space available but the location may be advantageous compare to what you’d get on your own. Being in the right hall or pavilion can make a huge difference to the amount of traffic your stand receives.
Also consider whether it’s important to you to be away from your main competitors. If your budget is really tight (e.g. if you have to make do with a minimum size booth), then you don’t want to be located directly opposite your main competitor with a 100 m² stand complete with all the bells & whistles.
Depending on what you sell you may need to obtain special permissions or licenses in order to take samples or demonstration models of your products to the trade fair.
As I mentioned in part 1, don’t forget there are differences between imperial and metric measurements as well as in electrical standards. When preparing for international trade fairs you need to make sure that your preparation includes organising enough cables, extra screws and potentially some spare parts to ensure that you are able to run demonstrations of your products throughout the trade fair period. You certainly don’t want to go to all the effort and expense just to find that you can’t run demos due to a missing adaptor or electrical cable.
Enquire in good time, whether your products need an ATA carnet to be temporarily imported into the country where the exhibition is being held.
Whilst business cards may seem an out of date solution for a simple problem they are still practical and have their place. However, you need to do them right.
Make sure that all parts of your address can be understood. So be really careful with shortened forms of the names of US states but also UK counties.
I don’t have it on my cards right now, but it can be useful to put a headshot on a card to help jog people’s memories after an event. You may meet 100’s of people over the course of a 5 day trade fair so having a decent photo to remind you can be a great help.
It can be great to put a QR code on the back so that it can be scanned and directly saved to somebody’s phone. I know some people who just have a QR code on their phone that they allow new connections to scan. This is extremely practical however it’s not so easy when the person who originally scanned the code wants to hand off your connection details to somebody in the office to follow up with. That’s why I still like to have at least a number of business cards on hand.
If you are looking to scan business cards directly into your contacts I personally like Camcard.
Think about your method to collect visitor data
Whether the event you are attending is for business partners or end-consumers, you need a way to capture the contact details of visitors to your stand. You can do this with a pad and a pen of course, but that can be a little bit difficult afterwards in the follow up. I’ve often received scanned versions of handwritten notes that colleagues have taken at trade fairs and it can be almost impossible to work out who the person was and what they are interested in.
It’s far better to have an electronic way to capture this data such as a CRM system. Ideally, people should register their contact details with you so that they are entering the data rather than you writing it in. This can avoid a lot of error. This depends on the kind of visitors your show has and what your targets are.
I’m a great believer in always having a plan B, so I’d recommend that when preparing for international trade fairs you consider how you will capture this data in order to ensure an efficient follow up, and that you also decide if you are going to collect all the business cards too. I have business cards going back over 25 years which help jog my memory and put names to faces and events where we met, in a way that a pure CRM system can’t do.
Train the team
When selecting the people who should attend trade fairs you need to also consider their product competence and the goals of your participation at the trade fair.
If there may be international visitors on your stand even at a domestic event you should also cover this point.
Do you need additional language skills? Depending on where the fare takes place this could be also a rather important deciding factor. Or do you need to think about organising interpreters to support your team?
Make sure that everyone who will be attending receives sufficient training in advance. They have to be clear on what are the objectives of the show and how you will be expecting them to behave at all times.
This training should also include, if they don’t already know, how to behave towards people of different cultures in order to make visitors feel welcome on the stand.
Let them know what are the common pitfalls of a long week in such an intensive environment & how to take care of themselves without collapsing from exhaustion.
Setting clear expectations right from the day of decision that a particular staff member should attend, helps also those team members to better prepare themselves.
Adapt your marketing materials
It’s essential to make sure that you have sufficient marketing materials in a localised format. Even if all of your materials are going to be available only in English then you need to make sure that everything has been adapted for the international market. Many companies have different product ranges for the UK compared to their international clients so it’s important to have the right materials available for the expected visitors.
Don’t underestimate the time needed
You need to think about how much of each marketing material you will need in good time to make sure that they can be produced & transported to the location of the fair.
The same is valid for any kind of giveaways or product samples. Unless you’re selling something so bulky of course that it cannot be taken away in which case you might want to think about a mini version specifically for the trade fair. Giveaways need to be carefully considered so that they are not too large to carry home as you don’t want your information simply been left behind in hotel rooms.
eg. The key ring I use for my office keys has a mini-shock absorber on it which was the giveaway of a friend’s company at a trade fair I attended in Latvia in probably 1997.
Don’t underestimate the time needed for translations!
Prepare Multimedia for a WOW approach
Think about having large flat screen TVs on your stand with constant loops of high-quality animation, product demonstrations if you have machines, education materials, and perhaps some top-level branding information. It’s also worth having interactive screens placed around the stand such as iPads which will allow visitors to gain a information whilst waiting or looking around.
I’ve been greeted by robots on stands in China before now (back in 2015/2016 where this was less commonplace) and it certainly created a buzz of visitors to the stand (not at a tech fair).
Filming and photos
Make sure you consider well in advance your options for using the trade fair as an opportunity for preparing new marketing content. This can be in the form of films, still photos or potentially even presentations if you have sponsored a side event for example. It’s worthwhile planning the most important shots you need, as well as organising a photographer/videographer.
Of course, all of this material can be used for social media marketing both during and after the show, but if you haven’t prepared in advance then you may be disappointed afterwards with the results.
Enquire in advance with the organisers of the show if there are restrictions in place on filming. For example if part of the event is outdoors, there may be restrictions on using drones or there may be restrictions on filming anything which is not your own stand, due to proprietary technologies being presented.
Since the pandemic it’s also essential to consider whether there will be a number of virtual visitors to your stand. If this is the case you also need to make provision for videoconferencing in advance (think about WiFi!) but also for the filming of the stand so that people can get an impression of what the show is about.
How can you ensure that virtual visitors remain engaged with your content?
Chances are that hybrid will become much more important in the future so start thinking about how you can implement this in engaging ways now.
Arrange meetings in advance
Obviously this depends rather on what your objectives are for the trade fair, however, I personally like to have most of my meetings planned out in advance if I’m going to be meeting with my existing distributors & potential new ones.
If you are looking for new distribution partners for a specific country, it’s better to research in advance so that you are forearmed with knowledge as to the relative importance of the various options.
It’s often a difficult jigsaw to put together as realistically speaking most of your partners will also be visiting other suppliers who are also attending the show. That can make it difficult for them to commit in advance so it’s often necessary to apply a little pressure if you want to do this. If you are earlier to the game than the others then hopefully it should mean that more of the people you want to meet with can agree to your proposed schedule, rather than you adapting to them.
If you are organising a social event or dinner for all of your partners at the trade fair then this needs to also be prepared well in advance so that everybody can keep that evening free. You will also find in major exhibition cities that restaurants and hotels around the time of the biggest trade fairs can be exceedingly expensive and get booked out very early so you need to allow for that. Even a year in advance can be too late for a popular location during the biggest fairs.
As you can see from all that I’ve written above there are a lot of moving parts when you want to participate in an international trade fair. Preparing for an international trade fair needs to potentially begin therefore more than two years in advance of the actual date especially if you are not already established overseas and want to visit before you participate as an exhibitor. I will write a separate post on this topic and budgets as it’s so critical for success.
Once you have decided on all of the components of your planning and strategy then you need to work out the timelines. Don’t forget that for the most popular trade fairs stand space, hotels and restaurants all get booked up well in advance. For the most popular trade fairs prices are often considerably higher in hotels than at other times of year. I sometimes paid more than double the regular rate in the past if I was in Guangzhou at the same time as the Canton fair was on.
These are not the only considerations when planning your timeline. You need to also allow enough time for your staff to ensure that they have the necessary passports and visas to get into the country where the event is taking place. Stand design, stand building and potentially also the stand shipping if you decide to go that route also may take longer than you have anticipated. You don’t want to stand at an international trade fair and have your stand actually still be stuck at customs because you didn’t have the right paperwork to get it into the country as a temporary import.
As I’ve mentioned above I will write a separate post on this topic. Suffice it to say a good budget as an essential part of preparing for an international trade fair. Whilst stand space is expensive it’s only a small part of the total picture when you think about hotels, flights, restaurants and staffing. This is why it’s essential to be very clear about your strategy and goals before setting out to a trade fair. You don’t want to sink thousands of euros into an event which brings no return.
Preparing for International Trade Fairs is the Key to Successful Participation
As you can see, participating in an international event requires a huge amount of preparation if you are going to earn your money back in the near future.
My top tip: prepare as much as you can, right down to the last detail, whilst documenting your whole process and expect to revise it for future events.
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