Four Steps to Determine the Best Trade Shows for Your Business

February 20, 2016

Marketers who browse trade show calendars can be quickly overwhelmed by the array of choices, both in the U.S. and around the world. As a trade show exhibit firm, we hear the same question over and over: What shows are best for my industry? We wish we had an easy answer, but the truth is that you have to do a lot of legwork before you can answer that question accurately.

We recommend a four-step process for determining the best trade show exhibitions for your business.

1.     Develop a marketing plan with measurable objectives.

2.     Define your best clients and prospects with marketing personas.

3.     Evaluate the trade show conventions in your industry.

4.     Attend your top-priority shows before committing to be an exhibitor.

Step 1. Develop a marketing plan with measurable business objectives.

What do you want to achieve from participating in a trade show? Do you want to promote greater awareness for your company? Generate qualified leads for your sales force? Launch a new product? The best place to start in determining what trade shows will work for your business is to develop a marketing strategy and tactical plan with realistic results.

According to Andrew Klausner, author of “Creating a Successful Marketing Strategy” on, “The ultimate goal of any marketing strategy is to help you grow your business and increase your brand awareness.  In order for a marketing strategy to be successful, it must be multi-faceted, realistic and implemented consistently over time.  But the key is to develop a plan, list your objectives and consistently implement them.”

He advises that the marketing plan should:

  • Detail specific activities you intend to undertake;
  • Identify the audience each activity is targeted to;
  • Specify how you’re going to measure success;
  • Be flexible enough to allow adjustments as necessary; and
  • Stipulate who on your team is responsible for each activity.

Step 2. Define your best clients and prospects with marketing personas.

Trade shows appeal to different segments of target markets. The more you can understand your best targets – whether current clients or prospects – the more effective your trade show efforts will be.

The trend in research today is to create buyer personas for your target market. It’s another way of looking at market research. For a buyer persona, you start by evaluating your own customer base to determine your most profitable clients. Working with your sales staff, you can identify several current customers whom you might interview to determine what drives their sales process and decision-making. You should also interview prospects for a different perspective.

According to the Buyer Persona Institute, “Built from the real words of real buyers, a buyer persona tells you what prospective customers are thinking and doing as they weigh their options to address a problem that your company resolves. Much more than a one-dimensional profile of the people you need to influence, or a map of their journey, actionable buyer personas reveal insights about your buyers’ decisions — the specific attitudes, concerns and criteria that drive prospective customers to choose you, your competitor or the status quo.”

Knowing your target market and what drives them will provide important insights into whether the trade shows in your industry match the best prospects for your business.

Step 3. Evaluate the trade show conventions in your industry. 

Unless you are entering a new industry, you probably already know one or more trade associations that serve your industry. But in any major industry, the sheer number of trade associations and conferences can be daunting. You need to research the attendee profiles of trade shows in your industry to determine which aligns with your target markets and buyer personas. For example, let’s look at the health care industry. If you sell IT services, software or computers, you might consider an association that specializes in IT. But if your real buyer is a group purchasing manager, you might be better off at a different show.

 For the evaluation process, it pays to: 

1.      Research your competitors. What trade association affiliations do they have? Do they attend any shows? You can find this information on show sites that give lists of their exhibitors and members.

2.      List the trade associations in which your company is a member. What is the profile of the entire membership? Do these associations sponsor any shows? Or is there a commercial show that targets your market?  If your company is not involved, should you join?

3.      Delve into the details. If the trade association does sponsor a show, determine who attends. What are their titles, buying power and potential interest in what you offer? Check out their exhibitor resources online to estimate your all-in costs and see if your competition will be there.

4.      Take your buyer personas into account. Based on their profiles, which shows might your best clients and prospects attend?

Step 4. Attend your top-priority shows before committing to be an exhibitor.

Every industry has more shows than any company’s marketing budget can handle. It is important to prioritize the most promising shows. A spreadsheet can be a helpful tool to compare the associations and their shows, including attendee profiles and exhibition costs. If you deal in global markets, you may wish to include trade show stand events, as they are called in Europe and elsewhere.

While a show may look good on paper, the best advice we can give is to walk the show first. All the data in the world will not tell you whether the show is really a good fit for your business until you see the show in person. It may be tempting to skip this step and go straight to exhibiting, but remember that trade shows can represent a significant investment of time and money.

Add new comment

Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.