Understanding the Trade Show Attendee Experience

August 14, 2018

John Foster

John Foster is the vice president of OOH Media Strategy for EMC Outdoor, a media placement and planning agency specializing exclusively in outdoor and out-of-home advertising. With five years of OOH experience working in the trade show world, John is ensconced in the intricacies of events and how they tick. 

Successful trade show marketing is about developing a media plan that aligns with and capitalizes on attendee behaviors in the market to accomplish a brand’s marketing goals. At a trade show, the focus of the attendees and exhibitors is the convention, but they also spend time outside of the convention center and their hotel. Since every city has its unique attractions and ways to get to those attractions, an effective market strategy for reaching those attendees must be equally unique.

Getting There: How do attendees travel to the market?

Each market around the country has different travel methods that attendees use to get there. In most cases, attendees are likely to travel into the market by air, especially major airport hubs like Chicago and Atlanta. Another contributing factor to air travel would be a trade show where attendees are traveling internationally and flying is the only reasonable option. In other cases, it’s advisable to consider those traveling by commuter train or even driving into the market. For example, conventions that take place in cities in the mid-Atlantic region often see a high population of travelers using Amtrak as a more accessible and less expensive transport option.

There are valuable and often overlooked opportunities to establish a first touchpoint with attendees as they are traveling into the market. Each travel mode offers a different passenger experience so it’s important to consider what media they see as they utilize each mode. For instance, if you know your audience is flying, you can use airport media to centralize your efforts in a single place, such as a “Welcome” message placed along an airport walkway, escalator or baggage claim. A good way to reach passengers traveling by train might be strategically placed interior wall cards, posters or train car wraps. Regardless of the formats, the best approach is to disperse messaging repeatedly during the attendees’ trip.

Getting Around: How do attendees move around in the market?

The different markets around the country have their own best methods for getting attendees where they need to go. In San Diego, the hotels are close to the convention center and attendees typically opt to move around on foot (the nice weather doesn’t hurt, either). Attendees in Chicago are likely to take a taxi or shuttle from their stay in the Loop or River North to McCormick, whereas those in Orlando might take a classic trolley that runs up and down International Drive.

Whatever method of movement the attendees are likely to use will dictate their experience and, therefore, the media choices for reaching them. In pedestrian markets, like San Diego and San Francisco, the attendees go back-and-forth between the hotel and event space and can be reached by street-level media. In more spread-out towns, where attendees will taxi or shuttle back-and-forth, the focus should be on media right around the convention center, such as branded advertising vehicles and taxi tops.

Getting Out & About: What do attendees do in the market?

Despite the attendees being focused on the trade show and its activities, it is also necessary to consider what the attendee may be doing after-hours. Convention markets offer a reprieve from the work hour – a world of restaurants, bars, museums, venues, nightlife and other experiences await. In New Orleans, everyone makes a stop in the French Quarter for a beignet. Visitors to San Diego go to the Gaslamp District as the main attraction. In Chicago, the attractions are more spread out across downtown and include the parks and museums. Attendees in Philadelphia are most likely to visit restaurant row, Old City or the Art Museum.

As was the case with travel to and within the market, reaching attendees when they are ready to lose their jackets and loosen their ties is equally important. Consider some clever ways of marketing to these groups while they are out and about. An easy option might be to purchase advertising space where you expect them to be – posters and table-top cards in a restaurant, for example. A more high-impact option might be a takeover or re-skin of a popular event space, like reserving a section of a museum, zoo or amusement park.

Thinking critically about each step of the trade show attendee experience will allow your brand message to reach your desired audience. Targeting opportunities are available through the entirety of the attendee journey and should not be limited to a trade show floor or convention center. And remember, the highest impression media in a market may not always be best for reaching a trade show audience. Take a moment to understand your convention market and your attendees and you’ll find the options for reaching them are as unique as the city they’re in!


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Partner Voices

Visit Dallas is thrilled to announce the approval of a 2.5 million square-foot convention center with 800,000 square feet of exhibit space and 300,000 square feet of breakout area, including 160,000 square feet of ballroom. “This news is a game changer for Dallas and will put our city on the map as the preeminent large-city convention and meeting destination in the nation,” said Craig Davis, Visit Dallas President & CEO.