Exhibition marketing: Trade show Strategies to Improve ROI

Tradeshows and exhibitions are the perfect place to meet future customers, but how do you get the best ROI out of your exhibition stand?

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Exhibition marketing: Trade show Strategies to Improve ROI

Exhibition marketing: Trade show Strategies to Improve ROI

Tradeshows and exhibitions are the perfect place to meet future customers, but how do you get the best ROI out of your exhibition stand?

Picture of Rob White Rob White

Published: 03 Aug 2023

12 minutes read

Exhibition marketing: Trade show Strategies to Improve ROI

The global event, exhibition and trade show industry shrunk 68% over the COVID period but 2023 has shown clear and robust signs that the industry is starting to heal. Many industries still have a strong culture of trade shows, exhibitions, and events to help build up their marketing and sales pipeline and bring in revenue. 

But increasingly, there’s a disconnect.

Industries like manufacturing and compliance, which remain firmly committed to the event model, sometimes struggle to fully leverage the leads generated from trade shows and events… They don’t squeeze all the ROI out of these opportunities. Senior management insists on attendance, authorising thousands to be spent on top-of-the-range stand designs and flashy visuals with no real consideration of what takes place afterwards. You’ve got a list of proto-leads, some probably only there to pick up a free pen, and you expect sales to work their magic.

Does this sound familiar?

There needs to be a strategy in place afterwards which is there to help deal with these new contacts and potential leads because, for the most part, they simply won’t be ready to purchase.

This guide will help you make the most of your event appearance with a suggested plan of action and post-event marketing strategies that make the most of your leads.

Before starting, most of the information and advice in this guide is framed around HubSpot. A lot of the strategy, tools, and functions will be available on different platforms, but if you want to know how we do it. Speak to our team for a demo of HubSpot.

Speak to us




Don't have time to read the full guide?

Listen to our episode of the Make & Market podcast, where Jack Williams, Commercial Director and Rob White, Marketing Manager at Axon Garside, join Lawrence Chapman, Head of Content, to discuss how to make the most of your exhibition strategy.



Why is Your Trade Show Strategy Not Working?

Manufacturing trade shows are a tried-and-test platform for growing your network and finding new business opportunities. However, to maximise your return on investment (ROI), careful planning and execution are essential. 

Here are some common challenges manufacturers face at manufacturing trade shows:


Poor Pre-Event Preparation

Pre-event planning is crucial for a successful trade show appearance. Developing the right messaging and stand design requires careful consideration to strike a balance between being informative and engaging.

Generating pre-show buzz is equally important. Here, you need to create anticipation through various channels like social media and email marketing. 

For this, you need to take advantage of any data you might have. This can include looking through your email list and seeing which of your subscribers are actively opening your emails, going through your order history to see which products are attracting the most sales and audience demographics. 

If you don’t have any data, you’ll be doing a lot of second-guessing to promote your company at the trade show. Conduct surveys and interviews with your target audience to get first-hand knowledge of what type of messaging will convert, or access premium industrial reports or databases where you’ll get in-depth information. 

Not Having a Lead Generation Plan For The Event

Understanding the types of conversations you'll have with potential customers is crucial for building rapport when attending manufacturing trade shows.

You’ll also need to have a plan on how you’re going to capture these discussions so you can determine whether the lead is warm or cold. While logging this information can be administratively demanding, it's essential for crafting targeted messaging that nurtures leads effectively.

Going to an event without a plan will hugely diminish the ROI from attending the event. You need to consider how you’re going to efficiently capture your leads and how you’re going to follow up, which we’ll go into later. 


Not Knowing What to Do After the Event

Only 28% of trade show exhibitors arrive fully prepared, including having a well-defined lead follow-up strategy. This means a significant majority lack a proper plan

When attending manufacturing trade shows, you need to remember that the work doesn't stop when the event has finished. Building connections with potential customers and partners is just the first step towards securing new business. A lead nurturing plan and clear metrics such as traffic and conversion rate to measure the success of your trade show attendance is vital.

“Manufacturing businesses spend so much money attending these trade shows, but don't pay real attention to the follow-up and how they're gonna make best use of that investment. If you spoke to 60 or 70 people at an event, remembering every detail of the conversation including what they were interested in will help you tailor how you follow up with them,” Jack Williams explained in the Make & Market podcast. 


Turning trade show attendees into valuable leads requires a strategic approach before, during, and after the event. Here's how to create an end-to-end strategy to maximise your ROI.


Exhibition Marketing - What to do before your event

The Exhibition Marketing Essentials

There are a handful of things which you should get right first to help raise awareness of your attendance at an event. Ultimately, if people don’t know you’re there, then the list of leads and contacts you make at the end of the event could be much smaller. You could miss out on potential opportunities.


technology exhibition image

Before even setting foot on the exhibition grounds, here are the things you need to get right:

Update your channels

Adding banners to your website, social media channels and even email signatures can massively increase visibility without that much effort on your part. It’s also a good opportunity to check your website to see if anything is out of date in anticipation of new visitors coming to your site after the event. Think:

  • Images on your website. These offer simple, palatable displays of what your business has to offer, and can help your SERP.
  • Addresses and telephone numbers online. Make it simple for your leads to get in touch. No-one wants to waste their time working out your contact details when the conversation is in your hands.
  • Branding or company messaging. Give a clear, honest depiction of your business and what you have to offer. False statistics and company information will turn your contacts off, making them take business elsewhere.

Outbound comms

Creating a few outbound emails to existing customers and relevant lists, as well as a handful of posts across social media channels, is an excellent way to bring attention to your business’ event attendance. HubSpot will allow you to automate both social and email marketing to not take too much time from regular operations. 

Clear focus

It’s important to make sure your event team has a shared understanding of the focus and can express your brand and messaging accurately. By creating a unified vision, your campaign is more effective as each member of your team shares a common goal. Make sure you stand out - reference direct benefits you offer that others don’t. Understand how you want to design your stand, pull together demonstrations and test them in front of people. If you’re going to be showing attendees something potentially complicated or innovative at your stand, make sure that it's understandable. We used HubSpot Help Desk to secure one of our biggest clients, Specialist Risk. The key was to make follow-up actions more accessible than anyone else.

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Prepare Your Content/Inbound Strategy

This accounts for laying the groundwork for what comes after the event. 

Is attendance at this event a foray into a new field? An attempt to broaden your market and get involved in new industries?

exhibition marketing

The hope is that your event will lead to dozens of new sales opportunities and ultimately pay for itself immediately, but that isn’t likely to be the case. More realistically, you may end up getting about 3-4 sales ready opportunities, 20 or so warm leads - those which with a bit of persuasion and education could understand the value your business could offer - and another 100 or so interested in the brand, not ready to buy yet/simply being polite.

With limited bandwidth and resources in your sales team, you can’t expect them to spend copious amount of time trying to persuade the 100 or so new visitors that won’t be ready to purchase in a long time, and the same could be true for those closer to the middle of funnel.

So, how do you cater for those people?

Borrowing the tenets of Inbound Marketing, you let your website and content do the work of educating your prospects and anchoring them to your brand. Take a look at our Inbound Marketing breakdown here, including its differences to Content Marketing.

Understanding your event persona

Whether you have fully fleshed out buyer personas or not, it’s probably worth spending a bit of time considering the type of person you expect to encounter at the event. 

If you’ve taken part in this event, trade show, exhibition etc before and gained business from it, calibrate your results on the shared characteristics of that business won. 

  • What job titles have delivered the best return? 
    • If not job title, what pains have buyers shared?
  • How senior are they generally & does that impact the way they consume content?

There are many other ways to identify your personas and we’ve gone into more detail in our blog 'creating an effective persona for your content marketing strategy'. Click the button below to read it now.

Read it now


Content audit

What content do you have available right now?

At this stage, you have to find out whether you’re actually prepared to cater to the new visitors after your event.

Look for:

  • How informative and optimised your website service pages are, including content written for SEO and network of landing and pillar pages. Modern CMS like HubSpot can simply and effective help you create campaign pages that address your visitors’ enquiries directly and efficiently.
  • What blogs/videos/downloadable assets are working well across your site
  • Which sales pieces could easily be made customer-facing
  • Old piece hidden in servers or cloud storage
  • Archived pieces in your CMS

There are a series of questions that you should ask yourself when reviewing your content:

  • Is the content written in a tone which will speak to your exhibition marketing proto-personas (general depictions of your target market)?
    • If not, is this an easy fix? Time should be spent to optimise existing content (where possible) rather than developing new content from scratch.
  • Do you have sufficient content on your website to keep new, post-event visitors on your site, educating them?
  • Will it help push them down the funnel?
    • A good indicator would be the metrics within your CMS and how well it has performed in general
  • Where does each piece fit in the funnel?
    • Understanding how each piece of content you have fits into a basic funnel is important to spotting gaps. 
Find out more here.


Whilst we’re discussing this from an exhibition marketing perspective, consider running a more global content audit. It’s the first step to delivering more organic traffic and conversions to your website and a holistic improvement on your business’ marketing, not just your exhibition marketing.

Want to learn how to build an inbound marketing plan rapidly to support your upcoming event or exhibit?

We’ve put together a guide to help fast-track the plan and put a strategy in place.

Find out more

repoContent planning & filling in the gaps

With an idea of the content you have to hand, placed in a funnel which is aligned to your exhibition lead, you should be able to spot holes and start to pull together a coordinated content plan. This content plan needs to address the needs of all the hypothetical leads and prospects you will return from the exhibition with. 

For those with a passing interest or little need to buy at the moment;

  • Do you have a library of content which addresses problems and issues they could later face in your field? 
  • Does it cover the main issues which would break the status quo for that persona?
  • Do you have short, bite-sized content which could be easily shared across social channels to keep them aware of your brand for future reference?

For those with an understanding of their issues who are in the market to rectify them;

  • Do you have engaging comparison content? Pitting your solution against other types of solutions which could solve their problem as well.

For those ready to speak to sales;

  • Do you have easy access to case studies (written or otherwise) to help sales get it over the line?
  • Does sales have a playbook?
    • Do they need one?
  • Do you have pricing information available online (preferably gated)
    • Never underestimate the impact of letting people know a price point for your services or products, it prepares people for a conversation with sales. It helps build confidence with the prospect, as they won’t be blindsided or embarrassed on a call if the budget is revealed and completely out of line with their expectations. 

In advance of the event, you should begin filling in these content gaps so that you can have a robust library to either upload in advance of new visitors or to disseminate directly to new leads via email, social media or Instant Messenger.

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Outbound & Comms planning

Mentioned in the previous section, a core part of getting your exhibition marketing ready is preparing supplementary outbound activities.

While not crucial, it’s highly recommended that you plan these activities before your event. They should be incorporated into your pre-exhibition marketing communications plan. 

It’s difficult to fully write, automated and finalise after the event comms; after all, you want to make sure that your copy relates to what happened at the exhibition. But having an awareness of who should handle what and how quickly, is vital.

With the bulk of the pre-event marketing considered and complete, and the foundations in place for your work after the exhibition, we’ll now discuss how to make the most of your time on-site at the exhibition.

Remember, you’re there to sell your product - attendees are there to discover new industry trends, and speak to a huge number of businesses. Ensure all preparation accommodates those who’re less keen with absolute clarity in your approach and a number of useful resources like statistics, benefits, and even brochures or leaflets for them to take away.

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Exhibition Marketing - On-site

Once you’re on-site, the work really starts. In many ways, the hard work has been done - deadlines met, logistics handled, collateral printed. 

So, what can you do on site to increase the chances of a successful exhibition and increase ROI?

7 Top On-site exhibition marketing and sales tips

Arrive early

There’s nothing worse than arriving to these events flustered, rushing to finish stands as guests and visitors start to fill the show floor. Arriving early allows you to get your bearings, assess the competition and freshen up after your journey. 

Pick your best team

You should prepare for a high amount of footfall with plenty of resources and the staff most capable of handling the numbers. After all, you can only speak with one person at a time; anyone left alone for too long may wander off, losing you a potential lead. Don’t worry about being overstaffed and looking intimidating to attendees. During quieter times, your team should be circulating the event, visiting break out sessions and learning about industry advancements. 

First impressions count

Conversations and deals are started on fine margins - the difference between winning and losing a deal can be razor-thin. You’re in a sea of similar organisations offering similar solutions to yours. Standing out and making a good first impression is crucial to the success of every interaction.

  • Train your team in advance, have the most experienced personnel in your on-site team relay what to expect when at the event.
  • Make it clear what the business objectives and their individual requirements are.  
    • Make sure that figures, SLAs and key stats are all known and understood by those likely to need them.
  • If your stand has some sort of theme, dress to compliment the theme.

Document the event

Having someone on hand to take photos and either post them directly to social channels or make sure they’re relayed to the social media manager on a regular basis. Make your social channels feel lived in and organically busy, much like the feel of the event itself.

This may seem silly, but it’s low effort and potentially high reward.


As mentioned above, expect attendees to seem less keen to buy than you are to sell. Instead, listen to your audience and visitors. Trade shows can be a great way to get a read on the industry you work in and to learn more, in turn making yours a better organisation and improving appearances at future events.

If nothing else, being an attentive listener and giving the visitors the respect they deserve is more likely to help you develop relationships and help you close more business.

  • Take note of what service/product/issue they had and populate the CRM this could help tailor the content they receive after the event.

2019 - 03 - Axon Garside - B2B Marketing Expo (1)

Capture everyone

The priority has to be to capture the details of those who fit your key buyer demographic but even seemingly junior attendees could be key buyers and decision makers before you know it. The more you capture, the better, but you have to be conscious of how you then manage that data. Don’t forward them to sales, they’ll be rejected and, likely, lost to oblivion, put them on a lead nurture programme to keep your brand at the forefront of their mind. 

So resist the urge to hide behind your laptop at the trade show. With hundreds of potential leads and partners around, actively engage with attendees on the show floor.

Only some interactions will be fruitful, but that's the nature of networking.

“If you’re at these events, why would you spend huge amounts of money to just sit behind a laptop screen, not wanting to talk to anyone and wait for people to come to you? There’s an entire room of people with a degree of intent. Some of them might be time wasters, but you don't know unless you go and ask them,” Jack said in the Make & Market Podcast.

If you’re struggling to strike up a conversation with attendees, ask a question like “What brought you to the event today?” to break the ice.

Plus, the information you gain from speaking with the attendees is highly valuable. 

For example, if you have several conversations about "smart manufacturing," this recurring theme provides valuable insights to inform future campaigns.

You need processes in place to capture these conversations. Note down attendees' details (name, business and role) and key points from each discussion. Record this information in a spreadsheet, or ideally, a manufacturing CRM like HubSpot.


Don’t overdo it

Give your team breaks - an overworked team on the exhibition floor shows. An exhausted and drained team will show and could make you miss opportunities.

With the exhibition complete, attendees captured and you travelling home, the long term work begins. If you followed the first section, the scaffolding should be in place to fully leverage the outcomes of your exhibition.

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Exhibition Marketing - After the event

At Axon Garside, we would argue that this is the most important phase of the process and where the true exhibition marketing takes place. We’ve lost count of the number of organisations that we’ve come across who build a sizeable list of contacts and prospects from an event only to then fail to sufficiently leverage its value. According to Expocentric, “70% of exhibitors fail to follow-up after an exhibition” - but with our handy guide, we’ll help make sure you don’t become a statistic.

There are a set of key activities which should be completed after an event. We’ll explore what you should be doing to get the best ROI from your event, in order of importance:


Sales Communications & Personalised Emails

This is probably the most important and familiar step in the process. Make sure the hottest, most-interested leads are followed up after the event and, ideally, done so by the person who spoke to them most on site. 

While marketing technology can play a huge role in the automation of post-event lead management, and EVERYONE you encountered should receive a ‘thank you’ communication, the hottest leads require a human touch.

If you want to know how to create the perfectly crafted follow-up email, we’ve got the answer here.

Knowing how easy it is to ignore emails, don’t limit your activity just to emails. Sales people are usually raring to pick up the phone, let them loose.


Implement Strategy

As already mentioned, most people you encountered simply aren’t ready to purchase, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not valuable. It will likely make up the bulk of the new contacts you have collected, and for many businesses it goes to waste. 

You want to make it close to impossible for your new web audience to leave your website. Not through bugs and issues, but through thoughtful, engaging content that speaks to the concerns of this audience.

Businessman showing computer screen to coworkers in creative office-1

This is why it is so important to put the time in prior to your event to really understand your audience, your content strengths and weaknesses and have an understanding of how inbound marketing could improve your ROI from the event. Our aforementioned tips are a great way to utilise an understanding of inbound marketing and give it real-world application. 

Here are some post event/exhibition marketing tactics that could further supplement your inbound strategy:

Lead Nurturing

The importance of nurturing your leads cannot be overstated. It acts as a tool to keep your leads aware of your brand, provides additional educational content beyond any conversations had on-site and, if combined with technology, runs without too much need for support and resources. 

Segment, segment, segment

Not all contacts are created equally. Your on-site team should have recorded the topic of conversation, and splitting up the captured data by issues or service of interest will make marketing so much easier. 

Remember the buyer journey

All communications should play a role in pushing people along the journey. Sales and marketing should work together in the development and optimisation of your lead nurturing strategy as it’ll impact both teams. 

Leverage technology 

Using something like HubSpot, it’s easy to build out a nurture stream and regularly add to it. Rather than send out email manually, automate the entire process of thank you emails and content distribution. The HubSpot event scanner app makes it easy to integrate these contacts directly into HubSpot workflows.

Marketing automation platforms, such as HubSpot, also enable you to track the (theoretical) maturity of the lead and even disqualify contacts through automate lead scoring. 

Use the technology to minimise manual work from sending emails, tracking progress, organising demos/consultations and everything in between.


Social media

Using content and imagery provided from the show floor, should also re-post some of the better images with a round up message & quote from some of the team who attended your trade show.

Wherever possible, tag the people in the photos to bolster the reach of the post.

Build out your social media networks by having your on-site team connect directly with people they talk (where appropriate) to help enlarge their networks and maintain contact with these prospects. 

This means that any content shared on those channels afterwards now go to a larger and more receptive audience.


Post-Event Survey

Running a post-event survey through your lead nurture programme is a great way to assess what you did right and wrong. Its primary purpose is as a tool to help you improve future event and, exhibitions.

The secondary use of a survey is that it can dictate future content and inbound campaigns. It’s a chance to double up on the information correlated on-site about the pains and issues faced by your ideal customers. 

If used smartly, you can ask what your prospects fear in the coming 12 months, inspiring your marketing team to write on the topic. This brings in more people to your brand with problems which you can solve and, potentially, cuts out hours of content ideation and planning.

For our quick guide on inbound marketing best practice, and how to give it real-world application for your business, download our digital marketing pack.

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Review & Learn from the event

The exhibition may have finished, but it was there to provide you with opportunity long after its final day. And one of the best ways to build on the success of your performance is to review and apply changes for your next appearance. This can include selecting a different team to represent your business, taking an alternative design approach, or rebranding your display completely.

Before you attend the event, make sure to prepare - as what you do before is as important as what your do after. So, make sure you’re ready for the most fruitful experience possible. Ensure the right content is available and your team have answers for those they speak to. You’re one of a countless number of businesses looking to sell a product, and professionalism is the best way to stand out from the crowd.

Exhibition Marketing Cover-min

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