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Growing Trade Show Attendance

By Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes


  • Break down silos to get new perspectives on your strategy
  • Use data to drive your strategy and find opportunities
  • Expand your marketing channel approach

While trade shows are more complex than ever, one truth persists: Attendance dictates the fate of a show.

That’s why growing trade show attendance is top priority for trade show managers. And it’s not just about growing the audience, but attracting the right people who will engage with your sponsors and exhibitors, your educational programs, and each other.

By taking advantage of some attendee acquisition best practices and smart trends, growing a show the smart way is more attainable than you might think. Here are some tactics to try:

Set Yourself Up for Success

Instagram stories, retargeting, geofencing: There are plenty of exciting and attention-grabbing ideas to try.

Without a strategy, however, you could spend too much time and budget on tactics that are cool, but don’t resonate with your target audience. Instead, lay the right groundwork so that everything you do is based on solid research.

Bring in Varied Voices

When creating an event marketing strategy, it’s important to stop for a moment and look at who else should be at the table. The exhibit sales team may have game-changing intel from exhibitors, for instance. Breaking down organizational silos can result in a completely new perspective on the attendee experience and a much more dynamic and productive brainstorming session.

Get the Right Perspective

Instead of looking at your event data solely from a “So, how did we do?” perspective, use it to drive future strategy and find opportunities. For example, if you’re seeing that your attendees skew age 50 and over — but your association needs to attract a younger crowd in order to grow — consider what elements can you add to your show to entice more youthful attendees without alienating your core audience

Optimize Your Data and Metrics

Data is a powerful tool that can help you learn more about your audience and grow attendance, but only if you know how to make the most of it.

Tie it to Goals

How do you know which metrics you should look at when analyzing your data? Start with your event’s and your organization’s goals. For an overarching goal of increasing attendance, for example, you may want to track how many people download the event schedule, as opposed to simply tracking event website visits.

The Ultimate Objective Third-Party

The beauty of using data to drive decision-making is that it provides a truly objective picture. Instead of making decisions based on hunches or a couple of opinions, review the reality check that data provides.

For example, did one or two people complain that the keynote was lackluster? Avoid a knee-jerk reaction to revamp the program in hopes of attracting more people. Check your survey results, which may confirm the squeaky wheel or tell a completely different story.

Once you have a year or two of historical data under your belt, it becomes possible to pinpoint trends and track how pre-event engagement translates into overall attendance.

Use Data Proactively AND Reactively

Another smart way to use data is in setting an agile marketing strategy. Select metrics that you can monitor during the event, so you can course-correct if needed, adjusting your tactics based on what your data is telling you.

To take full advantage, get comfortable retrieving and analyzing data. If every element in a campaign is proactively refined based on data, the overall effect can be transformative.

Choosing a Marketing Channel

How can you best reach potential attendees? They’re everywhere, and so should be your message. Instead of flooding one channel, such as your email list, over and over again, use other tactics to broaden engagement.

Here are some options to consider:

  • Email: Email is still every event’s golden goose, but be careful to not abuse it with long-winded, frequent emails. Instead, segment your list and offer short, personalized emails. This helps avoid email fatigue and improves open rates.
  • Social Media: Promoting via social media can feel like yelling in the middle of a large, noisy room. The key, again, is to target your efforts. Ask previous attendees and current exhibitors/guest speakers to promote your event, leveraging their influence.
  • Retargeting: Help turn browsers into buyers by aiming retargeting ads at site visitors, keeping your event top of mind and providing them with extra opportunities to pull the trigger on registering.
  • Geofencing: Geofencing is a technique that allows you to mine and capture leads within a specific geographical boundary. By setting up a geofence and alerting people within the boundaries to a promotional price on your event, you can reach a completely new audience. (Your competition may already be doing this at your events.)
  • IP Targeting: Ever go online and see ads for events in areas close to your own? They’re using IP targeting, which lets advertisers target specific neighborhoods, right down to individual homes. This allows for pinpoint efficiency with an advertising budget.

When it comes to growing event attendance, show managers have more options — and competition — than ever before. Understanding how to take full advantage of today’s tools, trends, and technologies will help create an effective campaign that gets more people through your doors.

Want to learn more about how to grow your show?
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