‘Trade shows are one of the most important venues for marketing,” says Vicki Lynne Morgan, owner of Russmor Marketing Group, based in Califon. But she adds that too often people fail to take advantage of the opportunity and get their money’s worth. With virtually every industry holding trade show events each year, a little planning can make what would have been a dud into a big success.

A 30-year veteran of the marketing business, Morgan leads a seminar, “Maximizing Your Trade Show Booth Investment,” on Thursday, March 2, at 9 a.m. at the Middlesex Regional Chamber of Commerce offices at 1 Distribution Way in Monmouth Junction. Cost: $45. Call 609-989-5232 to register or for more information. The event is sponsored by the College of New Jersey Small Business Development Corporation.

Morgan stresses that with a little forethought, some planning, and strong follow-through trade shows can be a unique way to reach new customers. “Businesses can enlarge their customer base, build upon relationships they already have, meet new people, explore new avenues for conducting business, introduce a new product or service with some test marketing,” says Morgan. Trade shows are also good ways to get brand identity and public awareness, as well as a way to build trust with your clientele. “If you put on a good show, you look good, and you function properly, it will certainly enhance your overall image in the marketplace,” she says.

But as with most things in life, careful planning is one of the key ingredients for trade show booth success. “In order to maximize your investment in time and money, people need to be aware of what they need to do before, during, and after the event,” says Morgan.” Too often businesses taking part in trade shows have disappointing results, but Morgan says they have only themselves to blame.

“The reason is that they weren’t prepared to go in the first place,” she says. “They had no goals. They just sort of showed up and assumed that something good was going to happen. It’s the event manager’s job to get people in the door, but it is the exhibitor’s job to get them to his booth.”

Born in Philadelphia, Morgan earned her bachelor’s degree from Centenary College in Hackettstown and specializes in guerrilla marketing, which is a way for businesses to gain identity and brand awareness at little or no cost. She has been a resident of New Jersey since 1970.

Morgan initially started offering her seminar out of sense of frustration. “I got so upset with the way that some of the manufacturers that I worked with were conducting themselves at trade shows,” she says. “There is an awful lot of competition out there in the marketplace, and the value of these events is that it can get you noticed.” She recommends that those interested in trade shows bear in mind these tips:

Establish goals. For many companies participating in a trade show represents a significant investment of their marketing budget, so it is important to establish a measurable goal before deciding to be a part of a trade show. “With a goal in mind you build your presentation and preplanning toward that goal,” says Morgan. “People sometimes say they didn’t get anything out of their trade show investment, but my question to them is what were your goals in the first place and what did you do to accomplish them before and afterwards?”

Pre-plan. Prepare in advance by letting people know that you are going to be taking part in the event. “Give yourself plenty of time in advance to prepare potential customers,” says Morgan. “By sending out announcements, postcards, and invitations well beforehand, you can help make your experience a success.”

Design your booth in a customer-friendly way. Part of the advantage of participating in a trade show is the opportunity for one-on-one encounters with potential customers. It is important to create the sort of booth that invites customers in.

“There are people who put a big wide table along the perimeter of their booth and that makes it hard to reach over and shake people’s hands,” says Morgan. She says that no more that 30 percent of the perimeter should be closed off and there should be no more than two people per 100 square feet manning the booth. “Most booths are 10-feet by 10-feet and that means you should have only two people working that booth,” she says. If there is a third person, Morgan recommends sending that person off to scout the trade show floor to help bring people to the booth.

Be visual. Set up the kinds of booths that are going to attract the attention that you are looking for. Create engaging displays. “The booth really has to tell a story and appeal to the sort of people you want to do business with,” says Morgan. This can be achieved via graphics, through the message in the graphics, through pictures, and through spacing.

In addition the booth must be attractive and creative. “In this business environment, you really need to differentiate yourself from the competition,” she says. “You don’t want to look like everybody else.” She recommends that businesses should contact trade show booth companies to get some ideas. Cruising through shows scheduled before your own can also yield design ideas.

Focus. Too often those working the booths fail to focus on the potential customers walking by. “It takes about three seconds for potential customers to walk by your booth, and if you don’t take the opportunity to strike up a conversation with them, they will likely not return,” says Morgan. “I’ve seen people working booths who were sitting on low chairs and not paying attention. You have to be proactive.”

She also recommends some hands-on activities available for potential customers. “You want to create that experience for people that is memorable so that they will remember you above all the crowds at the show,” says Morgan. Some exhibitors use games to engage passersby, while others use cool giveaways.

Engage in meaningful talk. In today’s business world, it’s important to uncover a potential customer’s needs and meet them head on. “Talk with potential customers and share with them ways you can resolve some of their needs,” says Morgan. “Then follow-through by arranging to continue the relationship afterwards and make it grow. People will remember you.”

Take names. Make sure to record names and contact information for anyone who stops at the booth. Taking business cards can work, but only if that information is promptly entered into a database. Another way is to use an electronic scanning system. This can be combined with a contest. Scan business cards of anyone who wants to play a game at the booth or who wants to be entered into a drawing to receive a prize.

Follow through. According to Morgan, 80 percent of all possible business leads and inquiries are not followed up on. “If a potential customer says to call them next week, by all means do that,” says Morgan. “It can pay off in a success that you couldn’t have gotten any other way.”

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