Trade Shows, Conferences, Conventions: What’s the Difference?

trade shows, conferences, conventions... what's the difference?

Defining the Difference of Specific Industry Events

For those of us in the association industry, public outreach is crucial. In order to make an association successful and continually increase your membership, you need the public eye’s attention. Usually, we would do this at events specifically designed to bridge the gap between associations and potential new members. There are a few terms for events like these. Such as a trade event or show, an annual conference, or a convention. But do you know the difference between these terms? 

If I were to tell you that an international conference and a science fiction convention happening at the Las Vegas convention center were different, you’d think, “no brainer”. However, the differences are more subtle than that. So let’s talk about the differences between conferences vs. trade shows vs. conventions. 

What is a “Conference”?

In the most basic sense, a conference is a gathering of experts in a certain field of academia or industry. The purpose of this meeting can differ slightly, but the idea is for these experts to exchange information they’ve learned, and to come up with possible solutions for problems the industry or group might be facing. 

Typically a conference will have a keynote speaker that will address the group as a whole with a keynote speech. Usually, a keynote speaker will be some sort of celebrity or another person of note within the field or industry. This is done in an attempt to make the show attractive for potential attendees.

conference

What’s the Best Use for a Conference?

In order to discuss the best use of a conference, first, we have to acknowledge that there a couple of different kinds of conferences. 

  • Academic conferences are held by scientists or academics with the intent of sharing research or performing a workshop.
  • Business conferences are industry-specific events. Members of the industry will meet to discuss trends and patterns happening in relation to the industry. They might also discuss new ideas for innovation, invention, or opportunity.
  • Trade conferences are attended by businessmen and women as well as members of the public. The public is given the opportunity to make connections with businesses and network with vendors. 

What’s a Famous Conference that I’ve Heard of? 

The most famous conferences are probably held by the United Nations. They meet annually in September or at special request by the Security Council. The goal of the U.N. is to secure peace for the world, and this is always the topic of discussion in some form or another. 

Perhaps recently you’ve seen Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg speak at the U.N.’s climate change conference. The U.N. conference is always featured in the news, however, young Greta received a lot of press being a speaker at the young age of 15. 

How is it Different?

The biggest difference in conventions is that their intentions are to spread information more than for business networking. While the exchange of money is not forbidden by the nature of a conference, that is not usually the aim. Trade shows are meant for the dissemination of ideas in regards to business and industry, but conferences tend to focus more on humanitarian efforts and education. While the exchange of money is not expressly forbidden at a conference, it’s certainly not the focus. 

what is a trade show?

What is a “Trade Show”?

A trade show is a very particular kind of event. A trade show is an exhibition for companies or associations from a specific industry to show off new products and services they’re offering. These trade shows are not commonly open to the public. However, it is specifically for industry professionals looking for new products and services. Other attendees might include company representatives and members of the press. 

People usually find association trade shows by finding applicable groups in the Encyclopedia of Associations published by Gale Research. They may find the shows these groups attend in magazines, newsletters, or even posted at the public library (among other places as well). 

To find a trade show happening in your region, check with the local convention centers. Trade shows take a lot of planning and need to be booked months in advance. So, chances are, there’s already a trade show coming up in your area that you’d be interested in. 

trade shows vs conventions

Why Would I Attend a Trade Show?

The most basic reason you would want your association represented at a trade show is to influence other groups in the industry. According to a study published by the Center for Exhibit Industry Research (CEIR), “91% of attendees believe trade shows are the number one source of information to help them make purchasing decisions.”

That’s a huge number, especially considering that this is coming from the mind of the consumer. In other words, not what the association professionals think is happening. Trade shows can be an extremely invaluable source for getting information to the men and women your association wants as members. 

What’s a Big Trade Show that I’ve Heard of? 

If you’re at all familiar with trade shows, you’ve probably heard of the Consumer Electronics Show. They’ve boasted attendance numbers beaking 170,000. All of this is in a space of 2.47 million square feet of floor space. It’s a show aimed at showcasing all of the latest products and services in the IT and tech industries, and every year it gains more popularity.

How is it Different?

The name of the game for trade shows is creating awareness and increasing your business. Conferences and conventions can be more focused on the exchange of information. Trade shows, however, put the focus on making money. Where a convention is focused on the consumer experience, trade shows are all about the vendors. It’s a chance for your business or association to show potential investors, customers or members what you’re really made of. 

what is a conference vs a convention

What is a “Convention”?

Perhaps the definition for “convention”, in relation to any of these categories, is the most elusive. Merriam Webster defines a convention as “an assembly of persons for a common purpose”. It seems to me like it could refer to just about any gathering, though. More precisely, the purpose of this meeting is for the mutual discussion or enjoyment of a specific industry, profession, or fandom. 

What is a Convention For?

Conventions have appeal for both vendors and attendees, but the focus is squarely on the attendees. Conventions are meetings with the intent of consumers being able to interact with creators, attend panels, or participate in events. 

conventions usually have more of a celebratory feel to them

What’s a Big Convention that I’ve Heard of? 

The most common type of convention in the United States is a comic book convention. Famous Comic-Cons include the San Diego Comic-Con and the New York Comic-Con, and it’s quite likely you’ve heard about them.

How is it Different?

Conventions are different because their focus is on the consumer experience rather than the ability for an industry or association to sell something. Think of conventions like a music festival. The point of the music festival is for the attendees to have a good time listening to music they enjoy. The fact that musical artists, concert organizers, and food vendors are making money is just an added benefit. Simply put, conventions are an organized event for enthusiasts to gather together and share their enthusiasm. 

different meetings for different industries

Different Meetings for Different Industries

Now that we’ve taken some time to really dissect the differences, it probably seems pretty clear. Trade shows, conventions, and conferences are all pretty different beasts. Of course, they’re all a meeting of minds with the intent of sharing information and experience, but there are many more subtle differences between them. 

So now you know the difference. And hopefully, a better idea of which one pertains to you and your association. Be sure to look up an event happening near you and find out how one of these events can be beneficial for your association! And if you’re wondering what you need to know before attending your first trade show, see what we have to say!

What You Need to Know Before Attending Your First Trade Show

what InLoop thinks you need to know before attending your first association trade show

Tips for Success at Your First Trade Show Exhibit 

Whether your association is just starting out or you’ve stood the test of time, attending your first trade show can be pretty nerve-wracking. You want your first trade show to be a successful outing and be the launch pad for future successful endeavors. 

However, if you’ve never been to one before, it’s hard to know what to expect. It’s also hard to know what common mistakes you should avoid. That’s why we’ve come up with this handy guide for the first time (you and) your association attends a trade show!

be sure to be planning for your first trade show

Pre-Show Planning

The key to having a great trade show experience is proper planning! Planning should begin far in advance, before the actual event you plan on attending. If you were to just show up with your material without prior planning, you’d be destined for failure. And no one wants to be a failure!

Early Registration

Did you know that most shows have dates for early registration? Be sure to research the show you want to attend and register your association the first day that early registration begins! The more time you have to plan for your trade show, the better off you’ll be. 

Not to mention that there are often early-bird discounts for registering your association early. For every penny you save, there’s a penny that can be put towards your success. Register early and you’ll be making this outing the most successful one it can be for your small business or association!

budget is a part of the trade show planning process

Event Budgeting

Setting a budget is critical to having a successful first trade show experience. In fact, without a budget, it’s hard to tell what a successful outing actually is. 

To set your trade show budget, consider the following:

  • What are your expenses? Having a limit on your spending for an event will help you to keep from making your exhibit outing a failure.
  • Record your spending. Without recording what you’re spending, there’s no point in having a budget at all. 

Be Attractive!

We’re doing a lot of logistic thinking about numbers and money, but don’t forget about creativity! No one will want to visit your booth if they’re not attracted to it. Make your booth and your business cards full color with fun designs. You want to accurately convey information, but have fun with it! 

Chances are you already have a creative person working for you who would jump at the chance to use their skills. In addition, video sharing is another great way to bring people by. Give them a show and they’re sure to stick around for a minute! As long as it’s a good show, that is. *wink wink*

make sure your booth is attractive to the trade show attendees

Check the Attendee List for Potential Customers

Almost any exhibit hall you go to will be able to provide an attendee list prior to the event. This list usually comes with a price, but it can have absolutely invaluable information. It’s time to do your research. 

If you know who is going to be attending the show, you can more accurately see how you want to spend your time and efforts. You can find your target market before the building is even occupied. Make a marketing campaign geared specifically towards the groups or people you know will be attending. Being able to tailor-make material or forums for specific attendees will almost certainly net you some positive results.

make a marketing effort on your association's social media platforms

Make a Marketing Effort on Social Media Platforms

Social media marketing is the best way to drum up some buzz before you attend your first trade show. Use your platform of individuals already interested in your products or services to enhance the excitement surrounding your trade show exhibit. Incentivize your followers to share your marketing efforts and expand your audience. The more buzz you create surrounding your association, and the trade show, the more valuable your experience will be.

Setting Goals

Setting goals will ultimately be the only way you know if your trade show was a successful one or not. Without having something to measure against, your only metric for success will be how you felt. While making a couple of good sells feels good, it’s not going to cover your expenses, and you might end up losing money without realizing.

We suggest setting S.M.A.R.T. goals for your outing; broken down, this means:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time Bound

While the goal to “have fun” sounds nice, it’s not going to pay the bills. A real goal might be… “We want to make x amount of money or sales”. Or… “We want to interact with x amount of attendees”. When you have something specific to work towards, you have a specific goal in mind.

Achieving your goal becomes infinitely easier when the endpoint is in sight. Also, set some smaller goals for yourself. Sure, there are bigger reasons why you’re at a trade show. But there are lots of small successes to be celebrated in addition to the big ones. So shoot for the stars, but don’t forget to pat yourself on the back for your hard work!

know the convention center where your first trade show will be

The Big Day!

The big day has finally arrived! You’re there, you’ve got your trade show displays ready to go. Perhaps your business cards are designed attractively in full color, and you’re just about ready to set up your booth space. What should you be thinking about on the day-of? It’s your first trade show, but we believe in you.

Know the Convention Center 

Get some intimate knowledge of where you’re going to be. No, we’re not just talking about where to get food and where the bathrooms are (although that’s important, too)! Get to know the physical space. Are you far away from any drinking fountains or the food? Maybe offering food or drinks would be just the thing to get someone to stop at your table! 

Know where your competitors are and know where your target market is. Know what your competitors are offering and how they’re advertising. Give yourself the competitive edge of knowledge and planning to circumvent the competition.

Finally! The big day has arrived! It's time for your first trade show.

Give Your Target Audience a Reason to Visit your Trade Show Booth

We’ve done all our research on who will be attending the trade show. You know which competing associations are nearby, so now it’s time to come up with your plan of attack. 

Here are some tips for coming up with great ways to attract an audience:

  • Make interactive content. Entertain your guests! Give them a puzzle to complete. Find a way to involve social media. Giving prizes out is another incentive to get the interaction started!
  • Entertain. You don’t have to be Elvis Costello to put on a show for your audience. It doesn’t have to be music, either! You can perform demonstrations for your products if you have them, or just have a fun game to play while you discuss your association.
  • Provide a phone charging station. When we’re at a trade show, we’re all away from home. You know that means at least one person forgot to bring a cell phone charger, right? And for everyone else, you’ve already been out all morning. Seeing a cell phone charging station at your booth is going to be an oasis in the desert for some folks. So while attendees are charging their phones, what better a time to strike up a conversation?! Mention what else your association can do to help them.
set SMART goals for your first trade show

Being Prepared for Your First Trade Show

Being prepared for your trade show exhibit is going to be the first gatekeeper to success. Make specific and achievable goals for yourself and your association! When it comes to your booth and your promotional material, no detail is too minor to be worthy of consideration.

Success doesn’t come from being prepared for just one thing, but from being prepared for everything. So continue to follow our blog this month and see what you need to do to be ready for your first trade show experience!

Member Engagement to Drive a Better Trade Show

member engagement to drive a better trade show

6 Trade Show Benefits to Retain Members and Keep them Engaged

Most of the time, associations see trade shows as an opportunity to recruit new members. These events are, by nature, an excellent networking opportunity to meet new prospects and build on member engagement strategies. Association executives take part in these events to inform people, socialize with industry professionals, and eventually to recruit members.

But what if associations saw trade shows as a part of a member engagement strategy and a retention strategy?

Associations tend to focus more on recruitment than engagement or retention. “McGovern, senior director, marketing and member services at ACA, says she knows why this happens: ‘Well, recruitment is sexy. Retention is hard work,” (Associations Now).

The truth is, it costs a lot more for associations to recruit a new member than it does to retain one. For every action taken by associations to bring in new members, there should be a secondary engagement strategy.

make members association evangelists

Benefit #1 – Members as Association Evangelists

For example, trade shows are also an effective way to retain members through event engagement. Invite current members to take part in association trade shows as an evangelist for the association.

Hearing the benefits straight from a member’s mouth appears more genuine to prospective members. Of course, the association executive thinks their association is the best of the best. But a prospect hearing a member making this statement? That’s priceless.

proving members with branded merchandise will help spread awareness

Benefit #2 – Tradeshows as Networking Events for Members

The reason why most people choose not to renew their membership is usually that they feel the value isn’t worth the cost. A lot of the time this isn’t because the association isn’t offering enough benefits to members. Associations struggle more often to find ways to show members all of the benefits available to them. In other words, by inviting members to participate in trade shows, associations provide additional value.

Trade shows are a great opportunity for members to network, learn more about the industry, and explore what their association does behind the scenes. Trade shows are like a backstage pass; showcasing the exclusivity and education that their membership offers them within their association. Bring branded swag to trade shows for members to keep and/or to give to prospective members. Encourage members to explore opportunities within their industry.

transform membership into an industry community

Benefit #3 – Transform Membership into an Industry Community

This is what it’s all about, right? The best retention strategy for an association is all about focusing on building a strong, engaged community for its members. Invite members to participate in trade shows so they can connect with one another and see the big picture of their membership. Create spaces for members to collaborate and network within the association. As an association, it’s important to learn from this community to see how the association can evolve and meet the needs of members.

use trade shows as a resume builder for younger members

Benefit #4 – Trade Shows as a Resume Builder for Younger Members

Most associations will say they don’t want one year members, they want 20-year members. The best way to do this is by putting a lot of focus into learning all you can about your members and compare it to your strategies for member engagement. Arguably, younger members have the most to gain from association membership. They are looking for opportunities to meet young professionals and industry leaders.

Young members join an association to build experience, gain knowledge, and receive opportunities to participate in their industry in a meaningful way. These members are enthusiastic and community focused, which makes them the perfect member to invite to trade shows. By seeing a fresh face at trade shows, young prospective members may be more compelled to explore association membership.

give members a face to a name

Benefit #5 – Give Members a Face to a Name

Lastly, inviting members to participate in trade shows gives associations the opportunity to meet their members face to face. Members will appreciate the personal touch and enjoy meeting the people behind the shared value of their membership.

Of course, many members get to know their association executives through the process of elections. Undoubtedly, meeting members face to face will give association executives the chance to show who they are as a person and as a professional within their industry.

get insight about member needs and wants

Benefit #6 – Get Insight About Member Needs and Wants

Another great benefit to bringing members to trade shows has to do with the information they get from the attending members. From this exchange, you can learn about your members’ habits, what services they want going forward, and how you can improve your member engagement strategies. Find insight on what you’re doing well… or, what you’re not doing well. The people willing to attend a trade show are some of your most engaged members. These are the “20-year members.”

Reward participating members by giving them what they ask for. Do they want a new resource on a specific industry related topic? Are they asking for more networking opportunities? Do they bring up a desire to learn more or get involved further? Document these interactions and do your best to make the necessary updates to delight engaged members.

traveling from trade show to trade show and discover the rewards of membership engagement

The Rewards of Membership Engagement at Association Trade Shows

Overall, trade shows provide over a dozen benefits to both association executives and association members. It’s a win-win situation. Make the most of association efforts by finding more ways to blend trade show attendance with your member engagement and retention strategies.

Optimize all of the work your association puts into attending and hosting events by reaching new members and retaining and engaging the current ones. If you do this, your association will have all the information and connections needed to build, engage, and retain its membership base.

The Best Trade Shows in the World for Associations

explore the best trade shows in the world for associations

The Purpose of Trade Shows

Trade shows are one of the best ways to expand your association. Whether it’s expanding public knowledge of your brand or expanding your revenue sources, you need to have your eye out for the top trade shows if you plan on attending one. So where can you find the largest events and the latest products?

With trade shows popping up all over the United States and North America, it’s no wonder they’ve turned into a global event. Check out 12 of our favorite trade shows from around the world, and find out where to collect leads and advertise your products and services next!

But before we start, you should also know that there is no end for places to exhibit your association at a trade show. So check out this handy trade show calendar for trade shows geared for your specific brand in your region.

exhibit your association at a trade show

1. India International Mega Trade Fair

We all know that anything in life is about three simple things: location, location, location. So… where’s the best location? Probably where there are the most people!

The India International Mega Trade Fair is one of the largest trade fairs in the entire world. So no matter what you’re repping, you’re bound to run into your audience here with people visiting from over 100 countries. This is truly one of the most popular trade shows out there!

2. IAEE’s Annual Meeting and Exhibition

Labeled as the “show for shows”, this is where associations come to learn about the newest and latest industry trends and technologies that are shaping the world. Filled with educational sessions, you will leave knowing all about the best new innovations in the industry!

3. Intersec

Intersec is one of the largest trade shows in the Middle East, with over thirty-five thousand visitors attending it’s 2019 Trade Show. 35,000 is no small number. So you know that means they’ve got something everybody wants! Intersec is an especially great showcase for associations within the fire and safety industry.

4. Canton Trade Show

One of the best indicators of quality in business is age. You can’t stick around for over 100 shows if people aren’t interested in what you’re selling. So you know that the Canton Trade Show in China must be doing something right because this Spring will be their 125th show. The trade show covers 13 million square feet of nothing but associations getting out the good word.

make connections and create leads at trade shows specifically for association members

5. Manhattan Momentum

Find out what over 1,000 industry professionals have known for 25 years at this year’s annual Manhattan Momentum trade show. The market their show as one of the best places for learning and connection. They start off their 4-day show with a first-time attendee mixer, so what have you got to lose? Make lasting connections.

6. Event Tech

Here’s one for the associations that are heavily involved with their social media presence. The Event Tech trade show is all about how to utilize the social media presence you have, and how to make it even stronger. In this day and age, social media sets the stage; so find your place on that stage.

explore all the new tech offered to associations at trade shows

7. PCMA’s Convening Leaders

Find out why attendees of PCMA’s show are leaving with their motto “Disrupt+Deliver” on their lips. Convening Leaders strive to figure out how audience behaviors affect their interactions with brands and merchandise. Join in to find out what everyone is saying!

8. The Special Event

Find out what’s so special about the Special Event. Every year The Special Event is host to a great mixture of educational seminars and attendees on the sales floor exchanging ideas and connections for associations.

9. International Confex

Whether your association hosts domestic or international events, the International Convex is a show you’re going to want to visit. Industry leaders and over 350 suppliers pool their knowledge and resources to make this event just as much fun as it is informative.

make long-lasting connections with other association members at trade shows

10. ACCED-I Annual Conference

Speaking of event organizers, let’s talk specifically to collegiate event organizers. The Association of Collegiate Conference and Events Directors-International are holding their 39th annual event this March. Find out from over 1,500 campus professionals why everyone is traveling to Pittsburgh to attend this conference.    

11. Pharma Forum

Pharmaceuticals is one of the leaders in the field of science, and the Pharma Forum is one of the biggest meetings of the pharmaceutical minds in North America. This year marks their 15th annual event. See why they say the Pharma Forum is one of “the most impactful networking experiences” in the pharma industry!

12. WEC19

The WEC19 in Toronto, Ontario is an annual event of epic proportions. MPI is the world’s largest meeting and event industry association in the world, and their annual WEC meeting is justifiably gigantic. Come be part of the more than 2,000 professionals attending this great event. Spread knowledge of your association while picking up some of the latest trends and tactics.

attending trade shows around the world will give you more insight about your association

Attending Trade Shows around the World

Well, here’s our list! We talked about some of the best and brightest upcoming trades shows in the USA and around the world. But don’t worry, there’s a never-ending supply of trade shows and events for your association to be involved in and visit.

Check out that show finder link we provided at the beginning of the article to find shows that are close to you and pertain to your specific industry and interests!

Manage Your Buyer’s Guide for Non-Dues Revenue

generate ideas to gain more non-dues revenue for your association

Non-Dues Revenue-Generating Ideas for Associations

Your association’s buyer’s guide is a great tool for disseminating information and products to your association members. But if you’re using it only to sell your members on retaining their membership, you’re selling yourself short when generating ideas for non-dues revenue.

So how can your association use its buyer’s guide to generate additional revenue for your association? Well, first, we need to talk about what kind of buyer’s guide we have already.

Tailor-Making Your Buyer’s Guide

We all know the old adage, “know your audience”. And it’s an important thing to keep in mind for your association. Especially when we’re thinking about ways to generate additional value that doesn’t necessarily have to do with the core values of your association.

But perhaps you’re not even trying to reach your loyal association members. These are all key ideas to consider when we’re talking about buyer’s guides and their ability to add to your total revenue.

Different Types of Buyer’s Guides

consider first-time buyers when creating buyer's guides

Long-Time-First-Time

The first type of buyer’s guide for your association to consider is one for a first-time buyer. What can you offer a member who has never purchased any of your association’s goods or services?

We want to clearly and concisely lay out the process and benefits of everything that we have to offer our members. What can we tell them without overloading? Think of how you sell at trade shows. What is your elevator pitch?

compare and contrast member benefits when creating buyer's guides

Compare and Contrast

Of course, you have more to offer your members than a single product or service. But we know that perhaps, what’s right for some, isn’t right for all. Here’s your chance to go a little more in depth with what you can offer. What additional member benefits are you able to provide? What are the benefits of one product or service in comparison to another?

This is your opportunity to show that you can understand your members on a personal basis. Show that you understand what makes your base diverse, as well as unified.

Product Add-Ons

show your association members how your products surpass what other associations can offer in their buyer's guides

Here’s another idea that is not unfamiliar: upselling. If you’ve got your members in the door already, you know that you’ve got something they want. Hopefully, it’s also something that no one else can offer them. If you’re offering branded merchandise, it is likely that this is the case.

So what can you do to further separate your association from the herd and become a front runner? You need to show your audience that your products and services are not the end of the road. What can we tack on to further the experience of inclusion and membership?

Post-Purchase Help

make sure members are provided a buyer's guide that works as a manual for the members who have opted in

We want our members to feel that we are with them every step of the way. So our buyer’s guides shouldn’t stop once the check is cleared. For members who have opted in, provide a buyer’s guide that acts as an instructional manual.

Show them how to use your products and services, but don’t let it stop right there. Show your gratitude for your members’ continued patronage (especially outside of simply paying their membership dues). If possible, offer certifications to your members through your buyer’s guides. This will bolster that feeling of inclusion, which is exactly where we’d like to stay.

Formatting Tips for Any Type of Buyer’s Guides

when creating your buyer's guides, make sure they are clear and concise

No matter if we’re writing guides for first-time buyers, or people who have had our products or services for years, you want your guide to be simple. This doesn’t mean simply using monosyllabic phrases, but again being clear and concise.

Avoid long-winded phrases and too much jargon. We want this to be something anyone could use to help them. Even if someone were to pick your buyer’s guide up off the street, they should be able to take a clear understanding from it.

It can also be very helpful to break up your guides into small paragraphs with lots of appropriate headings. Long paragraphs are sure to have your members losing their place. And more importantly, they’re going to lose interest and stop reading.

We live in a fast-paced world, and part of understanding that is having information readily available. Use a content page or bold headers to easily direct your members to the information they need and want see most.

Be Authentic

create authentic buyer's guides for your association members

According to a poll by Association Adviser, more than half of associations believed that sources of non-dues revenue accounted for 25-50% of their gross revenue stream every year. Clearly, there is a lot of money to be made in creating non-dues revenue.

If you’re successfully selling something you and your members believe in, you’ll be able to create an increase in non-dues revenue. Whether you’re using advertising sales, retail sales, merchandise sales, or providing services, make sure it aligns with the values and needs of your members. Think of the reasons why your members invest time and money into your association and follow that line of thought.

Put it Into Practice

find the right venue when putting your buyer's guides into practice

So now that we’ve talked about the different kinds of buyer’s guides, and what makes a good one, so it’s time to think about how you’re putting it into practice. What’s going to be your venue for these buyer’s guides?

If you have a lot of physical interaction with your members, maybe you want to have that physical buyer’s guide. However, increasingly we live in a digital world. If you have a strong social media presence, don’t ignore it!

This can be a great place to reach a really wide audience. Social media has the added benefit of allowing your members to easily help you share your goods and information with friends and colleagues who might be equally interested.

generating non-dues revenue has a lot to do with the buyer's guide

Generating Non-Dues Revenue

No matter how you plan to generate revenue outside of membership dues, always stay true to your association. There’s nothing that can turn an audience quicker than feeling like they’ve been lied to. So don’t lie to yourself either. There is easy money out there to be made, but you don’t have to do it at the expense of your association’s integrity, or your members’.

How to Creatively Collect Leads and Leave a Lasting Impression at Industry Trade Shows

Trade show marketing at industry events is a great way to create new contacts for your association and to keep in contact with existing members.

But how can you make sure that you’re getting the highest return on the time and energy you are investing in trade shows?


10 Creative Ways to Collect Leads at Trade Shows

Check out these 10 tips for creative ways to collect leads so you can spend your time, and resources, wisely.

cell phone with inbound marketing strategy website, which is one way to start thinking about how you want to create buzz before you collect leads at trade shows

The first step to having a successful trade show outing is knowing what you define as a success. Are you trying to gain a certain number of new members for your association? Are you trying to build a new list of warm leads or do you want to increase engagement with the ones you already have? Or maybe you’re just trying to see what the competition is up to.

Knowing what you want to get out of your trade show experience, and coming up with a resourceful marketing strategy, are the most critical aspects of a successful trade show. Set your expectations and goals before you start to collect leads. Ensure your focus is on what, or who in this case, will move the needle and drive success for your association.

Create a Social Media Following for your Association Before You Collect Leads

develop a social media following before you collect leads at an industry trade show

You can start developing a following long before you arrive at the trade show by engaging with people on social media. Create a Facebook event to let potential association members know when you’ll be at the show, and where you are located on the exhibition floor. Create a poll on Twitter asking what sort of information potential contacts might want to see at your association’s booth.

Get some brand awareness going before you arrive to create excitement around what your association has to offer potential members. When you create buzz on social media before the trade show, you can then strike up a dialogue with potential members (and even existing members) who enjoy your posts online. It’s much easier to collect an engaged lead this way.

Ask for Their Information with Confidence

people shaking hands

Don’t just wait for potential leads to visit your association’s booth. Walk up to people, talk with them and shake their hand. Ask them about their business before you try to collect their information. Don’t make them feel like you’re just there to collect leads. Create interactions with potential leads that is both personal and memorable. Positive, individualized interactions are going to yield to more enthusiastic leads, who will turn into potential members of your association.

Make Your Association’s Booth Interactive

A great way to give your booth some staying power is to make it an interactive experience. Ask provocative trivia questions to make potential members want to know more about your association. Invest in technology that is memorable, cool, and different from what everyone else is doing. Turn your booth into the place to be at the trade show.


Giving potential leads a stimulating experience at your booth will also make those folks want to tell other people to hit up your association. It’s free advertising!

Provide High-Quality Giveaways as a Way to Collect Leads

Let’s face it, we all know that some people are just perusing the trade show because they want the swag you’re offering. And while these things do cost money, providing quality giveaway items is going to make your association look a lot better than the cheaper alternatives. (How many pens and keychains does one person need?)

Get a t-shirt you would want to wear or a coffee mug that you would want to drink out of. A giveaway that is made out of quality materials is going to reflect well upon your association and its perceived value. And most importantly, make sure whatever you give away has your association’s name and all of its contact information presented plainly yet thoughtfully.

You Need a Powerful Call To Action to Collect Leads

A positive interaction doesn’t have to stop when someone walks away from your booth. Like we mentioned earlier, give these folks a reason to tell other people to visit your booth.

For instance, you could incentivize people to tell other potential leads to visit your booth to win a BIG prize that you are giving away. Consider partnering with a travel company that trades free publicity at your booth in exchange for a vacation that you can raffle off.

Or maybe you only give your t-shirts to people who return to your booth with another person. You could make it a challenge to have your leads pass around business cards with their info on the back for a chance to earn even more free goodies like wireless headphones, a $1,000 Amex gift card, or a free membership for a year. Another thing you can do is encourage likes and follows on social media for prizes. The sky is the limit here when it comes to cool swag and creative contests.

Interact With Other Booths and Do Your Recon Work

We all know the old phrase, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”. See what the other booths around you are up to. Find out what giveaways they are offering, and what information they are presenting. Knowing what your competition is up to can give you the edge you need to have an easier time collecting leads. Offer what others can’t, and offer it better!


business people shaking hands who met at an industry trade show

Spend your time checking out the booths of associations you’re not competing with as well. They may have an idea that would work great for your booth, and perhaps even in a different way.

Squeeze Pages and Interactive Kiosks Go Hand in Hand

You might be familiar with a landing page. A squeeze page is the same idea, but with one specific goal: to collect potential leads for your association. For the exchange of a person’s contact information – their name, email address, etc- you offer a prize like an e-book or access to a podcast.

And interactive kiosks and squeeze pages are pretty much a match made in heaven. The best part about running your CRM squeeze page on an interactive kiosk is that it can store all of the data you collect digitally for easy retrieval. Also, many companies offer interactive kiosk rentals so you don’t need to purchase the machine outright.

We all know that business cards pile up quickly, and they can get lost easily. Web-based software on an interactive kiosk is a great way to capture leads safely and securely, while showing that you are an association that embraces technology and looks toward the future.

Not Ready for a Kiosk? Check Out Alternative Tech for Your Booth

If you’re not ready for an interactive kiosk, fear not! Do you know there are apps for your phone that can also assist in data collection?

Check out this squeeze page app that allows you to easily transfer data between your devices. There are also apps that can act as a business card scanner. You can even use your phone as a badge scanning device to quickly collect information and keep the conversation personal.

man writing a personal note to one of the leads he collected at a trade show

Personalize Your Follow-Up

Something we repeatedly touch upon is that a personalized experience makes for a memorable one. Take notes about what you discuss with your potential leads so that you can follow up later on with a response that lets them know you remember who they are and what they care about.

People want to feel important, and letting them know that they are important is going to leave a lasting impression on potential members who are considering joining your association.

Make Your Trade Show a Marketing Campaign Success!

Trade shows can be an invaluable way of collecting qualified leads for your association. Be sure to make the most of your time and money; set yourself apart from the competition by engaging in high quality interactions. Leave people feeling good. Remember, the cream always rises to the top!