Less is more tradeshow strategies

Aug 20, 2023


Participating in more tradeshows is not necessarily the best course of action, and you probably aren’t getting the best bang for your buck if this is your strategy.

Even though participating at tradeshows is part of AEC practitioners’ modus operandi, these are often tackled with a lackluster approach. Results are usually underwhelming, with a poor return on investments. A common mistake is to approach tradeshows as one-offs which, for some companies, leads to an overabundance of events on their lists. Participating in more tradeshows annually is not necessarily the best course of action, and you are probably not getting the best bang for your buck.

Discussions in the marketing world tend to look at tradeshows in the same vein as proposals, which I agree with – up to a point. Yes, we should develop capture plans for the events, but my vote is to look beyond each conference and treat the associations, societies, and/or organizing groups as clients. Even further, we should regard these “clients” as part of either a business unit (substitute for the market sector, practice, or any other way you are organized) or as part of your company’s overall strategy.

“Less is more” is a dictum associated with architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, known for his minimalist design style. His influence has been widespread, and “less is more” has been adopted as a mantra for a way of living. We should take a page from Mies and the zen and decluttering lifestyles by performing our due diligence to choose where to put our tradeshow focus effectively. This can only be accomplished by developing a strong overarching business unit and/or companywide strategy.

Let’s go through various ways a “less is more” approach can improve your tradeshow investments:

  • Less clutter. Science has proven that cortisol levels associated with anxiety and stress increase with clutter. Open spaces, both in the physical and mental sense, instantly create new possibilities. Take a holistic look at your conference participation to determine if it is time to let go of poor-performing conferences. Less clutter in your event calendar will allow you to develop more fruitful strategies and have the most impact on your goals.
  • Fewer options. Studies have shown having more options can leave you feeling overwhelmed. Pretty much everyone is overextended in this industry, and tradeshows suffer significantly as a result. The need to move quickly from one thing to another results in less than stellar executions. Having the time to conduct in-depth research to select fewer events will allow you to conceptualize, develop, implement, and maintain successful plans.
  • Smart spending. A key financial statute, “spend less, save more,” should be taken to heart as a way to delineate effectual budgets. Going all in with the highest sponsorship level, the largest exhibit, and the biggest hosted event is not always the best route or even a feasible trajectory. The unique blend of the event offerings, its attendees, and your goals should guide your decision-making and define the savviest way to establish a budget. The potential combinations for each event are endless – from not having an exhibit or being a sponsor and just having a couple of folks attend to being the main sponsor with your company’s logo plastered everywhere and your name mentioned at every session. Make smart choices that are fiscally responsible, aligned with your expectations, and have the highest potential return on investment.
  • Small crowds. Some therapists suggest that having fewer relationships can be beneficial, as it allows individuals to spend quality time forming meaningful connections. Technical conferences are perfect for creating, developing, and nurturing alliances, but this is not a numbers game. One of your goals should be to deal with consequential contacts. How many of those business cards dropped in your raffle turned out to be a strong source of leads and a long-term client? Sending large contingents to tradeshows does not automatically mean great connections. Use your strategic planning sessions to determine the ideal mix of practitioners aligned with each event.
  • Reduce waste. While we are on the subject of tradeshows, I can not forgo the opportunity to plead with you to stop having cheap promotional items at your exhibits. These articles have zero effect on your business development efforts, and any foot traffic generated by them is meaningless. Folks grab these artifacts to either use at that moment (pens, for example), be polite (if you offered them), or take them home for their kids. If you want to share some pieces, be creative and make them unique and useful, or at least, conversation starters.

Adopt a “less is more” approach to your tradeshow strategies and allow some zen in your marketing life – it is worth it. 

Javier Suarez is a principal marketing manager with Geosyntec Consultants. Contact him at jsuarez@geosyntec.com.

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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.