Event marketing tips: create a big impact on a small budget

Let’s face it, when you're running a business, event marketing can feel like a costly expense.

But it doesn’t have to be.

So, how do you attract more customers and contacts at events when the purse strings are tight?

The following tips will help you make a big impact on a small budget.

Attend the event before you take part

Here’s the thing, going to an event as an attendee first gives you a good idea of who visits and exhibits.

  • Do the attendees fit your typical audience?
  • Are they older or younger than your target market?
  • What about the exhibitors, are they similar in size to your business?

When you attend in person, you get to see how people move around the event space. Are people going to the seminars rather than the vendor booths? If there are back-to-back seminars all day, the attendees may be too busy to stop by.

Going as a visitor first lets you ask participants if they feel it’s money well spent.

Sign up early: The early bird catches the…discount

Once you’re 100% certain you’re going to take part in an event, sign up for the newsletter. There’s a good chance everyone on that list will receive the early bird discount code. Depending on the event, this could save you a significant amount.

Getting in early also gives you plenty of time to ask the organizers questions and negotiate a good spot.

Yet many people still put this off.

Sure, filling out forms can be a painful exercise. But sending them off early can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

And that’s got to be worth the hassle.

Spread the word without spending on advertising

Before your next trade show, fair or market, you need to let people know you’ll be exhibiting. Give customers, prospects, attendees, industry influencers and press plenty of time to organize their calendars. Even with a modest marketing budget and a little bit of time, you can make people aware you’ll be at the event by using a combination of social media posts and emails. However, make sure you only email people who have already opted in to receive your updates.

The key here is planning. Building buzz takes time. Aim to promote the event you're exhibiting at least two months before.

Listing sites like Meetup let you see who’s already signed up for each event. These sites often allow you to start a conversation with potential prospects ahead of the big day.

Promote your presence for free at the event

Events are not isolated opportunities to market your business. Instead, they form part of your overall marketing strategy. So let people know where you’ll be and when.

An Instagram story is a fun way to make your announcement even more personal. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. A quick message to your followers to let them know you’re looking forward to seeing them at the event is a friendly way to encourage people to add the date to their diary.

Another video when you’re at the event and some updates throughout act as casual reminders and show you’re engaged in the business community.

Start with the bare essentials

First time attending an event? An Events Bundle provides a basic suite of event marketing essential for conferences, trade shows and more. Choose some business cards, flyers or postcards, a banner and a table runner to get you started.

But what if you don’t have a design yet?

Vistaprint can help.

Before you order, our professional designers will use a short survey to get to know your business. Then they’ll come up with an up-to-date look that’s personalized for you and put it on all the products you’ve chosen.

Set up your booth before the event

Although you can’t simulate the crowds of the conference floor, setting up your booth ahead of the event will give you a real sense of how much space you have to lay out your products and marketing materials.

With floor space at a premium, booth restrictions can be strict. Never assume you’ll be able to place a product or sign beyond your allocated boundary. When doing your test run before the real event, make sure you can set up all your signs, display your products and still leave enough room, so your booth doesn’t feel cluttered when people approach you for a chat.

One important thing to find out: Does the venue provide tables or are you expected to provide your own?

Be sure to read all the venue specifications. There’s nothing worse than arriving and realizing you’re missing something vital.

A good rule of thumb: don’t assume anything is provided.

Make a bold statement on a modest budget

Whether you’re taking part in an international trade show or a local craft fair, standing out is your top priority. So, focus on the most eye-catching things for your booth first.

Your banners should clearly show your business name, taglines and key benefit. Mix and match display types like horizontal hanging vinyl banners and vertical retractable banners to make your name visible to everyone passing through. Hanging signage looks great from far away and draws people in, while lightweight vertical retractable banners can be moved around your stand to maximize traffic on the day.

Check out these detailed tips on how to design a head-turning banner.

Customize your counter

Now that you’ve worked out exactly how much space you’ll have, dress up your table with a bold, head-turning tablecloth or table runner. Not only does this make you look professional, a custom logo tablecloth immediately gives your setup visual interest. Plus, with the option of all-over printing, there’s no limit to what you can do with different colors and designs.

Bonus: Custom tablecloths and table runners are a tidy way to store extra marketing materials or other supplies under the table and out of sight.

Make each product go further

Well-designed banners help you communicate the right message, at the right time, so that it remains relevant and attention-grabbing. An attractive banner, whether vertical or horizontal, has the potential to attract people to your booth as effectively as an elaborate custom-built stand with all the bells and whistles.

So, how do you make this affordable product work to your advantage?

This in-depth guide on how to design a banner is a great place to start.

Attract people to your stand with flyers

Having an eye-catching flyer is an effective way to drive traffic to your stand when you’re at the event. It's important that your flyers include a clear call to action and a way to reach you. If you’re using these to get people to your stand, include your booth number. If you won’t know that until you arrive, you can leave space to add this by hand later on. Just like a tweet, Facebook or Instagram post, your flyers should make it easy for people to find you on the day.

Add a simple tablet kiosk

Tablets make your experience interactive and keep people on your stand. But you don’t have to spend a fortune to get people interacting with your business. Even on a limited budget, you can still use technology to attract more traffic.

Invite people to explore your website or pdf catalogs to explore products that were too big to bring along to the event. This can buy you time when the stand is busy and people are waiting to chat with you. Rather than get distracted and walk off, an iPad or laptop helps encourage people to take a closer look at what you do.

Keep your event marketing promos fresh and unique

Promo products like pens and tote bags have a universal appeal as they’re useful at the event and after. Think about what people need on the day. For example, when you’re talking to people all day, mints keep your breath fresh. Make sure all your giveaways create positive associations with your brand by solving a problem for people:

  • Too many brochures? Grab a free tote bag.
  • Need to jot down some details? Take one of our branded pens.
  • Just had your fourth coffee of the day? Freshen up with a mint.

Give people a reason to share their email with you

There are many ways to gather leads at events. Whether you run a contest or offer to follow up with a press pack, the key is convincing people whatever you’re offering is worth signing up for. You can collect email addresses on paper or a tablet or laptop. If you mention specific services or products, you can tell people you’ll send them your catalog via email so they can share it with their team. Don’t forget to give them a brochure too.

Here are a couple of ideas:

Get people to enter their business card into a random prize draw. You’ll be surprised how many cards end up filling the fishbowl!

Leave sign-up forms on and around your stand. State what people get for signing up, e.g., newsletters every two weeks, deals or practical tips, etc. Also, the shorter the form, the better. Name and email address are all you need.

Keep the conversation going

Follow up with the people you met within a week so they still remember your conversation.

To help remind people who you are, mention a conversation or topic you discussed at the event. Mentioning your conversation is an effective way to jog a person’s memory.

If there’s any way you can help the contact, do so. An offer of help is far better received than someone asking for a favor or promoting a product. Offer advice or share a link to an article that may help them overcome a challenge they mentioned. Keep a notebook on hand to take notes about conversations if you have time.

It’s better to show up to your first event with the bare essentials and realize you could use a few more products than to buy things and discover that you don’t actually need them. As you attend more events, you’ll work out what works and what doesn’t. The great thing about event marketing essentials like customized banners and tablecloths is that you can use them more than once. This allows you to focus your budget in the future on event-specific marketing materials.

Apply just a few of these tips to stand out at your next event.

Good luck.

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