The Power of Tradeshow Marketing and Your Small Business


When considering marketing and advertising campaigns, many business owners immediately think radio, television, and social media. While these, when done right, may be beneficial, they’re limited and can be quite expensive. They can also fail to provide actionable information that leads to sales. You can spend your money on an ad campaign, but how do you know what the prospect is thinking?

For example: You’ve developed a new peppermint barbecue sauce. You think it’s delicious and everyone will like it. Therefore, you pour your life savings into a TV ad. Your family loves the sauce, so you figure you’re about to get rich. But the people who watch the commercial think, “Ugh, peppermint barbecue sauce? That sounds terrible!” After 30 days of advertising on TV, you haven’t sold a single jar, and your life savings are gone.

If you could only talk to your prospects, get their feedback, and hear their comments, you could adjust your product to meet what the market wants. Is there an affordable way to test market your product or service, make on-the-spot sales, and personally interact with your prospective customers? Absolutely! Businesses do it every day with tradeshow marketing.

How Tradeshows Benefit Your Business

Tradeshows are large gatherings where businesses–typically referred to as vendors or exhibitors–personally meet and interact with their customers. Typically, a tradeshow is a gathering of businesses from a particular industry. You’ve probably attended your city’s annual boat show, auto show, or bridal expo, where you’ve seen the newest products in those categories.

Tradeshows or expos can also be organized around themes other than products. For example, at the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit or Texas Black Expo, of which I’m the founder, the unifying factor or trade is cultural, as our programming is geared toward African Americans.

Vendors have access to thousands of consumers in one place, at one time. At a tradeshow, you could personally offer prospects your new peppermint barbecue sauce and get their response in real time, right in front of you! Before you invest your life savings, your prospects can engage you and offer suggestions for how your product could be improved. Such feedback can be priceless and lead to real breakthroughs.

Key Benefits of Tradeshow Marketing:

  •  Low investment with potentially high returns. With my first business, a clothing line called GUGOGS, I exhibited at MAGIC Las Vegas, which is the largest apparel show in the world. My 10′ x 10′ exhibit space was $3,000, and I had the potential to reach 500,000 potential buyers over three days. The value to my business was phenomenal.


  •  Customers can personally experience your product or service. One year at the Texas Black Expo, one of our vendors had an online music store. They were going to set up their booth with a table in front and banner in the back, and hand out brochures directing people to their site. We suggested taking the table out, putting down a wood floor and a mic, and bringing in their artists to perform. Their booth was an instant attraction, and they did extremely well.


  • Access to thousands in a short period of time. It’s like having your own storefront on a busy street with no long-term lease. You can test products to get consumer feedback and see which of your products are hits and which are misses.


  • You can practice and refine your sales pitch. There’s no more valuable experience than interacting directly with people who use your product or service.

 Do’s and Don’ts of Tradeshow Marketing

  • Think long term. Remember that at a tradeshow, the majority of your audience is identifying and exploring. They’re not likely to buy right then, but they could definitely buy in the future. Be prepared to collect their information, build your database of prospects, and develop a follow-up campaign. Think about the future sales that will drive your tradeshow ROI.


  • Be about business. While it can be a fun environment, don’t get caught up in socializing. Remember, you’re there to work, so stand up, greet your prospects, and keep the discussion focused on how your product or service will make their lives better.


  • Make your space interactive. Hand out free samples, get your customers involved with the product, show a video, tell a story. The most successful tradeshow vendors are the ones who actively engage with their visitors. At Texas Black Expo, one of our vendors was a chiropractor practice. They set up their booth and offered free massages onsite! Of course, the line was around the corner. Then they gave each person a coupon for another free hour massage and a spinal x-ray, but you had to visit their office. Prior to giving the massage at the office, they educated the customer on spinal health and reviewed their x-ray. And here’s the kicker: They taught their customers how to get their insurance to pay for the service.

They shared that Black Expo annually accounted for more than $60,000 in revenue. It was an exponential investment because they went to the expo with a solid plan to connect with prospects and convert them into happy customers. With the right planning and the right tradeshow, you can do it too.

Jerome D. Love has been an entrepreneur and professional speaker for 20 years and founded the Texas Black Expo in 2002. He was named a Multi-Million Dollar Top Producer (Prudential Texas Realty), Entrepreneur of the Year (National Black MBA Association, Houston Chapter), and Pinnacle Award Finalist (Greater Houston Black Chamber of Commerce), and is a popular keynote speaker for both corporate and collegiate events.

Love was selected as keynote speaker for the Los Angeles Mayor’s Economic Development Summit and the New Mexico State Leadership Conference. He has also shared the speaking stage at conferences with business icons like Priceline founder Jeff Hoffman, Chuck E. Cheese founder Gene Landrum, NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson, and others.

To learn more about Love, visit his website.