Primary trade shows present an excellent opportunity to increase visibility and connect with your audiences. However, if your trade show strategy stops with the biggest shows in your industry, you may be missing out on an untapped marketing opportunity: second-tier trade shows.

The latest Exhibition Industry Census, conducted by CEIR, shows that roughly 107 million people attend nearly 11,500 trade shows and conventions in the US each year. This mix includes shows of all sizes and attendees across all industries.

Second-tier conventions are smaller when measured by attendee size and market, and may not be as well-known in your industry, but they can play an important role in advancing your marketing strategy, increasing brand awareness and engagement with your target audience.


Source: CEIR

Why Second Tier Trade Shows?

While committing budgets to trade shows with fewer attendees may seem counterintuitive, it’s more important to consider the value and opportunity of reaching the right attendees. Consider your share-of-voice at a large convention with many competitors. You may make a significant investment in your marketing, only to find your share of voice is diminished by the sheer number of competitors.

Secondary shows often take place in smaller venues and markets, typically requiring less budget to expand your marketing footprint beyond your booth, making it easier to consider options for a more integrated marketing strategy.

A smaller audience can provide a better chance to increase quality impressions with each attendee who engages with your brand. This may be difficult in the heightened competitive environment of a larger convention. Though audience reach is a trade-off, you are able to increase frequency of message, and find more opportunities to create stronger relationships with your audience, which can translate into quality engagement and desired results.


Choosing the Right Trade Show

If you’re considering secondary trade shows, it’s important to first do your research to ensure you’re identifying the right events. The earlier you can start the research process the better. Get a jump on next year’s conventions as well as those happening in the latter part of this year.

The first and most important step is to familiarize yourself with your options. There are almost certainly smaller trade shows within your industry that you’ve never heard of, often overlooked, merely due to size. To find them, rely on research and professional networks to identify new opportunities to engage your target audience. Tapping seasoned, knowledgeable resources that understand the landscape and have access to the right data for your specific industry, events and markets can help drive your tactical approach and marketing strategy.


It can take time and resources to ensure that your trade show marketing strategy includes a full 360-degree view. That is, a strategy that maximizes your opportunities to engage your audience. Perform due diligence research on what shows provide the right audience, factoring in things like, show attendance, sponsors and content. Consider how a second-tier trade show might benefit your strategy and elevate it from the status quo.

Key Marketing Strategy & Planning Considerations

Once you’ve solidified your understanding of your industry’s trade show landscape, it’s time to plot your strategy for success. When you invest in a trade show marketing plan, there are a few general principles to keep in mind.

First, you’ll want to balance your time and budget across both primary and secondary trade shows. Don’t let your newfound enthusiasm for smaller shows eat up your entire trade show budget. Both types of trade shows allow you to capitalize on the unique opportunities afforded by each market.

Secondly, ensure that you plan far enough in advance to be certain that you understand each market and audience, thoroughly. Trade shows pose a perfect opportunity for targeted, location-based marketing. Proper preparation and planning will provide knowledge of the market and attendees, allowing you to leverage out of home advertising to reach new customers. Planning early also allows you to get in on limited out of home inventory before your competitors.

Finally—and this applies to large and small shows—optimize the media. Only by understanding the entire pool of available media can you expand your marketing footprint beyond the booth. This is also a way to ensure that you’re fully incorporating appropriate digital marketing into your strategy, which is an important component in a fully integrated multi-channel program.

Trade Show Mobile Wallscape and Wall Projection

Source: EMC Outdoor

Identifying Priorities & Supporting Brand Objectives

Success for any program is identifying the right objectives and priorities that will increase brand engagement. Decision criteria and brand objectives like the following will drive the marketing options you should include in your consideration set.

  • Audience
  • KPIs
  • Share of voice
  • Messaging
  • Budget

Have a clear understanding of specific goals and success metrics for each show to ensure you have the right data and rationale for the investment.  Solidifying your tactical strategies, desired outcomes, and desired results will allow you to qualify & quantify the success of each trade show marketing program.

Right Approach for a Balanced Strategy


Source: EMC Outdoor

An effective trade show strategy is one that “connects the dots” using the principles of location-based marketing. This approach can be boiled down to understanding the market, media and attendee journey.

  • Understand the market – where you are geographically and socially, who you’re selling to, and why you’re uniquely positioned to solve your audience’s problems.
  • Understand the media – how and where to place your marketing touchpoints for maximum reach to the right audience; the competitive/SOV landscape.
  • Understand the audience journey – what are the audience behaviors and experiences in the context of the show and market.

If second-tier trade shows may be missing from your integrated marketing strategy, it’s important to understand that landscape and be sure you’re considering the right balance between your primary and secondary trade shows. Based on audience, market and media options, time invested smartly will create better results.

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