Trade Shows & Content Marketing: How to Combine

Trade shows are still vital for B2B lead generation, even with the recent Trade Shows onslaught of marketing automation. And aside from a client meeting, they’re the best channel for delivering your content marketing into the right hands.

Until I researched the topic last week, I honestly thought the effectiveness of trade shows had faded.

I haven’t participated in an event since 2009, but I was curious to see the state of the industry.  Here are a few stats that caught my eye:

  • 92% of trade show attendees come to see and learn about what’s new in products and services
  • 46% of trade show attendees are in executive or upper management
  • 81% of trade show attendees have buying authority

The last statistic about the purchasing clout of attendees certainly reinforces a show’s value, and I have to admit I was surprised the buying power stat is over eighty percent.

What Content Should You Bring?

Content and designDetermining what content to take to a trade show is not different from developing marketing for any other channel. It starts with the customer. Who will be attending the show from your target audience?

If you serve only a single business sector, then problem solved. However, if your business services multiple sectors, then only select white papers, case studies, videos and webinars that best fit the attendee’s niche, so he doesn’t have to waste time looking for content that’s relevant to him. Too much content can confuse and frustrate an attendee.

Do Product Brochures Still Matter?

Today, white papers and case studies occupy the spotlight in B2B content marketing.  Do brochures have any role to play?

For the tech sector, the answer is “Yes.”

In fact, they’re a top choice among content assets when technology companies are considering a purchase. Have a look below at the results from the 2015 B2B Technology Content Survey.

2015 B2B Technology Content Survey
Top results from the 2015 B2B Technology Content Survey.

Print vs. Digital

USB Flash Drives
USB flash drives are a top promotional tool at trade shows.

Digital certainly has some advantages over print, but it makes its biggest impact only if you exploit digital’s main strength: interactivity.

While it’s unlikely they have the budget to add multimedia elements to every white paper, case study, and brochure, SMEs could likely afford to produce one interactive piece for a trade show.

My vote for a multimedia makeover would be the product brochure.


  • You can promote your product as dynamically as possible, and brochures are the document format of choice for displaying what you sell.
  • Audio and visuals in  e-brochures are excellent substitutes for text and photos found in print brochures. On the other hand, white papers and case studies are text heavy and less visually oriented.
  • You can easily customize e-brochure content, so it’s relevant to the target audience attending the trade show.

Flash drives are a popular choice for content distribution at trade shows since USB ports are widely available.  

On the downside, not every attendee feels comfortable inserting a USB drive into her computer due to security threats.  To alleviate some of the anxiety, trade show experts recommend you don’t leave your supply of USB flash drives publicly accessible. Instead, you or your staff should personally give the flash to each attendee.

With all the bells and whistles you can add to electronic documents, should you even bother bringing print material?

Before making a decision, consider some of print’s advantages. 

Whereas flash drives look the same, print documents can capture an attendee’s attention quickly with the content’s headline and graphics.

A study on reading comprehension published last year indicates printed text engages the brain more thoroughly.  Researchers discovered:

“88% of respondents indicated that they understood, retained or used information better when they read print on paper compared to lower percentages (64% and less) when reading on electronic devices.”

 “80% stated a clear preference for reading print on paper for complicated materials in contrast to only 13% preferring to read complicated materials on a computer screen. Mobiles and smartphones were preferred by only 3% for reading complicated materials.”

If you sell highly complex products, seriously assess what content might be better suited for print, such as data sheets and technical briefs.

QR Codes: Worth the Effort?

A trend among exhibitors over the last few years is printing quick response codes on their marketing documents.  

Quick Response Code
Printed QR codes can direct attendees to a landing page or other online resource.

Unfortunately, there are drawbacks to this approach. Not everyone knows about QR codes.

Five years ago, they were hailed as the next big thing in marketing. However, their popularity never caught fire in North America, and their use seems to be on the decline.  Attendees also need a QR code reader installed on their smartphone to engage with an exhibitor code.

If you decide to go QR, always develop an incentive for attendees to engage with your codes.

In an article published by EXHIBITOR magazine, live event experts Tim Patterson and Kristin Veach said there are two rules for QR code use:

  1. Codes must serve a specific purpose that is well communicated.
  2. The QR code’s landing page must be optimized for smartphones.

My view is QR codes are not worth the effort. Instead, print a short, memorable URL. Always provide strong, benefit-oriented copy on why attendees should visit the web address.


Despite their expense, trade shows still offer B2B marketers key benefits in the 21st century, such as focused lead generation, personal access to decision makers, and promoting buzz about new products and services.

When it comes to developing and distributing content for trade shows, my best recommendation is not to complicate access to your content for attendees.  The more steps they have to take, the less likely they are to view it.


 CEIR: The Spend Decision: Analyzing How Exhibits Fit Into The Overall Marketing Budget-

 CEIR: The Role and Value of Face to Face –

Cracking the Code – published by EXHIBITOR

Print is NOT Dead: 5 Reasons Why Print is Important for Marketers –

The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens –

Two Sides releases results of new U.S. survey. Reading from Paper or Reading from Screens. What do Consumers Prefer? –—Reading-from-Paper-or-Reading-from-Screens.–What-do-Consumers-Prefer

2015 B2B Technology Content Survey – Eccolo Media –

Graphic Credits:

USB Image and Content Design Tablet by Stuart Miles, courtesy of

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David Coyne

David Coyne

David Coyne is a B2B copywriter and marketing consultant with 25 years experience in the business-to-business sector.

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David Coyne

David Coyne

David Coyne is a B2B copywriter and marketing consultant with 25 years experience in the business-to-business sector.

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