Is Direct Mail Advertising For Trade Shows A Dead Idea?

Does technology today rule out direct mail advertising as one of the valid trade show marketing solutions?

Once upon a time, every message that traveled from one person to another required an envelope and a stamp. Then email came along and changed all that. But does that mean direct mail solicitations are too “old school” to be effective and successful at getting your message across? Definitely not!

These days, your customers are actually getting less “snail mail” than they used to in those olden days. So your postal serviced-delivered solicitation has a much better chance to stand out in that smaller pile of mail that lands on his or her desk.

And isn’t that what you want: an opportunity to capture the attention of your prospects in advance of the show you’re promoting, so they’ll have a desire to visit your trade show exhibit when the show begins?

Direct Mail Advertising for Marketing Your Trade Show Booth

Word Cloud with Direct Marketing related tags

For most trade show direct mailers, the goal is to drive traffic to your trade show booth. This can be accomplished by:

  • promoting a special offer (a “show special” discount, for example),
  • offering a white paper or other specialized information,
  • a chance to see a new product before it reaches the market, or
  • inviting prospects to make scheduled appointments with company representatives.

These reasons and others are important ways to increase your “attraction efficiency,” or the quality of the audience you can attract to your trade show exhibit.

A survey conducted by Deloitte & Touche for the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) showed that those exhibitors who conducted a pre-trade show marketing campaign increased their ability to attract targeted prospects by 46%. 

Even more important, the conversion of booth visitors to qualified leads rose by 50% when a pre-show promotion was used.

Even though show management does its best to attract large numbers of attendees to the show, it’s still your job to get the best prospects for your product or service to visit your trade show booth. Waiting for them to miraculously show up is an enormous mistake and a costly missed opportunity - a direct mail advertising campaign is a great way to avoid that mistake.

The majority of business buyers usually plan their trade show visitation in advance. Another CEIR study found that this was true for 76% of attendees, who most often used information that reached them before the show in planning which booths they would visit.

Your competition for these buyers isn’t limited to other exhibitors. You’re also competing with conference sessions and even outside attractions for their time and attention, so getting on the calendars of your prospects early is a critically important step.

direct mail

Direct mail concept image


There are at least two approaches to your strategy for reaching prospects and customers before a show:

First, you can send targeted communications to registered attendees. This takes some effort and planning, but you’re essentially front-loading the sales qualification process by doing so.

You’ll have to find the high-potential visitors from within the larger pool of all attendees. Then reach out to them through direct mail advertising to encourage them to visit your trade show booth or make an appointment. Obviously, not every attendee is a prospect for your product or service, so there’s a large group you don’t want much to do with.

But within that larger group are those who have the need and the resources to purchase your product. To find them, cull the pre-registration list to eliminate non-prospects and competitors.

Secondly, you can reach out to your house list. This means inviting your own customers, prospects, and those who’ve made inquiries about your product to visit you at the show. These people already have an interest in doing business with you, so let them take the next step. 

Don’t simply invite them to your booth. Stress the benefit of adding your trade show exhibit to their plans. Let them know what they’ll see or receive for their efforts. Always appeal to what’s in it for them.

Direct mail solicitations can also be part of what’s known as a “multi-touch campaign.” The most effective pre-trade show marketing promotions make use of a series of contacts, each building on the last to add memorability to your outreach.

Example – trade show marketing “multi-touch campaign.”

For example, you can start such a campaign with a postcard to the registered attendees list. You won’t have a thorough breakdown of job title, industry, or company size on the attendee list. So, your postcard’s copy should attempt to lure qualified attendees and fend off those who aren’t.

It could be as simple as a headline that is directed to those you want to do business with: “Attention purchasing managers! Learn how to save time and money on widgets when you visit XYZ Company at the ABC Show, at booth 123.” Again, the appeal should emphasize what the benefit is to the recipient.

  • This postcard should be sent by first-class mail, to arrive no later than 10 days to two weeks in advance of the show. The “multi-touch” part of the campaign is what happens after this postcard is sent.
  • The next step could be an email reminder to the same list. With an equally targeted message, the email could include a link to a special landing page on your website, detailing your plans for the show. This might include new products you’ll be introducing, a hospitality suite you’ll be hosting, and opportunities to meet your company’s executives in the booth during certain hours. Again, the goal is to appeal to their interests.
  • A third “touch” in this multi-touch campaign could be an outbound phone call from your sales staff to the prospect. Make a personal appeal for him or her to visit your exhibit. Again, stress the benefit of doing so. The goal should be to end each call, having scheduled an appointment.
  • Finally, create a fourth touch-point with a letter confirming their appointment time. Don’t forget to resell him or her on why meeting with your sales representative will be worthwhile. If appropriate, include a pass to the show floor, and instruct each salesperson to attach their business card to the passes they send out.

So, is direct mail dead? Hardly. It’s still a powerful way of reaching prospects and customers to increase your exhibiting efforts' effectiveness. As long as they keep making stamps, direct mail will help you make your next trade show more successful.

Here are ten more suggestions that can help your next direct mail campaign boost your trade show display results.

Trade Show Direct Mail Advertising FAQ

Still have questions about the effectiveness of direct mail for your next trade show event? Read through our FAQ below for answers to some of the more commonly asked questions.

How much of your trade show budget should be for direct mail advertising?

When it comes to the budget and staying within your parameters, there are several considerations to keep in mind when deciding what direct mail to send out. For example, over-sized mailers and catalogs will be much more expensive to design, print, and ship. 

Direct mail can cost anywhere between 30 cents per person to upwards of $10 a person, depending on what you are ultimately spending on the design, copy, printing, and distribution of your direct mail offerings. 

So, when setting your budget, make sure that you keep distribution costs, printing costs, marketing copy costs, and design costs in mind. 

How does purpose factor into your marketing strategy?

You can make or break your marketing strategy with a few factors. It is important to keep all this in mind if you will be using direct mail as part of your marketing strategy for your next trade show event.

Understand the target market: you have to design a strategy so that you can reach your target audience. Your potential customer needs to be interested in what you are offering.

Communicate value to your potential customer: you can use direct mail to clearly communicate your product or service's value. If they can purchase it somewhere else, you need to tell them why you are above the competition.

Analyze the data: this is how you know if your current marketing strategies are working and if there are areas in which you need to improve. It also helps you decide where your money is better spent when it comes to breaking down what you will and will not include for your next trade show event.

Focus: it is better to focus on what you are offering your potential customer rather than the money you can potentially make. Focus on value and organic growth. 

Do you ever wonder why some companies get tons of attention despite an average presence at the trade show or conference?

You need to find ways to stand out. Never wait until the last minute to get the word out and advertise. Start warming up your leads in the weeks leading up to the trade show or conference and make sure everyone stays engaged. Get your name into the head of each attendee, generate top-funnel interest, and then guide those leads toward a purchase. 


American Image Displays offers one of the most complete collections of modular and portable trade show booths and accessories, from banner stands to literature racks, as well as full graphics production capabilities. 

To find out how we can help you, call us at (888) 977-8076 or email [email protected].