Is it better to exhibit at a trade show, or to just walk the show? This depends on what you are trying to achieve.
The great advantage of a trade show is that it brings together industry representatives from all over the world. This is an opportunity for you to meet existing contacts and to make new contacts.
Exhibiting at a Trade Show
The advantage of exhibiting is that you have greater visibility. You will have a physical presence and will be listed in the exhibitors‘ directory. Your booth may catch the attention of people whom you would otherwise not have met.
One thing to remember: while your targets might have their own booths, they may also have staff (or even executives) walking the show. Especially executives often don’t even go to their company booths because there are just too many people there who want to talk to them. They prefer to walk around without getting bothered too much. They may stumble upon your booth (whereas you get turned away at theirs). That’s also why you shouldn’t dismiss random people who stop and look at your brochures.
The disadvantage is that a booth has to be staffed. So unless you can share „booth duties“ with colleagues, you may find yourself stuck at your booth and with little opportunity to proactively approach others.
There is also a risk that your booth won’t get much foot traffic – because of its location, or because your hall is not very busy – so you may end up feeling that you have wasted your money.
Walking a Trade Show
The most obvious advantage of simply walking a show is that it is the much cheaper option. Besides travel, accommodation and food, you only have to pay for your admission ticket.
In addition, you don’t have to worry about getting any of your products to the show and back again. What’s more, during the show, you are much more flexible – you don’t have to arrive at a certain hour, you can explore the entire show rather than just your immediate „neighborhood“ etc.
One of the disadvantages is that you might seem less legitimate, as you don’t have a presence that can be checked out. Depending on what you do, you won’t be able as much to showcase your product. More generally speaking, nobody will know that you are there (unless you tell them), and your opportunity for chance encounters is much more limited.
If you are a small company considering a trade show, but not sure if it’s worth your money, I would always recommend visiting the show first.