Trade shows and competitive research

Trade shows and competitive research

Trade Shows And Competitive Research – A Step Ahead Or A Step Behind

Trade shows are an ideal venue to scope out your competition. Gathering information about competing products and services, also known as “competitive intelligence” or “competitive research”, will help your company to fine tune its exhibit strategy and give you an edge at future events. How does your company compare to others, based upon factors such as product and marketing distinction, visibility, image, and exhibit design? By using a competitors’ checklist, you can make consistent comparisons, sound decisions, and determine whether you are a step ahead or a step behind.

Direct your booth staff to patrol the show floor and locate the competition. The competitors’ booth display, graphics, giveaways, and other marketing techniques can be evaluated at a distance. Staff can also approach the competitors, and ask some general questions to facilitate a discussion. If a good rapport can be established, more specific questions can be posed, depending on the comfort level of your staff. Consider the following general questions as you begin your competitive research:

  • How often has the competitor attended the same trade show as your company? (Always, frequently, seldom, or the first time)
  • What products/services and features are being emphasized at this show? Are there any recent product/service introductions?
  • What pricing strategies and policies are used?
  • Describe the competitor’s corporate and business philosophies?
  • What promotional items and/or giveaways does the competitor use? What advantages/disadvantages are evident when compared to your giveaway strategies?
  • Is the company using other promotional tactics to attract visitors?
  • How would you rate the competitor’s booth, based on visual impact, lighting, images, layout, graphics, and product displays? (Develop a scale of 1 to 5, or 1 to 10, with brief criteria for each rating).
  • Is your competition involved in any panel discussions, workshops or seminars? Describe their involvement and effectiveness, if possible.
  • Has the competitor hosted and/or sponsored any special events at the trade show? Are there any real or perceived benefits?
  • How does the competition rate in terms of the staff’s ability to project a professional image, a friendly atmosphere and product or service knowledge?
  • How would you rate the quality of the company’s literature? (Better than, the same, or poorer than your company’s own literature)
  • Did your competitors engage in any pre-show marketing? If so, describe the efforts.

You may wish to attain some additional information, provided your staff and you both are comfortable, by engaging the competition in a more detailed discussion after a rapport has been established. The following specific questions could also be considered:

  • Are they satisfied with their existing vendors and suppliers? Any complaints?
  • What key factors influence their purchasing decisions?
  • Who are their most significant customers?
  • Can they describe their company characteristics, strategies and sales/distribution methods?
  • How are their sales staff organized? Are there any noticeable strengths and weaknesses at the local, regional or national level?

Keep in mind that most of the information you need about your competitors can be obtained through published information sources and interviews. Both of these methods are deemed legal. However, what your company must decide is exactly how much information you hope to gain from your competitors at trade shows, and by what means you consider ethical.

Trade shows remain an excellent way to perform competitive research, and help your company to enhance its performance at future events. Take the time to evaluate how you compare to others, in order to make smart, innovative decisions for the next show. But don’t spend too much time or energy worrying about the competition. In reality, your trade show success largely depends on what your own company is doing, rather than your competitors’ efforts.