Three Ways In Which Giveaways Hurt Your Exhibition ROI Three big issues to watch out for when planning your next exhibition.

By Omar Rahman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

You've heard that a generous free offer –be it a gift, information or your time– can attract, engage and convert more exhibition visitors. So, you want to put that into practice for your next exhibition, but stop. Because sometimes it can be too much – and may inadvertently damage your exhibition ROI. With that in mind, here are three big points to watch out for when planning your next exhibition.

Overstaffing can drive visitors away or keep them too long
You're worried about being understaffed. If you don't have enough people to serve visitors, you might miss conversion opportunities. That's wasteful. So, you're tempted to overstaff. More people means you can engage more visitors. And if you don't get many visitors, each visitor gets more one-to-one attention. Win-win. Right? Wrong.

Overstaffing your exhibition stand can be just as harmful as understaffing. Why? First, too many team members makes your stand seem cluttered, which is off-putting for other visitors. Second, your team can become inefficient, spending too long with each visitor. Third, having team members standing around with nothing to do gives the wrong impression.

What to do instead: The perfect exhibition stand engages lots of people but also keeps them flowing through, so you can engage more visitors overall. And when you have the right number of team members present, this delicate balance is achieved. A practical way is to have team members on standby, but not staffing your stand unless they're needed. Or have them wandering around the exhibition engaging visitors.

Over-gifting can waste your budget and devalue your brand
Gifting can attract more visitors and increase engagement. It can build your influence, which empowers your salespeople. And it can extend your reach post-event, staying front-of-mind when visitors are most likely to buy. But what about the perils of over-gifting?

Giving cheap gifts to every visitor: If you want quantity, you generally have to sacrifice quality. But are "cheap' and "low quality' words you want associated with your brand? Blowing your budget by giving quality gifts to every visitor: If you don't sacrifice quantity or quality, you generally sacrifice budget. And that means you'll need unrealistic returns to see ROI.

Giving extravagant gifts to very few visitors: Here you sacrifice quantity for quality, like giving a free holiday to one visitor. This can work –a competition can generate lots of hype– but ultimately one gift-recipient can still only convert once. That's a poor cost-per-acquisition.

What to do instead: Only gift with strategic thought, tying giveaways into your brand and goals. Avoid spurious gifts like pens, mugs and badges. For most brands, the sensible approach means giving quality –but not extravagant– gifts to a specific segment of visitors. For example, you might gift to your first X-number of visitors, to build momentum around your stand early. Or you might gift to loyal customers, to increase customer lifetime value. As Marketing: The Complete Awakening points out, "exhibitions also serve for existing loyalties to be affirmed and a much-expected thank you to be warmly expressed'.

Related: Exhibitions As The Most Effective Marketing Tool For SMEs

Info overload wastes your budget and threatens lead conversion
Nearly 90% of attendees consider exhibitions an important part of their product sourcing and buying process. The same percentage agrees that exhibitions are essential for comparing products and meeting suppliers. Which proves visitors attend exhibitions to educate themselves, to aid their buying decision-making. So, you think, we better make sure we give them all the information about our background, team, products, values, mission and so on. That way, visitors will know everything they need to evaluate our offering. Except overloading your visitors with information can undermine ROI.

Think about that restaurant with a hundred-and-one options on the menu, and how long it took you to choose. You get a few moments to engage visitors– give them too much and they won't process anything. So they won't convert. It's wasteful. Think of the trees. Or at least, the cost of printing the paper made from the trees. The more money you spend here, the harder you have to work to balance the ROI equation.

If you give too much away for free, you've got nothing left to convince visitors to share their data. You're not squeezing maximum value from your content which was costly and time-consuming to create.

What to do instead: The information you give visitors should be targeted and, ideally, segmented. So one visitor gets one piece of information while another gets another. That comes down to how your team qualify leads. And think "ruthlessly minimal' when it comes to your free content. This isn't the time and place to overshare. Consider only what they're interested in, which will largely revolve around your product offering.

One excellent strategy is to combine brief, targeted, customer-centric free information with a deeper, more valuable content offer for leads. For example, visitors get a short information booklet about the product they're interested in. Share their details, however, and they get a full virtual reality tour of that product.

Exhibition marketers need to think like Goldilocks
Like the old fairytale, exhibition marketers have to get their strategy just right. Not too cold– taking too few people, giving cheap (or no) gifts, or not giving enough information. But not too hot either– taking too many people, giving too many (or very expensive) gifts, or giving away too much information for free. Find the right balance at your next exhibition and you'll attract, engage and convert more visitors. And that's the perfect recipe for real ROI.

Related: The How-To: Utilizing Exhibitions As A Market Development Tool

Wavy Line
Omar Rahman

Co-founder, TGP

Omar Rahman moved to the UAE from the UK in 1991 to take a business development position in the sales department of EMA Lubricants, a joint-venture with Exxon Mobil. In 1995, he teamed up with Alexander Maddock to launch Top Gear Promotions LLC – now known simply as TGP – an exhibitions and events solution provider, having executed over 2,000 successfully delivered projects locally, regionally and internationally, for organisations including Etihad, Dubai Holding, General Electric, Dubai Tourism, IPIC, Masdar, Qatar Airlines, Emaar, Expo 2020, and many more. Rahman studied Civil Engineering at the United Kingdom’s North East Surrey College of Technology.

Related Topics


How do You Turn Employees Into Problem-Solvers? Follow This 3-Step Leadership Formula.

As leaders, we need to solve company problems effectively. We often have the urge to fix everything quickly, but is this system of problem-solving really sustainable?

Growing a Business

A Teen Turned His Roblox Side Hustle Into a Multimillion-Dollar Company — Now He's Working With Karlie Kloss and Elton John

Rush Bogin, a 17-year-old fashion designer, learned firsthand how finding market gaps and listening to customer feedback can bring major success.


Can Too Much Self-Awareness Be a Bad Thing?

Practicing self-awareness has become a staple part of professional and personal development. But can too much self-awareness be harmful?

Business News

'I'm Not a Very Good Businessman': Kevin Costner Is Risking a Ton of His Own Money on New Project

The "Yellowstone" star discussed how he bankrolled his new epic movies — and his accountant isn't happy.


The Next Time Someone Intimidates You, Here's What You Should Do

There will always be someone above you, but whether you give them power over you is your choice. This leadership consultant shares the best ways to reframe the situation to give yourself an edge.