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How brands leverage the trade fair

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THE Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) 2014 is now in the past and the dust has settled.

Those who made it count must be laughing all the way to the bank. And the losers, well they shouldn’t be losers if they followed the script. What script, you may ask.

They should not be wondering what went wrong. Exhibitions like the ZITF are a huge opportunity for brands to add value in terms of image, sales, exposure and market positioning. What that translates to is the fact that such a golden opportunity deserves meticulous planning to make it pay.

Exhibitions, also known as “expositions” or expos, like the name implies, are shows where businesses expose what they do or sell to an audience. It could be for the purpose of launching a new product or service, providing information to targeted audiences about their activities, or simply giving that much needed boost to sales.

All this could be part of a public relations, marketing or brand activation strategy. This means that preparation is a prerequisite to your brand’s success in taking part in an exhibition.

I have been involved with the ZITF for more than 15 years and have been a competitions judge there for the last four. So I should know what it takes for a brand to score big in an exposition of this magnitude.

Let me shock those who think that participation at an exhibition or road show for that matter is a walk in the park. Badly prepared exhibits can be an immense cost to a business, money that could never be recovered.

For any business that is involved in exhibitions, whether they be service providers or those that are actually exhibiting, it would increase your prospects to start planning for participation early.

To give you an idea, the big guns that win display competitions year in and year out such as Econet Wirelesss, Bulawayo City Council or the Zimbabwe Defence Forces start planning a full year before the show.

It all starts with the post-mortem, a warts-and-all examination of an organisation’s previous participation. One does not want to repeat the same mistakes all over again. It’s also at such a meeting that the reviews from those that visit your stand count. Well, you did solicit comments from your visitors, didn’t you?

Drastic as it might sound, it is here that you decide whether it’s worth it. There is no point in wasting money doing it wrong year after year and spending hard-earned company money when it could be used more profitably elsewhere.

Determining the reason why you want to exhibit should be a starting point. Identifying a theme or adopting the one that the exhibition organisers have chosen is one way of doing it. The other is to link your participation to organisational aims and objectives.

What is it that you want to achieve through your participation? Are you launching a brand, product, service or you intend to inform the public that the company is alive, kicking and doing amazing things in the market?

Whatever the objectives they must be SMART, that is, specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. Every activity, item and prop on your stand should be geared towards achieving your aims and objectives.

In that way, most aspects, including costs, would have been covered as part of a broader strategy and not the shotgun approach. In fact, an exhibition does offer a whole package of techniques and tactics that cut costs when executed properly.

Part of the planning process also involves making sure that all your requirements are identified earlier on. ZITF Company are by definition event facilitators. So it pays for you to liaise with them before you hold your plannning meetings.

Issues such as space bookings and the form which your participation will take all rely on set parameters. ZITF are very good and experienced at what they do. They will give you all the advice you need so that during your planning meetings you have all the information at your fingertips when making presentations to management and team members.

So issues such as those about space requirements, furniture, fixtures, electrical connections are issues that they can handle for you. Are you deciding on a pavilion, an outdoor stand one inside one of the exhibition halls? Get the people who know best to help you make the decision, as long as it is done in good time.

ZITF also maintains a database of registered and approved service providers. These have been carefully selected in order to avoid past incidences of shoddy delivery and in some instances clear cases of fraud.

While issue of design and layout are important, it is the budget that determines the scope and nature of your participation. The mistake some exhibitors make is to start considering budget issues at the tail end.

That results in people having to cut back, fix and paste in order to fit into the money available. The organisation should deside how money will be set aside from the outset so that you cut your dress according to your cloth.

It the next article we will deal with executing your plan, manning the stand and making your participation pay dividends.

 Lenox Mhlanga is a commmunications and media consultant as well as an accredited trainer. He can be contacted at lenoxmhlanga@gmail.com

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