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With thousands of trade shows taking place globally across every vertical, there’s a relevant show out there for all businesses. Trade shows brings potential leads together in one place, at one time, with nearly all of them focused on finding new suppliers, technology, software, and more.

While every business would love to have the knockout booth at their industry’s biggest event, the costs involved with exhibiting can be prohibitive. However, savvy use of paid social can help you get ads in front of relevant leads, even if you’re not at the event. If you are exhibiting, then a complementary digital strategy on social is a low marginal cost to bolster brand awareness before, during, and after the event.

If you’ve spent much time advertising on Twitter, you may have experimented with Events targeting. This is a great tool if the show you’re interested in is available to target, but I’ve found Twitter’s selection of events to be fairly limited. Here I’ll show you how to use Facebook to target trade show attendees. We’ll imagine an outdoor backpack manufacturer, Outdoorsy Packs, exhibiting at an outdoor industry show.

Leading up to the Event

First, find out if the your event is available as an interest target on Facebook:

Outdoorsy Packs can write ad copy that calls out the event and run it to this interest target. They should call out the location of their booth and what people can be excited to see, e.g. “Come find us at booth 121 for an exclusive look at our new women’s packs.” The objective is to build brand awareness, so bid for impressions or reach rather than conversions. Run the ads in the week prior to the event, when people are making plans and have the event on their minds.

During the Event

Set a budget and ad schedule

Set a lifetime budget and ad schedule for the duration of the event. Think about your audience and how they will use Facebook. Unlike Twitter, people at a business event won’t be checking Facebook during the day (or they shouldn’t be!). So schedule ads to only run in the evening and morning when people check their feed.

Set location targeting and demographics

Facebook allows you to target a radius around a dropped pin to a minimum of 1km. Simply select ‘People recently in this location,’ drop a pin on the event’s location, and then adjust your radius as needed. Aim to cover nearby hotels so attendees remain in your radius before and after the event.

Adjust demographics just as you would with a regular ad set. For international events, like a trade show in China, consider using English-language targeting as well.

In some cases, location and demographics targeting are sufficient by themselves, but to define the audience even further, you can use interest targeting.

Layer interest targets

Here’s where you can drill down to the most relevant audience for your ads. If you’re already leveraging interests on other ad sets, then try layering those here as well. For business events, Facebook’s job title targeting is a powerful option. Outdoorsy Packs can pick interest layers that are relevant to people working in the outdoor industry, like backpacking and camping.

Settling on the right combination of interests will require experimentation. The most important factor to consider when layering interests is audience size. Always consider if the audience is large enough to target and if it makes sense given the size of the event. Play around with interests until you’re happy with the size of the audience.

Select placements and optimisation for ad delivery

Finally select where you want ads to show. If you’re targeting a small audience, you don’t want to limit your options here, so opt for automatic placements to give Facebook more opportunities to show your ads. Again, pick impressions or reach to drive the cheapest CPM for your ads. Both CPC and CPM will be significantly higher than for large audiences like a lookalike 1%.

After the Event

Outdoorsy Packs ran a successful campaign. They built awareness before and during the trade show, and saw a big jump in leads from the previous year. Job well done, right? Not quite. The campaigns gathered a lot of data and added people to their retargeting funnel. They used a unique tracking parameter to identify people who clicked on their Facebook ads. Now they can run a retargeting campaign specifically to people who displayed interest in those ads, running highly relevant copy — e.g. “Missed our booth? Call for a free sample and equipment demo with our team.” Following up is critical to reinforce your messaging and ensure you stay top of mind.

Trade shows are an invaluable source for leads, but their impact goes far beyond what happens at the event. Savvy marketers should take full advantage of the event’s online presence to drive brand awareness before, during, and after the event. Businesses without the budget to showcase expensive booths can still pursue leads just by knowing that customers will be in a specific place at a specific time. If you haven’t seen success with conventional B2B strategies on Facebook, see what you can get out of an unconventional approach to trade show marketing.