Done right, exhibiting at a tradeshow can be a quick path to increased business and profits. Done wrong, tradeshow marketing can be a quick way to blow a big chunk of your marketing budget.

Some tradeshow exhibitors will succeed, others will fail, and some will fail epically. If you intend to start exhibiting at tradeshows, you need to make sure you know what you're doing and that you have a plan. As the saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail.

Foremost, you must avoid the following four sure-fire ways to fail at tradeshow marketing. Or, as I like to call them, the Four Horsemen of the Tradeshow Apocalypse. Listen carefully, and you may hear the pounding of their approaching hooves…

1. Selecting the Wrong Tradeshow: The First Horseman

Fortunately, selecting the wrong tradeshow is the horseman that's easiest to avoid. Before you decide the show at which you will exhibit, you need to determine why you want to exhibit—your goal—and who your target audience and potential prospects are. You can't select a tradeshow if you don't know whom you're targeting!

You also need to find the a show that will have a high proportion of your potential prospects attending. Do you want a show attended by consumers, or do you do business with businesses? If you're B2B, what businesses are you targeting? What people are you targeting… technical types or management? For any show you're considering, look at past-attendee demographics.

Also look at who has exhibited at the show in the past. Are companies similar to your company exhibiting there, and do they keep exhibiting year after year?

You must select the right show!

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Steve Peterson is the director of marketing at Pinnacle Displays, an online supplier of tradeshow displays and graphics.