If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. Famous words, no doubt, and they certainly apply to any marketing endeavor you’re undertaking. If your goal is to simply appear at a tradeshow, you don’t have much of a roadmap. It might look something like this: rent a booth space, get an exhibit (doesn’t really matter what size or what it looks like); bring a few people from the office and talk to people that stumble across your booth.
Success! Of course, since you didn’t really have much of a plan, how could you fail?
On the other hand…
If you want to talk to bring home 300 leads, that requires a longer plan and a better road map. Setting a goal – any goal – immediately puts restrictions on your map. It forces you to go in a certain direction. And the good thing is that it makes you ask questions, such as:
How do we get enough people to our booth to collect 300 leads?
What kinds of leads do we want?
How do we qualify the leads?
What information do we want?
Do we need to do pre-show marketing to bring people to our booth? If so, what will that take?
How many people should we have in our booth?
How big of a booth do we need to support those people?
What will it cost to create that exhibit?
And so you. You get the idea. Sure, you can simply set up a booth, hand out a few brochures and samples and cross your fingers, but if you really want to bring home the bacon with a bagload of new prospects, it takes more than that.
It takes a roadmap that only you can put together, based only on what’s important to you.
If you want a little help, you could do worse than picking up my book Tradeshow Success. It’s got a pretty good roadmap planning guide, chapter by chapter.
But whatever you use, if you want to get somewhere, you need a map.
Do you set up the exact same booth every year with no changes? Or do you find that you have to make minor or even significant changes from year to year because your needs change or some piece of your exhibit doesn’t function the way you thought it would?
Many exhibitors stay the same, but many change. Frequently.
Let’s say at one show – a big one that you set up an exhibit at every single year – you have had nearly the same configuration for five or six years. That’s not unusual. Although, in my experience, most clients we work with at TradeshowGuy Exhibits do at least modest changes nearly every year. Sometimes they do rather wholesale changes, like increasing their footprint by 50% or more. Or realizing at this year’s show they don’t have enough meeting space. Or product display space. Or that some element of the exhibit just didn’t work as anticipated.
There are always reasons for making changes. But if you purchased the exhibit, you’re kind of stuck with it.
Except. Not always. There are always a lot of ways to skin the cat, as it were. Let’s say – like a client of ours recently – you have a custom booth. You spent a lot of dough on it, so the idea of building another piece just to satisfy your functional needs is going to challenge your budget. When this happened to the client, who was looking for more counter space, we suggested that instead of having some custom counters built, why not rent some counters? That way, you’re only committed to one show with the revised configuration, and the cost will be lower than if you had them custom-built and bought them. And if for some reason you really like the configuration, you can either purchase them or choose to rent them again the following year. I see it happen frequently.
Same thing with furniture. It used to be that clients would ship furniture to shows in their crates. Chairs, small loveseats, tables. In some cases, that’s a good thing, especially if the table is branded or is custom in some other way like LED highlights.
But the furniture is unused the rest of the year. It can get scuffed and damaged during setup and dismantle. Renting the right pieces, such as a nice brand-new comfortable couch might make more sense. Do the math, take a look at the options, and make the decision.
It’s all fluid. Especially when it comes to the various smaller elements of your tradeshow exhibit: counters, furniture, product display units and more. Talk with your exhibit house rep or coordinator and see what options you might have that can both save you money and give you an upgrade on looks and function. It’s doable. Because it’s fluid.
You’ve heard it many times in the past several years: the most important thing is showing up. Be there consistently. Be there with your writings, your photographs, your content, your thoughts and leadership. Keep showing up.
On the flipside, I’ve also heard for years that if you’re going to exhibit at a tradeshow, you have to do more than just show up. You have to have a good plan or your time, money, and energy are wasted.
I think both viewpoints have some validity. So let’s break it down.
Years ago I worked with a client that had been attending the same tradeshow for years. They just kept showing up, handing out samples, gauging feedback, connecting with clients and colleagues. No reason not to, it was a good thing to do.
Then they got sold and the new owners had a more circumspect view of the marketing budget and decided to look at it from top to bottom. And that year, the slight shifting of the show dates of the big show they set up an exhibit at every year meant that two years of tradeshow marketing expense fell into one fiscal year.
Uh-oh. We’re spending that much on tradeshow marketing? Hang on! We gotta take a closer look at this.
So they pulled out of that year’s show and put the following year’s appearance on hold. The new owners had to look for their reason for being there. They found it: it was a great show for them, the benefits were worth more than the expense and they came back bigger and badder than ever.
But they had to lift the cover, so to speak, of why they kept showing up year after year. And they figured it out. And now they show up year after year.
Showing up is important. As David Newman of Do It Marketing put it recently:
Keep showing up for the people in your life.
For your clients, family, community, friends, prospects, colleagues…
Show up with empathy.
Show up with value.
Show up with caring.
Show up with help.
Show up with gratitude.
So yes, show up and exhibit at tradeshows, but do it with purpose. Know why you are showing up. Know what your goals and objectives are. Make sure your staff knows why you’re there.
A quick scan of my Linked-In feed seems to confirm it: shows are returning to a lot of areas in the country. This morning I saw the news that Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak said that Nevada would be “100% open” on June 1st. This is definitely good news for shows in Las Vegas. I also saw a story last week, speaking of Las Vegas, that Tesla’s Boring Company had completed the mile loop under the Las Vegas Convention Center. Not really related to Vegas opening up, but cool nonetheless.
So yes, no doubt shows are slowly coming back. And I think the key word is slowly. You might add “randomly” as well to that description since many states are still experiencing increasing COVID cases (hello, Michigan!), which means some areas will open sooner than others. And yes, politics plays a part. Pandemic fatigue also is a big part.
My big question, though, boils down to how exhibitors and attendees will balance their desire to get back to the show with their desire to believe they’re safe when they do. That may change in the next few months as more and more people are vaccinated and the country edges closer to herd immunity, but of course there are always flies in the ointment, like virus variants, refusal among many people to wear a mask in certain situations, and so on.
Bottom line: shows will return, but it’ll be months or at least another year before the whole country can say that we’re getting close to normal.
Not every custom tradeshow exhibit project needs an RFP (Request For Proposal). But there are times when it’s an appropriate way to communicate what you need to a handful of carefully selected exhibit design and fabrication firms. Here’s a brief look at a number of things you should consider including in the RFP:
I have always liked technology, because it’s purpose (I presume) is to make things easier. And mostly, that works.
So let me share a short story about a situation that has gotten under my skin. Due to, you know, technology. I can tell this story because it’s about a former client (no names, please – that’s not the point) and the story isn’t about the client. It’s about what happened when they got sold to a big international corporation, and that big international corporation instituted a new online system to make sure that invoices were paid promptly.
So, get it? The system was put into place to make the invoice-processing happen with less friction.
Here’s the old way we used to deal with invoices:
Step one: Once the job is complete, create invoice.
Step two: Convert Invoice to PDF.
Step three: email invoice to main contact at client.
Step four: wait 3-4 weeks, get check in mail.
Step five: take check to bank.
Works, right? Pretty simple. Straightforward. Five steps.
Bring on the new system!
Step one: register with online system (this is actually several steps that include confirming account, getting direct deposit set up, waiting a few days to make sure that we’re in the system, etc. But for the sake of argument, let’s call this step one).
Step two: when the job is done, submit a request for PO#. To do this, I have to create an invoice without the PO# so that the client contact can see the actual amount (needs to be exact).
Step three: wait about a week for the PO# to arrive.
Step four: re-do the invoice with the new PO#.
Step five: log on to online system, create invoice based on PO# (the first time this was rather grueling process, involving watching a couple of videos, consulting the online help pages to get questions answered on how to do it, what info to include, where, all of that sort of stuff. It took about a half hour).
Step six: confirm that everything looks good, click “submit.”
Step seven: receive email notification that the invoice could not be sent due to an error: no such order exists.
Step eight: Investigate reason why no such order exists; email client and ask.
Step nine: client is unsure but says they’ll check.
Step ten: wait a day, submit invoice again.
Step eleven: wait a day, receive notification that invoice has been accepted.
Step twelve: several days later, received notice that invoice was rejected because invoice date was incorrect.
Step thirteen: research issue (this take another 30 – 60 minutes); learn that the system doesn’t like it when you use the original date of the original invoice because it didn’t match the date the invoice was submitted online.
Step fourteen: pull hair out. What’s left of it.
Step fifteen: resubmit the invoice using today’s date. This pushes back the projected payment date by another week or more past the original due date since they only pay 30 days from the date of the submitted, accepted, and authorized invoice.
Step sixteen: wait another 30 days.
Step seventeen: receive an email saying payment is pending.
Step eighteen: receive notice that payment has been processed.
Step nineteen: check bank account. Payment hasn’t arrived.
Step twenty: call the bank to discuss. They inform me that the payment is in the system, but the last digit of the account number is incorrect, which is puzzling. As a courtesy and because I’m a long-time customer of nearly thirty years, they will manually accept the payment. This one time.
Step twenty-one: this is where it gets hairy, so I’ll just include this in one step. I spent literally months trying to find someone in the system or with the big international company that would help me correct the account number. It’s like trying to talk to the wall. No matter who I email or talk to, it never gets done.
Step twenty-two: time for another small project for the client. We go through the dance of finalizing the amount, requesting a PO#, submitting an invoice, and so on.
The same thing happens. The account number has a last incorrect digit. The bank manually accepts the payment but warns that they can’t continue to do so.
I keep trying to work with the big international corporation and the independent payment online system that processes invoices. No matter who responds (which is rare) the big international company says it’s not their problem and that the processing company is the only one that can change it. The processing company says I should check with the big international company.
Like I said, no longer a client. No longer dealing with the online payment system (fingers crossed). And no names necessary. I just wanted to illustrate what happens when a new technology tries to simplify things. Unintended consequences.
Yeah, I realize that this is an isolated instance and that other company’s experience may be completely different and things may work swimmingly for others.