Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.
Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.

March 2010

How to Find the Right Tradeshow for Your Company

If you’re new to tradeshow marketing, how do you find a tradeshow that’s appropriate for your company? After all, you don’t want to invest a wheelbarrow full of cash and find out that your target market doesn’t come to the show.

Not that you’d do that…but you’d be surprised what decisions are made in the world of business based on hearsay or minimal information.

Best bet is to ask a lot of questions.

Start with your clients. Find out what shows they attend. Then go online and check your competitors. Most businesses these days have an ‘event’ section in their website which usually lists the tradeshows they exhibit at. Also check also with manufacturers and distributors in your industry.

Next, search online. One good resource I have always steered people to is (‘The Ultimate Event Resource). You can search shows by state, country, industry and date. Go to the show’s website and review the information with an eye to determining if this is a show that your target market is likely to attend.

The next thing to ask yourself is: ‘what is my objective for this show?’ Your goal of launching a product may indicate a different show than your goal of creating a great media buzz for your company. Determine your

Topo Wall

Once you’ve compiled a list, target the top 2 – 3 shows and make plans to visit them as an attendee in the coming year. By attending before you invest in exhibiting, you’ll get a good feel for which show(s) make the most sense for you. Besides, attending a show as a guest is a lot cheaper way to find out if it’s the right show than to show up with a booth, your staff and thousands of dollars of product – and wonder why your target market isn’t there.

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photo credit: Incase Designs

27 Un-Boring Things to do At Your Next Tradeshow

Bored at the tradeshow? Here’s a list of things to do that will lively up your experience!

I remember in my early days in radio a record promoter once told me that she loved my enthusiasm and willingness to drive 50 miles to see an unknown band that she was promoting. “So many of the other music directors I talk to are getting jaded…”

Whether you’re an exhibit or an attendee and you’ve been doing it for a long time, you might ask yourself: Am I Getting JADED?

Next time you’re at a tradeshow, take this list with you. Maybe by doing a few of these things it’ll help break you out of a rut (okay…some of these will take a little more preparation and execution before the show…but use ’em as inspirational thought-starters if nothing else).

  1. Before leaving your office spend some time on Twitter compiling a list of people at the show that are Tweeters. Make a list of who they are and what booth they’re at. Stop by the booth and tell them you found ‘em on Twitter.
  2. Draw attention to yourself and your company. If appropriate, wear a goofy hat, a pair of Mickey Mouse ears, Homer Simpson slippers. Anything unusual is a conversation starter.
  3. Pick up literature from as many booths as possible. Read it that night in your hotel. Make notes about questions you’d like to ask. Go back to the booth and ask.
  4. Take a Flip video camera and ask visitors to explain why they stopped by your booth. Or take it around the floor on your break and get a few comments from other exhibitors about the show and what their experience is at the show.
  5. Take a camera. Take lots of photos. If you see a cool booth, ask permission for a photo first. If you connect with someone via Facebook or Twitter, be sure to take their photo and post it online.
  6. Bring chocolates and instead of putting them in a bowl at your booth, hand them out as you go from booth to booth to other exhibitors. Tape your business card onto the chocolates.
  7. Buy a half-dozen thumb drives and put your company information – brochures, current press releases, catalogs, website, etc. – on it and have it ready to hand out to a few well-qualified media contacts or potential clients.
  8. Sit down with a professional radio person (!), have them interview you about your company. Create an audio CD with a nice label and title such as “All You Ever Wanted to Know About XYZ Company” or “The Inner Secrets of the XYZ Company Widget” and make a couple of dozen copies. Put a label on them that says “limited edition” and make sure that you qualify anyone you give them to.
  9. If you typically don’t go to seminars, pick at least two and go to them. If you typically attend seminars, find one with an unusual title that you might not attend and go to it.
  10. Make a note immediately on any business card you collect from a person (not a card you just picked up from a table). Write down a pertinent part of the conversation, a future follow-up or an item that will make you remember them. By the time you get back to your hotel, you’ll have forgotten what they even look like.
  11. Are you typically a bit shy? Break that habit. Talk to people in buffet lines, restaurants, elevators. Come up with a few questions you can ask to break the ice. Have fun: these people don’t know you’re shy!
  12. If you typically spend the day working the booth and greeting visitors, arrange your schedule so you get at least an hour or two to walk the show floor and schmooze with other exhibitors, especially those that might be potential partners and those that you would consider competitors.
  13. Talk to a show organizer and ask her how this show compares to previous years…or find some other topic of conversation.
  14. Bring three times as many business cards as you think you might need.
  15. Go to the city’s visitor center and see what kinds of fun things you can do in your off-hours.
  16. See how many booths you can walk by before a booth staffer invites you in.
  17. Look up old friends in the event city using Facebook or Twitter and connect with them.
  18. Smile at everyone. Even if they aren’t smiling at you.
  19. Have a contest with fellow staffers to see if you can get visitors to say the magic word of the day. Those of us old enough might even remember this came from Groucho Marx’s ‘You Bet Your Life.’
  20. Take notes about how much food costs. Hot dog and coke – $14!? Compare notes with fellow staffers. Boo and hiss the high prices.
  21. Ask other exhibitors what they paid for drayage and shipping. Compare notes.
  22. See if you can set up your booth before your neighbor.
  23. Go a whole day without eating restaurant food by taking food snacks such as energy bars, fruit, trail mix, etc.
  24. Bring a small white board. Write a Haiku poem about your company or product on it. Invite your visitors to add their Haiku.
  25. Practice Extreme Customer Service. As if you were a Disney employee.
  26. If the speaker at your seminar or breakout session is boring, create a game where you write down every word he says that begins with the letter M. Or T. Or draw a cartoon of the speaker. Post it on Twitter.
  27. Ask other visitors what they do for fun. Take notes and incorporate their ideas into yours.

What ideas do you have to break those long days into more fun? Share!

The Big Picture vs. The Details

You may have a good grasp about your overall BIG PICTURE tradeshow marketing plan. But what about the DETAILS?

Blurred vision

Overall execution of your plan at the show may be great, but if you slip on details, someone – a potential customer, perhaps – is bound to notice.

Some of the details to track: Is the booth clean and tidy? Are all your marketing materials in synch? Do all the colors match or complement your brand? Are your staffers greeting people with a smile? Do they fill out lead cards with all the information you require? Do the garbage cans get emptied when they start to spill over?

Details are important because they help complete the picture. If the carpet hasn’t been attacked with a carpet-sweeper and there are crumbs or bits of paper or junk, people will notice. If your graphics are peeling at the edges, people will notice. If personal belongings are not stowed out of site, people will notice. They’ll also notice if your staffers are talking on a cell phone, eating, drinking or sitting with their arms crossed.

So cross the T’s and dot the I’s – take care of details and the overall perception of your booth will be more positive.

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photo credit: Stefano Mazzone

Natural Products Expo West: Photo Collection

Just back from the Natural Products Expo West show, where some 3025 exhibitors had their wares on display. Interpretive Exhibits, where I’m the VP of Sales and Marketing, had eight various custom client booths on display, including Bob’s Red Mill, Nancy’s Yogurt, Natracare, Mountain Rose Herbs, Bi-O-Kleen, Hyland’s, gDiapers and Earth Mama Angel Baby.

Here are a few photos of those booths, as well as others and a few Twitterers I ran into:

Natural Products Expo West 2010

Skiing and Social Media Tradeshow Marketing (Seminar Coming!)

What does skiing have to do with using social media to market your tradeshow booth? Very little. Okay, it’s a biiiiig stretch! But nonetheless, earlier this week I managed to get up to Hoodoo Ski Bowl in central Oregon to do a little skiing…and daydreaming about using social media, Twitter and…well, you’ll just have to watch the video:


And yes, I am planning a live/local seminar (wow, I sound just like a local TV newscaster –Live, Local!) coming up on April 8 here in Salem, Oregon. Are you in the area? Can you come? Find out more by clicking here.

Early bird registration is still underway, which means you save $10. And IF you manage to read the fine print, you’ll see that you are actually getting my whole Social Media Tradeshow Marketing Bundle AND the live seminar…for ten bucks less than the current price of the bundle. Hmmm…is this a clever marketing ploy, or just plain stupidity?

Twittering at #ExpoWest

Follow Tradeshowguy on Twitter

A few quick observations on using Twitter at Expo West, the huge Natural Products show in Anaheim this past weekend:

1. A handful of companies are drawing people to their booths through Twitter. Many of them seemed to be amazed that it worked – but almost all that were using it were seeing results.

2. It seemed to me (again, anecdotal evidence) that the companies having the most success were small to medium-sized companies. I did talk to a few larger companies – those with at least 8 or 10 booth staffers and a larger island booth – but the response was, shall we say, a little less enthusiastic? “Yeah, I think we are – ask Jason over there, he’s doing some social media…I think.” When I talked with the Jason (not his real name): “Yeah, we’re using it. I mean, I’m doing some stuff online. Now and then…but it’s…uh…”

3. Before the show I gathered a list of just under 50 exhibitors who had posted their booth numbers and used the #expowest hashtag. I was able to meet ‘n’ greet most of them the first morning of the show. If there were other Tweeters they didn’t show up on Twitter with either their booth number or the #expowest hashtag. Without those, I couldn’t find them. Which meant most other people probably couldn’t either.

4. Some – but not all – were offering goodies for people that mentioned that they came to the booth because of a tweet. A free imprinted shopping bag, a larger product sample, etc.

5. Everyone that was actively involved with Tweeting among the smaller companies were absolutely enthusiastic when I mentioned I saw their booth number on Twitter. That enthusiasm for social media ran to other platforms: many had YouTube and/or Facebook pages as well.

Summing up: small companies can create consistent buzz using Twitter and other social media platforms if they have a dedicated social media staffer who ‘gets it’. Larger companies seem to struggle with what social media can do for them (although there certainly are exceptions – I’m just passing on observations from one tradeshow). It’s as if there are more layers of management and marketing and strategy and other roadbumps that appear to damper any enthusiasm that people within the company may have for using social media. For a larger company to succeed with social media, it’s my feeling they need to dedicate either a full-time person or – depending on their size – a small department to the task. Smaller companies can get away with using one person on a part or full-time basis for social media.

Natural Products Expo West: Natural Food Fest, Twitter-fest, ???

Waiting for the doors to the exhibit floor to open...

I’m heading south to LA (or as my friend Roger who lives north of downtown LA likes to refer to it: Hell-A) in a few hours to go to the Natural Products Expo West, held at the Anaheim Convention Center just across the street from Mickey and Minnie and Goofy and the others at Disneyland. Which is a great distraction if for some reason the Expo isn’t entertaining enough.

In the lead-up to Expo West, it was curious to see how the Twitter chatter has increased exponentially in the past 6 – 8 days. Three weeks ago I three the hashtag #expowest into the Twitter stream to see who might be going to the show…and barely got a bite.

But since late last week, the hashtag is showing up a few hundred times a day. I’ve compiled a list of 50 or so Twitterers (Tweeters?) who are exhibiting and plan to stop by and introduce myself.

The show is a great experience; this will be my 8th time. The first time you walk in that exhibit hall you’re overwhelmed and whatever plan you thought you had becomes secondary to all of the sights, smells, tastes and wonderful wacky people and exhibits that make up the Natural Products Expo West. This is where thousands of exhibitors meet with tens of thousands of attendees. Distributors, producers, retailers, manufacturers and all of the supporting vendors and folks who make the natural products industry go.

Yes, it’s quite a scene.

The first year I went I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Ziggy Marley (one of my faves) was the singer at the annual free show for attendees. This year its his little brother Julian Marley.

If You Go: What do you like to do at the show? Who do you like to connect with? What products are you looking for? Are you selling or buying? Is the show getting old and jaded because you’ve been coming for twenty years? Or does it feel fresh and vibrant? I’d love to hear any comments…!

Earth Mama Angel Baby
Earth Mama Angel Baby back wall

The company I work for, Interpretive Exhibits, has about eight booths set-up at the show. No, not OUR booths…booths that we designed and fabricated for other clients, including Bob’s Red Mill (booth 2546), Mountain Rose Herbs (2820), Nancy’s Yogurt(2780B), Natracare (3516), Hyland’s Homeopathic (1352), Bi-O-Kleen (3957), gDiapers (3358), and Earth Mama Angel Baby (4120). We also have a handful of other clients that are using booths we sold, but didn’t design and fabricate.

One notable exception this year in our line-up is the 20’x30′ booth we built for Kettle Foods in ’02. After the original owners sold the company a few years ago, the new owners took a closer look at all marketing expenditures and decided that the amount of money going in to tradeshow marketing was not giving them the return they desired. That and the fact that their image is so entrenched in the marketplace. So they’re looking for other ways to market with those sames dollars. And interestingly enough, they’ll have a new owner on board (as soon as the deal with Diamond Foods is approved) which could put them in a different direction all together.

So…Tweet-up? The details are in the right hand column of this blog – if you’re at the show and can make it, by all means, do! I’d love to meet you!

Podcast: Mike O’Neil Interview

Author Mike O’Neil recently sat down with me and discussed a wide range of topics, from LinkedIn and Facebook to and Twitter and how those various social media platforms can be used to promote events.

During this excerpt, Mike discussed the differences between using Facebook and LinkedIn to promote events, and talked about how Twitter’s huge ‘people’ stream means you have to be more engaged to get people to respond to your event promotion tweets.

The complete 40-minute conversation is included as a bonus download in the recently-released Social Media – Tradeshow Marketing Bundle now available here:

Mike’s book is great: “Rock the World With Your Online Presence” – a book that specifically shows you how to create a rockin’ LinkedIn profile.

A Keen Tale of Customer Service

I first learned about Keen Shoes in mid-2008. I had just made a new friend Karrie and noticed she was wearing these pretty cool shoe that were half-sandals and half-regular shoes with a protective toe – more than an average sandal but with air circulation like a sandal. She bragged about how comfortable they were, how she could wear them hiking or in the water or for daily wandering around and they were always comfortable and versatile.

In November of that year Karrie and I were bouncing through the aisles and racks at REI in northwest Portland. I saw a pair of Keens on sale and decided to try ’em on. After wearing them around the store for fifteen minutes I was sold. Over the next several months they got a lot of wear. And comments.

I was standing in line at a grocery store and a guy looks at my feet and said “My Keens are the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn.”

“Mine, too!” I agreed.

His were a different style, one I had never seen before. But damn nice.

Before I get to the Keen customer service tale, let me tell you about my encounter with the Keen crew in person.

In July of 2009 I attended the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City. In the prep and run-up to the show I noticed that Keen was exhibiting there. I made a note to try and contact their tradeshow manager Dave. After all, I am in the tradeshow sales end of things and wanted to at least make a connection. Keep in mind that in the tradeshow industry, the sales cycle is very long: 5 – 7 years, as long or longer than the sales cycles for car-buying for most people. Companies don’t buy a new custom tradeshow booth (which is my task to try and sell) every year – maybe every five years, maybe every seven. Some companies I’ve worked with haven’t purchased a new tradeshow booth for almost twenty years. And they buy from people they like and know. So my goal with meeting the tradeshow manager at Keen was just to introduce myself and ask a few questions and see what might eventually unfold.

The show was an illuminating experience and yes I did meet a lot of people. But not Dave. I stopped by the booth several times, but he was in and out. One of the helpful staff pointed him out to me once, so I at least knew what he looked like. But I couldn’t catch up with him.

Keen’s presence at the show was extremely high-level: a creative booth built by Atmosphere of Salt Lake City using lots of recycled or recyclable materials; the promotions were engaging and creative and the staff always helpful.

I was sold on Keen and became a big fan, even if they might never become a customer. I must have told four or five dozen people about my Keen shoes and how much I loved ’em.

After the show and back in Salem (Keen’s HQ is just up the road in Portland, btw), I blogged about the show and mentioned Keen’s Hybrid Life promotion.

Next month – August – I was pulling on my Keens and the loop on my left foot – the one you stick your finger through to pull the shoe on – ripped.

I was aghast! The Keen shoe was not infallible! Here I thought they were perfect.

But no. Since I was a follower of Keen Shoes on Twitter I posted a Tweet about the loop tear:

Having heard of dozens of stories of how companies were using Twitter to respond to customer service request, I somehow assumed that I’d get a nice prompt reply.

Didn’t happen. My tweet vanished into the depths of cyberspace.

I forgot about it. Well, except when I was pulling on my Keens with the ripped loop!

Fast-forward to late December 2009. It finally dawned on me that I might get a response if I actually went to Keen’s website and contacted customer service. One of those palm-to-the-forehead moments. By now I felt there was nothing to lose: if there was any warranty it might cover a small repair, and if not – well, I tried.

In other words, I had pretty low expectations.

But I did get a quick response to my e-mail which outlined the Keen warranty. First, the claim had to have been made within a year of purchase.

At that point I didn’t even know the purchase date for sure, but thought it was more than a year back. Since the purchase was made on Karrie’s REI membership, I asked her if she could get that information – which she eventually did. And yes, it had been about 14 months since I purchased the Keens. So any claim at this point was moot.

But again – figuring I had nothing to lose – I tracked down the tweet I had send in August, took a quick screen shot of it (which included the date) and passed that back to Keen.

Shortly I received an e-mail which apologized for the lack of response to my earlier tweet. In fact, they had agreed that if I met the other warranty requirements (send photo, receipt, etc.) they would honor the warranty – because I had in fact contacted them – on Twitter – but they had failed to respond.

So I sent photos, copy of the email receipt from REI, etc. and waited.

No response for 2 – 3 weeks, so I sent another e-mail asking if they had received the photos and other documentation.

‘Yup’ came the reply, ‘your shoes are shipping in five days.’

Wow. Amazing, I thought, for them to go a little above and beyond what most companies would do and send me a replacement pair of shoes, even though my only initial communication was a single tweet.

Now that’s Customer Service.

Dave and I still haven’t met or talked even though I’ve tried a handful of times. But I’m sure we will and the first thing I’ll do is tell him that the company’s shoes are great but the Customer Service is even better.

Podcast: Steve Farnsworth Interview

Here’s a short but worthwhile segment of a much longer in-depth conversation with blogger and social media expert Steve Farnsworth on how to use YouTube to explode your traffic at tradeshows.

The complete 35-minute conversation is included as a bonus download in the recently-released Social Media – Tradeshow Marketing Bundle now available here (for a mighty good price, too!).

Give a listen and get a few cool ideas on how to use video to bring more people to your tradeshow booth. Get the bundle for the whole conversation and many more ideas.


Find Steve Farnsworth online here:

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