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

Dear Tradeshow Exhibit Buyer, (an open letter to first-time exhibitors)

Dear Tradeshow Exhibit Buyer,

We haven’t met before, but I thought I might take a few moments to share some thoughts on your upcoming quest to find a new tradeshow booth consultant to assist with design and fabrication.

Bob's Red Mill custom booth at Expo West 2013
Bob’s Red Mill custom booth at Expo West 2013

First – congratulations! Tradeshow marketing is one of the most effective ways of marketing – IF you do it right. If you do it wrong, it can possibly be the biggest waste of marketing dollars you’ll spend this year. And if you do it wrong, you’ll have little to show for it. And if that happens, your mind will be poisoned with the thought that tradeshow marketing is a WASTE of TIME AND MONEY!

But…if done right, tradeshow marketing can be the BEST way to spend marketing dollars. Why? First, it brings you face-to-face with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people that are in the market for what you’re selling.

Second, it gives you a chance to establish a brand in visitors’ minds in just a few short seconds as they approach your booth. That brand can be reinforced by a well-trained staff once those visitors spend a few moments at your booth.

Third, it can cut the cost and the length of the sales cycle. By meeting people at a tradeshow and qualifying them (or disqualifying them as the case may be), you can quickly determine where they are in their pursuit of your product or service. That also quickly determines your next step – which can be confirmed with them before they leave your booth.

Finally, while tradeshow marketing can be exhausting, it can also be FUN. You can get your team away from the office to a far away city. By getting people out of their comfort zone, they tend to depend on each other. By focusing on the exhibiting task at hand during the day, you build trust and respect and confidence in your team. By letting off a little bit of steam after hours with each other, you help each of them appear more real.

So, what to do first?

Here’s a quick checklist before you choose an exhibit and design team.

  1. Know your goals. Define those goals and be specific. Even though the overall goal of tradeshow marketing – any kind of marketing – is to grow the business and bring in more sales, each show may have a slightly different goal because of the nature of the show. If you plan to exhibit only once a year, it may work to try different exhibit companies out. But if you plan to exhibit several times a year, take your time to work with an exhibit consultant that you are comfortable with and enjoy working with personally. If an exhibit house is competent – and certainly most are – the most important factor is how well you get along with them.
  2. Understand the timeline. If you are looking to purchase a small ten-foot inline booth from a catalog, you really don’t need much time to do that. Graphic design will usually take the most at this point. On the other hand, if you’re building a 30×30 custom booth, plan on several months. A recent large custom booth our company worked on took about 8 months from the kick-off meeting to the set-up at the show. Know your timeline and build in extra time for reviews and speed bumps – you’ll always have them. A good tradeshow project management knows what a realistic timetable is and can advise you on what it will take depending on what you want.
  3. Know your budget, and remember that exhibits can be expensive. If you don’t have a realistic idea up front what your company is able to spend for a tradeshow booth for design and fabrication, it can get awkward awful quick! Any reputable designer will not start on a design until he knows how much a company has to spend. A good consultant will likely start the conversation by sharing industry averages, and then explaining how their company’s pricing compares to those numbers. For a quick rule of thumb, for inline booths, expect to spend around $100 a linear foot. For custom island booths, the price can range upwards from about $140 per square foot. Electrics and special lighting can drive the cost up, but those are good rules of thumb to start with.
  4. Plan on training your team. Even if it’s a small show with just a couple of staffers, it pays to be prepared. When your team knows how to quickly qualify and disqualify visitors, it will immediately increase the lead count. Booth etiquette is important, too. No eating, talking on cell phones, standing with arms crossed, etc. All of those behaviors – and more – keep visitors away.
  5. There’s more than just the show – there’s pre-show marketing and post-show follow up. Before the show, your company should be reaching out to potential visitors, informing them of the tradeshow appearance, and what you’ll be doing there: new products/services, special appearances, contests, etc. A social media marketing full press before the show will help draw interest and people to the show and to your booth. A good tradeshow marketing consultant will be able to assist you with planning and execution of your pre-show marketing. Post-show follow up is twofold: sales and marketing. Sales will be following up on all of those leads based on urgency; marketing will be taking content created from the show (videos, photographs, etc) and dripping them out via social media and other outlets to not only remind people of your appearance, but to tease them a bit for next year’s show.
  6. Designate a point person for all ‘official’ communication between your company and the consultant company. While your company may have a marketing team all chiming in with their opinions on the design and fabrication process, when you designate a single person to funnel all communication through, decisions become easier – and final. If the team decides that the color is blue and the point person communicates that to the consultant company’s point person, then that decision is final and the process moves forward.
  7. Jump in! Once the kick-off meeting is underway, trust the process. If you’ve never gone through the process of designing and fabricating a tradeshow booth that fits your company’s needs, keep in mind that your consultant has done it – many times. They’re professionals. Trust them to stay in touch and guide you through the many decision points you’ll have along the way. Follow the designer’s lead and offer your candid assessment of the design and watch how it changes until it becomes a final product ready to be fabricated. Trust your graphic designers. Trust your instinct.

By following this checklist, you’ll go into your booth project with eyes open.

And that’s a good thing!

Grab our free report “7 Questions You’ll Never Ask Your Exhibit House” – click here!

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Tradeshow Guy Blog by Tim Patterson

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