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

May 2019

How to Get Ideas for Your Next Tradeshow Promotion (or Exhibit)

Are you faced with authors call “writer’s block” when it comes to coming up with ideas for your next tradeshow promotion? Or need to come up with a unique exhibit design or presentation that perfectly fits your company brand?

I wish I had an answer. You know, like the Staples “EASY” button. But it ain’t that easy. Not if you want an idea that can be fully executed and give you remarkable results.

So where do ideas come from? Ideas that actually work?

There are several places to look for and generate ideas, so let’s go over a few.

What have other people done?

At your next tradeshow, whether you are an exhibitor or an attendee, take some time to walk the floor and see what others have done. There are going to be so many ideas that you won’t be able to capture them all. And to take it one step further, if you see an idea you like, imagine how it would work if you folded that presentation idea into your brand and products. And you know that anything you see at a tradeshow had to go through a lot to make it to the floor. It had to be created as a concept, then discussed at length to see what would work and what wouldn’t. Then a 3D designer had to determine how to put that concept into the real world. Then, once all parties had signed off on the idea and concept, it had to go to fabrication, where the builders had to figure out how to build it. Not always easy, especially if there are some unusual or outlandish ideas that need to be brought to life.

What other exhibit ideas are good enough to borrow or get inspired by?

But remember, just because it was brought to life and used at a tradeshow doesn’t mean it actually worked, that it actually achieved what the creators thought it would achieve. Which means it’s also worth asking “how well did that work?” Probably the only way to find out for sure is to ask the exhibiting company after the show how it all went for them. But by doing that you might be tipping your hand that you’d like to use their idea for inspiration!

What gets written about?

To see what is creative and actually works, pick up a copy of Exhibitor Magazine. To my way of thinking, all tradeshow marketing managers should get a subscription to this bible of the exhibit industry. Nearly every issue there is an in-depth look at tradeshow exhibits. Not only that, there is a breakdown of how the idea worked, how it fit with the company’s overall goals, what the results were, and often the cost. Even if the idea doesn’t exactly fit with your product or brand, use it to kickstart your own creative thinking.

Beyond Exhibitor Magazine, search online for creative tradeshow exhibit ideas. There are a lot of them floating around, and any one of them might be the inspiration you’re looking for.

Talk to others in the industry.

Networking can do a lot of things. One thing it does well is spread good ideas. By talking to other exhibitors, designers, managers and executives in the industry is that no doubt they’ve all seen some memorable tradeshow exhibits along the way. Ask them what they recall, what they liked, and how it worked. Make notes. And if you get a great idea that leads to something, be sure to thank ‘em!

Brainstorm.

Creative thinking can often be generated in-house with a handful of people. You may have even been in a brainstorming session or three in your career. If done properly, they can be brief and productive.

Combining ideas from other sources.

Pick up a book on creative thinking and see where it takes you. One of my favorites is Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko. Worth the price no matter what you pay.

Any other books or ideas you like that help you creatively? Make a note and share!

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In Tradeshow Sales, Focus on the Moment

Tradeshow sales is a much different beast than any other kind of sales.

Picture this: you’re standing in your tradeshow booth with dozens of competitors lining the aisle, selling to the same market. They’re all trying to convince visitors that they’re the best solution. The goal is to talk to as many people as possible, because if you do that, you can gather more leads. And the more leads, the better off your sales team is. That’s the common knowledge, and generally it’s correct.

But step back a moment. Let’s examine that interchange a little more closely.

“Less haste, more speed.”

Instead of doing your best to gather contact information, such as scanning a badge, or writing down names and numbers and email addresses, take the time to qualify. I’ve been to tradeshows recently where it seemed like the only thing that was important to the booth staffer was to gather as many scans as they could. Maybe it was a contest. But it was one in which they ultimately lost, because they no doubt ended up scanning dozens or hundreds of people that have no interest in buying, are not qualified, are not the decision maker or don’t have the money.

Even though you’re trying to get as many leads in a limited time, let’s remember a few things.

Are you qualifying visitors properly?

One, most of the people at the show are qualified to a certain degree. They may not specifically be in the market to purchase your product, but they are in the market, otherwise they would not be there. If they’re not a potential buyer, there’s a good chance they know someone who is.

Two, a majority of them are decision-makers or can influence a buying decision.

Three, given the volume of people walking from booth to booth, you will not talk to everyone. It’s not possible.

Four, knowing that you can’t talk to everyone, take enough time with the ones you do talk to to qualify or disqualify as soon as reasonable.

Now that you have the right perspective, understand what you are really trying to do: qualify the leads, and gather as much information as necessary for a productive follow-up on an agreed-upon date.

What you want to know

Here are the items you’ll want to uncover:

Are they interested in your product or service?

If so, when? If not, do they know anyone that is?

At this point, you will make an A/B decision: if they’re interested, uncover more information. If not, and if they don’t have any one they can refer you to, politely thank them and move on to someone else.

If they are interested, ask further questions, as if you’re peeling back the layers of an onion:

When do you plan to make a decision? Next week, next month, next year? This tells you the urgency of the situation.

How is that decision made? Is it one person, or is it a collaborative decision?

Does the company have the funds committed to the purchase?

The follow-up questions

Once you have qualified them by getting the right answers to these questions, quickly move on to the follow up questions:

When would you like us to follow up with you? Find a date, and if appropriate, get the time and date scheduled in both yours and their calendars.

How do you want us to follow up? Phone, email, in-person visit (if feasible), sending something in the mail?

That’s the simple, straightforward way to qualify and get enough information for your sales team to follow up.

Yes, there is a good chance that your visitor will have a lot of questions about your product or service, especially if it’s a complex product, such as software or some technical hardware. In that event, answer their questions on the show floor – take as much time as you need to determine if they’re a real prospect or not – and then move on to the confirmation and follow up phase.

Once you’ve confirmed the follow up, thank them and move on to the next.


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TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, May 20, 2019: Disconnecting

In such a connected world, there is a lot of value and importance placed in disconnecting from everything for a short while. But do we really do it that much? In this week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, I disconnect from the grid for a few days.

ONE GOOD THING: Disconnecting or Unplugging.

Need to disconnect? Take a look at this. Or this. Or this.

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Showing Up is Only Half the Battle

If you do a Google search for “showing up,” you get all sorts of links and suggestions as to what it means. Showing up for a performance, showing up for important events in your life for your friends and family, showing up at work by giving it your attention and energy.

Showing up is important. As Seth Godin put it, though, we’ve moved way beyond simply showing up, sitting in your seat and taking notes. Your job is to surprise and delight and change the agenda. Escalate, reset expectations and make your teammates delighted.

Show up to delight your visitors

Sure, showing up is important. On a personal and business level to me, showing up means controlling my behaviors and emotions. Knowing that when I set out to do a day’s work, I have a pretty good idea of what I need to do (calls, projects, communications with clients, writing, etc.), and doing my best to do it, every day. For example, I made a commitment in January of 2017 that I would show up every Monday to do a video blog/podcast for at least a year. Once the year was up, I would assess it from a number of angles. Was is working? Was it fun? Was it good? Did it get any attention? Did my guests get anything worthwhile out of it? Did the listeners give good feedback, even if there were very few? Based on my assessment of those questions (not all were completely positive, but enough were) I committed to another year. Then another.

So here we are.

Showing up at a tradeshow is more than just being there. If you are to take Seth Godin’s perspective, you want to have more than just a nice exhibit. You want to show up with more than just average enthusiasm and average pitches to your visitors. You should set high expectations for your company and your team.

How can you do that? By starting months before the show and having ongoing conversations about how to get visitors to interact. How to get them to respond. How to tell your company or product’s story. How to make it exciting to just visit your booth, exciting enough so that your visitors feel compelled to tell others to come.

There are no wrong answers, and plenty of right answers.

What will you do beyond just showing up?

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As Technology Evolves, so do Tradeshows

I’ve been attending tradeshows for nearly twenty years. In looking back on photos from that era – the early ‘Naughts as the first ten years of this century are sometimes referred to – things look different. It’s often subtle, but what the photos from that era show is what’s NOT there. You have to look closely and compare the images from around 2003 – 2005 with images from today’s shows.

Lots of these types of exhibits in 2004 (Natural Products Expo West)

The big changes?

Video: Depending on the show, some are stark and blatantly obvious. For example, I saw so many large video walls at this year’s National Association of Broadcasters Show in Las Vegas I lost count. Big, small, portable banner-stand-like video walls, large walls used for training (Adobe and others), most of them extremely high quality.

Some smaller shows or different types of shows may not have the large video walls (or only a few), but my impression is that a majority of exhibits have large video monitors. These typically range from around 40” to as much as 70” and all show sharp images. It’s much easier to attach monitors on exhibit walls when the monitors are so slim compared to what was available a couple of decades ago.

Fabric Graphics: Printing on fabric has come so far, it’s hard to imagine what it was like at the turn of the century. Printers have gotten so much better and fabrics have also improved that in many cases what you’re seeing on the exhibit walls are fabric graphics printed with such depth and clarity it compares with top of the line paper printing.

LED lighting: Hand in hand with fabric graphics, the evolution of LED lighting has meant better lights for a fraction of the cost. Combine LED lights and an aluminum frame with fabric graphics and voila you have a fantastic-looking lightbox that shines!

Augmented Reality: I’ve only seen this a few times at tradeshows, but I think it’s going to spread. It’s showing up at museums and other permanent installations. Why not tradeshows?

3D Virtual tours: Again, not used so much these days, but check out the recent interview I did with Phil Gorski from Ova-Nee Productions and see what they’re doing in the tradeshow space. I can see this happening more and more to take the physical tradeshow to a larger audience in the digital world.

Virtual Reality: Not something that is taking over the tradeshow world, but it is definitely there and a smart exhibitor that chooses to use VR will plan to do it right. Here’s an interview I did with Foundry45‘s Dave Beck.

Interactive Touch Screens: Depending on the way you want your visitors to interact this can be a big benefit to help show off your company, products and people.

Charging Stations: At the turn of the century hardly anyone thought of the need to charge a portable device. Now it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t have that need a time or two a day during a long tradeshow. Charging stations can be custom-designed and built to fit your brand and to fit seamlessly into your exhibit.

Apps: Of course, there were no apps 15 – 20 years ago. Today it is a rare tradeshow that doesn’t have its own app where you can find exhibitors, information and subscribe to updates about the show.

Big Video Walls in 2019 (NAB Show 2019)

Social Media: This also didn’t exist back then. Today it almost seems old school to be doing regular social media posting about your tradeshow appearance. I mean, even Grandma is on Instagram, right? But social media is still a good way to post photos, respond to comments and let your followers know what’s going on while your company is exhibiting.

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TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, May 13, 2019: Phil Gorski

Here’s a novel idea: using the 3D Virtual Tour technology that is often used on real estate to allow potential buyers to virtually steer their way through the home, and use that tech to allow people to visit your tradeshow booth long after the show has ended.

That’s the topic of today’s interview on the TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee. Phil Gorski of Ova-Nee Productions spent a little time sharing how he started the company and how the technology works on a tradeshow booth.

You might like to see this story about Phil.

Check out some of the 3D exhibit tours done by Ova Nee Productions:

Find out more here.

This week’s ONE GOOD THING: Haruki Murakami’s recent novel “Killing Commendatore.”

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Attract Eyeballs with a Tradeshow Custom Floor

At tradeshows, the game is all about attracting attention. Have you considered a custom-printed floor?

Every client we’ve worked with that has chosen to use a custom graphic on a printed floor has been happy with the result. They like it, it looks good with the rest of the booth, and it gets positive comments from their visitors.

There are a lot of different floor choices, but what I’m talking about here is bringing the area below your feet into the overall graphic design of the exhibit and booth area. When you incorporate a branding element into the floor as part of the overall look, it adds POP and depth. Take a look at these examples:

With Schmidt’s Naturals, their iconic flowery design spreads across the 10×40 space. It reinforces their overall brand. And when added to the clean and spare look of the rest of the exhibit elements, the colorful floor stands out.

Schmidt’s Naturals and their custom colorful flooring

Wildbrine chose a custom-printed floor that also added to the overall color scheme. The striped green and black floor added another dimension to the bright colors throughout the rest of their simple layout.

Wildbrine’s custom flooring of green and black stripes

Of course, you can create a custom look without printing a graphic below your feet. Another way is to use typical flooring but present it in unusual cuts or angles:

Whatever flooring you choose, there are any number of ways to make it stand out.

Disclosure: Dave’s Killer Bread, Schmidt’s Naturals and Wildbrine are clients of TradeshowGuy Exhibits; the others shown here are not.

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Is Your Tradeshow Marketing Funnel Leaky?

The marketing funnel. It’s something I learned about years ago, but it’s interesting to reexamine now and then. Recently I attended the NAB Show in Las Vegas as a blogger and was asked by a few dozen companies if they could scan my badge. Once they scanned, I was put in the top of their tradeshow marketing funnel, even though they did exactly zero qualifying. See where this is leading?

When it comes to tradeshow marketing, the funnel does indeed get interesting. As in any type of marketing, there are things you can control and things you cannot. Scanning the badge of every person that comes through your booth does indeed capture name and contact information and will likely mean they’ll soon be getting emails from your company.

Let’s look at the tradeshow marketing funnel starting at the very top.

The first step – the top of the funnel where its widest – is the number of people attending a particular tradeshow that you’re setting up an exhibit. For the sake of argument and easy math, let’s say it’s 100,000 people.

Do the Math

If you are one of 2000 exhibitors, that means you’re vying for the attention of those 100,000 people along with 1,999 other exhibitors.

If the show is three days, 10 am – 5 pm, that means the show floor is open for 21 hours. If each attendee walks the floor an average of four hours a day and manages to visit one booth every five minutes, that means they are visiting (again this is hypothetical and on average) 12 an hour, or 48 a day, or 144 over the course of the show. If every attendee visited each exhibitor at the same rate, you’d get about 13.9% of the 100,000 attendees to stop by your booth, or 13,900 people. That’s 660 per hour, or about 11 per minute. If a visitor stops by a booth every 2 ½ minutes, these numbers double. But since people are unpredictable, let’s stay with the five-minute visit on average.

Now – if those numbers are even close to real, what are you doing to get their attention?

Are you giving out samples to visitors, doing product demos, having one-on-one conversations? Or are you just randomly scanning badges of every visitor even though they haven’t expressed any interest in your products other than standing within scanning distance of the booth.

Every one of those interactions will mean that each person will go into the top of the funnel, although admittedly they can’t be treated equally because some will be more interested than others, some will be more prepared to buy than others, and some are just kicking tires.

But they’re all in the marketing funnel. At this point we can treat them equally.

For argument’s sake, let’s say that for every ten that visit your booth, one expresses interest, enough interest to let them capture their contact information.

That means some 66 people per hour have made at least an initial commitment to let you invite them to the next step of the funnel. They may have opted into an email list, agreed to have their badge scanned, or had a conversation with someone in the booth. Again, assuming the show is open for 21 hours, you have approximately 1386 at the second level of your funnel.

Move People Through the Funnel

What do you do to move them along?

Here’s where the marketing funnel gets more interesting. Do you simply email them? Or do you call them one-on-one to assess their real need (or lack) to find out if they are a “hot” lead, “warm” lead or just a “cool” lead that will be put on the back burner and perhaps inserted into a drip campaign? Do you send them a sample? A PDF report of some sort?

An ideal tradeshow marketing campaign will have a number of options available at the show, and each interaction should assess the visitor’s desires and situation.

And let’s add one more step to the math.

Let’s say the average profit of your product is $10,000.

By adding up all the costs of your tradeshow appearance, you’re spending $100,000 for this particulate show. That means you need to sell 10 customers to break even. If your average profit is $1,000, you’ll need 100 customers.

Anything more than those numbers, and the Return on Investment on your tradeshow marketing plan is out of the red and into the black.

But let’s take it one more step.

Improving Funnel Results

Let’s say that for every customer that purchases your premium product continues to purchase other products from you for an average of 7 years. The lifetime value of that customer acquisition just increased substantially, which means the money you spent at the tradeshow to come into contact with her means a lot more.

And if they’re a really happy customer, they may end up referring a handful of new clients to you. Which makes that initial cost look better and better with each passing year.

The more tradeshows you exhibit at, the more people you put your products and services in front of. If you’re doing things right, or at least learning from any mistakes you’ve made over the years and made adjustments, your tradeshow marketing funnel will become less leaky. You’ll retain more of the people that enter at the top.

We all have leaky marketing funnels. But by being aware of what works, what doesn’t and doing your best to maximize your returns, your results will keep improving. But it means paying close attention at every step. Keep asking your prospects what they need to learn, do they want to hear more, do they want a free sample or another product demo, or how they may want to interact with you and your company.


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TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, May 6, 2019: Change

How do we handle the changes that come at us in life? Sometimes the change is planned, other times its thrust upon us.

This short episode of the TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee looks at change. Also, tradeshow tip of the week, and ONE GOOD THING:

This week’s ONE GOOD THING: The 27″ iMac desktop.

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Before You Fly Away Home from the Tradeshow

Once the tradeshow is over, it’s only natural to want to skedaddle the premises and hightail it home as fast as possible.

But WAIT. Before you go, if you’re in charge of the exhibit properties, or at least delegating the jobs to various entities, go over your checklist.

That checklist may look something like this:

Dismantle: Whether you’re hiring a professional I&D crew or taking down the booth with a few fellow employees, make sure to check that all parts and pieces make it into the shipping containers. I can tell you from personal experience that things go missing: carpet pieces, crate endcaps, products and much more. If you are there, take photos as things are put in the crates. If you’re not there, have your hired crew take photos. Most will do so without being asking just for their own records, but by asking you’re making sure that it happens (usually). It also doesn’t hurt to make a shortlist of what is in each crate. I have lost track of the number of times a client has asked if we can track down some particular item a few months after the show. Know what crate to look in makes it that much easier.

Shipping: If you’re using a shipping company, be in good contact with your contact about the details, such as the BOL (Bill of Lading), shipping address, number of crates and pallets, etc. At big shows, sometimes trucks will check in at 9 am but it’ll be hours until they are actually able to pick up your crates. You’ll be billed for the waiting time, of course. Communicate all pertinent information to your trucker: pickup address, check-in time, move-out times – anything that is available from the show organizers. It’s usually (but not always) on the website.

Leads collected: the most important thing, at least as far as management and the sales team are concerned. No matter what form you have them in, digital or analog, triple-check to make sure they are getting safely back to the office.

Reserve your booth space for next year. This may or may not be on your list. But if it’s something your team typically does ahead of time, make sure it’s done.

Congratulate yourself on a job well done. Plan a little thank you gathering (dinner, coffee and goodies?) back at the office for your team to show them how much you appreciate them.

Look ahead to next year. It’ll come quicker than you might think!

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