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

Booth Design

Why Don’t Tradeshows Work for All Exhibitors?

It’s a common refrain: tradeshows don’t work for me. They’re too expensive. I don’t get enough leads.

And unfortunately, it’s true for too many exhibitors. It’s easy to look at the exhibitor list of a show year after year and point to companies that give it a try once or twice never to return.

Look at the flip side, though: there are thousands of exhibitors that go back to the same few shows year after year, take home a stack of leads, create more business and firmly believe that tradeshows are the most powerful marketing tool they have at hand.

I know that’s true because I work with those kinds of exhibitors. Now, not every single exhibitor I’ve worked with is successful. Some have fallen off the wagon along the way. Others have shifted their marketing efforts. Some have taken a step back from tradeshows and reassessed their program, but eventually make it back bigger and better.

What’s the difference?

We could point to any number of things: their booth space is lousy and doesn’t have enough traffic; their booth is small and nondescript; their staff is bored (and boring) and so on. But it all boils down to just two things:

Having a good plan and being committed to that plan.

Plans are great. Everyone should have one. But what about having a bad plan? Bad plans do certainly exist. And having a bad plan is not a good thing.

Back to that “good plan” and “being committed” to the plan. A good plan can come from knowing your goals, your budget, your people; knowing the show and your competitors, and knowing what you really want out of the show. That good plan can be enhanced by having a well-trained booth staff, having a standout exhibit and having the most popular products in the show. But those last three things, the staff, exhibit and best products, are not completely necessary to have a good result. They’re important, sure, but they’re more like frosting on the cake. You gotta build a good cake first.

Answer these questions:

  • What do you want out of the show? In other words, why are you there?
  • How are you going to know if you got what you wanted? How are you going to measure your results?
  • What are the steps you need to take to get what you want? What will it take to get exactly what you want?

Sometimes it takes a little brainstorming and communication with the various members of the team. Sometimes it means knowing what worked at your last show and knowing what didn’t work. Be honest. Sometimes you have to be brutally honest to say that having that crazy mascot uniform didn’t really work, or that having the general manager do the in-booth presentations didn’t draw that many people. There are lots of reasons why things don’t work and assessing and understanding those ideas will help you move forward.

Another way to look at it is to ask yourself: When I get back in the office the morning after the show and say, Man that was a great show! What does that mean to you?

It’s not the same for every company.

Once you’ve defined the main goal of your tradeshow appearance, break it up into pieces. If you want 300 leads over a three-day show, you’ll need 100 a day. If the show is open from 10 am to 5 pm, that’s 8 hours. You’ll need to average 12.5 leads per hour, or one about every five minutes. If you’re doing demos, for example, and you know that for every demo you do there are 15 people on average standing there, and three of them are good leads, that means you’ll need to do a demo about four times an hour. If, on the other hand, you get six leads for every demo, that means you only need two demos an hour. Or, you could try to double your projected leads by doing demos four times and hour.

Run the numbers. If you want to give away 1,000 product samples or sign up 200 people for lengthier demos in the next three months, you know what that will break down to by just doing the math.

If your goals are not so straightforward, you can still look at it from an angle that will help. Maybe you want to make solid connections with only three distributors that, if you can get them to carry your products, would double your company revenue in the next two years, figure out what organizations are the best and most likely candidates. Make whatever effort you need to set and confirm appointments at the show. Yes, tradeshow success is all in the numbers, and it’s all in the ability to show off your products and make sales. So do the math, do the outreach. But don’t forget that we’re all humans – you and your prospects – and there’s often not a straight line to success. Make allowances for that, learn from your missteps and do better the next time. That’s what it’s all about.


Design a Great Exhibit by Knowing Who Buys Your Products and Where they Shop

I’m no expert on exhibit design or figuring out the potential customers for a specific product – let’s leave that to the people who have a lot of experience in that area and it’s not me – but I’ve picked up a few things along the way by talking to a lot of experts.

One thing that seems clear is that if you know who your audience is, what kind of products they buy, what kinds of stores they like to shop at, and why they buy your products, all of that information can be assimilated in a synergistic way to help determine the look and feel of your tradeshow exhibit so that your potential customers feel a familiarity; they feel at home when they see your exhibit.

What do I mean by that? Let’s say you’ve determined that the people who buy your products the most are a specific type of person: maybe they shop at Target a lot, but also like Bed, Bath and Beyond. Or they like Applebee’s but not Pizza Hut. They like Urban outfitters and J. Crew but not The Gap. And so on. The more information you can distill about your products’ appeal – and who is buying those products from you, the more you have to help design your tradeshow exhibit.

Whole Food Market Richmond Branch.:  Commercial Spaces by Garnett + Partners LLP, Eclectic
Are you trying to echo the look of a specific store interior?

Let’s say, for example, that your products attract people who shop at Whole Foods for groceries. If you are selling a food product, it probably makes sense to incorporate some design elements that are popular at Whole Foods into your exhibit design. Not to copy the design, but to echo the design elements. Do they use recycled wood? Do they use a pastel color on counters or product shelves? Then consider incorporating those elements in the exhibit design.

Exhibit designers have the experience and the skill to not only create a three-dimensional model complete with floor plans, traffic flows, height restrictions and sensibilities, but they know how to take those colors and patterns and textures and incorporate them into product displays, greeting counters, light boxes and flooring patterns.

If done right, your potential customer will take one look at your exhibit and even if they’re not familiar with your brand (yet), they will feel at home because you’ve done your homework and created an exhibit that understands them and what they like.

You just need to know who your ideal customer is and what brands or stores they’re already comfortable shopping at.

10 Ways to Stand Out at a Home Show

Smaller, regional or city home shows are where local residents go to see the latest in roofing, home repair and improvement, HVAC, landscaping, and more. It’s not uncommon for exhibitors at these smaller shows to lack experience in exhibiting that their national show exhibiting brethren might have. If you are going to set something up at a home show, how do you attract the attention of attendees? Let’s look at a few different ways.

First, have an outstanding exhibit. This can be done in many ways. I’ve seen, for example, exhibits that are unique and custom. They were possibly designed and assembled by the company’s work crew using a little creativity and a lot of ability, and they reflect the company’s brand and personality. Sometimes they’re done by an exhibit house, but not necessarily. By presenting yourself with something that’s attractive to look at and delivers a strong message, you’re ahead of the game. Examples: companies that sell leaf gutter blockers who have a small room sample showing their gutter blockers with water running down the roof with leaves caught on top of the leaf guards. Also, a landscaper that decks out their entire space with rock, sod, waterfalls, small creek bridges or whatever. It’s time-consuming, yes, but it catches people’s eyes.

IDEA! Have a Polaroid camera, take people’s pictures and put ’em on a corkboard!

Second: Have a well-prepared booth staff. Make sure they understand the goal: gather more leads, capture their contact info for follow up. They need to know the basics: no talking on their phones in the booth, no eating in the booth, no sitting on a chair. The do’s and don’ts also include offering a smile to visitors, asking pertinent questions (are you looking to improve your landscaping? etc.) and being present with visitors when the ask questions. Tell people thanks for coming by, even if they didn’t show much interest.

Three: have something for visitors to DO. Interactivity keeps visitors in your booth and if it’s really good they’ll stick around long enough for you have a good Q&A. You see a lot of spinning wheels where people can win a prize, and while I’m not a big fan of these because virtually everybody that wants to win something stops, and they’re not all potential customers. But they do get people stop long enough so you can ask them a few questions. Other things you can have them do: find something quirky about your business, or even get a life size cutout of a famous figure like Frank Sinatra or Elvis and put up a backdrop with your company name and the show hashtag and invite people to snap photos and post on social media for a chance to win something. It gets people involved and helps promote your booth number. Another idea: have a really big Jenga set, where each block has a question that relates to your business, and when they pull it out, give them a chance to win by correctly answering the question. Give away LED flasher buttons with your logo and booth number and tell them a secret shopper is wandering the hall and if they spot you with the button you could win something. Another way to promote your booth away from your booth space. One more: custom printed flooring that invites people to take their picture with the floor (another variation of the social media back drop/life size figure).

Four: Make sure that you give your visitors what they want. And what is that? They want to see what’s new. They want to speak to someone who knows their stuff. They want to be treated like a friend and with respect. A warm smile goes a long way. They don’t want their time to be wasted.

Five: Have your booth staffers stand out by wearing unusual or different clothing. Could be that all of your staffers at an HVAC booth don tuxedos. Or everybody wears colorful branded t-shirts. Purple one day, orange the next, red the next, and so on.

Six: Have a magic word of the day (or hour). Put up a sign on the front counter that everyone can see. If someone says the magic word, they win a prize. It’ll intrigue people enough so that they stop and start a conversation. Have a few ready-made hints for what the magic word might be.

Seven: Put on a small white board and invite people to write a short Haiku (a short three-line unrhymed verse of five, seven and five syllables. Have a few examples for starters. Give away prizes.

Eight: Shoot a commercial at the show. Invite visitors that are customers to record a short testimonial. Interview one of the managers and ask her how things work.

Nine: Conduct a survey. Make it very simple, maybe two or three questions. Ask people to fill in the answers. If they want a chance to win, give them a space to put in their name and phone number or email address, but don’t require it for the survey. Find out what people really think about some of the things you do.

Ten: Make sure your graphic messaging is very simple. One of the keys to delivering a good message is to make it easy to understand. On tradeshow back wall, use no more than seven words. Put the more complicated stuff in a handout or a download.

No doubt you can think of more. What comes to mind?


The Art of Tradeshows is in Hiding the Art

One of the newsletters I read regularly is Electric Impulse, a monthly newsletter from Electric Impulse Communications. I interviewed Leslie Unger, President of Electric Impulse Communications, in March of 2018. In this week’s newsletter, a comment of hers jumped out at me that made me immediately think of the tradeshow world:

The art is in hiding the art and you as the audience don’t see the work behind the curtain.

Leslie Ungar, Electric Impulse Communications

Tradeshows are about presenting your company’s BEST. You leave almost nothing to chance. An exhibit is carefully planned down to the last detail. The newest and best products are launched at tradeshows. Booth staff are either put through formal training or are at least given guidelines on how to interact with visitors and gather contact information for follow up. Multiple meetings are held, phone conference calls are scheduled, all to make sure that the graphics have the right messaging, the right images; to make sure that the exhibit colors and materials are right for the brand; to ensure that flooring or hanging signs fit the overall branding scheme.

A lot of damn work goes on behind the curtains.

Behind the curtain…

But visitors don’t see behind the curtains. They don’t see the months of work that went into the exhibit design and fabrication. They don’t see the planning that went into handling logistics such as shipping and installation/dismantle of the exhibit. They don’t see the chaos of the tradeshow floor during setup and dismantle. They don’t see the challenges that a company went through to put on their best face, to put their best foot forward at each and every tradeshow.

Think of it. Each and every tradeshow is like the Land of Oz. Behind the curtain is the Wizard (or group of Wizards), pulling the levers, manipulating information and ideas, maneuvering pieces from one place to another. All done to give each and every visitor an experience or impression that leaves them with a positive feeling about the company. The best exhibitors are those that go beyond that, though, and leave their visitors feeling more than positive. They leave them with a memorable experience that relates directly to their product. For example, a software demonstration that gives visitors the empowerment and possibilities that they just didn’t see before, and now they are leaving feeling creative and inspired. Or a product that they know they can put to immediate use that will save money and time, freeing up both resources for other important tasks.

Storytelling in a tradeshow exhibit is an art, a highly developed one. The challenge for each tradeshow exhibitor is to tell their best story with the people and skills on hand. And then to improve on it the next time around.


A Clean Booth is a Mean Booth

Wait a minute, how do you mean “mean”? As in average? As in angry?

Nope, as in “very skillful or effective” in a more informal sense: “she’s a mean bowler!”

But when it comes to having a clean and mean booth at a tradeshow, how might that work? Let’s explore.

Skillful and effective can certainly come in to play with your tradeshow presence. Your booth staff should be well-trained and know how to ask the right questions and collect valid and helpful answers.

Your exhibit itself should be clean. Having a small carpet sweeper or dust buster can help keep the floors clean. Garbage cans should be emptied regularly, especially if you’re at a show where a lot of samples are handed out, leaving behind a trail of debris.

Hiding things: most exhibits have counters or closets where personal items and extraneous items are kept. Often brochures or other needed items can be stored under a skirted table. In any event, keeping those extras out of sight helps to keep your booth mean and clean.

No food or beverages in the booth space. Yes, if you’re sampling foods, then it’s okay. But your staff shouldn’t be eating or drinking in the booth space. Psychology shows that often visitors will turn and go the other way if they encounter a staffer eating in the booth. It’s not inviting at all.

Have enough staff for the show. It’s a fine line: having too few or having too many staffers. Knowing the right amount and being able to effectively schedule the staff so that there’s always the right amount of staff comes from experience.

Knowing who the staff are: does this mean they all have readily identifiable badges or color-coded clothing? I’ve been in booths where it was impossible to know who part of the team was. In other booths, all of the staffers were wearing the same color shirt or wearing a shirt that was plainly branded with the company name.

Keep your exhibit and booth presence clean and mean for an edge over your competitors.


The Surprising Evolution of Table Top Exhibit Displays

When I first got into the tradeshow industry back in ’02, table top exhibits were pretty cheap and boring. They were often small suitcase affairs that could be easily transported by one person and set up in just a couple of minutes. You’d fold it out, set it on a table, and often attach laminated images using Velcro tape. Or some exhibitors would cobble together small sample packs of their products with sell sheets or small ads in acrylic holders.

It wasn’t impressive or inspiring. But they were cheap, and easy to transport. So in a sense, they served a purpose.

Today, you can no doubt use much of those same table top exhibits. But there are a wide variety of table top exhibits that take things to the next level. Or three. Many of the new designs use materials such as fabric graphics (often backlit) that are more common in in-line and island exhibits. Prices have gone up, but so has quality and impact. Each exhibitor that’s sticking with a table top presentation has to decide if the extra cost is worth the impact.

Let’s take a look at a few table top exhibits:

Starting with what are called hybrids, the VK-1853 uses ‘to-the-edge’ silicon-edged graphics, an engineered aluminum frame and can pack in a small rollable case.

The VK-1853 table top exhibit (click image for full details)

Another example of the hybrid exhibit is the VK-0005, which is essentially a SuperNova tool-less lightbox with shelves for product display.

The VK-0005 table top exhibit (click image for full details)

On to the lightweight tension fabric, there are many examples, including the TF-403 and TF-405, both featuring lightweight metal frames and large format tension fabric. The TF-405 comes with an S-shaped frame which, because of its unusual shape, tends to catch the eye.

The TF-403 table top exhibit (click image for full details)

Moving on, there are a number of sustainably-engineered and produced table tops. One that catches the eye is the ECO-104T. And confirming that these are often shrunken versions of full-size in-lines, there are both 10×10 and 10×20 versions of this particular exhibit.

The ECO-104T (click image for full details)

Another example of a sustainable exhibit is the TF-409, an Aero freestanding table top, which stands out with its double-circle design.

Folding table tops are probably associated with the vintage table tops, and the FT-05 is a good example of them. They are economical and easy to set up (as are all of these), and give a solid look.

The FT-05 table top exhibit (click image for full details)

And finally, the FGS (Floating Graphic System) pop-ups come in a variety of configurations, all of which offer a variety of graphic placements for products and branding. Here’s the FG-03:

The FG-03 table top exhibit (click image for full details)

Table top exhibits come in all shapes and varieties and in a wide price range. Many shows that exhibitors want to go to are smaller and they don’t need a big exhibit, or even an in-line, which is a great opportunity to show off your company in an impressive light for a price that is light on your wallet.

Check our full line of table top exhibits here.

TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, July 29, 2019: Jack Hale

3D Exhibit Designer and Graphic Designer Jack Hale sits down to discuss the ins and outs of tradeshow exhibit design and graphic design on this week’s edition of TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee. Take a look:

Check out Jack’s work and website at JB Hale Design.

This week’s ONE GOOD THING: Last year’s Sting and Shaggy release, 44/876.

Capturing a Tradeshow Attendee’s Attention

You have literally a few seconds to catch a tradeshow attendee’s attention. You’ve been there: walking the show floor, heading across the hall. You see someone you know; you get distracted, you spill your coffee on your pants. There’s always something that keeps you from paying attention to the tradeshow exhibits around you.

Even highway billboards sometimes get more attention than your booth.

Which means that people are ignoring you. Not because you don’t have something good to offer. Not because you are slacking in the ‘look at us’ department. But if you’re doing just the average approach to getting attention, you’ll be, well, average when it comes to having people stop. What are some of the top ways to get attention?

Do something different. Unexpected. Unusual. I often point to the Kashi island exhibit that’s shown up at Natural Products Expo West in at least a couple of iterations the past few years. It’s simple, and it delivers a simple message. It invites people to stop and find out what it is. The design itself is unusual enough that it stops visitors.

Simple and bold. Deliver an important message, maybe something that’s more important then your products or servies.

Hire a pro. A professional presenter knows how to stop people in their tracks, entertain them and deliver a powerful message in just a few moments.

Have something for them to do. Interactivity means, if the activity appeals to them (chance to win a prize or get a little mental engagement), they’ll stop. And of course a small crowd draws a bigger crowd.

Ask a great question. Take a tip from our pal Andy, who specializes in teaching this to his clients, there’s a lot to be said for knowing how to immediately engage with someone in a positive manner.

Offer a space for people to sit and charge their phones. This usually takes a bigger booth than just a small inline, which means you need a little space to spare. But if you can get random visitors to sit for ten minutes, offer them something valuable: a bottle of water, a chance to view a video about your company or product.

Lots of ways to capture a tradeshow attendee’s attention – it just takes a little planning and execution and you can be drawing them in.

11 Ways to Attract Attention at a Tradeshow

Wear colorful branded clothing. Whether it’s a staff of two or three, or twenty, having colorful branded clothing will immediately let visitors know who’s working the booth and who’s a guest. Bright colors attract, so put your logo on the front and an enticing message on the back. And to change things up from day to day, create a different colored set with a different message for each day of the show, and make sure your crew coordinates. Bright colors, especially if they’re tied into your brand work well: yellow, red, orange, blue, fluorescent.

Setup a giant prop and invite people to take a photo. Could be anything: a mascot, a giant purse, a full-size model of one of your products (if it’s small, for instance); something that stops people in their tracks. I’ve seen mascot, angels, musicians, giant hanging props, exhibits made from bicycle frames and more. They all had one thing in common: they begged to have their picture taken.

Once that photo has been taken, invite the visitor to spread the word on social media and include the show hashtag to make sure the post gets seen. Offer prizes to people that photo and share online.

Give something away and offer an incentive to wear it. One way is to print up a few hundred t-shirts or hats with your logo along with a fun message and tell people that if they put it on right there, they can also take home another gift. And tell them if you catch them wearing it at an after-hours show (be specific as to which one), you’ll be giving away $50 bills to random shirt wearers. This type of promotion gets others involved and spreads the word about your booth and products throughout the show.

Have a unique exhibit that begs to be seen. Sounds straightforward, but to break out of the cookie-cutter mold, it takes a designer that’s willing to create something unique and wild and a company that’s willing to spend to make it a reality.

Give visitors something to DO. Interactivity goes a long way. At the NAB Show, there were several exhibitors that gave visitors a chance to learn new software by joining them for a free class. Not only are you drawing interested people in, you’re keeping them involved for up to an hour and showing them exactly how the product works.

Contests. Give people a chance to win something by guessing the number of beans in a jar, answering a quiz, spinning a wheel or something else increases the chance you’ll get visitors to stop at your booth. Make sure to engage them in a brief conversation to uncover their needs regarding your product.

Famous mugs. Lots of companies hire famous (or at least semi-well known) people to be a part of the show. Authors, speakers, sports stars, actors, and so on can all draw a crowd. Authors in particular, if they’re in your industry, can be a good draw if they have a new book out. I’ve seen dozens of people in line to pick up a free copy of a new book and get it signed by the author (and snap a selfie!), and I’ve waited in line to get a prop soft baseball signed by Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.

Comment wall. I see these more and more. Ask a bold question or make a bold statement and invite people to chime in with their thoughts on a wall. Invite people to snap a photo of what they wrote and share it on social media (make sure the wall is branded and has the show hashtag on it).

Bring media production to your booth. Know someone that is a podcaster in the industry? Invite them to record a few episodes of their show in your booth, and make sure to provide some good guests for them, whether it’s people from your company, or others. The simple act of recording a show in your booth will make a lot of people stop. That’s a good time for your staff to engage those visitors politely to find out if they’re prospects.

If someone in your company has written a book, offer free copies of the book along with free printed photos with visitors and the author. This has worked great for years for Bob Moore of Bob’s Red Mill, one of our long-time clients at TradeshowGuy Exhibits. Every time they exhibit at the bigger expos, Bob spends time signing books and posing for photos while a photographer takes photos and has them printed up in a few moments for the visitor.

There are literally countless ways to draw crowds to your booth. It all boils down to creativity and execution. What can you do to improve the traffic at your next show?

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Tradeshow Guy Blog by Tim Patterson

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