When it comes to tradeshow marketing, anything goes. Right?
Well, maybe not everything, but certainly it’s a time to try things. Do things
Or. Maybe not. Tradeshows are fraught with risk. You’re
putting a lot of money on the line. Generally speaking, the cost of tradeshow marketing
is about a third of a company’s overall marketing budget. Which means that it’s
a lot of money in play, making it hard for a company to risk much.
In a sense, tradeshows can be an interesting mix of the
precise and the experimental.
The precision is important, to be sure. Your tradeshow staff
is your front line. The most important piece of the puzzle. They need to know
what they’re doing and why. If mistakes are made, or if your staff isn’t as
well-trained as they could be, your company might miss out on a good amount of
Your exhibit is important. It’s the 3D representation of
your brand, and if it’s not spot-on, it’ll send mixed messages to your audience.
Your products, demos and sampling have to be well-thought
out and well-executed. Make some mistakes in these areas, and again, you’re
leaving potential money on the table.
Precision is important in these areas.
But tradeshows are also ripe for experimentation. You have opportunities to do surveys, market research, unusual activities, oddball booth items and much more that will grab eyeballs and attention without impacting the precision needed in other areas. VR, smoothie bikes, live music, projection mapping, unusual use of video….the list is endless as to how creative you can get at tradeshows and still do all of the precise things that you need to do to engage with attendees, capture leads, have an exhibit that captures your brand precisely.
Tradeshows are a balancing act no matter what you’re trying to balance. Adding some experimentation along with the precision gives you flexibility, a little tension (which makes people stop and look), and keeps you, your visitors and your competitors on your toes.
It’s 2020. Seems like everyone wants something new. After all, this century is no longer a teenager! Hey, if the century were a human, it could almost drink!
So…what’s new in the tradeshow industry?
At TradeshowGuy Exhibits, we work with a handful of vendors: designers, manufacturers and other suppliers in the tradeshow industry.
Our main partner since we started this business has been Classic Exhibits. If not for them, we wouldn’t be in business. Classic Exhibits is a ‘white label’ manufacturer that designs and sells products through a network of distributors. They’ve gone from kind of a kit designer and manufacturer to doing a lot of custom work. It’s where the industry is going, and Classic Exhibits is among the companies leading the way.
And when they introduce something new, it’s good. More than good. It’s groundbreaking. In the last couple of years, they introduced Gravitee, a tool-less exhibit system that sets up easily, breaks down quickly and ships flat. It’s made a difference to clients of ours at Classic Exhibits. In fact, the first time we set up a Gravitee wall with an installation and dismantle crew, they were impressed with how easy and quickly it went up.
Our new Tool-less SuperNova Lightboxes achieves all of those goals. While there may be more “complicated” solutions, there are none stronger or easier. We estimate the new tool-less connectors reduce assembly by 70-80%. Plus, the splines and the corner connectors can stay on the extrusion reducing the possibility of lost parts. Even the translucent knobs are innovative since they eliminate shadows and reflections.
Can’t wait to see these in action.
We also work with Orbus, which provides numerous – maybe countless – options for popups, banner stands, table throws and more. They have high quality combined with budget pricing – a good combination.
And they’re kicking off 2020 by introducing a variety of new products, including digital banners, outdoor tents, shaped signs, smaller (and larger) HopUp fabric stands, and more. Many of these are lightweight, easy to set up by just a person or two, and priced right. See the selection of new designs and products here.
We’ve enjoyed working with other manufacturers and vendors through the years, but when it comes to something new, both Classic Exhibits and Orbus have taken the initiative to keep bringing the “NEW” to the New Year.
Back from Thanksgiving week, a nice few days away from work.
Sit down at the computer Monday morning.
Hundreds of emails piled up in my in-box. 785 to be precise. Lots of them with pitches on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I mean, a ton of pitches.
Delete them all: delete, delete, delete. Don’t bother to
read them. They do nothing for me.
On a few, I decide to unsubscribe. But that takes longer.
And with most of the newsletters I unsubscribe from, I feel like they keep
sending me stuff. So what’s a guy to do?
It’s obvious that none of those emails stood out. They did nothing for me (I think I said that already). I’m not looking for any Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals, I have work to do. I’m not looking for Christmas presents for anyone, or to save money on things that I probably would not buy at any point. I’m busy and want to get these off of my to-do list as soon as possible, which means I’m scanning quickly and deleting almost everything once I determine it’s not a client, or a potential client.
I’m not their target market.
Email is one thing. Let’s move from email to other venues, such as retail, or online ads, or, hey, tradeshows!
When people walk by your retail store in a shopping mall, are you doing anything to stand out?
When you advertise online, what makes your ad stand out?
When people walk by your tradeshow booth, are you doing
anything to stand out in a crowd?
It’s easy to ignore and delete an email. It’s easy to walk by a retail store without stopping. It’s a piece of cake to ignore ads on your screen.
It’s pretty easy to walk by a tradeshow booth, too, unless something really outstanding is going on at the booth. Maybe it’s a unique booth. Maybe it’s a presentation that draws you in, entertains you and informs you of the company’s products and services. Maybe it’s a unique food sample. Could be anything.
Tradeshows have a distinct advantage over emails, and here’s
why: emails go out to people who have (supposedly) opted-in to a company’s
pitches. But over time, it’s not uncommon for that company – which is often
owned by another entity – to share that email address with another company, and
soon you’re getting pitches from (somewhat) related companies or products or
services. Has that happened to you? Happens all the time to me.
The difference that tradeshows have is that you have spent
handsomely to be at the show. But the show is targeted, the audience is
specialized. The people walking the show floor have also paid to be there, and
they are usually there for specific reasons, the main one being that they are
SHOPPING for something, and since you’re exhibiting there, chances are they’re
SHOPPING FOR SOMETHING YOU ARE SELLING.
Still, you have to stand out in a crowd. Tradeshows have a
lot of competition. Your biggest and best competitors are doing all they can to
make their best pitch to the same people you’re pitching. That’s the name of
Which means that whatever you do, it had better be good. It
had better be worth your time and money.
It had better be something that stands out in a crowd.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Wait a minute, how do you mean “mean”? As in average? As in
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.
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.
Another example of the hybrid exhibit is the VK-0005, which is essentially a SuperNova tool-less lightbox with shelves for product display.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.