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

Branding

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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A Company’s Sustainability Initiative as it Relates to a New Tradeshow Exhibit

When you ring up your custom exhibit house and order a new custom tradeshow exhibit, do you ever consider your company’s sustainability initiative?

Of course, there are a lot of things that can go into a company-wide sustainability initiative, such as having it as part of your company mission, doing your best to reduce waste through recycling, using less power, automate workflow or whatever else that may fit, making sure your employees are engaged in the process, and having ways to measure the effectiveness of the program so you can show it off to both employees and the public.

But do you consider how a new exhibit can possibly help in your efforts? There are a number of ways to use the opportunity of a new exhibit project as a part of your sustainability efforts.

The ECO-2118 from EcoSustainable Exhibits

First, you have to ask the question. When you are chatting with your exhibit house representative, ask them: “What ways do you implement sustainability efforts in your exhibit-design and building projects?”

That gives them a chance to show their stuff. In my experience, it’s rarely asked. But it is occasionally brought up, particularly in regard to responding to an RFP. The more formalized the process, it seems, the better the chance to have the question pop up. That’s where a company can fully respond to those concerns.

There have been some occasions when the question is asked as part of the conversation leading up to the sale, or as part of the project, but it is rarer in my experience.

Which is a shame. I think the buying / selling dance is a great chance (often a missed chance) to explore ways in which an exhibit company uses sustainability efforts to great effect.

For example, we often work with Classic Exhibits, one of the premier exhibit builders in the nation. They’re well-known in the industry for the depth and breadth of their sustainable practices. Just one example: aluminum is smelted and extruded locally in Portland, not shipped in, and recycled a short distance away to keep transportation costs minimal. Their approach to sustainability includes the ability to recycle everything except Sintra. That includes wood, aluminum and other metal, paper, foam, clear film and clear film plastic. All except wood is recycled at no cost.

Another Portland example, Boothster, uses building materials that are very easy to recycle: carboard tubes, cardboard-printed pieces, bamboo banner stands and so on. They position their company as builders that fully adhere to the practices for sustainability.

Greenspace, also in Portland, positions their approach as “environmentally sustainable design and fabrication.”

Another builder we work with at TradeshowGuy Exhibits, Eco-Systems Sustainable Exhibits, approachas the design and fabrication of exhibits using materials such as recycled aluminum extrusions, LED lighting, ECO-glass made from 100% post-industrial recycled content, bamboo plywood, FSC certified wood, plastic shipping cases made from recycled plastics and are 100% recyclable. Graphics are printed on ECO-board, Paradise fabric (made from 100% recycled soda bottles), and finishes are water-based low VOC (volatile organic compound) or VOD-free, and Greenguard certified.

All of these go a long way to making your tradeshow investment dollars be a part of your commitment to a company-side sustainability initiative.

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What to Watch for Walking the Tradeshow Floor

Naturally, your eyes will be on several different things when you are walking the tradeshow floor. And your agenda will be different as an attendee vs. an exhibitor. But if you keep your eyes open, you can spot a lot of cool and interesting things on the tradeshow floor.

The first day of a tradeshow, when the doors open for the first time, the first things you’ll see as you walk through the floors is how bright and clean everything is. Hundreds of people, maybe thousands, have been working for days to put on their best for you and all of the other attendees.

walking the tradeshow floor
What do you see when walking the tradeshow floor?

When you walk by a booth, look for the brand and image. Is it well-represented? Are people smiling and greeting you, but not pushing themselves on you? Are they asking good, engaging questions that make you stop and respond? Are they trying to catch your eye?

Is their booth made from sustainable materials? Can you tell? Is that part of their message – that they are a company dedicated to being as ecofriendly as possible?

Also look to see if they have new products. If they have samples, are they easy to reach? If they have demos, do they look easy to engage with? If they have a professional presenter, is it obvious that’s the case and is there a schedule for the day’s presentations easily available?

Is the booth crisp and clean and sharp? Or do you see ragged edges? Is the carpet spotless and brand-new looking? All of these things suggest something to you and help determine what your impressions of the company will be.

If the company is giving away promotional items, is it obvious? If they have some sample-like things on display but are not for giveaway, is that spelled out? Are they looking to collect business cards in a fishbowl? Why?

What is their lead capture strategy? Are they talking with people, or just engaging enough to scan a badge, thinking that is going to be enough?

Later in the day, or on the second or third day, look for places where the booth might be fraying, where garbage might be piling up, where personal belongings are spilling out of a storage area.

Look for stories. People engage with stories and the companies that best tell their stories will be the most memorable. What stories are the exhibits and their products and people telling?

Look for teamwork. Is the booth staff operating as a team, or do they just seem to be….there? Are they dressed in identifiable same-color tees, for example, or are they just in typical work clothes? Can you tell who’s a staffer and who’s not?

If you can walk the floor and make mental notes on day one, digest what you see, try again on the last day of the show when people are almost in their “bug-out” mode. Things will be mighty different!

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Expo West ’19 Diary: Last Full Day of Exhibiting and Re-Cap

The exhibit halls at the Natural Products Expo West closed Saturday at 4 pm. By then, exhibitors were handing our their remaining samples, packing up things they could and getting ready to grab flights home. The last day of a big show like this one is always a bit different. Not as many attendees as the first couple of days (although still very busy), which left staffers with a little more time to chat in a relaxed mode.

Which is a great opportunity to meet people. Which I did. Even though I was pretty much dead on my feet by mid-day, I kept pushing through, knowing the end was in sight. I spent some of the day checking in with all of our clients that we had scheduled for dismantle the next day to make sure paperwork was all in place. Things don’t move in a tradeshow without the right paperwork!

Saturday started early by assisting in the dismantling of a new exhibit for a new client, Hop Tea, from Boulder, Colorado. They were set up in the hot new products section of the Hilton Ballroom, which meant that their exhibiting schedule ended a day earlier than the main halls in the convention center. I’m told they won a Nexty Award for new products, and their business – less than a year old – is off to a quick start. Glad to be able to be a part!

By the end of the day, I was done. Beat. Exhausted. So it was back to the Airbnb for a relaxing night, the only one of my 6-day trip. Friday night it was fun to spend nearly two hours at the Oregon Business gathering at McCormick and Schmick’s near the convention center. It’s a gathering that has happened for several years, and is designed to show off Oregon products from companies that may not necessarily be exhibiting at the show. Food and libations and good conversations flowed.

Hop Tea custom reclaimed barn wood exhibit, built by TimbrandMoss

Sunday morning it was the dismantling. I was overseeing the takedowns of five booths by Eagle Management, which has proven to be a good partner: resourceful, efficient and generally quick to get things done. My job was mainly to make sure things were happening in a timely manner, and taking care of the paperwork: shipping BOL’s, printing shipping labels, etc. I admit I find it fascinating to see the before and after (and the during) of big shows. Once the show is over, hundreds of union workers come in and dismantle things quickly. It’s a helluva sight, really. Even though our truck was in line to pick up crates by the check-in time of 8 am, they weren’t able to load freight and leave until after midnight. Crazy, I know. Yes, it’s a busy show and hundreds if not thousands of trucks are all in a queue awaiting their call.

Overall impressions this year? It seemed busier than last year, if that is possible. New Hope usually posts their press release with exhibitor and attendee numbers within a few days of show close, so it’ll be interesting to review this this week.

From the list of exhibitors I visited last year, 25-30% of them were not at this year’s show. Big shows like this are expensive, and not all companies are ready to hit the big time and try to connect with thousands of buyers, brokers and retailers. That doesn’t keep younger, smaller companies from trying, though. Often the difference between success and failure at this level is having and executing a good plan, no matter what type of exhibit you have.

Later in the week, I’ll post photos of our clients at this show. Meantime, here are a few more clicks from the last day or so of Expo West:

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TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, February 25, 2019: Ronnie Noize

There are a lot of basics to marketing, and we all often think we’re doing everything we should. Then we hear someone like Ronnie Noize spelling out some simple steps and we think “hmmm…might have missed something!”

Ronnie Noize of DIY Marketing Center in Vancouver, Washington, joins me for today’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, and shares not only her top five marketing tips, but her top five “prosperity” tips as well. Good stuff!

This week’s ONE GOOD THING is the documentary on Polish sculptor and artist Stanislav Szulkalski, called “Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szulkalski.”

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There’s Always Another Tradeshow

When it comes to tradeshow exhibiting, is it wrong thing to think, “Well, there’s always next time!”?

Maybe your most recent tradeshow didn’t go as well as it could have. You didn’t meet all the people you had hoped to and didn’t bring home as many leads as you were thinking you should have. Your staff’s interactions with visitors weren’t as good as they could have been.

In other words, you’re thinking that it may have been a waste of time.

If you think that, spend some time to identify WHY it might have been a waste of time.

Was it the wrong show? Maybe your expectations of the show itself were unrealistic. The show organizers might not have been as clear as you’d have liked on the state of the show. They could have assumed more people would show up, but the audience just wasn’t there.

Was it the wrong audience? Each show has a specific audience. If the audience isn’t a good fit for your products or services, it could be that you didn’t assess the show well enough.

Do you have a great exhibit that invites people in?

Was your booth staff lacking in training? A well-trained booth staff can lift you above mediocre or average expectations. After all, they’re the front line in your interactions with the attendees. If the staff hasn’t been properly trained on that interaction, your results will reflect that.

Were your products or services either “blah” or not properly represented in your market? Your competition may have similar products and services, but if you staff was not fully engaged and the presentation of your products was indistinct, or fuzzy, or unclear, you won’t catch attendees’ eyes. Was your exhibit not up to the task? An old or poorly designed exhibit might save you money to ship and set up, and put off another capital investment, but if it doesn’t look good, or have the functional elements that you need to properly execute your tradeshow, it’ll cost you money in the long run, not save you money.

On the other hand, if you’re saying “Well, there’s always another tradeshow” and you’re at least modestly pleased with the results, take a hard look at what worked and what didn’t. Maybe your booth staff was good but could be better. That’s a pretty easy fix.

Or maybe your exhibit is decent, and only needs a few minor upgrades to make it really good. Another easy fix.

Other things to look at: pre-show marketing, post-show follow-up, cutting costs for shipping or logistics, and so on. Individually, they may not have a big impact, but executing each element better than last time can have a cumulative impact that’s hard to ignore.

At the end of the show, when everybody has had a chance to review from their perspective what worked and what didn’t, and why, do a debrief. But don’t wait too long – do it the first or second day you’re back in the office. That will give a little time for reflection from all participants, but not so much time that they’ll forget important feedback.

Based on what comes out of that debrief, make decisions that will better prepare you for the next show. Because there’s always another tradeshow.


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Tradeshow Competitor or Collaborator?

You may think the difference between a competitor and a collaborator is easy. Pretty cut and dried. But is it?

In tradeshows you can meet all sorts of other companies. As an exhibitor, you can probably identify the direct competitors pretty easily. They’re selling either the exact same thing you are with a different name, or something that’s so similar that most people couldn’t tell them apart.

Coke vs. Pepsi. Nike vs. Adidas. Ford vs. Chevy. Classic competitors all.

There are a number of ways to work with competitors, as there are many ways in which you can identify potential partners for tradeshow promotions.

Collaborate with a Competitor

As competitors, one easy way to team up is to both promote a non-profit that is important to your industry. For example, if two outdoor clothing makers partnered up to help raise awareness for a non-profit that was working for, say, public access to forest lands, that would be a good way to position both companies as aligned and working toward similar goals.

Similarly, competing companies could team up at a tradeshow to fight for attendees’ rights. Bigger voices can have a bigger impact, especially if those voices came from well-known companies.

Create a Partner

When it comes to collaboration, it’s a bit easier to dream up ways to work with other companies that will be exhibiting at the same show. You can come up with joint promotions (you sell coffee, they sell pastries; you sell cars, they sell high-end floor mats) that are a good natural fit.

Before the show, get together with the other exhibitor and brainstorm ways you can move traffic around, or benefit from each other’s booth visitors. For example, you may have a newsletter sign-up sheet: on the paper, give people the option to sign up for your collaborator’s newsletter, too. Spell out the benefits of doing so.

However you approach collaboration with a competitor or a partner that’s not a direct competitors, realize that it will take more time and energy to make it happen, and likely a sign-off from managers to move forward. But the right collaboration can help raise brand awareness for both companies.

Pool Your Resources

If both companies are small but want to make a bigger impression, consider pooling your resources to grab a bigger booth space. Instead of 20 10x20s, share a booth and make it a 20×20. Of course, in this instance you’d want to really be ready to show visitors that you’re working together in a very significant way. But by doing this, the booth can show off more of each company’s strengths, and since it’s probably going to be a one-time appearance, it would make sense to save even more and just rent a booth instead of having a new custom booth created.

Come up with contests, or ways to involve more than one exhibitor that moves attendees from one booth location to another. Invite visitors to pick up a Bingo-like sheet with a handful of companies on it. If they go to all booths mentioned and have the sheet stamped, they can have the completed sheet submitted for a chance to win a prize package from all the companies involved.

Beyond the Show Floor

Off the show floor, you could throw a dinner or party and invite both (or more) company’s customers. By doing so, the underlying and unstated message is “We’re proud to be associated with this company and stand by their services and products.” It shows visitors something new about one company that that they may not have known before and raises the level of trust and integrity for all.

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10 Reasons to Change Exhibit Houses

Most companies we work with at TradeshowGuy Exhibits work with one exhibit house for several years, and the urge to change doesn’t come around much. Maybe you’ve been comfortable or years, but something changes. Could be minor, could be major. But it does happen. People change, goals change, situations change. Changing vendors can be challenging and pose a set of challenges. Lots of people are uncomfortable with change and prefer to stick with something even though it’s a good idea to at least look around.

When doing your evaluation, look at all options. One option might mean staying with your current vendor. But when evaluating, make one list with those that are considered competent service providers and those that might be looked at as critical partners.

What reasons might you have – valid reasons – for shopping around for another exhibit house? Let’s take a look at some things that might come up.

Your needs and goals have changed. It may be that you’re working with an exhibit house that excels in smaller exhibits, such as inline modular booths, but you want something custom. Turns out that your current vendor may be able to do what you want, but it’s a stretch. Or perhaps you want more, such as a coordinated tradeshow marketing strategy with planning and execution, and all your current vendor does is design and fabricate exhibits.

Their designers aren’t thinking out of the box like you’d like. Exhibits can get really wild and weird, believe me. I’m sure you’ve seen them! But if the exhibit house you currently work with has a group of in-house designers that seem to stick with the tried-and-true, and never really show you something wacky, it might be time to find another designer. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to move on from the same fabricator, it may just mean bringing in an outside designer.

Lack of Communication. Do you hear from your exhibit house only when you reach out to them for something? Or do they stay in communication frequently even though a show is not currently pending?

Problems with Delivery. In the tradeshow world, deadlines run the show. Does your exhibit house meet deadlines without breaking a sweat, or do you feel that they’re struggling – which means you’re anxious much of the time? The most reliable vendors can hit a bump in the road on occasion, but if that happens do they communicate that to you? Or is the failure to deliver consistently a trend in the wrong direction?

Change exhibit house

They take you for granted. Big exhibit houses are equipped to handle everything from small in-lines to gigantic island booths that spill out of a show’s floor, it seems. If you’re one of their small customers, it may be that they just assume you’re well-taken care of without really checking. Sometimes a lack of communication tells you that they have other priorities.

Poor Service. If a company really wants and values your business, you’ll see it in their service. There shouldn’t be invoice errors, lack of attention to detail, slow response time.

The person that’s handled your account has moved on. The new person doesn’t really “get” you. It may mean that you have to work to get to know them better. But as the account manager, that falls more heavily on them to retain the business than it does on you.

Personality clash. This could be anything (politics, religion, brusqueness, and so on). It may not mean it’s time to move on. It may just mean you need to deal with another person at the company.

Pricing. Not only what is the price, but what are you getting for the money? Some vendors are great at providing a basic service at a good price. Others may be more skilled with more resources who can creatively collaborate, but that may come at a cost you’re not quite ready for. An unexpected price increase may also spur a change. Price increase happen, everyone does it over time. But if a price increase is coming on things that you normally purchase from your exhibit house (graphics, labor for repairs and upgrades, etc.) and you aren’t informed ahead of time, that is not good business.

Culture. Maybe not as big a deal if you’re not actually working for a company, when it would be a really big deal. But sometimes that culture doesn’t transfer well and if it makes everyone uncomfortable and awkward, it might be time to move on.

There are a lot of reasons that companies are not a good fit. And there’s no wrong answers. There are a lot of exhibit houses out there vying for your business. We hate to turn business down, but it happens because for whatever reason, it’s not a good fit.

free tradeshow exhibit quotes
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What do Visitors See in Your Booth That Makes Them Stop – or Keep Walking?

When people walk by your booth, they make a subconscious (or unconscious) choice on whether or not to stop and visit. In an instant, that choice is made. Much of what they base that choice in never really registers as a solid thought, but the choice is made regardless. They stop to visit and check out your booth. Or they keep on going.

What makes them stop? What makes them keep walking? Let’s take a look.

Brand: if they know the brand, they already have an impression. They have an emotion tied to the brand. It may be positive or negative. Or it may be neutral. In any case, the brand itself is part of that judgment.

Size of booth/how many people are already there: if a couple of dozen people are crowded into an island booth and they are all engaged in comes activity, or they are all paying attention to a single activity such as a professional presenter, they may decide to join. Nothing draws a larger crowd like a small crowd.

attract or repel tradeshow visitors

Newness or uniqueness of exhibit: if they come around a corner and see something they’re not used to seeing, that may impact their decision on whether to stop. The exhibit itself can be a big part of that subconscious process. Newness counts to a degree. New graphics, clean look, something different than they’ve seen before.

What’s happening in the booth: something interactive, something hands-on can spur people to impulsively stop to find out more. VR headsets. Spinning wheel. Quiz. Anything that lets people get involved, even if only briefly.

Familiarity: of course, familiarity can count, too, especially if that familiarity is of a positive nature. If they’re familiar and fond of a brand, that can draw them in.

Cleanliness (or lack): clean floors, fresh and wrinkle-free graphics, garbage cans that aren’t overflowing all create a positive impression. Clutter, grimy, broken, old or frayed exhibit pieces can put people in the mind of being repelled. They may not even know why, but they’ll subconsciously steer clear of something that their mind recognizes as distasteful. Something that’s not clean can repel.

People: your booth staff is critical in getting tradeshow floorwalkers to stop or not. A well-trained staff knows how to ask a good opening question, and how to engage. A great staffer will override other flaws in your booth, such as an older exhibit, minor lack of cleanliness, unfamiliarity with your brand and so on.

With thousands of people walking the floor at a tradeshow, everything you do and everything that they can see in your booth space can influence their decision on whether or not they will stop. A small change can add up to a significant difference in your response rate. If you could increase your visitor rate by 20% just by having a clean booth, would that make a difference? If you could triple your leads by doubling the size of your booth space and installing a new exhibit, would that be worth it? I’ve seen it happen. Every little thing counts. So does every big thing. What is drawing visitors to your booth? And what is repelling them without you knowing? Take a closer look next time.


This blog post came thanks to an idea from Mel White at Classic Exhibits. Thanks!

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TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, November 26, 2018: Irina Leoni

What’s one of the best ways to represent yourself to someone who can’t see you in person? Show them a photograph! Not just any photograph, though. Make it professional photograph, taken by someone who know how to bring out the best “you” there is and capture it with a lens.

This week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee features an interview with professional photographer Irina Leoni, who discusses her methods of preparing a subject so they can collaborate on the best possible image:

This week’s ONE GOOD THING: Disconnecting from the world for just a few days.

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