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


The New Tradeshow Exhibit Classic: the LED Fabric Back Wall

It used to be that the tradeshow exhibit classic was the curved pop-up back wall. It was quick and easy to setup, looked good and did what you wanted it to: gave you a respectable presence at a tradeshow booth in a 10×10 space.

That’s old. Now the new tradeshow exhibit classic booth is the LED fabric back wall, or light box. Dang, they look good. Here’s why.

tradeshow exhibit classic
SEG backlit fabric back walls in Dave’s Killer Bread/Alpine Valley 10×40 custom tradeshow exhibit.

First, a fabric back wall is dominated by the SEG – silicone edge graphics – that are gorgeously printed using dye-sublimation. Then a thin silicone stop is sewn around the edge of the graphic, which is installed by inserting the silicone strip into a small channel in the facing edge of the frame. The SEG graphic is the main part of the new tradeshow exhibit classic, and the flexibility that comes with it makes it the new classic.

For starters, the graphic can be printed at any size. The frame can be made at virtually any size that fits in your booth space. The beauty of the flexibility is that you can add counters, closets, shelves, monitors or other items in and around the fabric back wall to create a unique exhibit.

But wait, there’s more!

The SEG graphic can be a free-standing unit, or it can mount to a wall, such as in a corporate conference or entrance, or it can be hung from the ceiling.

Now, let’s add another great feature: LED backlighting. The technology of LED lighting has improved drastically in the past decade, and the cost has plummeted, it seems that hardly anyone ever uses halogen lighting at tradeshows any more. The LED lights are inserted into the aluminum extrusion frame and, with the addition of an opaque white backside “blocker,” the light is spread evenly throughout the graphic.

With the technological advance in fabrics and printing, the printers who are keeping up with the current wave are able to offer extremely high-quality printing (blacks are BLACK, reds are RED!) on high-quality fabric to give you printing that is hard to distinguish from printing on paper.

tradeshow exhibit classic

Depending on your printing vendor, you can create giant fabric graphics up to 16’ high and as wide as you’d like with no seam. Finally, fabric (and the aluminum frame) can be recycled, and it will store and ship in small containers, saving you money all down the line.

Take a look at SEG options here.

You’re a Tradeshow Manager? Face It: Your Job is Never Done

As a tradeshow manager, your job is never done. Is that a bit daunting? Not every tradeshow manager job is the same, but I would hazard a guess that many of the duties are similar from person to person.

tradeshow manager

You count the number of shows your company will exhibit at during a year. Some shows require that you ship the large island booth, some require the uber-cool inline booth and lots of products. Others require just a table top exhibit with a good backdrop. Some may need a professional presenter. Each show has its own guidelines, shipping and logistic requirements, not to mention your internal goals: different product launches or promotions, different personnel needs, different graphics for different audiences and more.

Then there’s the travel: scheduling and booking flights, hotels, rental cars, meetings and more. Packing, schlepping to the airport, to the hotel. Bring a good book to read, or get some work done on the plane.

Then its show time! Meet and greet, pitch products, answer questions, gather lead information, answer more questions, meet after hours with clients or friends. Sleep? Maybe a little! Feel sore from all the walking? Yes.

Once the show is over, it’s time to pack it up, ship it back, make sure the leads are categorized and sent to the sales team for follow up. Maybe check the exhibit when it gets back to the warehouse to make sure it’s ready to go for the next show.

Back in the office, it’s time to reconcile payments made with receipts, track costs, fill in spreadsheets to calculate ROI and more. File papers, submit reports, share photos, solicit feedback on what worked and what could be improved.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a tradeshow manager and your job never ends. None of our jobs end until we decide. We learn to take breaks, get a breather, grab a coffee, go skiing, take a bike ride when we can.

Then we get back on the saddle and fully engage again. Because it’s a great job, isn’t it, and you wouldn’t stick with it if you didn’t love it, right?

Nine Things You Need to Know Before Buying a Custom Tradeshow Exhibit

It’s a big commitment, investing in a custom tradeshow exhibit. Maybe not as much as getting married or buying a new house, but it’s more than deciding who should accompany you to the prom. It’s a big deal – buying a new custom exhibit. If you haven’t been through the process before, or in a while, it’s not a bad idea to review the steps.

What are the pros and cons of the decision? What about budget, logistics, staff preparation and more? They’ll all be impacted by the purchase of a custom tradeshow exhibit.

Some of the pros and cons to weigh before choosing between purchasing a custom tradeshow exhibit or a more standard, modular or manufactured exhibit.

  1. Uniqueness: A custom tradeshow exhibit means that your company will have a unique, one-of-a-kind presentation. No one else will look like (if the designer does his job!). Your designer starts with a blank slate and before doing anything on the slate they should ask a lot of questions. They should ask so many that you may wish they’d stop! But it’s all good – it means they care about creating an exhibit that you really want; one that works well for your company from many aspects: the look and feel, the branding, and the functionality.
  2. Flexibility: A custom exhibit can be designed and fabricated form the outset to accommodate a variety of needs and intended uses. For instance, if you have an exhibit schedule that demands you exhibit in a 10×20 space in one show, a 10×20 space in another show, and a 20×20 in yet another show, your exhibit components can be designed to work in all three configurations.
    Custom Tradeshow Exhibit
  3. Pride of Ownership: A custom exhibit will give you those intangibles: pride of ownership, unique corporate identity and a feeling that can’t be beat, from the CEO to the front-line staffers!
  4. Other Options: Of course, you have options other than custom, especially when it comes to smaller exhibits, such as 10×10 or 10×20 inline exhibits. There is pop-up, modular, flat-panel, fabric panels, fabric back-lit walls, monitor inset options and more. There are custom hybrids that take elements of modular designs and add unique twists that help you stand out – maybe for less money than designing and fabricating a custom exhibit from scratch.
  5. Logistics: Drayage, Shipping and Installation & Dismantle: It seems that nothing can torpedo your tradeshow marketing budget faster than logistics. Shipping, show drayage and the costs to install and dismantle your exhibit are often seen as nothing short of highway robbery. But in the tradeshow world, it’s a cost of playing the game. So, what can you do from the design and fabrication standpoint to keep these costs as low as possible? Using lightweight materials such as fabric graphics and aluminum framing can help. Knowing how to set up your own small exhibit can help you avoid having to pay an I&D company, but there are tradeoffs. You’re either paying your own crew for their time, or you’re paying the pros.
  6. Custom Look, Function and Branding: The main reason to consider a custom exhibit is that, after all is said and done, you want a booth that looks like no other. If your company handcrafts potato chips, for example, uses biodiesel fuel, donates to charitable causes, mitigates wetlands on the site of a new factory, works a staying green by invoking heavy use of solar energy, you have a solid idea of how you want your exhibit to reflect those values as part of your brand.
  7. Design/Fabrication: One question that pops up on occasion: is it important to have the same company that designs your booth fabricate it? Not necessarily. But having the design and the fabrication shop right next door means communication is smoother and more efficient. Some independent designers will gladly create a custom design that is guaranteed to wow your audience. But many may not have as much experience designing using specific materials that an exhibit house typically uses. They may also not have as much experience at knowing how much things cost. Having an exhibit project manager in close communication with the designer can help keep the design within budget.
  8. Pricing: Budget is often the key element of a new exhibit project, and creating a custom exhibit will often drive the cost higher than picking something that’s more “off the shelf.” Those standard-issue exhibits will, in most cases, cost less than a similarly sized custom exhibit. But that doesn’t mean your custom exhibit has to cost an arm and a leg. Taking time to go through the process carefully helps rein in those costs. Know what your needs are, communicate those needs to your exhibit house, and make sure they are aware of your budget. Confirm all steps of the design and reviews, all the way through to fabrication.
  9. Learning Curve: Many companies that step up from a small modular booth to a custom booth will go through a few growing pains. It’s not uncommon. They’re spending more money, they’re having to deal with higher shipping costs, I&D, and their staff now has a larger space to deal with. But ultimately, every company I’ve worked with that has gone through the process unanimously report it was well worth it. Partners, clients, prospects, and even competitors see them as bigger players in the industry. Higher respect and recognition are your due.

There is a tremendous benefit to your company when your tradeshow marketing moves to a significantly higher level. Tradeshow marketing is by far one of the most cost-effective, highly targeted methods of reaching your potential customers and maintaining strong relations with your current clients.

5 Great Rental Exhibits that Look Custom

One of the ongoing debates I’ve heard since I joined the exhibit industry in early 2002 was this: which is better: a rental exhibit or an exhibit that you purchase to own?

There’s no right answer. Your situation may warrant one or the other. The other part of the debate I always heard is that once you rent two or three times, you have paid the full purchase price. That’s not always true, but it’s a good starting point.

One of our clients is based in Manhattan. They exhibit twice a year, often back to back. They don’t have room for storing the exhibit at their location. They don’t always have the same size exhibit, bouncing from a ten-foot exhibit to a twenty-foot inline. So renting makes perfect sense for them.

Other clients prefer the total customization that they couldn’t get from a rental exhibit. Buying makes sense to them. They can still change out graphics whenever they want, and they have the flexibility to use different versions of the booth in different situations without having to buy more parts.

And other clients use a combination of a purchased exhibit and rental pieces, such as renting a branded charging table and furniture to go with their purchased exhibit.

Just for fun, let’s take a look at some of the rentals that TradeshowGuy Exhibits offers that can be customized depending on your needs.

First things first. Recently we’ve added some options to our Exhibit Design Search that shows you which exhibits can be either purchased or rented. Just browse any segment and look for the small checkmark and RENT icon in the upper left corner.

For example, this 10’ inline exhibit, the VK-1971, offers back lit fabric graphics. It also comes in 20’ versions.

VK-1971 10' inline rent or purchase
VK-1971 10′ inline rent or purchase

Moving up to a 20’ inline you’ll find the ECO-2012-C | EcoFly which is also available as a rental or an outright purchase. Tension fabric graphics, frosted accent wings, standoff counters and more.

ECO-2012-C EcoFLy
ECO-2012-C EcoFLy

Heading up a little more to a 20×20 island exhibit, the ECO-4022 | Hybrid S Island works as either a rental or purchase option. Big tension fabric graphics, literature racks, monitor mounts, and yes, that big high graphic blaring out your brand.

ECO-4022 Hybrid S Island
ECO-4022 Hybrid S Island

At number 4, our Gravitee “no tools no kidding” exhibit gives you that RE-2051 | Gravitee Inline. Large format tension fabric or direct print graphics. Full size closet and a simple spare look. And easy to set up and take down.

RE-2051 Gravitee Inline
RE-2051 Gravitee Inline

And since 10×20 rentals are very popular, let’s look at one more: the RE-2059 Hybrid Inline. Loads of great things in this for small gatherings: closet with locking door, reception counter, iPad clamshell, metal brochure holders, large tension fabric graphics and more.

RE-2059 Hybrid Inline
RE-2059 Hybrid Inline

It used to be that rental exhibits were not the kind you’d want to show off much, but just get one to save some money and make an appearance. No more. Rentals have really come into their own.

When it Comes to Tradeshow Exhibit Design, Are You Stuck in a Checklist?

Recently I was speaking with tradeshow expert Marlys Arnold of Image Specialist, and she made a comment that struck me: Are you stuck in a checklist?

3D exhibit design is part art, part craft, and part skill. I don’t claim to be a design expert, but I’ve seen thousands of exhibit booths over the years, and only a very few have really stood out. Why did they stand out? Because – to me – if you are familiar with the company and the brand, and you’re standing in front of the booth for the first time, you say to yourself, “They freaking nailed it with that design!” The design of the exhibit adheres so close to the brand’s identity that you can’t help but notice.

Why doesn’t this happen more often? Let’s go back to the checklist. Brand managers and designers can get into a trap of making sure that all the items needed for proper booth function are included – and stop there:

Storage? Check. Product Display? Check. Big backlit graphic? Check. Nice-looking greeting counter? Check. You see how this goes.

Don’t get me wrong. Checklists are important, and they’re a good place to start. But when the challenge is to create an exhibit that screams your brand does using the checklist – and only the checklist – really get you there?

Let’s say the branding guidelines advise the designer to use branding standards and follow natural and sustainable practices. Perhaps it adds that it should be made from sustainable materials. And then there’s a call-out for innovative ways to showcase products to draw attention and traffic.

It isn’t long before you get lost in corporate gibberish and bland buzzwords that don’t really communicate well. It’s not really the brand manager’s fault: this is how they think and how they’ve been trained.

So, what’s the answer?

Frankly, I don’t think the answer is easy. And it’s not that hard, either.

tradeshow exhibit design

Some companies are better at communicating their needs than others. Some designers are better at sussing out what the company really wants than others. If you, as a tradeshow brand manager, can succinctly put into words what you’re looking for and avoid the corporate buzzwords and gibberish, you’re half the way there. If you pick a designer that has the skill to intuitively take those descriptions and create a 3D design that screams “your brand!” that’s the other half.

See: easy, right?

In projects I’ve been involved in that have fully succeeded in creating a 3D version of the brand, the power of description has been palpable. Usually, a sketch, even a napkin sketch, has been provided because the brand manager has taken time to visualize the exhibit. They don’t usually have the skill to bring it fully to life, but they can often effectively demonstrate what they’re looking for. Perhaps it’s taking the specific curves of a brand’s graphic look and incorporating that into the curves of a greeting counter. Or it might mean taking the iconic mill structure of a brand and making that the central piece of an exhibit.

Whatever your brand, I would tell you this – and this is coming from a non-designer: determine what visual elements of your brand are the most important, and work with your designer to recreate those elements in the design of the exhibit.

It’s not always easy, but if it’s done effectively, it’ll knock your audience’s socks off.

7 Quirky Interactive Things to Do at a Tradeshow

Another list! Would any of these interactive things help to draw a crowd to your tradeshow booth?

  1. Create a small box with a lock. Have a bin full of keys – only one of the keys opens the box. Each person that comes by your booth can try a key or two. Once the key has been tried, it goes into the discard bin. As the keys (say, a couple of hundred) slowly go down to just a few, more and more people will keep trying to get the thing to open. Once the prize box has been opened the winner gets a prize, and another prize is inserted in the box and you start all over again.
    Tradeshow interactive things
  2. Create a large-than-life size front page newspaper mockup. Out of some solid substrate, like sintra. Have a hole cut in it so that people can stand behind it and get their picture taken for posting on social media. Invite people to sign up for a newsletter or something else for a chance to win some cool stuff, or just give them some swag if they post the photo on their social media accounts.
  3. Make a big Jenga set, only have each block relate to a specific question or topic that relates to your product or industry. Once someone pulls a block, you can talk about the topic, answer the question, and find out of the visitor has any questions about the topic.
  4. Bean bag games such as bean bag toss, or bean bag Tic-Tac-Toe.
  5. Give away LED flashing pins with your logo. Tell the visitor that a ‘secret shopper’ is going to be walking around the tradeshow floor giving away swag to people wearing the flashy things.
  6. Use tradeshow special printed flooring that gives visitors opportunities to photograph themselves standing there. How about a spot with footprints and some clever graphic and text including a hashtag phrase?
  7. Get a promotional robot.

7 Simple Steps to Totally Rocking Your Tradeshow Graphics

Tradeshow graphics should be easy. But they’re not always as easy as you think. So let’s take a look at 7 simple steps that will totally rock your tradeshow graphics.

  1. Bigger is better. Yeah, even with a 10’ inline booth, the bigger the better. Face it, you’re competing for eyeballs. Make them jump out at visitors.
  2. Bright colors are eye-catching. It doesn’t mean that all of your graphics have to have reds and bright blues or greens. If it fits, use it. If bright colors don’t match your brand, not to worry. There’s more to look at.

  3. Simple is best: bold images and limited text. Think of a tradeshow graphic as a billboard that people can spend about three seconds on. If you can’t communicate a message in three seconds, you probably put too much on it.
  4. Back lit graphics are the rage these days, for a reason. LED-powered light boxes grab attention. Have you noticed? Even if most others are doing it is no reason to try and be different. These items do grab eyeballs.
  5. People notice quality. Or rather, they notice when its lacking. You may not think so, but if you notice that the printing is second-rate, others will. Graphics aren’t cheap any way you look at it, so spending an extra few bucks to use the printer that has the latest and greatest isn’t going to cost that much more. And people will notice.
  6. Professionally designed graphics are worth it. Yeah, Jimmy in accounting may be a good guy and is looking for a job as a graphic designer, and may have some chops. But designing graphics for large-size printing is more than just a good layout. It’s the highest resolution possible, and understanding how people perceive message at that scale and trying to absorb the message in just a few seconds.
  7. Change the graphics when necessary. A lot of the same people go to the same shows and see the same exhibitors. And they’ll notice when you haven’t refreshed your graphics in the past half-decade. So keep ‘em fresh.

Follow these seven steps and your tradeshow graphics will be rockin’!

10 Best Pinterest Boards about Tradeshow Marketing

Yes, I have a Pinterest account. No, I don’t spend a lot of time there. Something about not having enough bandwidth and so on. However, when I do get over there, I find a lot of things to like. Such as these boards on tradeshow marketing which are standouts!

Kimb T. Williams‘ board on Tradeshow Marketing Items features a variety of eye-catching items which make it a worthwhile stop.

best pinterest boards on tradeshow marketing

Nyche Marketing’s Tradeshow Marketing board has a bunch of infographics, exhibits and more.

Yes, it’s a corporate account, but Staples Promo board on Tradeshow Items has a lot of ideas.

From Danielle McDonald comes Tradeshows and Markets – tons of ideas-starters here.

Carl Phelps’ Exhibit Installation Ideas doesn’t have a lot of content, but what is there is inspiring.

Here’s Tradeshow Booth Design from April Holle. Banners, infographics, creations and more.

A lot of the images in Libby Hale’s Tradeshow Design board don’t strictly fall under the tradeshow design umbrella, but lots of great images to view here.

Teri Springer’s Tradeshow Design board is short on images, but long on inspiration. Wavy ceilings, tilted walls and hanging letters area ll eye-catching.

10×20 inline tradeshow exhibits are very popular, and Display Jay has gathered a collection of over a hundred images in 10×20′ Tradeshow Displays.

Let’s finish off our list of ten best Pinterest boards about tradeshow marketing with Anna Kammarman’s lively (and long-winded) Business – Tradeshow Tips and Tricks; For Exhibitors: Tips for Creating a Profitable #eventprofs #tradeshow.

Pebble Beach concours d’elegance and Beyond

it’s not a tradeshow, but it’s an event of tremendous proportions. It’s historic week on the Monterey Peninsula, and I’ve been attending for over a quarter of a century. Since I first attended in 1989, it has grown to include multiple related events, including historic car auctions, vintage auto tours/rallies, historic auto races and more. It’s frankly hard to keep track of it all! It’s pulled off mostly by volunteers, and has so far managed to remain a mix of the one-percenters (who probably show most of the cars at Pebble) to the average historic/vintage auto buff. And very few celebrities – except for Jay Leno, who MC’s the raffles and a few other things to wrap up the Sunday show (get some new jokes, Jay!).

As I mentioned, I’ve had the good fortune to attend the show over 25 times, and get in a few golf swings at Pacific Grove Golf Course along the way. I thought it might be fun to share a few photos of the event. Check ’em out:

2017 Tradeshow Exhibiting Trends

I’m the last guy to claim to be a trend-setter, but I do try to keep at least one half-open eye on tradeshow exhibiting trends. So I took a look at some of the things that are showing up on various 2017 tradeshow exhibit trends lists and added in a couple of things I’ve seen at shows this year. Yes, we’re into the second half of the year – so how did these trend article from earlier in the year predict what’s happening on the ground?

Virtual Reality: I’m still unconvinced this will really take off in the tradeshow world. The challenges are many: crowded floors, busy visitors, cost of creating custom content that not only engages but impresses and leaves people glad they spent the time. But it looks like the technology is there and will do nothing but improve. The few times I’ve seen it at shows, people did not seem all that interested, and several VR headsets sat unused for long periods of time. When they were used, visitors commented that it was nice, but no one I spoke with raved about the experience. Again, it comes down to getting the best and most engaging content possible.

tradeshow exhibit trends

According to this great article from Exhibitor Magazine, some other trends for the year include Artificial Intelligence (think Siri and Alexa), new ways of visitor engagement (digital games, for example), and Tradeshow Campaign Themes.

From Freeman comes an article that brings up sustainable materials as still trending (look for LED backlit smart fabric walls), immersive hubs from show organizers (activities, video content and more), and education that is customized to the level of expertise in the audience groups. There’s also a mention of one way that might be a good workaround on the prohibitive cost of shipping large engines and equipment around the world: 3D-printing that can replicate the machinery or equipment to a T.

Absolute Exhibits from Tustin, CA, offers a handful of tech trends for tradeshow exhibits this year, including digital lounges for recharging (figuratively and literally), brighter and more attractive signage, push notifications through the show’s mobile app, games and contests, and interactive video walls and touch screens.

Exhibit Concepts offers up trends including finding new ways to engage face-to-face, the wide incorporation of technology into every corner of a tradeshow exhibit (Bluetooth beacons that integrate with a client’s products), and the increasing use of custom exhibit rentals to keep costs down.

From my perspective, I see the growing use of backlit fabric graphics taking over much of the tradeshow floor. The cost is coming down (still), and the quality of the fabric printing is nearly indistinguishable from high-quality paper printing, as long as you’re using the latest generation of printers (be sure to ask!)

Another item I see frequently is large-format, simple graphics that do a terrific job of grabbing eyeballs, either through the bold simple easy-to-read text, or bold images combined with sparse text.

When it comes to charging stations, I recently saw something a little different: lockable stations where you can plug in and leave your device. When you return just enter your code (that you came up with earlier), and retrieve the device. This charging unit was NOT in an exhibitor booth, but was instead provided by the show.

The last couple of shows I attended (Expo West in March and IFT in June) both had great, easy-to-use show apps. Quick to download, easy to navigate, and when you set up push notifications you really don’t miss a thing. Kudos to the various app designers that make them so friendly and good-looking.

These topics are echoed in many other posts throughout the tradeshow world, and now that we’re on the downward slide into 2018, it’ll be interesting to see what comes to the fore next year that everyone wants to be a part of.

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