If you’re new to the world of tradeshow marketing, one of the most difficult challenges is this: how do you find a tradeshow that is a good fit? And by a good fit, does it have your target market, does it have buyers and decision makers, and will there be a lot of traffic there, even as a new exhibitor that is relegated to a lower-traffic area of the show floor?
The first thing to do is find out if your competitors are there. If your direct competitors have been going to a show for years, they must have a reason. It doesn’t hurt to call them up and pick their brains. Even competitors will tell you pros and cons of the shows they exhibit at. And if you’re a new company, they probably won’t think of you as a threatening competitor. Yet.
Ask partners, vendors and other industry-related companies about what shows they are aware of and how those shows are perceived in the industry.
Once you narrow down a few shows that have a lot of competitors, it’s always good advice to attend and walk the floor prior to committing as an exhibitor. Yes, most shows are annual, which means you’re putting off the decision for several more months, but by walking the floor, you can speak to exhibitors, chat with show organizers, pick the brains of attendees and get an overall feel for the veracity of the show. Once you decide to go, you have several months to determine how the next steps will unfold.
If you’re still trying to learn about all of the potential shows, take your mouse for a spin. There are many tradeshow databases online – just search for the term tradeshow database.
Of course, we always want to make sure our tradeshow best practices are out on display for everyone at all times. But as Steve Miller says, “Perfection is your enemy.”
And…we’re only human. That means you’ll find that your booth staff will sometimes be eating in the booth, or on their phone when people are walking by. Or they’ll fail to direct a visitor to the person with the right answer for the question. Or maybe you realize that your pre-show marketing efforts were lame this time around. Or your post-show follow up really left something to be desired.
Sometimes your graphics will be scuffed or torn. Perhaps your flooring is ripped and mended. All of these are irritating, aren’t they, because you want to always have the best presentation at all times. But perfection is not attainable.
So, keep moving forward. If one of your staffers is sitting in the back of the booth with hands in pockets, put on a smile and ask them to move to the aisle where they can be helpful. And vow to schedule a trainer who can teach staffers better habits. If your hanging sign or large graphics look great but are outdated because some minor branding thing changed, take a photo and plan to get together with management to find the dollars to make upgrades.
There are times that you’ll come up short. There may even be times you consider your tradeshow efforts a failure.
Improvement doesn’t happen all at once. But keeping tradeshow best practices in mind every time you’re involved in setting up the booth, planning upgrades, scheduling your booth staff and related show logistics, you will see improvement. But chances are you won’t see perfection.
You might think it’s easy enough to determine your tradeshow marketing goals. Just sell sell sell – increase your business and you’ve done the job, right? But in fact, it’s not be as cut and dried as you might think.
Every show is different, and your goals may vary significantly from show to show. And some goals are very specific while some are broader.
Some common goals might include:
Reaching new markets
Launch a new product or service
Build brand awareness
Meet current customers, partners or distributors
Find new hires
All of these are laudable, and all are doable. But doing them all at the same show is probably asking a lot, unless you have a thorough plan and the personnel to execute the plan. Even if you’re going to attempt to check them all off at a single show, it’s better to prioritize.
You may know your goals going into a show, but it’s still a great exercise to sit down with your team, especially if you have new members, and identify and clarify those goals. Tradeshow marketing is a significant part of a company’s marketing budget and those dollars should be spent wisely.
During your discussion, break down the various parts of the goals, figure out what steps are needed element, and assign those pieces to team members. It may mean coming up with some premium giveaways for current customers to show them you care, to determining how many samples are needed for giveaway; from knowing what your competitors are doing to having a good preshow marketing outreach to get the right people to your booth for the right reason.
Brand building and tradeshow execution means brand consistency throughout your various platforms. Plug any holes and iron out any deficiencies.
Once you have your specific set of prioritized goals, communicate that to your team so they understand the show’s specific objectives and how they tie in with the company’s overall marketing strategy. Goal setting isn’t hard – it just takes some time and thought.
Finally keep in mind, a goal should follow the S.M.A.R.T. plan to be effective. In other words, Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and meet a Timeline.
Welcome to the (perhaps) annual TradeshowGuy Expo West 2018 Exhibit Awards, where I totally (almost) at random, pick out a handful of the 3600+ exhibits at the Natural Products Expo West show and give them a little notoriety here on the TradeshowGuy Blog!
A couple of caveats: I’m not including any current clients of TradeshowGuy Exhibits – they’re already award winners in our book, and we don’t want this fun post to be biased towards, you know, clients! Besides, we’ve already posted photos of those exhibits.
So, let’s get started!
Best Big Brand Makeover: Kettle Foods
Kettle Foods started out as a small nut and chip maker in Salem, Oregon. In the past ten years or so the company has been bought and sold a handful of times and is currently operated as one of the major brands of the Snyder’s-Lance product suite. The island exhibit shows great color and ingenuity in piecing together many elements of the Kettle Brand.
Best Client-Made Exhibit: Stahlbush Farms
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and working with the good folks at Stahlbush Farms, near Corvallis, Oregon, for several years. But when it came time to do a new booth, it finally came down to having their own fabrication shop create it. It’s built using crates that double as counters, and everything fits neatly into a couple of crates. Nicely done!
Best Kitchen Sink Exhibit – DanoneWave
I think they used to be White Wave, but now it’s DanoneWave, still offering brands under the Silk, Dannon, Oikos, SoDelicious, Wallaby Organic and many others. I’ve always stopped by their booths over the years and chatted and tasted and this year was no exception. There’s a lot going on here: carts, hot air balloons, colorful images, detailed woodwork, a random vehicle or three – seriously, you can just walk around the thing for fifteen minutes taking it in!
Best Retro Motor Vehicle Use – Hansen’s
A cool psychedelically painted hippie van? Ff course! There are a lot of vehicles that show up in booth spaces at Expo West, but this one catches your eyes like no other.
Best Photo Op – Enjoy Life
Enjoy Life has seen their exhibit grow significantly in the last few years, from a small inline to a dominating island. This year they showed of a pseudo-underwater photo alley that invited people to shoot and share. Yes, there were a lot of photo ops throughout the show, but this made the biggest impression.
Best Rustic Exhibit – Kodiak Cakes
Kodiak Cakes of Park City, Utah, also had a great photo op section of their booth space, but I felt that the rest of the exhibit was more impressive. Beyond the photo op section was a forest, a lookout-like building and a wall of photos of booth visitors. A fun-loving and lively crew, too, passing out samples like crazy.
Best Simple Yet Powerful Statement Exhibit – Kashi
Last year, Kashi caught eyes with a simple statement with no brand ambassadors, no sampling – just a simple statement to support farmers in their transition to organic farming. This year they made a similar statement with a slightly modified exhibit. Powerful stuff.
Best Split Exhibit – Aqua Carpatica
Downstairs in the busy ballroom at Expo West, it’s a little hard to stand out. But Aqua Carpatica of Romania booked two 10×20 spaces across the aisle from each other and dominated the space with a spare, almost ascetic approach to pitch the cleanliness of their water. It was capped by a giant video screen, around 8 x 12 feet, and some tables and chairs – but not much else. Very attention-getting!
Best Tribute to a Fallen Comrade – Clif Bar
I met John Anthony over a decade ago when Kettle Foods was a client, and John worked for them. A fun and engaging guy to talk to, he moved to Clif Bar, Nature’s Path, UNFI and CLIF’s White Road Investments. I was having lunch with an old Kettle Foods friend a few months prior to Expo West and mentioned that I’d run into John at the 2017 show. He said he’d heard that John had died unexpectedly in the fall of 2017. Clif Bar did a nice job in their tribute:
All right – on that note, we’ll wrap up this year’s TradeshowGuy Expo West Exhibit Awards. Hope you enjoyed. Sorry if we missed your booth – but hey, there were over 3,600 exhibitors this year. Maybe next year!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another list! Would any of these interactive things help to draw a crowd to your tradeshow booth?
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.
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.
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.
Bean bag games such as bean bag toss, or bean bag Tic-Tac-Toe.
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.
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?