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

Branding

Tradeshows Help Take New Brands to Store Shelves

In all the years I’ve been attending Natural Products Expo West (and Expo East a few times), one of the things that I see time and time again is the number of small unknown brands looking to get a toehold in the crowded natural foods industry, and then to see them a year or two or three down the line as they start to appear on local grocery store shelves. And then some of them become much bigger brands, and a small number are sold to larger companies. And it seems like suddenly (although it’s been a years-long effort) that the brand is ubiquitous.

And I’ve been lucky enough to work with a few of them: Bob’s Red Mill, which was a growing brand when we started to work together around 2006. They’re world-wide now and Bob’s iconic face has appeared on billions and billions of product packages. Or Kettle Chips, which was a well-known regional brand on their way to national and international status when they became my first client in 2002. Since then, they’ve been bought and sold at least two or three times (okay, at least four – I looked it up) and are currently part of the Campbell Soup Company as of March, 2018.

We started working with Schmidt’s Naturals five years ago. At the time they were an up-and-coming Portland brand started in a garage. In the handful of years we worked with them on tradeshow exhibiting, they went from that small company to being purchased by Unilever and are now, as they say, ubiquitous.

There are plenty of other examples of brands that made their first appearance at Natural Products Expo West (this is getting to sound like a commercial for the show, isn’t it?) that I see on grocery store shelves: Brazi Bites, Mary’s Gone Crackers, Castor and Pollux Pet Food, Boom Chicka Pop, Rule Breaker and more.

I have no doubt it’s not a straight line from the tradeshow floor to the grocery shelves, but I firmly believe that many of these brands would not be where they are now without the benefit of consistent tradeshow marketing.

Check out this gallery of photos including exhibits from the show floor and how those products appeared this week on grocery shelves of a local store.

Roadmap to Tradeshow Success

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. Famous words, no doubt, and they certainly apply to any marketing endeavor you’re undertaking. If your goal is to simply appear at a tradeshow, you don’t have much of a roadmap. It might look something like this: rent a booth space, get an exhibit (doesn’t really matter what size or what it looks like); bring a few people from the office and talk to people that stumble across your booth.

Success! Of course, since you didn’t really have much of a plan, how could you fail?

On the other hand…

If you want to talk to bring home 300 leads, that requires a longer plan and a better road map. Setting a goal – any goal – immediately puts restrictions on your map. It forces you to go in a certain direction. And the good thing is that it makes you ask questions, such as:

  • How do we get enough people to our booth to collect 300 leads?
  • What kinds of leads do we want?
  • How do we qualify the leads?
  • What information do we want?
  • Do we need to do pre-show marketing to bring people to our booth? If so, what will that take?
  • How many people should we have in our booth?
  • How big of a booth do we need to support those people?
  • What will it cost to create that exhibit?

And so you. You get the idea. Sure, you can simply set up a booth, hand out a few brochures and samples and cross your fingers, but if you really want to bring home the bacon with a bagload of new prospects, it takes more than that.

It takes a roadmap that only you can put together, based only on what’s important to you.

If you want a little help, you could do worse than picking up my book Tradeshow Success. It’s got a pretty good roadmap planning guide, chapter by chapter.

But whatever you use, if you want to get somewhere, you need a map.

Tradeshow Exhibit Configuration is Fluid

Do you set up the exact same booth every year with no changes? Or do you find that you have to make minor or even significant changes from year to year because your needs change or some piece of your exhibit doesn’t function the way you thought it would?

Many exhibitors stay the same, but many change. Frequently.

Let’s say at one show – a big one that you set up an exhibit at every single year – you have had nearly the same configuration for five or six years. That’s not unusual. Although, in my experience, most clients we work with at TradeshowGuy Exhibits do at least modest changes nearly every year. Sometimes they do rather wholesale changes, like increasing their footprint by 50% or more. Or realizing at this year’s show they don’t have enough meeting space. Or product display space. Or that some element of the exhibit just didn’t work as anticipated.

There are always reasons for making changes. But if you purchased the exhibit, you’re kind of stuck with it.

Rental furniture adds a nice touch without a big commitment

Except. Not always. There are always a lot of ways to skin the cat, as it were. Let’s say – like a client of ours recently – you have a custom booth. You spent a lot of dough on it, so the idea of building another piece just to satisfy your functional needs is going to challenge your budget. When this happened to the client, who was looking for more counter space, we suggested that instead of having some custom counters built, why not rent some counters? That way, you’re only committed to one show with the revised configuration, and the cost will be lower than if you had them custom-built and bought them. And if for some reason you really like the configuration, you can either purchase them or choose to rent them again the following year. I see it happen frequently.

Same thing with furniture. It used to be that clients would ship furniture to shows in their crates. Chairs, small loveseats, tables. In some cases, that’s a good thing, especially if the table is branded or is custom in some other way like LED highlights.

But the furniture is unused the rest of the year. It can get scuffed and damaged during setup and dismantle. Renting the right pieces, such as a nice brand-new comfortable couch might make more sense. Do the math, take a look at the options, and make the decision.

It’s all fluid. Especially when it comes to the various smaller elements of your tradeshow exhibit: counters, furniture, product display units and more. Talk with your exhibit house rep or coordinator and see what options you might have that can both save you money and give you an upgrade on looks and function. It’s doable. Because it’s fluid.

When it Comes to Tradeshow Marketing, is Showing Up Enough?

You’ve heard it many times in the past several years: the most important thing is showing up. Be there consistently. Be there with your writings, your photographs, your content, your thoughts and leadership. Keep showing up.

On the flipside, I’ve also heard for years that if you’re going to exhibit at a tradeshow, you have to do more than just show up. You have to have a good plan or your time, money, and energy are wasted.

I think both viewpoints have some validity. So let’s break it down.

Years ago I worked with a client that had been attending the same tradeshow for years. They just kept showing up, handing out samples, gauging feedback, connecting with clients and colleagues. No reason not to, it was a good thing to do.

Then they got sold and the new owners had a more circumspect view of the marketing budget and decided to look at it from top to bottom. And that year, the slight shifting of the show dates of the big show they set up an exhibit at every year meant that two years of tradeshow marketing expense fell into one fiscal year.

Uh-oh. We’re spending that much on tradeshow marketing? Hang on! We gotta take a closer look at this.

So they pulled out of that year’s show and put the following year’s appearance on hold. The new owners had to look for their reason for being there. They found it: it was a great show for them, the benefits were worth more than the expense and they came back bigger and badder than ever.

But they had to lift the cover, so to speak, of why they kept showing up year after year. And they figured it out. And now they show up year after year.

Showing up is important. As David Newman of Do It Marketing put it recently:

Keep showing up for the people in your life.

For your clients, family, community, friends, prospects, colleagues…

Show up with empathy.

Show up with value.

Show up with caring.

Show up with help.

Show up with gratitude.

They.

Need.

You.

So yes, show up and exhibit at tradeshows, but do it with purpose. Know why you are showing up. Know what your goals and objectives are. Make sure your staff knows why you’re there.

And then have fun.

© Copyright 2016 | Oregon Blue Rock, LLC
Tradeshow Guy Blog by Tim Patterson

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