When it comes to tradeshow marketing, anything goes. Right?
Well, maybe not everything, but certainly it’s a time to try things. Do things
Or. Maybe not. Tradeshows are fraught with risk. You’re
putting a lot of money on the line. Generally speaking, the cost of tradeshow marketing
is about a third of a company’s overall marketing budget. Which means that it’s
a lot of money in play, making it hard for a company to risk much.
In a sense, tradeshows can be an interesting mix of the
precise and the experimental.
The precision is important, to be sure. Your tradeshow staff
is your front line. The most important piece of the puzzle. They need to know
what they’re doing and why. If mistakes are made, or if your staff isn’t as
well-trained as they could be, your company might miss out on a good amount of
Your exhibit is important. It’s the 3D representation of
your brand, and if it’s not spot-on, it’ll send mixed messages to your audience.
Your products, demos and sampling have to be well-thought
out and well-executed. Make some mistakes in these areas, and again, you’re
leaving potential money on the table.
Precision is important in these areas.
But tradeshows are also ripe for experimentation. You have opportunities to do surveys, market research, unusual activities, oddball booth items and much more that will grab eyeballs and attention without impacting the precision needed in other areas. VR, smoothie bikes, live music, projection mapping, unusual use of video….the list is endless as to how creative you can get at tradeshows and still do all of the precise things that you need to do to engage with attendees, capture leads, have an exhibit that captures your brand precisely.
Tradeshows are a balancing act no matter what you’re trying to balance. Adding some experimentation along with the precision gives you flexibility, a little tension (which makes people stop and look), and keeps you, your visitors and your competitors on your toes.
It’s 2020. Seems like everyone wants something new. After all, this century is no longer a teenager! Hey, if the century were a human, it could almost drink!
So…what’s new in the tradeshow industry?
At TradeshowGuy Exhibits, we work with a handful of vendors: designers, manufacturers and other suppliers in the tradeshow industry.
Our main partner since we started this business has been Classic Exhibits. If not for them, we wouldn’t be in business. Classic Exhibits is a ‘white label’ manufacturer that designs and sells products through a network of distributors. They’ve gone from kind of a kit designer and manufacturer to doing a lot of custom work. It’s where the industry is going, and Classic Exhibits is among the companies leading the way.
And when they introduce something new, it’s good. More than good. It’s groundbreaking. In the last couple of years, they introduced Gravitee, a tool-less exhibit system that sets up easily, breaks down quickly and ships flat. It’s made a difference to clients of ours at Classic Exhibits. In fact, the first time we set up a Gravitee wall with an installation and dismantle crew, they were impressed with how easy and quickly it went up.
Our new Tool-less SuperNova Lightboxes achieves all of those goals. While there may be more “complicated” solutions, there are none stronger or easier. We estimate the new tool-less connectors reduce assembly by 70-80%. Plus, the splines and the corner connectors can stay on the extrusion reducing the possibility of lost parts. Even the translucent knobs are innovative since they eliminate shadows and reflections.
Can’t wait to see these in action.
We also work with Orbus, which provides numerous – maybe countless – options for popups, banner stands, table throws and more. They have high quality combined with budget pricing – a good combination.
And they’re kicking off 2020 by introducing a variety of new products, including digital banners, outdoor tents, shaped signs, smaller (and larger) HopUp fabric stands, and more. Many of these are lightweight, easy to set up by just a person or two, and priced right. See the selection of new designs and products here.
We’ve enjoyed working with other manufacturers and vendors through the years, but when it comes to something new, both Classic Exhibits and Orbus have taken the initiative to keep bringing the “NEW” to the New Year.
Back from Thanksgiving week, a nice few days away from work.
Sit down at the computer Monday morning.
Hundreds of emails piled up in my in-box. 785 to be precise. Lots of them with pitches on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I mean, a ton of pitches.
Delete them all: delete, delete, delete. Don’t bother to
read them. They do nothing for me.
On a few, I decide to unsubscribe. But that takes longer.
And with most of the newsletters I unsubscribe from, I feel like they keep
sending me stuff. So what’s a guy to do?
It’s obvious that none of those emails stood out. They did nothing for me (I think I said that already). I’m not looking for any Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals, I have work to do. I’m not looking for Christmas presents for anyone, or to save money on things that I probably would not buy at any point. I’m busy and want to get these off of my to-do list as soon as possible, which means I’m scanning quickly and deleting almost everything once I determine it’s not a client, or a potential client.
I’m not their target market.
Email is one thing. Let’s move from email to other venues, such as retail, or online ads, or, hey, tradeshows!
When people walk by your retail store in a shopping mall, are you doing anything to stand out?
When you advertise online, what makes your ad stand out?
When people walk by your tradeshow booth, are you doing
anything to stand out in a crowd?
It’s easy to ignore and delete an email. It’s easy to walk by a retail store without stopping. It’s a piece of cake to ignore ads on your screen.
It’s pretty easy to walk by a tradeshow booth, too, unless something really outstanding is going on at the booth. Maybe it’s a unique booth. Maybe it’s a presentation that draws you in, entertains you and informs you of the company’s products and services. Maybe it’s a unique food sample. Could be anything.
Tradeshows have a distinct advantage over emails, and here’s
why: emails go out to people who have (supposedly) opted-in to a company’s
pitches. But over time, it’s not uncommon for that company – which is often
owned by another entity – to share that email address with another company, and
soon you’re getting pitches from (somewhat) related companies or products or
services. Has that happened to you? Happens all the time to me.
The difference that tradeshows have is that you have spent
handsomely to be at the show. But the show is targeted, the audience is
specialized. The people walking the show floor have also paid to be there, and
they are usually there for specific reasons, the main one being that they are
SHOPPING for something, and since you’re exhibiting there, chances are they’re
SHOPPING FOR SOMETHING YOU ARE SELLING.
Still, you have to stand out in a crowd. Tradeshows have a
lot of competition. Your biggest and best competitors are doing all they can to
make their best pitch to the same people you’re pitching. That’s the name of
Which means that whatever you do, it had better be good. It
had better be worth your time and money.
It had better be something that stands out in a crowd.
I’m no expert on exhibit design or figuring out the
potential customers for a specific product – let’s leave that to the people who
have a lot of experience in that area and it’s not me – but I’ve picked up a
few things along the way by talking to a lot of experts.
One thing that seems clear is that if you know who your
audience is, what kind of products they buy, what kinds of stores they like to
shop at, and why they buy your products, all of that information can be assimilated
in a synergistic way to help determine the look and feel of your tradeshow
exhibit so that your potential customers feel a familiarity; they feel at home
when they see your exhibit.
What do I mean by that? Let’s say you’ve determined that the
people who buy your products the most are a specific type of person: maybe they
shop at Target a lot, but also like Bed, Bath and Beyond. Or they like Applebee’s
but not Pizza Hut. They like Urban outfitters and J. Crew but not The Gap. And
so on. The more information you can distill about your products’ appeal – and who
is buying those products from you, the more you have to help design your tradeshow
Let’s say, for example, that your products attract people who
shop at Whole Foods for groceries. If you are selling a food product, it
probably makes sense to incorporate some design elements that are popular at
Whole Foods into your exhibit design. Not to copy the design, but to echo the
design elements. Do they use recycled wood? Do they use a pastel color on
counters or product shelves? Then consider incorporating those elements in the exhibit
Exhibit designers have the experience and the skill to not
only create a three-dimensional model complete with floor plans, traffic flows,
height restrictions and sensibilities, but they know how to take those colors
and patterns and textures and incorporate them into product displays, greeting
counters, light boxes and flooring patterns.
If done right, your potential customer will take one look at
your exhibit and even if they’re not familiar with your brand (yet), they will
feel at home because you’ve done your homework and created an exhibit that
understands them and what they like.
You just need to know who your ideal customer is and what
brands or stores they’re already comfortable shopping at.
They say you only get one chance
to make a first impression. That’s true. But you can make a first impression in
any number of ways. Let’s go over seven ways that might work for you.
Show your visitors an impressive tradeshow exhibit. Certainly, having a 3D visual representation of your brand is going to make an impression. The challenge is to make sure it’s not a negative impression. A new exhibit will go a long way, but you don’t have to buy something new to make a positive impression. You can dress it up with new graphics, has all of the functional needs required, and make sure it’s spotless. And keep it as clean as possible throughout the day.
Greet people with a smile. Smiles translate good will in every culture and language.
Ask a good question as you’re using that smile. Knowing what to ask and how to ask it will go a long way to demonstrate the seriousness of your marketing attempt.
Don’t be distracted. You know the usual distractions: phones, food and lack of energy. The phones thing is easy: don’t pull it out of your pocket unless you have a specific work-related reason to use it at that moment. No Facebook, Twitter or Instagram unless you’re doing work. Food is easy, too: don’t eat in the booth. Gotta eat? Go elsewhere. Lack of energy is also very distracting. That is more challenging: get better sleep (not always possible), don’t eat food that puts you on a sugar or caffeine high, which leads to an energy crash. Which leads to distraction from having a lack of energy.
Have something engaging for your visitors to do. A challenging proposition, but if done correctly, your visitors will be impressed when they can DO something in your booth that is: 1) fun, 2) engaging/interesting and 3) allows them to learn something about your product or service.
Don’t be negative. While a first impression can be formed in an instant, don’t forget that you’re also forming that first impression while you’re in that first conversation. You may be talking about products and services and the topic of a competitor’s products and services come up. You may be tempted to diss the competitor’s stuff, but I think the better move is to take the high road: “yeah, they do good work, but it depends on what you’re looking for.” And then ask questions that uncover the prospect’s needs, giving you a chance to play up the elements of your products or services that can address that need better than your competitor can.
First impressions count for a lot.
What other ways can you think of to make a great first impression at your next
Wait a minute, how do you mean “mean”? As in average? As in
Nope, as in “very skillful or effective” in a more informal
sense: “she’s a mean bowler!”
But when it comes to having a clean and mean booth at a
tradeshow, how might that work? Let’s explore.
Skillful and effective can certainly come in to play with your tradeshow presence. Your booth staff should be well-trained and know how to ask the right questions and collect valid and helpful answers.
Your exhibit itself should be clean. Having a small carpet sweeper or dust buster can help keep the floors clean. Garbage cans should be emptied regularly, especially if you’re at a show where a lot of samples are handed out, leaving behind a trail of debris.
Hiding things: most exhibits have counters or closets where personal items and extraneous items are kept. Often brochures or other needed items can be stored under a skirted table. In any event, keeping those extras out of sight helps to keep your booth mean and clean.
No food or beverages in the booth space. Yes, if you’re sampling foods, then it’s okay. But your staff shouldn’t be eating or drinking in the booth space. Psychology shows that often visitors will turn and go the other way if they encounter a staffer eating in the booth. It’s not inviting at all.
Have enough staff for the show. It’s a fine line: having too few or having too many staffers. Knowing the right amount and being able to effectively schedule the staff so that there’s always the right amount of staff comes from experience.
Knowing who the staff are: does this mean they all have readily identifiable badges or color-coded clothing? I’ve been in booths where it was impossible to know who part of the team was. In other booths, all of the staffers were wearing the same color shirt or wearing a shirt that was plainly branded with the company name.
Keep your exhibit and booth presence clean and mean for an edge over your competitors.
Looking to save money on a tradeshow exhibit? Of course you are! And chances are, throughout the course of the next year, you’ll have a want or need for something that shows up on our regularly updated pages on our Exhibit Design Search. Whether it’s an Exhibit Special or a Lightning Deal, it might be just what you’re looking for.
These are no “close-out” specials that are collecting dust in the warehouse. Nope, these are regular items – either custom or “off the shelf” – that typically sell for full retail price. But on occasion, we grab some of the items and put them into one or of the categories and drop the price.
For example, you might see a custom hybrid 10×20 exhibit that sells for around $30,000. But if it lands in the Lightning Deal, the price might drop ten percent to around $27,000. A $3,000 savings to your bottom line, just like that. Lightning Deals generally last a couple of weeks, so if you see something that is a great fit, grab it fast!
The Exhibit Specials, on the other hand, are more general savings that span a category, such as a specific style (Gravitee or Segue), or a type (light boxes or EcoSmart inlines). On occasion there might be discounts on discontinued models as well.
Saying all of this, it behooves you to visit these categories and return. That means returning to the Lightning Deals every couple of weeks, and visiting the Exhibit Specials every month or so. Even if you’re not currently looking for a new exhibit, you might find great deals on accessories such as lights, counters, shipping cases and so on.
Let’s face it, when you’re shopping for a custom tradeshow exhibit, the dollar signs can often start spinning so much your head soon follows. Things can get expensive in the tradeshow world, so it makes sense to figure out ways to save money along the way.
Start with the premise that the reason custom tradeshow exhibits
can be expensive for any number of reasons. First, there are a lot of people
involved: designers, account executives, fabricators, detailers, crate builders
and so on. Things are usually hand-crafted in the exhibit world in the sense
that each piece has human hands on it several times. Even if a CNC machine is
programmed to cut metal or wood, a human still has to make it happen. Building an
exhibit is not mass manufacturing. Its individually crafted items designed and
built to look spectacular.
How to keep the costs down? Here are six ways:
Consider starting with a kit. Many exhibit builders offer a number of kits to keep costs lower. With a kit, the design is generally pre-determined. But with a good kit, there are always opportunities to customize the kit. In a sense, you’re creating a hybrid between custom and ‘catalog’ designs. Shop the company’s website for kits that might give you a good starting point.
Know exactly what you want and get nothing more. A custom exhibit is great in that, as part of the design process, you can identify what you need – exactly. If you need just three shelves for product display, don’t go for four or five or six. Those can usually be added later. Need a charging table? There are always low budget options that are not custom but can be custom-branded.
Work with lightweight materials. While there still are many heavy wood-built exhibits that appear at shows – usually for a great reason because it’s part of the brand – more exhibits are moving to lightweight materials such as aluminum frames and fabric graphics. Not only are the materials lighter, which means they ship for less, but fabric graphics fold up and ship in a smaller space.
Rent furniture. If you rent the same thing show after show, it’ll add up and eventually you’ll end up paying more for the furniture than it you owned it. But keep in mind, but owning it, you have to pay to ship it, pay to store it, and pay to replace it. And furniture that you own will get scuffed, nicked and damaged over time. With rental furniture, you get brand new or like-new items, you get to choose from the latest styles, and you don’t have to worry about shipping or storing.
Don’t rush it. By planning ahead for a custom designed and fabricated exhibit, you’re avoiding rush fees, last minute glitches and a calendar that is rushing at you like a runaway train. Once you’ve decided on a new exhibit, sit down with your exhibit provider and work out a realistic timeline so that all parties know what’s expected of them and when.
Preview the exhibit. It’s pretty common to do this, but I have seen occasions where it’s not done, and it’s led to having to make expensive fixes on the show floor or have revised graphics printed at a rush fee and shipped using an expensive overnight service. Previews are generally designed to make sure everything works like it’s supposed to, to make sure all the graphics fit, and nothing is left out. Even if you can’t be there, make sure you have lots of photos of the preview.
Whether you’re looking for a custom exhibit, a modular exhibit from a catalog or something in between, most exhibit houses are willing to discuss your budget and what you can realistically expect to get for your money.
Let’s say your company is looking ahead about six months to a show in March and you’re considering a new custom exhibit for the show. If the show is in the early part of March, you have less than six months before seeing the new exhibit leave the loading docks.
So what has to be done between now and then to ensure that you have the exhibit you want for the price you can pay?
There are many things that have to be done in the next few months to make the process work well. Let’s start with the basic questions:
What size booth space are you going to need?
What is a realistic budget for the exhibit you want?
What company is going to guide you through the process and earn the business?
The first question, about booth size, is already set. Unless you’re upsizing from last year’s show, it’ll be the same as it was.
The budget question is a more difficult question, and there are any number of ways to look at it. First, when you say “realistic,” does that number come from what the accounting department told you? Does it come from a thorough research into what exhibit properties cost all the way through concept, design and fabrication? And does the budget figure include everything, or only the exhibit itself?
Industry Average Pricing
A couple of good places to start would be to understand what the industry, on average, charges for the various items. Do your research and find out what a typical custom exhibit costs. For example, recent figures show that inline construction can average about $1,340 per linear foot, give or take 10-15%. Which means a typical 10×20 custom inline booth will land somewhere close to $26,000 – $28,000. Could be more, could be less, but that’s a good number to start the discussion.
A recent industry average for custom island construction comes in a bit more – around $160 – $180 per square foot. If you’re looking at a 20×20, multiply 20×20 (400 sf) by $160 and you’ll get a rough budget of about $64,000. At least you’ll have a number in mind when you start getting prices back from exhibit houses.
Exhibit Function Needs
Next, look at the other factors that affect price, the pieces you want in the exhibit. What exactly do you need for the exhibit to function well to show off your products and services? Do you need demo stations? A stage for a professional presenter? Sample tables? Meeting spaces? All those will push the final price one way or another.
Choosing an Exhibit Company
The last question – what company you should work with – is a big one. After all, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of exhibit houses ready, willing and able to do the job. Unless you’re a huge exhibitor (think Microsoft or Nike), you don’t need one of those big exhibit houses. If your company is a small or medium-sized company, going to a big exhibit house has some benefits – and some drawbacks. The benefits are that they are more than capable of handling your job, and they may offer you some very creative designers as part of the mix. The drawbacks might be that if you’re a small client, it’s easy to get lost among all their big clients, which demand a lot of attention. Another drawback is that a larger company has a lot more overhead than a smaller company. They have to pay for a larger space, they have more employees, and so on. It’s a bigger business that they have to keep going.
Smaller exhibit houses also have tradeoffs, but in my experience, the smaller houses – with fewer clients – value those clients like gold and work hard to keep them. They make sure nothing goes wrong, or if something does, they will fix it as quickly as possible. Any business is built on relationships, but with fewer relationships, the importance of each client is paramount. Which would you rather work with? No wrong answers.
Another aspect to consider about which exhibit house to work with: location. Some exhibitors want to be able to stop by and see the progress on a new build. Or once the exhibit has been built, to be able to have the staff nearby to do any repairs or upgrades, or even store the exhibit. But many exhibitors don’t see not having the exhibit house nearby as a negative thing. We do much of our business online and via email and phone that distance is irrelevant. Again, no wrong answers – different people have different needs and priorities.
Timeline from Design to Fabrication
The next question to ask is how long will this take? Hence the title of the blog post.
Again, there are general guidelines, but each exhibit house will have their own schedule and availabilities. Fabrication is often the most straightforward part of the process. In other words, once everything has been decided, there are few surprises. But getting to the final design is what can take time. But it’s time well-spent. The sooner you start the conversation with a 3D exhibit designer, the better off you’ll be.
A good 3D exhibit designer is the key. She’ll know what questions to ask, how to draw out more details of what you want, and finally produce a mockup design for review and revision. This process can take what you might think is a lot of time. Prior to going into the first meeting, make a list of all of the items you need: meeting space, demo space, demo stations, stage, graphic display areas, etc. I’ve had clients bring us 2D “flat” graphic representations of what they wanted in an exhibit and it was a simple matter to convert that to a 3D rendering. I’ve had clients start with nothing, which meant we talked everything through in detail and let the designer take the lead and produce the first rendering, or a couple of options to choose from.
Different sized exhibits take varying amounts of time, as you might imagine. Custom takes longer than something “off the shelf.” If you want something simple, it’s often a matter of picking something from an online catalog, doing a little customizing and getting it in-hand in a month or two, not the five or size months you’d like for a larger custom island exhibit.
But if you’ve got a show on your calendar that’s six months out, no matter what size exhibit you have, if you’re targeting the show for a new one, it’s time to schedule that first conversation!
You have a new tradeshow exhibit. It looked great at the
first show. Congratulations! Now what? Are you going to assume that it’s going
to look the exact same for show 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t necessarily work that way. An
exhibit, whether stored in a touch wooden crate or a plastic molded rollable
case or series of cases, has to be transported from your warehouse to the show
floor. It makes many stops along the way. Forklifts pick it up, drop it down.
It’s in the way when forklifts with other crates are zooming by on the showroom
floor or the warehouse. Forks from the lift seem to have a knack for piercing
crates and causing damage.
In other words, you have to invest to keep that once-new
exhibit looking as good as new. Estimate vary but expect to invest another 5 – 15%
of the original exhibit cost each year to keep it in good shape. And typically,
it’s a good investment. The expected lifetime of an exhibit is about five
years. By updating (new graphics, additional pieces) and refurbishing (paint,
repairs, etc.), you can extend the life of your exhibit, effectively postponing
a capital investment for a few years.
Most of the time that makes sense, but I’ve seen cases where
the company pushed things much farther than practical. Yes, I’ve seen some
exhibits nearly twenty years old, on their last legs, still standing in an
exhibit hall. They were once proud and new, but now are just old and decrepit,
even with a new coat of paint.
The decision to invest in refurbishment or a new exhibit
often depends on a company’s image. With new materials such as aluminum framed
lightboxes and fabric graphics, not only does a new exhibit give your company a
brand-new look on the show floor, but the reduced weight compared to an old
heavy exhibit makes shipping costs come down.
One of our favorite examples of a company deciding to stick with an iconic exhibit and extend the life is our client, Bob’s Red Mill, out of Portland. With a new 30×30 custom exhibit in 2012, they’ve not only expanded and updated, but they’ve dedicated a handful of their staff to make sure the exhibit is in top shape for every show. They refurbish by doing paint touch-up, modest repairs and more. They’ve even invested in new and refurbished shipping crates to further extend the life of the exhibits.
It’s all about getting the most bang for your tradeshow exhibit bucks, and one of the best ways is to extend the life of your exhibit in a creative and sensible way.