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

Custom exhibit

What Story is Your Tradeshow Exhibit Telling Potential Partners?

Yes, we know that your tradeshow exhibit tells a story. Often, a great exhibit design will capture the brand so accurately that the design is often all that is needed. But frankly, that’s the exception more than the rule. But even without an iconic design that broadcasts what your company is about, your tradeshow exhibit tells a story anyway.

Here’s how:

Design: even an average design can be executed well and tell a big part of your story. But a compelling story can come to life. Tell the story of how you created the soft drink because your Grandma used to make something similar when you were a kid. Or how you invented something to help a friend. Doesn’t really matter, your product or service likely came from some inspiration. Can you tell the story of that inspiration in a concise way using graphics and 3D elements?

Graphics: here’s where most of the story is told, and the weight of this rests on your graphic designer and marketing team that is communicating the correct message to the designer. Get it right and you’ve done better than most of your competitors. Get it wrong…?

Craftsmanship: not all exhibits are built from scratch. Depending on where you purchase your exhibit, it may be something that’s designed and built from scratch in the USA. Or it may be from an overseas manufacturer and it came direct from a catalog showing thousands of similar designs. With an overseas manufacturer involved, you will be hard-pressed to know the quality of the materials used for the exhibit.

Cleanliness: at least this is something you have quite a bit of control over during the show. But a clean booth tells a story. So does a dirty booth.

People: the booth staffers are your front line. Are they well-trained in how to engage with visitors? How to ask the right questions? How to politely disengage? How to act in a booth (stay off their phone, don’t eat, etc.)? Whether you like it or not, visitors will forget a lot of things. But they’re very likely to remember an unpleasant or below-average encounter with a booth staffer. Just like they’d probably remember an encounter that impressed them.

Stories are told with every piece of your marketing and your prospect’s interaction with your company. What story are your prospects being told, and what are they remembering? And is that story in line with your goals?

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Notes from Working with Potential Tradeshow Exhibit Clients

Not every company where there’s a sales conversation turns into a tradeshow exhibit client. In fact, it’s probably a fairly low percentage. However, each encounter has its own distinct flavor and outcome. And of course, learning experience.

No matter what company you’re trying to sell to, it’s impossible to be a fit for everyone. In fact, that’s what I tell prospects: “Let’s talk about what you are hoping to do to see if we’re a fit.” That way, the pressure is taken off. So many buyers are uncomfortable with reaching out to tradeshow companies or any company where the purchase is fairly large and time-consuming because of the pressure they think will come to them.

Let’s examine some of the interactions more closely and find some takeaways:

Example One:

I reconnected with a company that was familiar with while attending a tradeshow and started chatting. We knew each other from a previous design request in past years, and although we didn’t get the business then, they were ready to upgrade. This time it was for a larger exhibit, and even though they were comfortable working with their current provider they felt it was worth talking to a few others. Since we had a connection and had previously shown them our design work, we were asked to respond.

Respond we did. A budget range was set, an exhibit was designed based on their stated functional objectives and submitted prior to their deadline. The final pricing was presented in a range depending on options (type of graphics, backlit panels, custom vs. catalog counters, etc.). And while the overall price range started in their proposed budget range, it did run above that figure once all the options were chosen.

Towards the end of their decision date, we were politely told that their current vendor had won the business. Why? They had essentially the same design, but a significantly lower price.

Takeaway: Price speaks loudly. It’s easy to look at this from a number of angles. Price speaks loudly, often more loudly than the overall design and, the quality of workmanship and materials. Without knowing exactly what the current vendor is proposing, it’s impossible to know what materials would be used, what the design is, or how it’s built. But it’s not hard to take a look the next time it’s set up at a show.

Example Two:

This company was also a company I met at a tradeshow, and once they found out what I did, they expressed interest in upgrading to a new exhibit (this business usually has a long sales cycle, especially for new custom builds!). The conversation, which picked up and died down off and on for nearly eight months, finally led to a decision to proceed with us. That’s when the fun started!

I like it when clients ask question. The more the merrier. That wasn’t always the way, though. I had to learn that questions from clients (and prospects) are good. This client asked more questions than any other I’ve had before or since. Details, details, details! More questions about details than any other I’ve had. And frankly, they were asking questions about elements of products that I was unfamiliar with, so that lead to a lot of back and forth with producers, subcontractors and other vendors. At one point, they apologized for asking so many questions, but frankly, I didn’t mind. Not only did they get the exhibit they really wanted, they learned a lot along the way. As did I! You can’t ask too many questions about something you’re buying, especially when tens of thousands of dollars are involved.

Takeaway: Questions are good. You can never ask too many questions. It demonstrates interest and engagement.

Example Three:

Hands-Off Client. Some clients see the big picture and don’t get bogged down in details, except the ones that are important to them. Here’s an example of a company that we met with a few years ago, pitched them on a project that included a design for a 10×20 that met their budget. We were told they were also reviewing at least one other exhibit house, but the design struck gold and we ended up with the business. Since then, they’ve been very active in upgrading and expanding, but when it comes to the back and forth in creating new designs, there are very few questions, unlike our previous example. Typically, they’ll have their ducks lined up with 2D design concepts and proposed changes and are ready to move forward. As long as they have graphic dimensions, design details are left up to us. They chime in with comments suggesting modest changes, but otherwise it’s more of a “30,000-foot level” approach. Nothing wrong with this approach, just as there is nothing wrong with asking countless questions. As long as it works for the client, it works for us.

Takeaway: Trust. When a client that knows your work is at that level of engagement and stays mostly hands-off, it shows there is a great deal of trust involved.

Example Four:

We were contacted by a company that ran across our company website and asked if we were interested in responding to an RFP for a 30×30 custom booth at a tech show the following year. While there are pros and cons to responding to RFPs, we decided to proceed. The communication with this potential client was almost clinical, and I felt as if we were a million miles away. It was hard to get specific answers to questions. Everything was going to a committee at the end anyway. But we submitted a design and price that fit their price range to a T. As indicated in their decision process, the top three qualifiers would be required to present either at the company’s HQ in the Bay Area or via the web. Given the contact’s lack of genuine engagement during our design process and creating the RFP where we peppered them with questions regarding various aspects of the RFP, it was no surprise that we didn’t make the final cut. I still wonder why they were so interested in having us submit.

Takeaway: Trust your gut. From the beginning, this felt like we were a third wheel. The company probably needed to have a certain amount of RFP responses, most likely arbitrary, which lead to at least one or more exhibit providers submitting responses without a ghost’s chance of actually getting the work. But that’s the way the business world often works.

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Top Ten All-Time Most Viewed TradeshowGuy Blog Posts

I got an email the other day from someone whose newsletter I had just subscribed to, and in the introduction email there was a link to the top 5 most read blog posts on her blog. That’s when an idea light lit up over my head and gave me an idea for a blog post (as a blogger, you’re always looking for ideas, right?).

Next thing you know I was pawing through my Google Analytics account to find out what were the most-viewed posts on this blog. These are the ones that floated to the top, for whatever reason. It’s all organic. I don’t advertise, but I do share links now and then on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. On occasion there might be a link here from Pinterest. Or another blog.

This blog is aging. It’s over ten years old, having been launched in November, 2008. There are almost 1000 posts.

One more note: the analytics breakdown shows the front page as “most-viewed” and a couple of pages (not posts) showed up in the top ten as well, including the Contact Me page and the We Accept Blog Submissions page. But beyond that, here are the top ten blog posts since the beginning of the blog (in traditional countdown order):

Number Ten: The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Exhibit RFPs. I created a one-page sheet on what should go into an Exhibit RFP (Request for Proposal), and posted it on Cheatography.com, a site for thousands of cheat sheets. Kind of fun. They regularly sent me emails telling me how many times it was downloaded (500! 1000! 1500!). Not sure how accurate that is, but obviously it’s been seen by a lot of people. From September 2017.

Number Nine: Breaking the Ice: How to Attract Tradeshow Visitors. I referenced a number of techniques taught by tradeshow colleague Andy Saks for this article, which appeared in December 2015.

Number Eight: 23 Pre-Show Marketing Tactics, Promotions and Ideas. A laundry list that was posted in October 2009 when the blog was not even a year old.

Number Seven: How to Build a Tradeshow-Specific Landing Page. Inspired by Portland’s Digimarc, it’s a look at the steps you can use to put together an online site specifically to interact with potential tradeshow booth visitors. From December 2017.

Number Six: Write More Orders at Tradeshows by Replacing Paper With Digital Technology. One of two guest posts on the Top Ten list, this is from Sarah Leung of Handshake. April 2015.

Number Five: Tradeshow Debriefing Questions. Another oldie but goodie, this post from September 2009 guides you through the after-show info-gathering process.

Number Four: Virtual Reality for Tradeshows. You’ve seen them at shows: people wearing VR goggles. Is it worth it? A brief exploration, from June 2016.

Number Three: Exhibit vs. Booth vs. Stand. They’re called different things in different parts of the world, so I took a whack at trying to explain it. Just last summer in July 2018.

Number Two: 10 Skills Every Tradeshow Staffer Should Have. Margaret Coleback of Vantage Advertising LLC dashed of a great list for staffers, which appeared in January 2015.

Aaaaand, at Number ONE: SWOT Analysis for Tradeshows. It still surprises me that this post gets a whopping 3.95% of all of the traffic on the site. At the time I wrote it I had been spending a fair amount of time with a friend who was going through school to get his degree in marketing, and one thing that we discussed in depth was the SWOT Analysis. S=Strengths; W=Weaknesses; O=Opportunities; T=Threats. It’s a great exercise to work through in regards to your tradeshow marketing appearances. Check it out. It’s from February 2015.

Got any favorites?


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How to Get Ideas for Your Next Tradeshow Promotion (or Exhibit)

Are you faced with authors call “writer’s block” when it comes to coming up with ideas for your next tradeshow promotion? Or need to come up with a unique exhibit design or presentation that perfectly fits your company brand?

I wish I had an answer. You know, like the Staples “EASY” button. But it ain’t that easy. Not if you want an idea that can be fully executed and give you remarkable results.

So where do ideas come from? Ideas that actually work?

There are several places to look for and generate ideas, so let’s go over a few.

What have other people done?

At your next tradeshow, whether you are an exhibitor or an attendee, take some time to walk the floor and see what others have done. There are going to be so many ideas that you won’t be able to capture them all. And to take it one step further, if you see an idea you like, imagine how it would work if you folded that presentation idea into your brand and products. And you know that anything you see at a tradeshow had to go through a lot to make it to the floor. It had to be created as a concept, then discussed at length to see what would work and what wouldn’t. Then a 3D designer had to determine how to put that concept into the real world. Then, once all parties had signed off on the idea and concept, it had to go to fabrication, where the builders had to figure out how to build it. Not always easy, especially if there are some unusual or outlandish ideas that need to be brought to life.

What other exhibit ideas are good enough to borrow or get inspired by?

But remember, just because it was brought to life and used at a tradeshow doesn’t mean it actually worked, that it actually achieved what the creators thought it would achieve. Which means it’s also worth asking “how well did that work?” Probably the only way to find out for sure is to ask the exhibiting company after the show how it all went for them. But by doing that you might be tipping your hand that you’d like to use their idea for inspiration!

What gets written about?

To see what is creative and actually works, pick up a copy of Exhibitor Magazine. To my way of thinking, all tradeshow marketing managers should get a subscription to this bible of the exhibit industry. Nearly every issue there is an in-depth look at tradeshow exhibits. Not only that, there is a breakdown of how the idea worked, how it fit with the company’s overall goals, what the results were, and often the cost. Even if the idea doesn’t exactly fit with your product or brand, use it to kickstart your own creative thinking.

Beyond Exhibitor Magazine, search online for creative tradeshow exhibit ideas. There are a lot of them floating around, and any one of them might be the inspiration you’re looking for.

Talk to others in the industry.

Networking can do a lot of things. One thing it does well is spread good ideas. By talking to other exhibitors, designers, managers and executives in the industry is that no doubt they’ve all seen some memorable tradeshow exhibits along the way. Ask them what they recall, what they liked, and how it worked. Make notes. And if you get a great idea that leads to something, be sure to thank ‘em!

Brainstorm.

Creative thinking can often be generated in-house with a handful of people. You may have even been in a brainstorming session or three in your career. If done properly, they can be brief and productive.

Combining ideas from other sources.

Pick up a book on creative thinking and see where it takes you. One of my favorites is Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko. Worth the price no matter what you pay.

Any other books or ideas you like that help you creatively? Make a note and share!

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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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As Technology Evolves, so do Tradeshows

I’ve been attending tradeshows for nearly twenty years. In looking back on photos from that era – the early ‘Naughts as the first ten years of this century are sometimes referred to – things look different. It’s often subtle, but what the photos from that era show is what’s NOT there. You have to look closely and compare the images from around 2003 – 2005 with images from today’s shows.

Lots of these types of exhibits in 2004 (Natural Products Expo West)

The big changes?

Video: Depending on the show, some are stark and blatantly obvious. For example, I saw so many large video walls at this year’s National Association of Broadcasters Show in Las Vegas I lost count. Big, small, portable banner-stand-like video walls, large walls used for training (Adobe and others), most of them extremely high quality.

Some smaller shows or different types of shows may not have the large video walls (or only a few), but my impression is that a majority of exhibits have large video monitors. These typically range from around 40” to as much as 70” and all show sharp images. It’s much easier to attach monitors on exhibit walls when the monitors are so slim compared to what was available a couple of decades ago.

Fabric Graphics: Printing on fabric has come so far, it’s hard to imagine what it was like at the turn of the century. Printers have gotten so much better and fabrics have also improved that in many cases what you’re seeing on the exhibit walls are fabric graphics printed with such depth and clarity it compares with top of the line paper printing.

LED lighting: Hand in hand with fabric graphics, the evolution of LED lighting has meant better lights for a fraction of the cost. Combine LED lights and an aluminum frame with fabric graphics and voila you have a fantastic-looking lightbox that shines!

Augmented Reality: I’ve only seen this a few times at tradeshows, but I think it’s going to spread. It’s showing up at museums and other permanent installations. Why not tradeshows?

3D Virtual tours: Again, not used so much these days, but check out the recent interview I did with Phil Gorski from Ova-Nee Productions and see what they’re doing in the tradeshow space. I can see this happening more and more to take the physical tradeshow to a larger audience in the digital world.

Virtual Reality: Not something that is taking over the tradeshow world, but it is definitely there and a smart exhibitor that chooses to use VR will plan to do it right. Here’s an interview I did with Foundry45‘s Dave Beck.

Interactive Touch Screens: Depending on the way you want your visitors to interact this can be a big benefit to help show off your company, products and people.

Charging Stations: At the turn of the century hardly anyone thought of the need to charge a portable device. Now it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t have that need a time or two a day during a long tradeshow. Charging stations can be custom-designed and built to fit your brand and to fit seamlessly into your exhibit.

Apps: Of course, there were no apps 15 – 20 years ago. Today it is a rare tradeshow that doesn’t have its own app where you can find exhibitors, information and subscribe to updates about the show.

Big Video Walls in 2019 (NAB Show 2019)

Social Media: This also didn’t exist back then. Today it almost seems old school to be doing regular social media posting about your tradeshow appearance. I mean, even Grandma is on Instagram, right? But social media is still a good way to post photos, respond to comments and let your followers know what’s going on while your company is exhibiting.

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TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, May 13, 2019: Phil Gorski

Here’s a novel idea: using the 3D Virtual Tour technology that is often used on real estate to allow potential buyers to virtually steer their way through the home, and use that tech to allow people to visit your tradeshow booth long after the show has ended.

That’s the topic of today’s interview on the TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee. Phil Gorski of Ova-Nee Productions spent a little time sharing how he started the company and how the technology works on a tradeshow booth.

You might like to see this story about Phil.

Check out some of the 3D exhibit tours done by Ova Nee Productions:

Find out more here.

This week’s ONE GOOD THING: Haruki Murakami’s recent novel “Killing Commendatore.”

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Attract Eyeballs with a Tradeshow Custom Floor

At tradeshows, the game is all about attracting attention. Have you considered a custom-printed floor?

Every client we’ve worked with that has chosen to use a custom graphic on a printed floor has been happy with the result. They like it, it looks good with the rest of the booth, and it gets positive comments from their visitors.

There are a lot of different floor choices, but what I’m talking about here is bringing the area below your feet into the overall graphic design of the exhibit and booth area. When you incorporate a branding element into the floor as part of the overall look, it adds POP and depth. Take a look at these examples:

With Schmidt’s Naturals, their iconic flowery design spreads across the 10×40 space. It reinforces their overall brand. And when added to the clean and spare look of the rest of the exhibit elements, the colorful floor stands out.

Schmidt’s Naturals and their custom colorful flooring

Wildbrine chose a custom-printed floor that also added to the overall color scheme. The striped green and black floor added another dimension to the bright colors throughout the rest of their simple layout.

Wildbrine’s custom flooring of green and black stripes

Of course, you can create a custom look without printing a graphic below your feet. Another way is to use typical flooring but present it in unusual cuts or angles:

Whatever flooring you choose, there are any number of ways to make it stand out.

Disclosure: Dave’s Killer Bread, Schmidt’s Naturals and Wildbrine are clients of TradeshowGuy Exhibits; the others shown here are not.

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What’s Holding You Back from a New Tradeshow Exhibit?

Last time when you set up your tradeshow exhibit and lived in it for a few days, did it feel cramped? Were you wishing you had another table to sit down at with potential clients? Trying to cram too many products on too few shelves?

Maybe it’s time for a new exhibit. So what’s holding you back?

It might be finances. Certainly that’s one of the biggest things that holds any company back. But beyond money, are you moving out of your comfort zone? It happens frequently. Many clients we work with at TradeshowGuy Exhibits have been using banner stands and pop-ups, which transport easily and take just a few moments to set up. Nothing wrong with that, but these companies have grown enough that they can afford a larger exhibit, one that not only looks good to give their brand a brand new look, but because it’s more complicated it needs to ship in a wooden crate using semi-trucks, it will likely need to be set up by an I&D (installation/dismantle) management crew.

What will your visitors think when you show off a new exhibit?

And yes, that moves many companies beyond their comfort zone. Having been down that road with a lot of companies, we often help navigate that path.

But if it’s money, there are ways to convince the purse holders that it’s time to invest in a new booth.

First, consider what would happen if you did nothing for the next 2-3 years. Your exhibit would be a few years older. Many of your competitors might already have upgraded to a new exhibit which will look a lot sharper than yours. How will your visitors then perceive your company compared to those competitors? Remember that perception counts a lot, and almost nowhere does it count as much as it does at tradeshows. Visitors there see you at your finest. And if your finest comes up short from what you want and what your visitors think you should be, that could be a problem.

Then again, maybe a new exhibit isn’t the answer. You might be better off investing in booth staff training. Or pre-show marketing. By doing this, you can still crank up the ROI on your tradeshow marketing investment and put off the exhibit investment for a couple more years.

But if you are seriously considering a new exhibit, think about who it will impact and how. Where will you store it? How much will it cost to ship or setup and dismantle?

Understand how much time you’ll need to design and fabricate the exhibit by talking to experience exhibit builders. Your new exhibit will last you several years, maybe 5 to 7 or more depending on the type of exhibit and how you use it.

Once you’ve decided that it’s a good move to pitch the powers-that-be, be prepared. Contact a few exhibit houses to understand their processes and timelines required, along with budget ranges for the size and type of exhibit you’re considering.

Make a written description of the exhibit requirements. When pitching the boss, offer a reasonable price range for the project, how long it’ll take to amortize the cost (3, 5, 7+ years), do your best to explain how the next exhibit will increase your lead generation (three clients in the past three years have told us that the increased size of the exhibit and the newness of it tripled their leads at the first show!).

Show the “soft” return on the exhibit, such as the impact the new look will have on your current customers who see the positive direction your company is taking. Or on the employees, who see the same thing. There are a lot of things that might be holding you back from investing in a new exhibit. But with careful planning and working with the right partners, you can create an environment and a situation where the new exhibit can become a reality.

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Preparing for Next Year’s Tradeshow. Already.

Less than three weeks after a just-completed tradeshow, I heard from an exhibitor I’d met at the show. He was interested in looking at doing something new for next year’s show, which was still more than eleven months away.

I commended him for being on top of it! His response was that they waited too long last time around and they didn’t want to let it happen again next year.

So what can you do now that this year’s big expo show is over to prepare for next year’s show, even though it’s almost a year away? Let’s count a few:

Plan ahead. Seems simple. But so many companies I talk to end up waiting until the last moment. There is no urgency to act until the dates in the calendar are nearer than you thought possible! Reach out to the various entities you may end up working with, whether it’s a current exhibit house, design house, graphic designer or whomever, and discuss your plans. You’ll get a sense of how much time things take which will give you much-needed information to put together a workable plan.

Find out what things will cost. In the case of a new exhibit, not just updating graphics on a current exhibit, you’ll need to determine how much the investment might be. There are industry averages, there’s your budget, and there’s your wish list. At some point these will all have to meet in the middle. If you’re unsure of how much your budget is, and how much things might cost, the sooner you gather that information the better prepared you’ll be as you move forward. Learning the cost of a potential new booth helps craft and shape the budget. Knowing your budget helps craft the final design.

Determine to the best of your ability what products and services you’ll be promoting. In most cases, clients we work with put this off until much closer to the show mainly because they want to have a handle on what will be available for sampling, when products or services launch and so on. At this point in your design discussions, you will likely leave placeholder graphics in place. But knowing if you have eight new products, or three, or fifteen, will help the direction of the design.

If you are not sure if you’ll continue to work with your current exhibit house, talk to several vendors. Each one will offer strengths and advantages; some will have obvious weaknesses for your specific goals. Learn as much as possible about them, speak to their current clients, learn about how the process went. Some companies will be a good fit and others won’t – there’s no real right and wrong. Often, it’s just a feeling, but feelings are important. All things being equal, people like doing business with people they like and get along with.

Take your time. If you’re more than half a year out, you have lots of time to ponder things. Run ideas by other people. Brainstorm some in-booth activities. Research what’s worked for others. The more time you are able to take, the more comfortable you’ll be with the decisions you finally reach. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll take a lot of time making decisions. Some people make snap decisions that are absolutely right. Maybe that’s you.

Finalize the plan. Get the various entities (vendors, designers, booth staff) lined up and make sure they’re all on board with the plan. Confirm the timeline, and add in a little buffer time for unexpected circumstances.

Once the show is underway next year with few to no glitches, congratulate yourself for getting so far ahead of the project!

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