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.
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
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!
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!
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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!
Big video is, well, BIG. It seems like ‘the bigger, the better.’ Admittedly, the quality of big video walls has improved noticeably the past few years. I can’t speak to the price – if the increased competition and quality has driven costs down, like it has for other products such as LED lighting. But it’s impressive. Let’s take a look:
Having never attended the National Association of Broadcasters Show in Las Vegas, I did not have a full grasp of the scope and size of the show. And once I was walking the floor earlier this week, it still took a few hours to fully comprehend how freaking big it is. There are nearly 2 million square feet of exhibiting space in 13 halls separable by movable walls.
Over 90,000 attendees showed up along with over 1600 exhibitors to see the latest in video and audio tech in all its glory: broadcast and cable TV, sports, podcasting, radio, lighting, cloud services and much more. It was all there. And it was overwhelming.
The biggest takeaways? As an old radio guy who started his career by playing single 45s on a turntable, I can safely say: we’ve come a long way (mentioning those 45s to the 20 and 30-something folks staffing the booths also was a good way to bring forth those puzzled looks along with a hesitant chuckle – yeah, I know I’m old).
Video is huge, as are the gigantic video walls, which seemed
to adorn nearly one out of three booths. Quality is impressive. Cameras are
going up in quality as the price creeps down. Seeing and playing with 8K
cameras showed attendees what the working video world will be working with soon
if they aren’t already.
Audio production, and in particular, the production of audio
in conjunction with video, is a really big deal. Avid’s booth featured a large
screen displaying how they mixed the music that was a part of the Oscar-winning
Bohemian Rhapsody. Also there were the Oscar winners, who sat on a panel discussing
Visitors also could partake in training on a large scale:
Adobe, Avid, DaVinci Resolve and many others were doing full-on all-show-hours
in-depth training on their latest products.
From an exhibit standpoint, I also saw something I’d never
seen before: many video camera and monitor manufacturers built set and had them
populated with stand-in actors. The idea was to give visitors a chance to put
their hands on the various cameras and zoom and pan and see how everything worked
under conditions that replicated what they’d find on an actual set.
I also saw at least three stationary cars equipped with cameras to film actors as they drove. One exhibitor went even further: behind the car there was a large video image of a road as if the car was moving. On the right and left were more screens with similar images. And for the coup de grace, a large video panel suspended over the entire car which simulated the movement of the sky, reflections of streetlights and more. An actor need only sit in the car and everything else is captured in one take, with little post-shoot work needed.
Lots of international exhibitors, including Europe and China, Korea and Canada among the more prominent. It seems pretty common that exhibits from China and Korea will set up exhibits with walls that enclose much of the space. I don’t see that as much from US exhibitors, so my hunch is it’s a bit of a cultural thing. I also don’t think humor passes easily from culture to culture. One exhibitor from China had a McLaren automobile on display (wasn’t really sure of the purpose, but it certainly looked sharp). As I was talking to one of the reps, I joked that maybe they should raffle off the car at the end of the show. All I got in return was confused look. Hey, I thought it was funny!
Exhibits were impressive from the big companies, and many of
the smaller companies also had a good look. Although as in any show, you always
see the smaller companies in the 10x10s around the edges of the main floor
struggling to be seen or to even have something worth seeing. The most
impressive things seen in the smaller booths were the company’s product lit up
with LED, or something moving that catches the eye.
Esports had its own section, showing off gamers and gaming.
We know that gaming has become a multi-billion dollar industry and if you
search for esports competition, you’ll find a lot. There were panels and
competitions taking place in the section, but frankly, since I’m not a gamer,
it didn’t hold my interest that long. However, my 18-year old son probably
could have spent all of the show in this area and it wouldn’t have been enough!
The tech that supports radio, tv, cable and Internet was
also displayed throughout the halls. Not being a tech guy, much of this was
over my head, but impressive nonetheless: network, audio, video controllers;
studio design and audio and video production boards, facility infrastructure,
transmitters, processors, automation software, captioning AI, streaming,
scheduling, logging, transcription…you name it, somebody was here promoting it.
I talked to well over a hundred people about the show, how
it worked for them, how it helped create leads, sell their products. Most told
me it was a great show for them. Several said this show in particular was the
one show that gave them most of their good leads for the year for them to
follow up on.
But not everyone agreed. One woman I spoke with said she’d been coming to the show for thirty years, and it’s not the show it used to be. One comment she made totally threw me. She said the “little Sony” booth wasn’t impressive at all. My jaw dropped because I’d been at the Sony booth (probably around 10,000 square feet) earlier in the show and determined it to be one of the top exhibits there, going so far as to walk through the booth for a minute or two shooting video to capture it all. But no, she said, “Sony used to take up a third of the hall!” She said that the networks (CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS) don’t send the people they used to, and the few they do send spend all their time behind closed doors in meetings, and don’t get out and mingle on the show floor like they used to. So her market wasn’t there to the extent they used to be. I found her perspective fascinating: no matter how much evidence you see to support one view, there’s always another view that’s just as valid.
I caught a couple of events on the main stage: opening day, NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith (and former Oregon senator) gave a keynote and ended by awarding MASH actor Alan Alda the NAB Distinguished Service Award. Alan sat for about 15 minutes after the award to chat about his career. I also caught the next morning’s panel, Tales from the White House Beat, featuring Smith chatting with ABC’s Cecilia Vega, NBC’s Hallie Jackson, CBS’s Steven Portnoy and PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor as they shared stories and insight into covering the Trump administration.
I was invited as a blogger which made me a member of the media, so I felt a bit of kinship with these professional journalists. I’ve been in radio news teams, hosted talk shows and been behind the microphone for decades, and it was great to hear the stories they told.
Lastly, a shout out to these folks: Josh at Time Lapse Cameras, Kent at Sharp Electronics and Suzy at FeiyuTech for their time and information. They reached out and invited me to check out their latest. Time Lapse Cameras has, as you might imagine, some great little affordable time lapse cameras which can be used to record any number of things from construction to exhibit setup and dismantle. Sharp showed off their new 8K cameras which are out later this year, and FeiyuTech demonstrated a new action camera, the Ricco, along with a handful of three-axis gimbals and other assorted goods for the video camera market. All good stuff and thanks for having me!
Is that a weird question: what does your exhibit remind
But think about it. We all have triggers. There are things that
we see in the present that reminds us of the past. Maybe it’s a song that takes
you back to your childhood. Maybe it’s a smell that reminds of your first love.
Could be anything.
Images, colors, stories: they all are shorthand and they can
remind us of something. Things that make us happy, sad, safe, tense.
Back to your company’s tradeshow exhibit: what does it
remind visitors of?
One good example comes from a client of ours, Bob’s Red Mill.
Its iconic red mill structure is a stylized representation of what a lot of
people see as harkening back to a different era. Mills represent the
hand-crafted way of milling grains – the loving labor that goes into producing
a high-quality product. We don’t actually see the millstone or how the grains
are ground under the weight of the stone, but the mill reminds us of that.
On the tradeshow floor, stories are told in shorthand by
using various materials, colors, shapes, fonts and more.
Green tells you: earth-friendly, plant-based, life, renewal,
energy, harmony with nature.
Red is the color of fire, blood, energy, way, strength, power, passion, determination.
Orange combines the energy of red and yellow and communicates energy and happiness, enthusiasm, fascination, creativity, determination.
When it comes to shapes, meaning can be communicated in a
lot of ways. Geometric shapes such as squares, rectangles, triangles, crosses.
Organic shapes are more free-flowing: circles, leaves,
rocks, clouds, ink blots.
Fonts tell a story, probably one of the most important. Every font has a unique personality and purpose. Bold block fonts tell one story, while flowing script fonts tell another. Thin fonts tell a story that’s different than fat ones. There’s a psychology behind using various fonts that are more than I want to delve into here, but the topic is worth taking a deeper look.
Some brands have clearly designated, iconic images (the red mill of Bob’s, the iconic “T” of Tesla, the siren of Starbucks, the apple of both Apple Computers and Apple Records to name a few). These can easily be put on a tradeshow exhibit design.
Other brands are less-known or not as well-defined, and in
those cases it often means working with a 3D exhibit designer with the skill to
use the shapes, colors and fonts needed to clearly communicate the brand’s
story in a glance with an exhibit.
If you don’t have an iconic, easily recognizable brand
(yet), we go back to the question: what does your tradeshow exhibit remind
Do the colors evoke good memories and associations? Do the
shapes clearly communicate a message that brings up a positive connection?
It’s all worth considering as you market your business by using tradeshows. After all, a tradeshow is the perfect place to present a clearly-defined image to your visitors.