There are a few not-so-obvious things when you browse Exhibit Design Search from TradeshowGuy Exhibits. Let’s show off a few:
One of the easiest ways to identify possible exhibits is to browse our Exhibit Design Search (go to TradeshowBuy.com) and add them to ‘My Gallery’ and then share that unique link with your colleagues.
Here’s how it works:
The first time you step into a booth space as an exhibitor can be a bit daunting. You may be part of a big team. You may be side-kicking it with just one other person. Or, I suppose, you could be doing it all on your own as a solopreneur.
Whatever the case, the trepidation is palpable. What if people think the exhibit is ugly? What if they ask a question I can’t answer? What if I don’t make any connections or sell anything and it’s a complete bust?
The first time I stood in a booth as an exhibitor after getting into the industry was in November 2003. I’d been in the industry for less than two years and was tasked with driving the rental truck with the 10×20 custom booth we’d made at Interpretive Exhibits to Reno and setting up the exhibit at the National Association for Interpretation annual conference.
It was scary and fun at the same time. I’d never navigated the unloading of a truck like that with all of the exhibit pieces, but with some advice from the shop guys who built it, I managed to get it unloaded and into the hall and get it set up.
The exhibit was a Tiki lounge-inspired exhibit, complete with a big Tiki god with glowing eyeballs, flaming mouth and vapors out of the top, like a volcano. It was designed to show potential clients the creativity our designers and builders could conjure up, and it went over well.
One of our designers flew down and joined me for the two days of the show.
When it came to actually be interacting with visitors, not much sticks out. I was still quite a way from figuring out what to do in the booth, so I tried to smile, answer questions and be a help as much as possible. Beyond that, not much comes to mind!
But it was my initiation into the world of tradeshow marketing. After I joined the company I’d sold a custom exhibits to local businesses, including Kettle Foods and Nancy’s Yogurt, but still had almost no clue as to what to say to people when I was actually in the booth.
Even with my lack of knowledge of what to do, I did know a few things. I knew why we were there, and I knew what we wanted to get out of it. We were exhibiting to connect with government organizations and non-profits that might eventually be looking for someone to design and build interpretive exhibits.
Our investment was minimal, and over time we might have actually gotten some business out of it. Frankly, I don’t remember because it wasn’t on my radar to track anything like that.
As the years went by and I participated in more shows, and helped clients do the same, it became clear that even if it’s your first show, there are a handful of things to keep in mind.
Know why you’re there. What is the goal? Is it to sell products or services? Is it to generate leads so a sales crew can follow up? Are you launching a new product?
Why are you there?
Know how to capture data and what data you need. When generating leads, know exactly what information you need. Obviously, you need an individual’s name, company and contact info. Beyond that, what’s important about the follow up: is it a phone meeting, or in person? Do they need you to send information prior to the meeting? When is the meeting and is it scheduled on their calendar?
What’s your role? Every person at a tradeshow is there for a reason. Why are you there? Know your role, whether it’s to assist with other people, hand out samples, or coordinate logistics. A first-timer may not be tasked with a ton of things, but obviously that can change from business to business.
How does the tradeshow fit into the company’s overall marketing strategy? While this may not be critical in the big picture, if the front-line staffers on the show floor have a good understanding of the overall company marketing scheme, knowing how the tradeshow fits in that scheme will help.
You’ll only have one first tradeshow as an exhibitor, no matter your role. After that, you’re no longer a newbie. But if your first one has yet to come, go into it knowing that you’ll survive. Heck, you might even learn a few things and have fun. Once it’s over, take a quick little assessment. Speak to your manager and ask what they thought. Debrief a little. Take the feedback and apply it to your next show and voila’, you’re on your way!
When I first got into the tradeshow industry back in ’02, table top exhibits were pretty cheap and boring. They were often small suitcase affairs that could be easily transported by one person and set up in just a couple of minutes. You’d fold it out, set it on a table, and often attach laminated images using Velcro tape. Or some exhibitors would cobble together small sample packs of their products with sell sheets or small ads in acrylic holders.
It wasn’t impressive or inspiring. But they were cheap, and easy to transport. So in a sense, they served a purpose.
Today, you can no doubt use much of those same table top exhibits. But there are a wide variety of table top exhibits that take things to the next level. Or three. Many of the new designs use materials such as fabric graphics (often backlit) that are more common in in-line and island exhibits. Prices have gone up, but so has quality and impact. Each exhibitor that’s sticking with a table top presentation has to decide if the extra cost is worth the impact.
Let’s take a look at a few table top exhibits:
Starting with what are called hybrids, the VK-1853 uses ‘to-the-edge’ silicon-edged graphics, an engineered aluminum frame and can pack in a small rollable case.
Another example of the hybrid exhibit is the VK-0005, which is essentially a SuperNova tool-less lightbox with shelves for product display.
On to the lightweight tension fabric, there are many examples, including the TF-403 and TF-405, both featuring lightweight metal frames and large format tension fabric. The TF-405 comes with an S-shaped frame which, because of its unusual shape, tends to catch the eye.
Moving on, there are a number of sustainably-engineered and produced table tops. One that catches the eye is the ECO-104T. And confirming that these are often shrunken versions of full-size in-lines, there are both 10×10 and 10×20 versions of this particular exhibit.
Another example of a sustainable exhibit is the TF-409, an Aero freestanding table top, which stands out with its double-circle design.
Folding table tops are probably associated with the vintage table tops, and the FT-05 is a good example of them. They are economical and easy to set up (as are all of these), and give a solid look.
And finally, the FGS (Floating Graphic System) pop-ups come in a variety of configurations, all of which offer a variety of graphic placements for products and branding. Here’s the FG-03:
Table top exhibits come in all shapes and varieties and in a wide price range. Many shows that exhibitors want to go to are smaller and they don’t need a big exhibit, or even an in-line, which is a great opportunity to show off your company in an impressive light for a price that is light on your wallet.
Check our full line of table top exhibits here.
You have literally a few seconds to catch a tradeshow attendee’s attention. You’ve been there: walking the show floor, heading across the hall. You see someone you know; you get distracted, you spill your coffee on your pants. There’s always something that keeps you from paying attention to the tradeshow exhibits around you.
Even highway billboards sometimes get more attention than your booth.
Which means that people are ignoring you. Not because you don’t have something good to offer. Not because you are slacking in the ‘look at us’ department. But if you’re doing just the average approach to getting attention, you’ll be, well, average when it comes to having people stop. What are some of the top ways to get attention?
Do something different. Unexpected. Unusual. I often point to the Kashi island exhibit that’s shown up at Natural Products Expo West in at least a couple of iterations the past few years. It’s simple, and it delivers a simple message. It invites people to stop and find out what it is. The design itself is unusual enough that it stops visitors.
Hire a pro. A professional presenter knows how to stop people in their tracks, entertain them and deliver a powerful message in just a few moments.
Have something for them to do. Interactivity means, if the activity appeals to them (chance to win a prize or get a little mental engagement), they’ll stop. And of course a small crowd draws a bigger crowd.
Ask a great question. Take a tip from our pal Andy, who specializes in teaching this to his clients, there’s a lot to be said for knowing how to immediately engage with someone in a positive manner.
Offer a space for people to sit and charge their phones. This usually takes a bigger booth than just a small inline, which means you need a little space to spare. But if you can get random visitors to sit for ten minutes, offer them something valuable: a bottle of water, a chance to view a video about your company or product.
Lots of ways to capture a tradeshow attendee’s attention – it just takes a little planning and execution and you can be drawing them in.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wear colorful branded clothing. Whether it’s a staff of two or three, or twenty, having colorful branded clothing will immediately let visitors know who’s working the booth and who’s a guest. Bright colors attract, so put your logo on the front and an enticing message on the back. And to change things up from day to day, create a different colored set with a different message for each day of the show, and make sure your crew coordinates. Bright colors, especially if they’re tied into your brand work well: yellow, red, orange, blue, fluorescent.
Setup a giant prop and invite people to take a photo. Could be anything: a mascot, a giant purse, a full-size model of one of your products (if it’s small, for instance); something that stops people in their tracks. I’ve seen mascot, angels, musicians, giant hanging props, exhibits made from bicycle frames and more. They all had one thing in common: they begged to have their picture taken.
Once that photo has been taken, invite the visitor to spread the word on social media and include the show hashtag to make sure the post gets seen. Offer prizes to people that photo and share online.
Give something away and offer an incentive to wear it. One way is to print up a few hundred t-shirts or hats with your logo along with a fun message and tell people that if they put it on right there, they can also take home another gift. And tell them if you catch them wearing it at an after-hours show (be specific as to which one), you’ll be giving away $50 bills to random shirt wearers. This type of promotion gets others involved and spreads the word about your booth and products throughout the show.
Have a unique exhibit that begs to be seen. Sounds straightforward, but to break out of the cookie-cutter mold, it takes a designer that’s willing to create something unique and wild and a company that’s willing to spend to make it a reality.
Give visitors something to DO. Interactivity goes a long way. At the NAB Show, there were several exhibitors that gave visitors a chance to learn new software by joining them for a free class. Not only are you drawing interested people in, you’re keeping them involved for up to an hour and showing them exactly how the product works.
Contests. Give people a chance to win something by guessing the number of beans in a jar, answering a quiz, spinning a wheel or something else increases the chance you’ll get visitors to stop at your booth. Make sure to engage them in a brief conversation to uncover their needs regarding your product.
Famous mugs. Lots of companies hire famous (or at least semi-well known) people to be a part of the show. Authors, speakers, sports stars, actors, and so on can all draw a crowd. Authors in particular, if they’re in your industry, can be a good draw if they have a new book out. I’ve seen dozens of people in line to pick up a free copy of a new book and get it signed by the author (and snap a selfie!), and I’ve waited in line to get a prop soft baseball signed by Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.
Comment wall. I see these more and more. Ask a bold question or make a bold statement and invite people to chime in with their thoughts on a wall. Invite people to snap a photo of what they wrote and share it on social media (make sure the wall is branded and has the show hashtag on it).
Bring media production to your booth. Know someone that is a podcaster in the industry? Invite them to record a few episodes of their show in your booth, and make sure to provide some good guests for them, whether it’s people from your company, or others. The simple act of recording a show in your booth will make a lot of people stop. That’s a good time for your staff to engage those visitors politely to find out if they’re prospects.
If someone in your company has written a book, offer free copies of the book along with free printed photos with visitors and the author. This has worked great for years for Bob Moore of Bob’s Red Mill, one of our long-time clients at TradeshowGuy Exhibits. Every time they exhibit at the bigger expos, Bob spends time signing books and posing for photos while a photographer takes photos and has them printed up in a few moments for the visitor.
There are literally countless ways to draw crowds to your booth. It all boils down to creativity and execution. What can you do to improve the traffic at your next show?
What is tension in a business sense, or to be more precise, in a marketing sense?
Briefly, it’s the concept of conflict. It’s the process of creating a situation where a visitor can’t immediately reconcile one concept with another.
Think Coke vs. Pepsi.
Nike vs. Adidas
One brand vs. another is one source of tension.
And understand, tension is not fear. You could say it’s the opposite. Remember in high school when you were attracted to another person and the tension that was created around it. You wanted to be with that person, but since the very thought of expressing your feelings created tension, it made you, well, tense! But in a good way, because you really did want to get to know that person and spend time.
Another would be telling a story, but not giving away the end. Maybe harder to do in the chaos and quick turnover of a tradeshow, but I’ve seen it done. At the National Association of Broadcaster Show this year in Las Vegas, Adobe (and many others) had huge classes going on teaching their new software. That is a great story to tell: those that use the software want to know how things have changed and how they can use it, so they sign up for a free class to learn the story of the software and its changes. I’ve seen larger exhibits steer visitors through a maze where you don’t know what you’re getting into until you’ve seen the maze all the way through.
How do you tell the story of your product or service? By asking questions:
- What is it?
- How does it work?
- When can I get it?
- What does it taste like?
- When will it be available?
- Where can I get it?
- What does it cost?
The price of something is a story in and of itself. Are you positioning your product against another similar product by offering it at a lower price? What tension does that create? What if you price it much higher than your competition? How does that affect the tension people feel?
Is your product something more or less “off the shelf?” In other words, do you simply manufacture it and put it on a shelf? In that case, price is a point of tension. Deciding to like the product or not is pretty straightforward and deciding to spend the money may come down to the perceived value.
But what if what you offer is customized? That means the customer has a number of choices to make, such as in the case of creating a new tradeshow exhibit. And having to make a lot of decisions can freak out some people, either in a good way or a bad way. Ideas can come pouring forth from some people. From other people, having to come up with a lot of ideas may mean they freeze up.
Many people are looking for something quick and easy. They want a “push-button” solution to their problems. That’s why “turnkey” solutions are often presented for more complex situations. Which is why customized products create tension and demand a lengthier decision process.
By creating tension in a good way, you’re making your product or service attractive to people. What tension can you create with your tradeshow marketing and story-telling?
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 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!
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!
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:
- 1000 sq ft booth – this one has 3 embedded video clips
- 2500 sq ft booth – there’s an airstream in their booth
- 8800 sq ft booth – this is a big one
Find out more here.