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

Event Marketing

Natural Products Expo West TradeshowGuy Exhibit Awards

Walking the floor of the Natural Products Expo West show in Anaheim, one is overwhelmed by the sheer number of tradeshow exhibitors and visitors. According to New Hope, the organization that puts on the show, there were over 80,000 visitors this year, and over 3,100 exhibitors.

That’s a lot of bone broth, honey, yogurt, Paleo diets and chocolate. Oh, the chocolate!

But there are literally tons of tradeshow exhibits, many of which stand out in unique ways. Let’s capture a few of these and call them out for service and recognition above and beyond.

Best Use of Bodily Function Statistics: GoodBelly

I watched as visitor after visitor stopped at the side of the GoodBelly exhibit and snapped a photo of The Poop Report, an infographic compiled from a survey of over 3000 people who visited the GoodBelly website.

The Poop Report: Good Belly
The Poop Report: Good Belly

Best Long Form Screenplay, er, uh, Exhibit: BabyGanics

BabyGanics have traditionally occupied an odd-shaped island space for years in the convention center, so I was a bit surprised to see that space occupied by another exhibit. It took a moment of spinning on my heels, but I did eventually find the 60′ (70′? 80′?) long exhibit. Just an inline exhibit, but they jammed a lot of longevity and functionality into the space.

BabyGanics Goes Looong!
BabyGanics Goes Looong!

Best Makeover: Nancy’s Yogurt

This booth is near and dear to my heart: it’s the second exhibit project I ever sold when I got into the business 15 years ago. So this is nearly 15 years old. For years, the booth has had the same look and feel. But a laminate makeover gave it an entirely new look and feel. In fact, I admit at first glance I thought it was an entirely new exhibit! But not the case – just a quick re-skin for a whole new look:

Nancy's Yogurt Before and After
Nancy’s Yogurt Before and After

Best Lettuce on a Wall: Indoor Farms of America

Inside Farms of America had a simple concept: show people what they do, and as a result it’s an eye-catching and ‘stop-in-your-tracks’ effect:

Best Lettuce Wall
Best Lettuce Wall

Best Minimalist Exhibit: Kashi

Kashi’s <1% display got people talking and snapping photos. It’s nothing but a large space with a hanging sign, the <1% display and, when you read the fine print, you discover their message about organic farmlands. Effectively done:

Best Minimalist Exhibit: Kashi
Best Minimalist Exhibit: Kashi

Best Use of Cactus Wisdom for Interactivity: Steaz Tea

There’s nothing like handing out cards with pre-printed fortunes to get people to line up. I know I did. Clever, interactive, and engaging in a fun way – a perfect fit for Expo West:

Steaz Teas Interactive Fortune-Telling Cactus
Steaz Teas Interactive Fortune-Telling Cactus

Seriously, I could go on forever with fun and silly awards for exhibits at Expo West: it’s a place with a lot of creativity. Yes, you’ll find uncreative low-budget exhibits that should (and probably did) embarrass the exhibitors, but what’s the fun in pointing those out? They know who they are, and they know when it’s time to upgrade. So let’s go with just one more that caught my eye:

Best Photo-Op Exhibit: StonyField Yogurt

A large painting on a wall and floor made it look like you’re standing in a bowl of yogurt, if photographed at the right angle. So I joined in. Lots of people waiting for their turn here throughout the show:

Best Interactive Photo-Op: Stonyfield Yogurt
Best Interactive Photo-Op: Stonyfield Yogurt

TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, March 6, 2017 [video replay]

On this week’s coffee, I spend some time going over the question of asking better questions. If we learn to ask better questions, we’ll get better information. So what does it take to ask better questions? Take a look:

Notes from this week’s vlog:

Fast Company article by Stephanie Vlozza

Lifehack Article

TED talk on asking better questions

ONE GOOD THING: The Portland International Airport


Get the free report “7 Questions You’ll Never Ask Your Exhibit House”

Tradeshow Marketing: Are You Jimi Hendrix or Ernest Hemingway?

tradeshow marketing - jimi hendrix or ernest hemingway

Seriously, isn’t that an absurd question to ask about tradeshow marketing: are you Hendrix or Hemingway?

tradeshow marketing - jimi hendrix or ernest hemingway

Or maybe not. Let’s have a little fun for a moment.

Picture Jimi Hendrix standing at the edge of your tradeshow booth, or on a small stage in your booth, looking to draw people in for a show.

Now imagine Ernest Hemingway, sitting at his typewriter, carving out phrase after phrase to tell a story in a simple, eloquent and easily understandable way.

Which would make for a better result? Hendrix or Hemingway?

Hendrix was a showman. A one-of-a-kind guitar player whose talent still ripples through time.

Hemingway was a storyteller. His tales resonate through time as well.

Frankly, you might need both. You need a good tale, and you need a showy way to get people’s attention so they can take it all in and respond in a positive fashion.

Which are you – Hendrix or Hemingway? Or some combination of the two?


Now, let’s watch some Jimi…

And just for fun, a clip of why Ernest Hemingway was such a badass…


Photo Credits:

Ernest Hemingway By Lloyd Arnold – http://www.phoodie.info/2013/07/19/from-the-desk-of-ernest-hemingway-this-weekend-cuba-libre-celebrates-my-birthday/, Public Domain, Link

Jimi Hendrix By Reprise Records – eBayfrontback, Public Domain, Link


Grab our free report: “7 Questions You’ll Never Ask Your Exhibit House”

TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, February 27, 2017 [video replay]

Had a great chat with Ashley Blalock of the Ashley Avery Agency in NYC, an agency that provides models and spokespersons for tradeshow exhibitors. It was a fun and informative chat – check it out:

Ashley’s One Good Thing included two books!

Zero to One by Peter Thiel with Blake Masters

#GirlBoss by Sophia Amorusa

And you can find the Ashley Avery Agency here.

Before You Attend a Tradeshow, Read This!

Why should you read this before you attend a tradeshow?

First, let’s assume you’ve never been to a quality industry show that’s packed full of exhibitors and attendees. Oh, sure, you’ve been to a few regional home shows at the fairgrounds, or attended a chamber of commerce show with fifty or so small exhibitors. But that big show in Las Vegas, NYC, Anaheim or Chicago?

If that’s new to you as an attendee – there’s a first time for everything – let’s go over a handful of things to help prepare you.

before you attend a tradeshow, read this!

Get your travel plans in order. Flight, hotel, ground transportation. Know the location of your hotel or Airbnb in relation to the show site and the airport. In some cities, renting a car makes sense (Anaheim, maybe Vegas), in others you’re betting off taking ground transportation (SF, Chicago, Boston). If you’re planning to take mass transit, know where to get on and how to get to where you’re going. Mapping tools on smartphones are very good at giving these directions – so make sure your phone is charged, and even bring a small charger with you in case you can’t find an outlet on the fly. Travel as light as possible, but take all you need to function on the road – which is of course different (to a degree) than at home!

Double-check all show documents. Make sure you have the various bits of paper, emails, or whatever to get into the show. Bring contact numbers, not only of your home office (duh), but include a handful of contact numbers of show organizers.

Assemble a show plan. Most big shows have apps or online tools to allow you to create a plan. This allows you to add exhibitors and booth numbers to put together a list which makes it easier to find them all. Do this a week or so before the show. If there are educational sessions, create a plan for those you’ll be attending. When at these events, you’ll often have time to meet other attendees and do a little networking.

Depending on your show goals, make sure you have prepped your interaction with the various exhibitors. As an attendee, you’re likely going to be looking for products that you’re either going to sell or use, and perhaps recommend. Know what questions you’re going to ask, and be prepared to absorb information in whatever form is offered. Chances are exhibitors will have both electronic and paper sell sheets, for example, so you should be prepared to know how you’ll compile them. If an exhibitor wants to give you a paper sell sheet and you prefer digital, use an app such as Scanner Pro or Microsoft’s One Drive, which allows you to create PDFs of the sheets in an instant and upload them to your cloud account. Beyond that, as your company representative, you should be prepared to have the kinds of appropriate conversations to advance your agenda.

Plan some networking meetings, but be open to opportunities that will undoubtedly arise. Which means, don’t under-schedule but don’t over-schedule yourself!

Pace yourself. If you’re in an unfamiliar city, find a few moments if you can to look around. Try not to stay up too late to party with show-goers. Keep to familiar exercise routines as best you can. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes.

Finally, if it really is your first time to attend a large show in a far-away city as a company representative, follow the lead of your fellow employees who have been to the show before, and learn what you can.

And dammit, have some fun along the way! Not everybody is able to attend big shows on their company’s behalf, so consider yourself lucky!

7 Tradeshow Exhibit “Must-Haves”

Time for another list – this one is called 7 tradeshow exhibit “must-haves” and it’s pretty simple. What 7 things (items, people, plans) are essential to making your next tradeshow appearance a whopping success? Let’s count them:

  1. Branding that is clear as an angel’s giggle. A visitor should know at a glance what you sell and what kind of a company you are. She should be able to intuit so much with that glance: how you approach the marketplace, how the company culture works, how you view the environment, wha

    t kind of company you are. A good 3D exhibit designer working with a knowledgeable and responsive marketing team can work magic with the right design.

  2. Professionalism that is as obvious as, well, Captain Obvious. Your fully-trained staff will know how to approach visitors in a friendly and engaging way, and how to either answer their questions or get them to the right person. Staff training goes a long way and is worth more than you’ll ever spend on it.
  3. Lead capture system as effective and smooth as a glass of fifty-dollar bourbon. Once you have a prospect in your sights, make the transition from visitor to prospect so easy when gathering contact and follow-up information that they’ll barely know it’s happening.
  4. Interactivity that engages and draws a crowd. Okay, not every activity can draw a crowd at all times. But what if you had something in your booth that was interesting and engaging enough that once a few people got going, it attracted other people? And if that activity was directly related to your product or service, wouldn’t that be about the best you could do? Well, you could top that by making sure you were gathering contact and follow-up information from as many of those people as you could, once you qualified them.
  5. A comprehensive tradeshow marketing plan that covers months leading up to the show, through the show, and through the follow-up period. This would mean pre-show marketing, show execution and immediate follow-up with the hottest prospects.
  6. Enough STUFF: business cards, lead sheets, sell sheets, samples, demos – all of the stuff you need to hand out to visitors, show they what you do and so on. Take more than you think you’ll need. Unless its dated, you can always repack it and use it next time.
  7. Comfortable shoes. Ha! You saw this one coming, didn’t you?

Free Report: “7 Questions You’ll Never Ask Your Exhibit House”

Five Mistakes You’re Making at the Tradeshow

More than two-thirds of exhibitors do not have a solid plan in place and end up making mistakes at the tradeshow as they exhibit.

5 mistakes you're making at the tradeshow

In fact, not having an organized, comprehensive plan is one of the most common mistakes that exhibitors make.

And it’s safe to say that nearly all exhibitors don’t have a solid grasp of the metrics of their success or failure that comes from that tradeshow appearance. Why? Because companies tend to put all of their energy, time and money into putting on a good show, and very little into counting the results after the end of the show. Measuring your results – leads, sales closed – is one of the most critical measurements you can make.

Let’s look at some of the common mistakes you might make as you exhibit at the tradeshow.

  • First, you don’t have a comprehensive plan. This means going from A-Z and planning to cover all your bases, from pre-show marketing and show execution to having an exhibit that accurately represents your brand and communicates your message to counting leads and sales after the show is done. Know what you’re selling, who you’re selling to, how you’re planning to get back your return on the investment and where your tradeshow appearance fits in your overall marketing strategy.
  • Secondly, you may have the wrong people in the booth. Tradeshow floors are a chaotic busy mess where hundreds or thousands of people come and go all day long. Without proper preparation, which usually means staff training and picking the right people, you’ll end up with sales people or other staffers that can’t interact with precision, veracity and alacrity with those visitors. They’re not asking proper questions, they’re letting big fish get away and they’re spending too much time on little fish or people that won’t ever buy.
  • Third: you’re repeating yourself. Do you ever see the same company at the same show with the same exhibit year after year, showing off the same products? On close examination it seems nothing really changes from year to year. A company that’s on top of their game will upgrade the booth regularly or replace it when necessary; they’ll have new products to show off and new ways of interacting with visitors.
  • Fourth: you’re cheapening your brand by having inappropriate brand ambassadors in your booth. Pretty models in skimpy outfits may attract a crowd, but they do nothing to improve or define your company’s brand unless, of course, your brand is built on pretty models in skimpy outfits. Otherwise, in today’s climate, exhibiting in the US using those types of representatives will likely get you negative feedback.
  • Fifth: the biggest tradeshow marketing sin of all – you’re not following up on all of those leads in a timely manner. The fact that tradeshow leads are cheaper by the dozen and more targeted than any other kind of lead, coupled with the fact that your competitors have many of the same leads in their bucket, means that you must strike while the iron is hot. Letting a lead sit more than a few weeks means it grows colder and colder until you might as well toss it out with the other dead fish.

We all make mistakes – it’s part of life – but the more you can minimize mistakes with oodles of tradeshow marketing dollars on the table, the better off you’ll be.


Click here to grab my Tradeshow Follow-up Checklist

What’s your Tradeshow Marketing Narrative?

We all have stories – narratives that we can use to let people know who we are and what we stand for.

In the recent US presidential election, it was truly a battle of narratives. One side was viewed as a stable, dependable candidate albeit having been painted as crooked for decades by the other side. The other candidate was viewed as an outsider looking to ‘drain the swamp,’ but was painted by the other side as vulgar, unpredictable and unstable.

We all know how the election turned out. But what’s interesting is that no matter how much fact-checking came into play by countless individuals and entities, that the narrative of each side was what mattered most. We tend to believe what we want to, and if the story that’s depicted resonates with us, we’ll be moved by it.

It’s the same with tradeshow marketing. I have a number of clients in the natural products industry, and each company endeavors to tell a specific story using images, colors, graphics and messaging as part of an exhibit. Each company backs that up with products that continue that story and personnel that believe in the narrative. If there is a weak link in the chain, the dissonance will be felt, even if it isn’t clearly seen or understood.

That’s why, when crafting your tradeshow marketing narrative, all elements are important. Think of it: you’re under the microscope in a location where dozens if not hundreds of direct competitors are being examined as well. Every little thing contributes to the overall perception of your product and company: your employees, the clothes they wear, how they present themselves; the graphics, messaging, images, colors, booth construction materials, the flooring – are all communicating a distinct message. And if your story or narrative is not fully understood by the people designing the booth and creating the graphics, there is a good chance that the message will be garbled.

From the whole grains company to the bread company to the natural deodorant company to the men’s hygiene products company, they are all working to tell their story so that it’s easily understood, that it’s intuitively inferred by visitors.

Smarter people that me have the knowledge to craft those stories based on their knowledge of images, colors, messaging and so on and how people absorb those messages. The top companies in any industry are the ones that do the best job of depicting a narrative that fully and simply tells the story that they intend to tell.

How to Benefit from Tradeshows Without Exhibiting

You can benefit from tradeshows without exhibiting – it just takes a little planning.

How to Benefit from Tradeshows Without Exhibiting

For example, the simple fact of tradeshows means that there is an assemblage of buyers, managers, clients and prospects all at the same time. Consider scheduling an informal meeting with several of them. Perhaps it can be a dinner or an after-hours party or gathering. One show I attend regularly throws a party for all regional folks to see the best of the region. Several exhibitors are organized to gather their products for a state-specific gathering to show off the best-in-state (make sure that your activities are approved and sanctioned by the show and don’t break show rules).

Work with another company. Is there a larger exhibitor that you have worked with in the past? Perhaps it’s a good fit to co-exhibit with them and show off your goods at their booth. It might be marketing partners, customers, vendors or others that are complementary. For instance, if your co-exhibitor makes bread, that might be a good opportunity to show off your toast toppings.

Speak at a show. Larger shows in particular have ongoing training and seminar programs. Show off your expertise by offering to give a presentation or join a panel. It’s not really an opportunity to promote products (it’s frowned on, obviously), but if you can show your expertise and knowledge it’ll improve your standing in the industry, which can attract prospects. Work with noncompeting speakers: meet and greet and see how you might assist them in future projects.

Research products and competitors. Some shows are worth attending just to see if it’s a good fit for you in the future. While there, you can find what companies have the biggest footprint, find out what your competitors are up to (and maybe uncover some new ones), and get up close and personal with new products and services that will either compete with your offerings or complement them.

Other ideas that might let you benefit from tradeshows without exhibiting include purchasing a mailing list of exhibitors and/or attendees from show organizers. Consider purchasing ad space in the event newsletter, website or app.

6 Unforgettable Tradeshow Tips

Here are six random but unforgettable tradeshow tips to take you to a successful tradeshow experience.

  1. Standing out. Your tradeshow exhibit should stand out from others in any way it can. Of course, with hundreds or even thousands of booths trying to attract eyeballs, that may be difficult. But if you realize that every other booth is trying to do the same, you can stand out by being different. That may mean a dynamic color, a hanging sign, bright colors, bold statements and compelling questions in your marketing message.
  2. Freebies. There are right and wrong ways to approach giving away trinkets and tchotchkes. Don’t give something away just for the sake of giving something away. Having a pen with your logo on it may mean something to you, but to a visitor, it’s like every other pen they got that day. If the giveaway is usable and memorable, it may get noticed longer. For instance, a premium giveaway for a special visitor that you’re really trying to sell may mean a metal coffee cup with your logo or something similar. Work with your promotional products company to find the appropriate freebie.
  3. Business cards. When was the last time you went to a networking event or tradeshow and realized you didn’t have enou

    gh business cards? It happens. In fact, it happened to me last week! Plan ahead and don’t forget to take more than you think you’ll need.

  4. 30-second pitch. Most standard sales pitches will be packed with features and benefits, but that is a good way to become very forgettable. Instead, come up with an engaging question, or an introductory question that gets a visitor to stop. Then you can go into a pitch that focuses on how you work with clients: “we help frustrated marketers that can’t find a good graphic designer, or they’re embarrassed by poor printing, or they don’t have an overall program to get their brand image out online – I don’t suppose any of these concerns or challenges affect you?”
  5. Traffic Flow. If your booth is blocked off from the aisle by tables and chairs, people won’t come inside your booth. If they don’t come inside your booth, you can’t have a comfortable conversation with them about what their challenges are and how your product or service may help them. No matter what size your booth, the traffic flow should be a prime consideration of your booth design.
  6. Have fun! Tradeshows are a short-term, high energy commitment. The more fun it looks like you and your staff are having, the more people you’ll attract. And tradeshow are all about attracting people and knowing what to do with them!

Take these 6 unforgettable tradeshow tips and use them to make your next tradeshow appearance a successful one!

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Tradeshow Guy Blog by Tim Patterson

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