As in any discipline, we can all end up very focused on just a few aspects of the overall skills needed to be a well-rounded and talented worked. For instance, in baseball, a pinch-hitter is great at hitting a pitch but may not be that great at fielding or running.
In the digital world, someone may be very good at engaging on Twitter or Instagram, but just doesn’t get LinkedIn or spend any time on Facebook.
A photographer may be an expert at photographing weddings but would have a difficult time to find a great landscape photo or have the patience to take a good night photo.
You’ve probably heard that it’s better to be focused on just one skill and become really, really good at that skill instead of being a Jack or Jill-of-all-trades.
I don’t agree. The more skills you have the better off you’ll be, even if those skills are only average or slightly above.
Take a writer. Some writers can be a great author but suck at promotion, social media engagement, public speaking and at other skills that would help them be more successful. There are lot of “average” authors that are very successful because they have learned how to engage on social media, speak in public, put together a solid promotion.
When it comes to the well-rounded tradeshow marketer, what skills should you have? Not necessarily be the greatest at, or extremely skilled, but all of the various skills to make you rise above the pack? Let’s take a look:
Organization: there are a lot of bouncing balls in the tradeshow world. Your ability to keep track of the many parts of tradeshow marketing is probably one of the most important skills.
Communication: whether it’s having a conversation or communicating with people via email, being able to understand, and be understood, is critical.
Social Media: you don’t have to have the most followers or engage with everyone that “likes” one of your posts, but you do need to know the basics of creating, writing, posting and engaging with those followers.
Scheduling: tradeshow dates on the calendar don’t move. Which means you’ll have to coordinate things such as logistics (shipping, travel, installation/dismantle), booth staff scheduling, updates to your exhibit (modifications, graphic printing, etc.) and more.
Photographer: maybe not the most important skill, but since you carry a camera around in your pocket, you’ll need to learn to take good photographs of the exhibit, and visitors in your booth. Learn how to frame people, get the lighting right, try not to let unwanted guests photobomb your photo, and more.
Labor: you may hire show labor to set up and dismantle your exhibit, or you may have to set it up with fellow staff members. Either way, knowing how everything goes together is a useful skill.
Networking: back to the communication and interpersonal skills. But networking on it’s own is critical to building a network of people you can call on when needed.
Finally, how to MacGyver things: you may not have to actually make your own parachute using a canvas and tie-downs, but being naturally resourceful is a gift. Don’t let it go to waste.
Trying to find some new and different posts the next time you’re on the road at a tradeshow? Try a few of these and see what you get:
Clients and Customers in Your Booth: Click a quick photo or if they’re up for it, videotape a brief testimonial.
Your Staff: You should make sure that you show off how much fun your staffers are having, even in the midst of a busy day. Nothing communicates your company’s brand more than your people having a good time.
Demos of Products: A series of stills, or a brief video works here.
Have a great exhibit? Show it off!
The Hall You’re In – Include Your Booth Number: Share your location at the beginning of each day (at least) so that people can find you.
Educational: Inform your audience how your product or service can help them. A picture with a useful description goes a long way.
Questions or a Short Quiz: People will respond to questions if they’re interesting and engaging.
Promotional: Give something away. Try offering a prize for show-goers to get them to come to your booth. And offer a prize for people watching from afar that can’t make it.
Dinner out with Client (or not): Okay, food photos are usually boring unless it’s really a stunning photo. But if you’re out with a client or friend, post a photo and include the hashtag.
Local Tourist Stops: Making a few side trips during your busy show? Snap photos and share.
When you think about it, there are several reasons why tradeshows work to reach new markets. And many reasons as to why they wouldn’t work for you.
Let’s start with why tradeshows work.
Tradeshows are organized for one very good reason: to bring buyers and sellers together under one roof for a short amount of time. It’s an extremely effective way to help both parties make connections. By setting up an exhibit at the right show – one that has hundreds or thousands of people or companies that are in the market for your product or service – you can save a ton of money when compared with trying to have face-to-face meetings with those same people at their company locations. Imagine meeting 100 people at a show over the course of three days. Then imagine the cost of traveling to 100 locations spread throughout the country (or state or world) and having the same meetings. Granted, a meeting in someone’s office is typically more relaxed than a meeting on the tradeshow floor. But other than the time and relaxation factors, it’s pretty much the same meeting! You’re determining if the prospect uses your product, is capable of making a purchase (they have the $$), and if they have the ability to make that decision for the company. It’s the same on the tradeshow floor.
Given all of that, tradeshows are the perfect structure for spreading the word about your product among a very large crowd that – again, if it’s the right show – are your target market. Naturally, you’re competing against companies that may be trying to sell virtually the same product or service to the same target market. That’s where the fun starts: how do you differentiate from them, how do you approach the prospect, how do you understand their needs, how do you make them look (and feel) good?
On the flip side, given the high cost and a multitude of variables that go into planning and executing a tradeshow appearance, a lot of exhibitors have come to the conclusion that tradeshow marketing doesn’t work. For them.
You could point to a number of reasons why it doesn’t work for them. They’re at the wrong show. With the wrong exhibit. In the wrong space. With a booth staff that isn’t properly trained. Going against competitors that are way ahead of them in experience, savvy, planning, and attitude. In fact, attitude, I would argue, is one of the keys to winning vs. losing at a tradeshow. But let’s take it a step further: let’s not even use the words “winning vs. losing” because that frames it as a competition. Yes, it is, in a sense. But if you consider all tradeshows as more than that – as a learning experience – take that experience and apply it to the next round. What worked? What didn’t? Why did something work, and why did something else not work? If that’s hard to figure out, it might mean you’re too close to it. Ask someone on the outside to take a look and give an objective perspective. Buy a book or two and learn how it’s done from people that have been there before.
Don’t give up. Keep plugging away. Keep trying. It can – and will – work for you, eventually.
Preparing for a tradeshow takes time and effort, which you may already know if you’ve participated in a tradeshow in the past. That being said, it helps to have a checklist on hand to make sure you get everything just right before the big day.
Below we’ve outlined the ultimate tradeshow booth checklist for you to use before your next show to boost your efficiency and marketing ROI.
Research the exhibitor space and show beforehand.
Do you know where your booth is located at the event? If you have the opportunity to pick your spot, think about selecting an area near the entrance where you can meet and greet people as soon as they walk in. Once you have your booth location nailed down, don’t forget to promote it. Advertising your presence at the event can drive more foot traffic.
Plan out your booth ahead of time.
You and your team should have a good idea of what type of graphics you will be using and how the space will be set up before the event. Will you have a custom exhibit or table top with a table cover? Will you have a booth backdrop? What about signage? These are all factors you’ll want to consider beforehand.
In addition, don’t forget about your marketing collateral. Your marketing team should have informational materials to give out to those who come by your booth and want to learn more about your products and services. After deciding on the right pieces, feature pamphlets prominently in literature stands or on tabletops so potential customers can easily grab them.
Engage in pre-show promotion.
Emails, social media, and direct mail are all ways you can drive traffic to your booth when the big day comes. Think about creating a marketing campaign centered around the trade show to raise awareness of your presence at the event before it officially kicks off. You can also often promote your presence with the organizers of the show itself whether that be via email or an advertisement in the conference agenda.
Come up with a plan to drive traffic to your booth.
Think about creating a giveaway program to encourage attendees to stop by your booth. Consider a raffle where you give away a prize on display at the actual event. An acrylic locked box can be used to hold the prize safely until it’s time to award it to the raffle winner.
You may also want to use tradeshow banners to drive traffic to your booth. If you want to go the extra mile, think about hosting a small event at your booth, such as a coffee hour, for networking with people who stop by your area. Finally, don’t forget about offering freebies to those who come by your booth. Marketing materials, such as branded pens and keychains, can help you stick out in the mind of booth visitors long after they drop by your stand.
Create a plan for collecting leads.
Will your team have lead scanners or will you be simply collecting business cards? These are questions you’ll want to have answered before the big day. Think about using a tablet to collect attendee information with a form that connects directly to your CRM system to streamline the lead collection process. Tablet stands and holders can be beneficial at your booth for this reason.
While planning a tradeshow does require a certain amount of flexibility, having this checklist on hand can give you the best chance at making the most of your marketing opportunity. Follow these tips and you’re sure to be off to a good start for your next show.
Marla Bracco is the content marketing manager for shopPOPdisplays where she focuses on content strategy and search engine marketing, designed to help the organization shape their web content around digital marketing objectives and priorities.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the main goal of all tradeshow marketing is to grow your business, right? Yes, you’re right. But that’s a general and somewhat vague-sounding goal, so it’s worth breaking it down a bit more.
The main goals for exhibiting typically fall under these categories:
Most everything you can do, whether it’s pre-show marketing, in-booth activities, or post-show follow-up, helps support these three main goals.
To support your Branding efforts, consider the following goals:
Easily recognizable exhibit that captures your brand. How do you measure this? One way would be to survey visitors as they pass through the booth to gauge their feelings on the exhibit.
A trained booth staff that knows and understands your show goals and how to properly interact with your booth visitors. This isn’t something that is easily measurable, but investing in your booth staff by hiring a professional trainer is an expense that can be measured – and I’m confident you’ll see an improvement in critical metrics as a results.
Samples given away – if a lot of people want your stuff, that’s a good indicator. Easy enough to measure.
Social media engagement. Did you get good response from the photos and videos you posted from the show floor (as well as before and after the show)? Compare post count and engagement from show to show.
When it comes to Lead Generation, the following metrics and activities can contribute to the overall success:
Making sure that your lead has concrete contact information and specific follow up details. Count leads and track trends from show to show.
Tracking the overall visitor count. Yes, this is hard to do, but with technology it’s becoming easier. By knowing the percentage of visitors that convert to leads, you have valuable information that can be used at subsequent shows.
Sales Success comes from the follow up and the tracking of the total amount of sales achieved as a direct result of a show. Here’s where it gets a little dicey. Some tradeshow leads will pay off immediately, others in the medium-term and some in the long-term. If you can attribute a sale in March of 2019, for example to a show you did in July of 2016, add the profit earned from that sale to the Return on Investment from your July 2016 show. You probably won’t automatically know this information, especially if your company is a fairly large business and goes to several shows in a year. But by tagging the prospect as someone that first came into your sales funnel at that specific July 2016 show, no matter how many follow up steps it took, if they become a new client and you can attribute the income from them to a specific show, make sure to do so.
“Write a book!” they said, so I did. Two, in fact. Here’s the short version of how it unfolded.
As a kid I thought the best job ever was to be a Beatle. The second-best job would be a comic book artist. But the third-best job? Being an author. A novelist! Reading those great science fiction novels by Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke and others, I dreamed of creating a life in the stars (on paper). I tried my hand at a number of stories but was never satisfied. So with my love of music I gravitated to a job that was more fun: being a radio announcer.
After 26+ years of radio, I arrived in the tradeshow world. I wanted to do something to differentiate myself that involved my love of writing and creativity (which I never really gave up). Hence, I blogged. Quite a bit, in fact. This blog, the TradeshowGuy Blog, published its first article in November of 2008. Ten years!
Along the way I published a pretty popular e-book called “101 Rules of Tradeshow Marketing” which was downloaded over 5000 times (I obsessed about the stats back then – I don’t obsess on stats any more).
The First Book
But a real book? One that you could hold in your hand and give away or sell? That seemed like a big challenge. My thought was to write a book to use as a heavy business card that thudded when it hit someone’s desk. To differentiate myself from others. To be, well, an author!
In 2010 I started. And fizzled. Tried again a year or two later. That fizzled as well. Long-term focus on this goal was difficult with lots of distractions.
But in early 2015 I started again with renewed focus determination, and was not willing to take no for an answer. After about six months I came up with a first draft. I reached out to Mel White at Classic Exhibits, who has been very supportive of me and my business over the years. He offered to go over the manuscript and offer his comments. This was critical to keeping the project moving forward.
In the meantime, I’d been reviewing a number of self-publishing platforms and kept seeing and hearing about CreateSpace, which was by then an arm of Amazon. It seemed easy-peasy to be able to submit a manuscript in almost any shape and by choosing a specific package you could have yet another editor or two or three do their magic. CreateSpace also handles the registration of an ISBN number, and since they are owned by Amazon, the seamlessness of having your book appear on Amazon for sale as both a print-on-demand paperback or Kindle download. CreateSpace also wrote marketing copy based on your outline.
Based mostly on budget, I picked one of their mid-range packages which meant they would have two editors look at it. One would do “line editing,” which is where a professional editor helps “strengthen your manuscript’s content with one round of feedback and connections to structure, plot, characterization, dialogue, and tone from a reader’s point of view.” Then a copyeditor goes over the manuscript with a fine-tooth comb, picking it apart grammatically and with an eye to classic punctuation and editing standards: “includes an average of 10-15 typographical, spelling, and punctuation revisions per page that your readers will notice – but your word-processing software won’t.”
The whole process of editing was eye-opening, and a learning experience. I disagreed with a few of the suggestions made but kept most of what the pros advised. I figured the best thing was to humbly submit to the process and do what was necessary to make the manuscript better.
Something I really wanted in the book to break up the big blocks of text was a series of cute black and white line drawings that supported and enhances the “fun and educational” feel of the book I was going for. I looked first on Fiverr.com but didn’t find any style of drawing that I liked that much. Eventually I landed at Thumbtack.com, asked for some examples and ended up choosing an artist named Jesse Stark. His drawings were exactly what I had envisioned, and his price was reasonable and fair.
Now for the cover. Not being a graphic designer, but wanting to at least give it a try, I mocked up a handful of potential covers. I didn’t really like any of them (did I mention I’m not trained in graphic design?), and asked Jesse if he would be interested in doing a cover. He was, and after some discussion, came back with a mockup. I wasn’t crazy about it, and thought it needed a photo of a tradeshow floor that showed dozens of booths from a high vantage point. I finally tracked down a photo I had taken at Expo East in the early 2000s from that angle, and had him use that to complete the cover. (Side note: Jesse also designed the TradeshowGuy silhouette that I use in the company logo).
As you might imagine, the hardest thing to do when assembling all of the pieces of a book project is what to name the damn book? I rejected a handful, but only debated a few over the nearly year-long project:
Deconstructing Tradeshows: 14 Steps to Tradeshow Mastery
Create a KickA$$ Tradeshow Experience: 14 Steps to Tradeshow Success
The book made it to Amazon on late October 2015, and I officially launched it the next month with a video series, a flurry of press releases and some giveaways. My view on publishing a book, though, wasn’t to sell as many copies as I could. It was to have something that no other tradeshow project manager had: a book.
The book was mentioned in some local business publications, and I’ve showed it off at networking meetings (who else has their own book?!), but the most notable mention came when Exhibitor Magazine published a multi-page article on the book and me. As one LinkedIn colleague said, “It doesn’t get any better than that!” So true.
The Second Book
Time passes. After the initial excitement of having a book to promote and giveaway fades, thoughts turn to what to do as a follow-up. It’s been said that one of the best ways to sell and promote your first book is to write a second book. But what would that second book be when I felt I put all I knew into the first book. And I knew I wanted a second book to follow up the first one.
It took a while, but I came to settle on the idea of taking the dozens and dozens of list blog posts I’d written for the blog. It took some time assembling all of the posts – many covered similar topics and had to be combined and edited – but once that was accomplished, I reached out to Mel again for help.
This book didn’t write itself, but since the content had already been created it was a matter of grouping the lists into specific topics was the main task. And of course I wanted the same illustrator so I emailed Jesse to see if he was interested. He said yes, so we moved forward.
The second book, still untitled, was a lower budgeted affair. I enlisted Mel again, and he also had his English professor wife, Mary Christine Delea, go through it as well. Once their two edits were done, I uploaded to CreateSpace, agreed on the more modest single line edit requested before going to print.
Now…what to title the book of lists? I had a couple of lists that referenced zombies, and one that referenced superheroes, so I played around with them for awhile:
Quirky Interactive Activities, Exhibiting Zombies, and Tradeshow Superheroes: A By-The-Numbers Guide on How to Take Advantage of the Most Effective Marketing Vehicle the World Has Ever Seen (I think this won a record of some sort for longest proposed title!)
Exhibiting Zombies, Tradeshow Superheroes and Quirky In-Booth Activities:
A List Manual on How to Take Advantage of the Most Effective Marketing Vehicle the World Has Ever Seen
Exhibiting Zombies, Tradeshow Superheroes and Delighted Visitors:
Exhibiting Zombies, Tradeshow Superheroes and Elated Customers:
Exhibiting Zombies, Tradeshow Superheroes and Delighted Customers: etc…
For publicity, I did a little, including sending out copies of books to tradeshow publications and press releases to local business publications. I also spent a very modest amount of money on a Twitter book-promotion platform that promised tens of thousands of views of promotional tweets. Modest: less than a hundred bucks. Nothing came of it. Again, the point was to have another book to give to prospects to differentiate myself, and if a few copies sell, well, great!
Interestingly enough, sales have picked up in the past few months with no further promotion. Maybe having both books out there and easily found on Amazon is working!
If you have an idea for a book, should you self-publish, or should you pursue the traditional route through a publishing house? Both have their pros and cons, but to me having complete control over the look and feel of the books and getting a much higher royalty rate made sense for my approach. Yes, the distribution at this point is ONLY online, but to me that’s sufficient. I didn’t write to sell a trainload of books, I wrote to differentiate myself from other exhibit houses and project managers. And to that end, I feel I’ve succeeded.
Now my main thing is making sure that potential clients have a copy of one or both books. That, and thinking about what I might write for a third book in the next couple of years.
One of my favorite newsletters comes from Bill Lampton, Ph. D., otherwise known as the BizComunication Guy. When I invited him on to the TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee several weeks ago, he offered to interview me for his weekly show as well. It was a pleasure to reciprocate. Bill is great interviewer and as you might imagine a professional communicator.
A tradeshow is a competition that puts your product side by side with other companies in the same industry you’re in. You may or may not have a more superior product, but what can clinch the deal is how you interact with your visitors during your face to face encounters.
But how can you encourage engagement with trade show visitors? Here are some important tips that can help make your next showing a more engaging one.
1. Make your booth open and inviting
People are naturally visual beings so the design of your booth will play a big role in making it inviting. Your booth has to be attractive but this does not necessarily mean that it has to be expensive as well.
What’s important is that your branding is professionally done in high quality materials. Remember that your booth is a representation of your company so if the overall feel looks sloppy or rushed, then the visitors will also assume that your standards in how you do business are not that high.
Most companies also make the mistake of using the standard booth layout of having a table at the front of their booth to display their products, with the space behind them empty or filled with clutter. This traditional layout actually blocks the visitor flow because the table is putting a barrier between you and the attendees. Instead, employ a more functional open design the next time you set up your booth. Try placing the table at the inside center area to display your products or TV screen. Stand at the front of the booth and encourage people to come in to investigate further.
This open design also allows multiple people to come in and explore even if you are still engaged with another visitor
2. Smile and talk to people
There’s nothing more discouraging than seeing people manning a booth sitting down and looking bored. Visitors will think twice before approaching you so you need to be proactive to get people in. Smiling and being cheerful will always get a positive response.
When speaking to visitors, don’t launch into a monologue of your practiced spiel, rather, try to listen to their concerns in order for you to offer what they really need.
If the traffic in your booth is low, assign one staff to go into more populated areas to invite people to participate in your booth activities. You can also network with other business owners and make it an opportunity to build business connections.
3. Use digital promotion methods
Technology has made it easier for companies to promote their events at a more practical cost while still reaching a wider audience. With 96% of business getting on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, it is a great platform to drum up interest and invite visitors to your booth. Use an event hashtag and get booth visitors tag you in their social media posts as well.
During the event, ask people to follow you on your social networks and get their email ID’s instead of the old-school business card collection method. This will make it easier for you to engage with your visitors straight away instead of waiting post-event to reach out.
Another way to take advantage of digital techniques is by providing electronic fliers or brochures instead of giving away printed paper versions that only end up being thrown away. Have a laptop or tablet ready where event attendees can sign-up or leave their email addresses. They can then receive an instant automated email with a downloadable link that contains your company’s marketing materials. This is also more cost effective than printing or giving out USB sticks because you can access your cloud storage option of choice from your laptop or tablet. There are lots of brilliant free options available like Google Drive or Dropbox.
4. Be interactive
Simply giving away fliers or dishing out long speeches about your company is not enough to encourage engagement. Host activities that require attendees’ participation like games, competitions, product demonstrations, and sampling.
Hosting a game for example will give visitors a feeling of fun which they can then associate with your brand. Make sure that the game is related to your product to amplify your brand message.
In doing product sampling, go the extra mile by not only giving out samples supermarket style. Instead, make it into a challenge so it’s more exciting!
For example, if you have a food brand like a cheese product ask visitors to craft their own sandwich creations instead of just handing out a taster. Give a prize to the best participant and place a leader board so other attendees can also be motivated to participate.
5. Give away valuable freebies
Giving out freebies is still one of the best ways to get engagement, however, gone are the days when a free branded pen or t-shirt excites trade show attendees. These traditional types of giveaways are often ignored and chances are, some visitors won’t even bother to give you a second look.
Instead of spending your money on boxes of branded keychains that will not be used, try offering a premium gift to just a limited number of attendees who really interacted with your product.
Selection can be in the form of a raffle or a contest. A bigger, more valuable prize can also stir up more interest rather than an unremarkable souvenir. This also prompts people to seek out your booth and spend more time engaging rather than just taking a free stress ball and leaving.
6. Provide a free service
Attending trade shows can be a stressful and tiring experience so one great idea is to offer a free service to visitors.
Setting up a mobile charging station or providing free dedicated Wi-Fi are just some examples that will surely get your booth awesome foot traffic. You can also offer free premium coffee, healthy snacks or shoulder massages if budget is not an issue. If you cannot afford this, something as simple as a comfortable seating space can even be inviting to tired visitors.
Once the visitors are in your space, use that opportunity to interact with them to let them know more about your product.
7. Be memorable
How to be remembered after the show is a big challenge for any exhibitor. Sadly not everyone has that bouncy personality that can draw people in. If you are not a naturally people person, think up ways on how to stand out. If it is a health & beauty event, maybe invite a social media influencer in your booth to help speak about the product.
You can also try offering valuable information by hosting educational sessions, mini-lectures or workshops every hour. For example, if you have a coffee machine company, why not invite visitors to a coffee-tasting session at your booth explaining the origin of the different coffee beans? If you have a photography company, host a free photo booth that will include a small logo of your company in the digital print. There are a lot of possibilities if you just think out of the box.
The tricks of the trade
One of the main purposes of exhibiting at a trade show is to create awareness for your product. Don’t waste the opportunity, time and money by putting everything at the last minute and turning up without a sound plan. Using these techniques will help you create a bigger impact on your next event.
Nathan Sharpe is the entrepreneur behind Biznas. He knows that you have to wear many different hats in order for your business to be a success. He helps others achieve this success by sharing everything he knows over on his blog, as well as any new lessons he learns along the way!
What is an INFLUENCER? To me it’s someone that gets your attention in any number of ways. It could be a video I saw. Could be a book or article or blog post. Or podcast. Or someone I know in my actual, real life as opposed to online.
These are the people whose tweets I read, whose podcasts I listen to, whose blog posts I read, whose newsletters I make sure not to miss. They write and say things that make me sit up and pay attention.
These are listed in no particular order. Some I’ve been aware of for years, others not so long. Some that were influencers ten or fifteen years ago may have popped back into my consciousness to make the list. And in a sense, it’s incomplete because it will always be incomplete. Influencers come and go. The ideas, writings and videos that catch anyone’s attention also wax and wane like the moon. But to me, these are all worth checking out:
Seth Godin: Daily blogger, host of the Akimbo podcast, speaker, author.
Mel White: VP of Business Development at Classic Exhibits. Mel and I have known each other for close to a decade and a half. His insight and knowledge of the tradeshow world, and in particular the latest in tradeshow exhibit materials and trends has always been helpful. Not to mention his crucial help in making both of my books a reality. Here’s his TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee interview.
Lots fun in this week’s podcast/vlog. Robert Middleton of Action Plan Marketing sits down to discuss the Five Pillars of Marketing for Self-Employed Professionals. So there’s that. You’ll also hear the story of how a search for a Harlan Ellison photo led to an article on Frank Sinatra which, well, you’ll just have to watch or listen.
On the podcast you’ll hear me tell the story of how, in looking for a couple of old photos from the 80s. It was when author Harlan Ellison did a book signing at Powell’s Books in Portland. I put on my sport jacket and headed down with a couple of items to have him sign.