To most people I work with in the tradeshow industry, teamwork is the key to success. But many tradeshow marketing managers are saddled with the idea that if it’s going to get done, there’s only one person that can do it. The tradeshow manager.
Therefore, it becomes hard to delegate. Hard to give up control. They may not be a control freak, but they’re close enough to where it prevents the work of a good team from being as good as it could be.
You see this on sports teams. My sport, from when I was a kid, was basketball. When you are in control of the ball, a tendency for young players is to hold on to it until they good a good shot. Not all people, of course. There are always members on the team who don’t want the responsibility, so they pass the ball at the first opportunity. Often, the pass is the wrong move. It’s to the wrong person. It’s for the wrong reason. They might have even had an open shot but didn’t take it because they didn’t have confidence that they’d make it.
Great teamwork doesn’t happen overnight. But the longer you work with a team, the more you understand each team member’s strengths and weaknesses.
One person may be great at record-keeping. Another may be great at outreach to clients and customers. Another may have an easy time reaching members of the media to persuade them to feature the company in their publication. Yet another may have an intuitive sense of how to design graphics so that they attract the right people.
Every team is different. And teams are fluid. Even a team that’s been together for years can find things changing over time. And when new members arrive or when members leave, things get even more fluid.
But a good manager of the team recognizes how to best delegate tasks to different people for maximum results. A good manager of a team knows their own limitations and realizes that, no, they can’t really do it all.
They need a good team to do it all. And teams can always improve.
When I started looking through the analytics to determine the top ten 2018 TradeshowGuy blog posts, I faced somewhat of a dilemma. Many of the “most-viewed” posts of the year are not from 2018. Do I include those or not? Perhaps the best approach is to create two lists: one that includes the most-viewed, and the other narrows the list down to the most-viewed 2018-published blog posts.
Take a look – starting at Number One:
SWOT Analysis for Tradeshows. This was posted in February of 2015, but still manages to get more traffic than any other post. And interestingly, more than half of those visits come from out of the US.
You might think that when I mention “tradeshow awareness” that I’m thinking of how you make visitors aware of your tradeshow booth, so you can draw people in. Sure, that’s important, but that’s not what I’m getting at here.
Let’s look at the other side: the awareness you as a tradeshow exhibitor has. What do I mean?
There are a number of things that, if you’re aware of, can help increase your success.
Let’s give an example that’s not related to tradeshows. For example, let’s say you want to lose 10 or 15 pounds. Not an unreasonable goal, right? But how does awareness come into play and how does it affect your efforts to lose that weight?
The most obvious way is to be aware of how much we’re eating and how much we’re exercising. And thankfully in today’s digital world, there are a lot of apps that can help you be more aware. One app I’ve used, Lose It!, lets you track calorie consumption, water consumption, and your daily exercise habits. After using it for over a year, not only did I lose the 15-20 pounds I was aiming for, but I realized that the very fact of being aware of my calorie intake and my exercise habits was a big contributor to the success of reaching my goal.
When you eat a cookie, let’s say, if you want to track the calories, you have to know how many calories it contains. Which means you have to look it up. If it’s a package of store-bought cookies, as opposed to home-cooked, the calories per cookie are listed on the package. If a cookie is 150 calories, log it when you eat it.
Same with breakfast, lunch, dinner and any other snacks you have. Once you’ve inputted your data (age, weight, sex, goals, etc.) the app calculates a daily calorie regimen. Stay under the daily allowance, and you’re likely to see your weight slowly drop. Go over the allowance consistently, and you won’t! Easy enough, right?
Then when you exercise, such as take a bike ride or go for a walk, enter that data, and the app calculates the amount of calories you’ve burned. Which means you can either increase your calorie intake or not. You get a visual reminder of everything. It works great.
But the key is awareness. If you weren’t aware of how many calories that cookie contains, you might not care. But now that you’re aware, you realize that each and every bite you take adds to your calorie count. Given that an adult needs approximately 2000 calories a day to maintain an even weight, it’s easy to go over that amount if you don’t count calories. If you’re not AWARE.
How does awareness play into your tradeshow success? Same principle. If you’re not aware of certain things, you won’t be impacted. If you are aware, the simple fact of being aware can likely make a positive impact.
What to Be Aware Of
What things are important to be aware of on the tradeshow floor?
Traffic: I would wager that most people don’t count the number of visitors in the booth at any given tradeshow. They may have a sense that the visitor count in their booth goes up or down year over year, but without an actual count, it’s just a feeling, and not actual data. Imagine if you could know exactly, or within a reasonable number, how many people visit your booth per day, or per hour, or per show.
Engagement: this might be a metric that is a little harder to measure, but if you are aware of what a good engagement with a visitor is, and you work to create better engagement through staff training, demonstrations or sampling, you’ll have a good idea of what outcomes those engagements lead to. Remember, you can’t control the outcomes, but you can control the behaviors that lead to outcomes. If your lack of engagement with visitors keeps your lead generation and engagement low, figure out what it takes to increase visitor engagement.
Leads: lead count is important. But so is the quality of leads. If you collect 300 leads at a show, but haven’t graded them as to hot, warm or cool, your follow-up will not be as good. But if out of those 300 leads, you know that 75 are HOT and need to be called within two days of returning from the show, and that 155 are warm and should be followed up within three weeks, and that the final 70 are COOL and need only be put on a tickler file or an email-later list, then the follow-up is going to be more consistent and likely more fruitful.
Booth staff: if you have a booth staff that is trained on how to interact with visitors, and how to be more aware of who’s in the booth, your results can only improve. Booth staff training is one of the key factors to success. Do you have a booth staff that is aware of what they need to do, how they need to do it and, how to engage with visitors?
Competition: awareness of competition may seem secondary to your company’s immediate success at any given tradeshow. But look at it this way: you have a lot of competitors at a show. The more aware of who they are, how they present themselves, what products they have (what’s new and what’s not) and the way those products are branded, the more well-informed you’ll be about the state of your competition. In a sense it can be a bit of a SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) from the floor of a tradeshow. If you’re good at gabbing, you can pick up all sorts of insights about competitors: personnel changes, strength of company, management moves, new products and so on. After all, every exhibitor is showing off their best and latest, and if you’re not aware of your competition, don’t you think its time you paid more attention?
Finally, awareness of how your actual exhibit looks compared to your competition. Gotta say it: everyone compares their exhibits to their neighbors and competitors. How does yours stack up? Is it normal, staid, complacent, expected? Or is it sparkling, engaging, new and different than others?
Awareness is critical to success in so many areas of our lives. Being aware of how things are working on a tradeshow floor is one of those things. Awareness will naturally help you make better decisions and as a result, show more success for your efforts.
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.