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

Marketing

Ask Me Anything: Answers to My Most-Asked Tradeshow Marketing Questions

As a company owner, salesman and project manager for TradeshowGuy Exhibits, I get tradeshow marketing questions. Hoobooy, I get a lot of questions. I thought it might be fun to answer a handful of the most common questions I get.

Our shipping costs are sky-high. How can we bring these costs down? Many questions are about costs, so it’s a good place to start. Certainly, if something is heavy it’s going to cost a lot to ship. Wood panels are heavy, and many older exhibits have a lot of wood pieces. It also adds up in drayage costs at the show. Some clients like the image that wood gives them, so they bite the bullet and build the cost of shipping into their exhibiting program. Others that want to bring the shipping costs down look at lighter materials, such as silicon-edge fabric graphic panels (SEG) that give a great look but don’t have the weight and heft of wooden or other types of panels.

How can we increase our ROI? It seems that tradeshow marketing is hit and miss. Yes, investing in tradeshow marketing can be expensive, but done right, it can be a boon and open doors to markets that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise reach. Sometimes it comes down to exhibiting at the right shows. It often means putting more time, energy and resources into pre-show marketing, booth staff training and a booth that accurately represents your brand (among others). There are a lot of moving parts and if you let a few of those parts go unattended to, it can contribute to your failure. I spoke with a former exhibitor recently who said the last time they exhibited was years ago and it was a bust. When we spent a few minute dissecting it, we come to the conclusion that as a small local business, one of their biggest challenges was finding a local show that could provide a large enough audience of potential customers. Without deeper digging, it was impossible to know in that brief call, but we both felt that we identified one of their most important challenges: getting in from of the right audience.

How do we work with a designer? We’ve never done that before. Often I end up working with exhibitors who are in a sense moving out of their comfort zone. Before now, they have purchased exhibits from a source that just shows them a catalog of pre-made items. Nothing wrong with that, there are hundreds and hundreds of modular exhibits and accessories that are more or less ‘off-the-shelf’ that will do a great job for you. But exhibitors will often reach the point where they have the budget and desire to move into something custom. Working with a designer is straightforward – but you have to choose a designer that knows how to design in 3D. Graphic designers typically won’t have the skill to do so. However, trained 3D exhibit designers know how to design exhibits that take into account all of your functional needs: storage space, display space, foot traffic flow, graphic layout and so much more. A typically-trained graphic designer won’t have the skill that a 3D designer does. As for working with a designer, it’s typical to have a long conversation, either in person, or on a conference call, with the company stakeholders so that all needs are discussed. At that point the designer will create a mockup or two for review and once comments are in, changes are made until the final design is agreed upon.

tradeshow marketing questions

I need a new exhibit. Should I prepare and issue an RFP (Request for Proposal)? It depends. There’s no definitive answer on this one. An RFP does a couple of things: it helps clarify your exhibit needs by forcing you to articulate all of your needs, budget, timeline and so on. Putting it all in black and white is a great exercise whether you’re putting out an RFP or not. If you don’t have an exhibit house in mind, issuing an RFP allows you to vet a handful (probably 4 – 6) companies, and make them jump through some hoops to make their case, and perhaps even do mock designs for you. On the other hand, if you have been working with an exhibit house that has done you well – has created great exhibits for you in the past, has been an effective partner for years – then no doubt you’re in good shape staying with them.

How much does it cost? It’s a question people don’t really like to ask, but usually end up blurting it out. Some items come with a set price, like the off-the-shelf catalog items, but if they’re shopping for a custom exhibit, there is no obvious answer. In my younger salesperson days, I’d answer the question with “well, what’s your budget?” but that’s not really a good answer. The better response I believe, is to ask them how they come up with a budget from their end. What is their process for determining how much they are willing to invest? There are industry standards – which are pretty accurate, and a good starting place – but the client has to work through a number of internal issues unique to come up with a realistic budget for their project. A final thought on this: if their internal discussion gives them a number that isn’t realistic for their expectations, a reputable exhibit house will tell them so.

How quick can you get it done? Or: how long will this take? This question often comes from an exhibitor who hasn’t paid close enough attention to the calendar and are now scrambling to get something in place. A recent exhibitor asked me – months (almost a year) ahead of their need  and asked “how long does the process usually take?” The question was about designing and fabricating an island booth from scratch. I silently gave him kudos for asking the question up front (and not waiting until a month or two before the show), then told him my answer: for an island exhibit, we’d love to have 3-4 months at minimum. Six months is better. But we’ve turned around island exhibits in 5 or 6 weeks IF the client has a really strong idea of what they want and all that’s need for design is for the designer to create the rendering and confirm that the look and feel and dimensions are accurate – and then we’re off to the races.

Certainly there are other questions I hear, but in reflecting the past year or two, these seem to be what come up the most-asked tradeshow marketing questions. What questions do YOU have about exhibit creation or tradeshow marketing?

 

TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee: July 31, 2017 [video replay/podcast]

In spite of a few minor technical glitches, Gwen Hill of Exhibit Force and I had a fun conversation that touched on a lot of problems that exhibitors and exhibit managers face: namely, dealing with the heavy-duty record-keeping, communication and collaboration requirements of an exhibit program. It’s a great look at the various ways that Exhibit Force is positioned to help thousands of exhibitors in their management programs.

ONE GOOD THING: Air conditioning! It’s summer. It’s hot.

TradeshowGuy Exhibits Launches New Tradeshow Display Products Website

For years, here at TradeshowGuy Exhibits, we’ve teamed up with great partners for various tradeshow display products: exhibit designers and producers, display products manufacturers, I&D labor teams and more. For example, our Exhibit Design Search website provided by Classic Exhibits is the standard-bearer of the branded exhibit search tool. We also work with the good folks at Orbus, a company that provides a wider range selection of exhibit graphics and accessories that tend to fall into a lower price category. They have an unbranded site of exhibits and accessories here.

Now we have another partner to show off. Creative Banner offers hundreds of products through our branded website here.

You’ll find banner stands and displays, accessories, banners and flags for indoors and outdoors, floor displays, retractable banners, signage, table covers, table top displays, event tents and total show packages. After working with them quietly for a couple of years and being impressed with their product quality and quick turnaround time, as well as flexibility on customizing some items, we decided it was time to have them fire up a branded site for us. So click on through to the other side: TradeshowGuy Exhibits – Tradeshow City USA and take a look! Let us know what you think!

tradeshowguy exhibits tradeshows city USA

TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee: July 24, 2017 [video replay/podcast]

I sat down with Jay Tokosch of Core-Apps on this week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee. Jay’s been in the industry for about eight years, and is CEO of Core-Apps, which creates apps for show organizers, show management software, apps for exhibitors and more. Check out Core-Apps when you get a moment, and be sure to look at the ShowcaseXD app here. Fun and lively conversation – check it out:

ONE GOOD THING: I saw the movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets over the weekend. Critics say it’s the standout movie of the summer, and I don’t disagree. It’s a gorgeous movie, a pretty good story led by a couple of unknowns, but supported by a notable cast including Clive Owens, Ethan Hawke, Rihanna and Herbie Hancock (!). Good stuff. See the trailer here.

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What Does a Tradeshow Manager Do?

It’s a good question: what does a tradeshow manager do? And frankly, you can come at this question from a few angles.

For instance, is the tradeshow manager (or coordinator, or project manager) employed by the company internally, to make sure the tradeshow appearance is as flawless and successful as possible? Does the tradeshow coordinator work for an exhibit house, tasked with making sure the new (or stored) exhibit is shipped to arrive on time, and get set up, dismantled and shipped back? Or does the company find a third party to coordinate the logistics from show to show on an as-needed basis?

TRADESHOW MANAGER

There are several things to determine, such as: what is the scope of work? What tasks are expected of the tradeshow coordinator? Is there a marketing department that makes decisions on which shows to attend? Who determines the budget and where does that money come from? And so on.

Wearing several hats is not uncommon for someone with the larger and somewhat vague title of tradeshow coordinator. Mainly, she is responsible for:

  • Determining what shows to go to (usually in coordination with a larger team that vets the various options)
  • Scheduling or securing the booth space and coordinating logistics such as electricity, internet, cleaning, badge scanner and more
  • Work with vendors such as exhibit houses or printers for any updates to the exhibit
  • Scheduling exhibit shipping, I&D (installation and dismantle), return shipping, storage
  • Booth staffer hiring, training, scheduling and coordination of any special clothing such as branded t-shirts; develop and/or coordinate any pre-conference training for staffers
  • Coordinate with sales and marketing for any special product demos, etc.
  • Hire in-booth presenters if needed
  • Track expenses as required
  • Coordinate lead generation activities, system and delivery of leads to sales post-show
  • Pre-show marketing: mailers, emails, any specific phone invitations
  • Post-show follow-up communication
  • Record keeping: maintain show schedules, project checklists, exhibit management, photos from each show, logistic and travel expenses show to show and year over year

Each individual position may include more or less from this list, but these are the main tasks on a tradeshow manager’s job description list.

And, just for fun, I looked at tradeshow manager job listings across the USA recently. There are a ton of openings. Just sayin.’

 

It’s All in the Follow-Through

When I was a kid, my basketball coach used to tell me to follow through on shooting free throws and making basic passes. When I started playing golf, the instructor told me to be sure to follow through on my swing.

Frankly, I wasn’t impressed. My instinct was to believe that the initial movement, not the follow through, was important. Hell, the follow through had nothing to do with the original shot or pass or golf swing, so what was the point?

follow through

But have you tried to swing a golf club without doing a proper follow through? It’s like you’re doing half a swing. How do you pull up short? Even if the club swing has nothing to do with the trajectory or distance of the ball, for some reason, it does play an important part.

Same thing with your tradeshow marketing. If you don’t have a good follow through, you’re only doing half the show. And in your tradeshow efforts, it makes a bigger difference than your free throw or golf swing, because without a good follow through or follow up, you’re leaving money on the table. A LOT of money. In fact, it could be said that without a good follow up on your tradeshow marketing after the show, you might as well not go.

When I first got into the business of tradeshow marketing, the one statistic that stood out like a sore thumb was that almost 8 out of 10 tradeshow leads are NOT followed up on. That’s still pretty true. Yup, somewhere between 70 to 80% of tradeshow leads don’t get followed up on for any number of the following reasons:

  • Not properly scored (cool, warm, hot), so the sales person making the call has no idea where the prospect is in the sales process.
  • Incomplete contact information.
  • Incomplete follow up info: what does the prospect want from the call and when does she expect the follow up?
  • Lost between the show and the office.
  • Sales people don’t understand the importance or urgency of the lead, so it sits on their desk for way too long until it doesn’t matter anymore.

Any of these means that money is left on the table. Follow up is simple.

And speaking of follow through / follow up: Click here to grab my Tradeshow Follow-up Checklist

Embrace the Tradeshow Marketing Learning Curve

“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.”
― Isaac Asimov

There are countless books written about how you can do something better, whether it is tradeshow marketing or underwater basket weaving. But the real secret to improvement is to approach the task with the intent of seeing what works and what doesn’t and use that information to increase your outcome the next time.

tradeshow marketing learning curve

Which means that no matter what book you read, you are responsible for the success or failure of that venture. Or, as Peter Shankman recently said, “Lose is not an option. Your options are to win or learn.”

Frankly, even the most seasoned tradeshow marketers run up against forces that give them less than stellar results, leaving them to question their approach.

But if you’re a rookie tradeshow marketer, the learning curve can be steep with many bumps and potholes along the way. Don’t let that dissuade you. Yes, you’re under pressure from the boss to bring home more leads than last time, and to have your sales team close more sales from those leads.

What if the lead count is not what you want? What if the sales results are not optimal? Your choices are to keep moving forward and ignoring the reasons why you had those results, or dig into the various moving parts to learn what happened. Was your booth visitor count down? Did your booth staff perform poorly because they were not as well-trained as they should have been? Did your competition have a better product or service?

All of these and more can affect your results, and the more you understand about why you got the results you did, the better you can respond and improve.

Learn. Review. Adjust. Act. Repeat.

Uncovering the Prospect’s Real Issue at the Tradeshow

If you’re standing at the edge of your tradeshow booth ready to engage with a visitor, remember that as try you qualify him or her, you’re really trying to find the prospect’s real issue. Once you do that, you can determine if you can be of assistance, or if you can’t.

Prospect's real issue

Tradeshow selling take place in a chaotic environment. Hundreds or thousands of competing exhibitors, and thousands or tens of thousands of attendees means everyone is vying for attention and they all have their own personal agenda. So when you get an opportunity to interact with a booth visitor, the best recipe for a successful encounter is to know where you want to go.

And often that destination is reached by trying to uncover the prospect’s real issue. How do you do that? By asking questions.

Let’s say you’re exhibiting at a show to get more leads for your IT business such as virus eradication and firewalls and related services Your visitor mention that they think their IT department is doing okay. That’s a bit of an opening – not much – but it should give you an opportunity to peel back the onion a bit.

“When you say that ‘you think’ the IT department is doing okay, what do you mean?”

They may tell you that from what their IT guy says, they seem to have dealt with most of the recent viruses with a rebuilt firewall. Or something. He’s not an IT guy.

“What do you mean by most? Can you tell me more?”

They go on to say that the IT guy only “swore for half the day” earlier in the week at something-or-other that was taking up all his time instead of being able to add on to the network which he was supposed to be doing.

“So your network administrator only ‘swore for half the day’ at having to deal with viruses? It sounds like he must have dealt with it. So it’s a done deal, right?” (You’re trying to backpedal a bit: psychologically it’s going to spur them to open up a bit more. If you suddenly tried to sell them your services without knowing if they need it, their defenses would likely go up).

Naah, he says, still some work to do. But he doesn’t know because he’s not the IT guy. Maybe it would be worth giving you his contact number, he says.

“Well,” you say, “that may be a good move. But he probably has his own go-to team to deal with issues like this, right?” (Still back-pedaling and acting like it’s not a big deal, to get him to open up more).

He doesn’t think so. In fact, just an hour ago when he was having lunch with the IT guy, the guy got a phone call from his assistant and they must have sworn back and forth for ten minutes over the situation. In fact, the IT guy may have to leave the show early to go deal with it.

“He and his assistant swore about the situation for ten minutes while you were eating? So the assistant has it handled, then?”

Uh, no, says the visitor. Gulp. Doesn’t sound like it. But then, he says again, he’s not an IT guy.

Now you’ve uncovered the real issue. It took a bit of doing, because your visitor was unwilling to reveal that information until you kept asking questions – and following up those questions with some ‘aw, shucks, it’s probably not a big deal, right?’ questions. And with your laidback but curious approach designed to get more information, he’s revealed the issue: that there really is a problem that your IT guy is trying to solve. Trying to put out a fire, in fact.

Sales is essentially the same whether it’s on the tradeshow floor, on the phone, or in someone’s office. It’s not about features and benefits. It’s about uncovering the problem and seeing if there is a fit between your prospect’s problems and your potential solutions. If there is, you’ll find an opportunity to discuss it in full at the earliest opportunity. If there is no fit, you wish him or her well and move on to the next.

Next time you’re on the tradeshow floor, try to refrain from hitting your visitors with a list of features and benefits at the first sign of a possible lead. Instead, drill down by playing a bit dumb, asking more questions and getting to the prospect’s real issues. Then you can schedule the next move that both of your agree on.

 

TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, May 8, 2017 [video replay and podcast]

As I sat down to write today’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, I realized that much of the business we’ve done this year at TradeshowGuy Exhibits has been repeat business: new business from current clients. Of course, it’s good to have new customers, but in a sense it’s even better to have new business from clients you’ve been serving for awhile. Take a look:

And of course, we always finish with ONE GOOD THING. This week it’s yard work. No, really.


Does Your Tradeshow Exhibit Evoke Emotion?

“Does your tradeshow exhibit evoke emotion in the mind of a visitor?” might be a funny question. The better question might be: “HOW and WHAT emotion does your tradeshow exhibit bring out in your visitors’ hearts and minds?” But by asking it, you’re pulling on the string of branding, high-impact motivators such as confidence, sense of well-being, protecting the environment, being who you want to be and a litany of other emotions that pull in one direction or another.

tradeshow exhibit evokes emotion

Let’s use one of our clients at TradeshowGuy Exhibits, Bob’s Red Mill, as an example. Their foods are mean to inspire good eating with high-quality grains, oats, cereals, mixes and more. Good eating equals longer life and better health. Better health equals a positive feeling. Hence, just seeing the Bob’s Red Mill exhibit can evoke an emotion that gives people familiar with the brand a sense of well-being and comfort. All without them even thinking about it. As long as the visitor has a familiarity with the brand and products, their brain will make a quick connection with a positive result.

Let’s try another brand, say, United Airlines. With the recent debacle of having a booked passenger dragged off the airplane with smartphone video cameras in action that spread quickly throughout social media and mainstream news outlets, many visitors to a tradeshow with a United Airlines exhibit might have a different feeling today than they did just a month prior.

According to Alan Zorfas and Daniel Leemon, writing in the Harvard Business Review, “On a lifetime value basis, emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers.” Gaining that emotional connection pays off in numerous ways as they buy more, visit you online or in your store more, are less concerned about price in favor of quality, and listen more to what you’re saying, whether on a TV or radio ad, in a magazine, or in a weekly newsletter.

When it comes to evoking that positive emotion when visitors at a tradeshow come upon your booth, your branding and costumer experience already has to be in place, at least to a certain degree. A visitor that’s familiar with your brand and has a positive feeling upon seeing your exhibit has internalized that – but beyond that, she recognizes the key elements of the brand successfully executed in the design and fabrication, down to the small details.

A visitor that’s not familiar with your brand will still experience a gut feeling upon seeing your booth. The accuracy of that evocation has everything to do with how skillfully your 3D exhibit designer and your graphic designer have understood and communicated the elements of your brand. Once they inhale that look, as it were, they’ll make a decision on whether to more closely check out your products or services. If all is done right, your visitor will get an accurate emotion of the brand that you’re hoping to disseminate.

tradeshow exhibit evokes emotion

This is all not precise, of course. You can’t just plug in a color or texture or design or graphic and provoke a predictable reaction. Even ugly and unplanned exhibits can still have a successful tradeshow experience, which may be due to other factors, such as the competition, the specific product, the enthusiasm and charisma of a particular booth staffer or some other unknown element.

But the better your exhibit reflects your true brand, the more powerful it becomes in the heart and soul of your visitor. And they’ll take that home with them.

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Tradeshow Guy Blog by Tim Patterson

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