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.
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.
When you’re ramping up your tradeshow marketing machine for the next show, do you think of it as a competition? Or is it merely a chance to make your pitch to hundreds or thousands of visitors, almost as if you’re in a vacuum.
Methinks there is more than one way to view tradeshow marketing. Let’s look at two views in particular:
First, it’s a unique marketing event where you’re setting up shop in a situation where the organizers have done their best to bring as many members of your target market to view products and services under one roof. You are showing off new products that are being launched. You are showing off your brand with graphics, 3D exhibit construction and your well-trained booth staff. For the people that stop by at your booth, you do your best to engage, interact and determine if they are prospective customers. If they are, you work to find out their pain points, explain how your products and services can help them. If not, you politely disengage, perhaps asking if they are able to refer any colleagues your way.
Second, it’s a competition. You are setting up shop in a situation where dozens, maybe a hundred or more, direct competitors are doing the same thing you are: showing off products and services, representing their brands, and trying to make a deal with the very people you’re trying to make a deal with.
Yes, tradeshow marketing is a competition, and generally it’s a friendly competition. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try your best: you should. But if you keep in mind that you’re not only there to engage visitors, you’re also there with hundreds, sometimes thousands of companies are competing directly with you.
What does it take to get an edge? There are dozens of ways. From the size and look and feel of your exhibit to your actual products, to the skill of your booth staff and many other ways where you’re working to get an edge.
As in any competition, you may win some, you may lose some. You may win with some people, you may lose with others. You may beat some competitors and you may lose to some other competitors.
From that perspective, to me the best you can do is to observe and learn, see what works and what doesn’t, and do your best to be better next time.
Because with tradeshow marketing competition, there’s always a next time.
Since we made the decision to exhibit at a regional cannabis show in January, the PortlandCannabis Collaborative Conference at the Portland Expo Center, we’ve been tossing around a lot of ideas on how to approach it. Thought it might be fun to share some notes about what is crossing our minds regarding the show.
First, the Cannabis Collaborative Conference is a relatively small gathering. Around 125 – 130 exhibitors will set up shop for a few days, January 22 – 24, 2019. There will be two days of conferences, breakfasts, lunches and networking. And of course, exhibiting! In discussions with Mary Lou Burton, the organizer, it was apparent that a number of companies that are not directly involved in the cannabis industry exhibit at the show. There are companies involved in banking, insurance, legal, energy reduction, marketing and more. Given that the show is pretty popular, and the industry is growing, we felt it was a good fit to invest in exhibiting at the show as a potential supporting marketing partner of companies in the cannabis industry that do tradeshows.
Now that the decision has been made, what to do?
As any tradeshow planner knows, it all revolves around budget. From booth space, to travel, from the exhibit itself to giveaways and more, budgets must be decided upon and hopefully adhered to.
At first blush, our budget for the show will be modest. Here are some thoughts on what we might do for our 10×10 space – #420. Yes, we’re in #420.
Exhibit: Lots of things to consider. After all, we have access to a lot of styles of exhibits, from pop-up graphic back walls that set up in seconds, to aluminum extrusion framed light boxes, to typical 10×10 exhibits (rental and purchase) to banner stands and more. The first thing that comes to mind is to do a big back drop (maybe even a light box with fabric graphic) with a large striking image, company name, maybe a few bullet points. I’ll work with a professional designer for this – I ain’t a designer.
Giveaways: of course, I have a couple of books that I’ll either giveaway or sell on the cheap. The organizers have said I can sell the books at my booth (some shows direct sales are not allowed, so I checked). We might also come up with some branded swag. If we can find an item that really makes sense for the show that is a good giveaway, we may do that.
PreShow Marketing: the organizers gave me a list of some 2500 people that attended the last show. While it might be helpful to reach out to them via email, our interest is more in the exhibitors – they’re our target market. We might do a couple of email blasts to the group to let them know we’re there and what we do. Email is cheap. Direct mail is probably not a great option, mainly due to the cost. But, even if the attendees aren’t exhibitors, many of them are retail shop owners and are potential customers for other items we can supply. Since I’m active on social media – and especially with the booth number 420 – you can expect that we’ll have a lot of fun both before and during the show promoting both the show and our booth space.
During the show: one thought is to make the rounds at the other exhibits at the very outset of the show opening and invite them to come to booth 420 to pick up a free copy of my book while they last. Once they’re there, we’d be ready to capture their information for follow up. And I think it’s always a good idea to have some sort of thing to do – some interactive element – which bears more thought.
At this writing the show is still 182 days away – half a year. And most of these thoughts and notes on what we’ll do is just that – incomplete ideas. Still, I always tell clients that when a show is a half a year away, THAT is the time to be slowly creating the ideas, talking with team members and getting the juices flowing so that as time goes by they will coalesce and become more concrete until they become a plan that can be executed.
Stay tuned! And if you’re planning to be in Portland in mid-January of next year, put this show on your calendar and come see us!
Since social media has become such an integral part of today’s online world – what would you do if you had to withdraw from Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn? – I think the approach to how it is effectively used has changed. And it comes down to a number of factors. I’ve been thinking recently about how my use of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn – and to some extent, YouTube – has changed over the years. Thought it might be fun to spend a little time going over that here.
Let’s start with a recent change. When I first got onto Instagram, the name TradeshowGuy was in use, so I picked TradeshowExpert and moved on. Last year, in the process of registering TradeshowGuy as a trademark, I looked again and discovered that TradeshowGuy was no longer being used on Instagram, so I grabbed it. Figured the more accounts I could get with that handle, the better. I use the TradeshowGuy handle on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. And have my eye on at least one more.
Back before we called it social media, we called it “Web 2.0,” which as a usable term was doomed from the start. I had heard about Facebook, and joined on June 1, 2007, when there were just over 20 million users. Yeah, I know, right? 20 million!
For years, I had just a personal account with Facebook, but eventually created a number of organization pages, including TradeshowGuy Blog on Facebook. I tend to not post a lot to that page, because it’s never gained much traction, with only 355 current followers. My newsletter automatically posts to the Facebook TradeshowGuy Blog page, and a few other items, but it’s lagging in my attention.
I joined Twitter on November 19, 2008. That’s when I first used the TradeshowGuy handle. It’s one month before I first posted on this blog. The first blog post came about when I interviewed Magic Seth for an older podcast that I was currently doing. The podcast was very random, with no rhyme or rhythm. Twitter took a little getting used to. Today on Twitter I jump in and out, and admit it’s my most-used platform. I’ll frequently use Hootsuite to schedule about 3-4 daily tweets, focusing on a mix of promotion of blog posts, videos, podcast, products and some totally random fun stuff. When I’m “live” and not putting out scheduled tweets, they usually are a mix of personal photos, retweets, links to articles I’ve found in and out of the tradeshow world and things that just interest me. And of course, when people respond or like tweets, I try to acknowledge them with an upbeat response. I also admit that when I just want to zone out and scroll through some social media feed these days, Twitter is my game of choice. It edged out Facebook a couple of years ago.
I signed up for a LinkedIn account on April 17, 2006. LinkedIn is a good platform for engaging with connections and entities and people you follow, and for letting people know about new blog posts, podcasts and videos. Engagement is modest, but it seems to be consistent. To me it’s all about presenting yourself as a likable, easy-going person (because that’s what I feel I am!) and avoiding religion and politics. In today’s fractured tribal world, I’ve found through experience that if you post a strong political opinion it can blow up in your face. And it’s typically unpleasant. For that reason, I stick to business.
Instagram, being a visual medium, is also great for business and personal. Given that the account has the TradeshowGuy handle, I do tend to toss a lot of business related photos up, but certainly not exclusively. My friends and family know me as TradeshowGuy, so it works both ways. And as I learned a loooong time ago, you really can’t keep your personal life and business life separate, no matter how hard you try.
The YouTube Tradeshow Marketing channel is used (almost) exclusively at this point for posting the video versions of my podcast. I do use it for other types of videos, but only sporadically. I took a look and see that my first video was posted November 2, 2008, right around the time I started this blog, got on to Twitter and more than a year after I joined Facebook. I am a little surprised that the first video has over 1,000 views! You’ll also find how-to videos, and some fun stuff in there as well.
Pinterest is my least-used social media platform, and I think that’s a bit of a shame, because when I do go there, I like it quite a bit. I occasionally will add pins to the various boards I have, many of which revolve around technology, music and movies and other fun things. I have noticed lately that there are almost 6,000 views of the various pins I have, so maybe I should spend more time there! But in my experience, creating new pins by uploading photos is a bit tedious, which is probably why I shy away from it.
Overall, while I’m still pretty active on social media, I’ve pulled back from my busier online days of 2010 – 2012. In fact, back then, this blog focused solely on blog posts about how to use social media with events, conferences and tradeshows. After a ton of articles with just the social/event focus, I opened it up again to the wider world of tradeshows and events. I think social media is important, and when I’m at an event, I’ll make sure to post a least a few things on a handful of platforms. I’ve found that Twitter is the go-to for most event-goers, and Instagram is a strong second. It’s easy to include hashtags, easy to share, easy to search, and generally a cleaner look than Facebook.
What about video? I use pre-recorded video regularly on the vlog/podcast, as you probably know. But here in 2018, live video is how a lot of people roll. You can hardly go a day or two without seeing some famous person such as Gary Vaynerchuk or Peter Shankman doing a live video on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. I’ve done a handful, but my preference is recorded. Live video is fun, but it’s not really in my wheelhouse, and unless I’m on the road and have something interesting to talk about, I’d rather not just do live video of me, you know, having breakfast or something. Like some other people! But I expect I’ll do more live video as time goes on.
The most important online real estate you can have as a business, whether small or medium, is a blog. With all of the other platforms, you don’t own the platform. Rules can and do change, and those changes can have a big effect on how people find you or interact with you. And if you do something against their rules, you can find yourself closed out of your account, and you have to fight to get back in. Doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. With a blog, you are leasing a service which hosts your blog, but you own the content, and you control how it looks. Does it work? Yes, to a degree, but blogging and using social media doesn’t automatically bring new business in. In 2016, fully two-thirds of my company’s business came from people that found me online. It hasn’t been that significant since then, but to me, being out there on social media, and regularly creating content on a blog is one of the best and cheapest ways to be found online – and when people are ready to buy, they go looking for someone that can solve their problems.
Engagement is Key
The bottom line to a successful social media program is to understand three things: realize that it’s a never-ending task, that you have to be yourself – even if you’re representing a company brand – and that you have to engage. That means responding when people comment or ask questions. And don’t wait a day or two or a week. Respond as close to real time as you can.
Babies – lots of babies – along with young kids, the occasional dog, lots of mascots/costumes, and a few weirdly dressed people. Typical Expo West!
Saturday night – Day Three of Expo West – was spent hanging out with Oregon Business folks at their annual soiree at McCormick and Schmicks, and later, producing Monday Morning’s vlog/podcast. Now let me see if I can manage a recap of the final two days of Expo West.
Dozens of people I spoke with agreed that the show was somewhere between amazing and fantastic, or perhaps crazy-busy and overwhelming. Just saw the press release this morning from New Hope which showed that there were over 85,000 attendees, and 3,521 exhibiting companies, including more than 600 first-time exhibitors.
I mentioned in my vlog/podcast that I was impressed by the great detail that exhibit designers go to to capture a brand’s essence. I also got into a conversation with one booth staffer about the wild colors that are everywhere in the show. “Can you imagine what this show would be like without all of those colors?” he asked. Agreed. Bright and bold colors everywhere.
There were also a lot of BIG hanging signs, from 40’x40’ aluminum structures/fabric graphics to wooden panels and what looked like carved wooden signs. Does anybody look up these days at shows?
There were a lot of clever interactive things going on at booths, offering people an opportunity to walk into the booth space and do something. It’s always a great way to capture attention. I counted at least a dozen “selfie” stations, with some including a circular light where you can take a selfie where you’re fully and evenly lit, and some stations where they’ll take a photo and then email it to you. One of the most fascinating and eye-catching interactives was a Rube Goldberg contraption in the KIND Snacks booth, showing how KIND snacks are made from start to finish.
There were many opportunities to tweet a hashtag with a photo for a chance to win something, so it was good to see the social media tie-in as well. Although, frankly, it almost seems run-of-the-mill, when six or seven years ago social media was all so new!
Another thing I noticed in booth fabrication was the use of see-through printed fabric. Everywhere I turned there was another example. See-through fabric is very useful in creating a barrier, but the see-through aspect gives you a view of what’s beyond it, without intruding on people that might be in a meeting room for example.
This was my sixteenth consecutive time I’ve attended Expo West in support of clients, for years, the halls have been set up in a specific configuration: foods, manufacturing, supplements, new products and more all have had their own areas. That didn’t change this year, but the layout changed – drastically – and it was interesting to see how the whole layout was essentially flopped from one end to the other. Lots of comments from people who weren’t sure how it worked, but from my view it worked just fine. Took a little getting used to.
Sunday – Day Four – started off much slower, in terms of visitors roaming the aisles. I was there at opening of ten o’clock, and the back reaches of the halls were lightly travelled. it didn’t take long for that to pick up. By late morning, it seemed almost as busy as previous days. It did give me a chance to speak to more people without feeling rushed. By 2:30 to 3 o’clock, exhibitors were offering all of their samples to attendees so they wouldn’t have to transport them back to HQ. And of course, some folks were pulling down banner stands and packing up suitcases by 3 o’clock. Ya ain’t s’posed to do that, but it happens anyway. Planes to catch.
And finally, I know of no other show where, frankly, you never need to eat a meal offsite for ate least three days. Virtually every company is sampling the goods, from sausage, bagels, bread, toast and eggs to energy bars, drinks, coffee, teas, juices and other goodies. It’s easy to consume a couple of thousand calories without even batting an eye. Even if you try to avoid eating much, you’ll end up taking bite-sized samples here and there.
And don’t get me started on the varieties of chocolates.
Here in Oregon, the cannabis industry is fast-growing, which means that tradeshows promoting the industry are popping up frequently. I walked the floor of the Cannabis Collaborative Conference last week, meeting people and posting photos of participants and exhibits on my social media outlets, especially Instagram and Twitter. I came up with a few takeaways:
Participants are very upbeat and positive about the future of the industry, despite the federal classification of marijuana as a dangers drug, and despite the recent announcement by the DOJ that they would more aggressively target people under federal laws, even in states that have legalized recreational marijuana.
One comment came from an exhibitor, who observed that attendees and exhibitors at this particular show were more likely those who were new to the industry, wanted to get into the industry or were smaller players. “The bigger players don’t need to be at this show,” she said.
CDB (cannabidoil) is exploding, positioned as a “non-high” pain treatment. A year ago it was barely mentioned. Today in Oregon it’s seen everywhere, it seems, and is heavily promoted as an alternative to other over-the-counter pain killers such as ibuprofen and aspirin.
I managed to see a portion of one of the presentations, which was a panel discussion on the challenges that the industry faces in the banking industry. As a cash business, stores are faced with getting that money into a banking system that resists the cash because, as institutions that are regulated by the federal government, they may be punished for doing just that. No easy answers!
From the perspective of a tradeshow marketer, I saw a mix of good, clever and creative exhibits along with those that barely were able to cobble together a printed vinyl sign backdrop. Those that I talked to were excited about their position in the industry, though, and looked forward to being able to afford more expensive exhibits in the future.
Here are a few photos from the Cannabis Collaborative Conference.
Well, these might not be actual tradeshow marketing secrets, simply because by its very definition, a secret is something that is not well known. The following items are fairly well known and no doubt you can easily find them online – but the question is: are you using them to their full capacity and capability?
First, let’s look at first impressions. Hey, you only get one chance! And as you know, in tradeshows, perception is everything. Make your first impression strong, and the second piece of the puzzle will fall into place a little easier.
Next, know that the image you put out at a tradeshow isn’t just a random piece of your brand – it’s your whole brand. It IS your brand. If you miss the mark here, your next puzzle piece just got harder.
Up next: your staff. You can have the sweetest exhibit at the show, but if your staff sucks, it will all go for naught. Which means that your staff should not only know what they’re doing and be presentable and friendly and good with people, they should be well-trained in the challenges of dealing with hundreds of people on the chaos of the tradeshow floor.
Now, be sure to have something for people to do when they arrive at your booth. It could be a product demo, an interactive tool, a video to watch, a virtual reality headset to wear – anything that engages them for more than 8.4 seconds.
Ninety percent of success is showing up. Of course, you say, you’ll show up. But do you really? Are you really there for the full show? Are you there ready to listen to a client’s complaints and respond? Are you there to jump in when there is a problem or challenge and not leave it for someone else? Be there. All the time. Not just when you’re on the clock.
Cross your T’s. Dot your i’s! Details are important. When you slip on an important detail, someone – perhaps a potential client – is bound to notice.
Yes, details are important, but so is keeping your eye on the bigger picture. Tradeshows are a powerful way to reach markets that you otherwise would not be able to access so easily and economically.
Really, it’s all in the follow-up. Yup, I was kidding back in that earlier paragraph where I said the key to tradeshow marketing success was to draw a crowd and then know what to do with them. You’ve got to have a good follow-up plan in place. And be sure the work the plan.
Finally, be flexible. Sometimes, you just gotta MacGuyver things and adjust to a changing landscape. Be willing to go with the flow and see where it leads, as long as your overall strategy doesn’t change.
So you wanna create social media buzz before the tradeshow but aren’t sure exactly how to pull it off? Of course there are dozens of strategies and tactics that will raise your profile above the average company, but not all will work in all situations and of course nothing is guaranteed. Your tweets and Instagram posts could be swept away by an unforeseen event or distraction that swoops up the eyeballs you were hoping to grab!
One of the most memorable methods was one I saw years ago when Griffin refurbished an old VW bus and drove across the country for a couple of weeks, tweeting and posting photos and videos all the way. By the time they drove the bus onto the tradeshow floor, hundreds of people were waiting for them. So you might consider how to play up your travel to the event. It might grab attention if it’s different than the norm. Anyone want to bounce from SF to LA on a pogostick wearing a branded shirt? Hey, just a thought!
So here are some more thoughts and ideas on how to create a little social media buzz prior to the show:
Know the show hashtag, so that everything you put out is trackable and findable by show followers, whether they follow your actual account or not.
If you have new products or services, create a teaser video or three and get them out onto your social media platforms.
Maybe you’re going to debut a new exhibit at the show. Work with your exhibit house to tease elements of the exhibit with photos prior to the show.
Consider creating a special landing page on your website just for the show. Let people make appointments, view more videos, learn about new products, get invited to parties, sign up for email or text notifications, whatever.
If you have a company CEO or other management member speaking at the show or being part of a panel, be sure to include that in any information you post. And if you’re sponsoring a specific event or area of the show, don’t forget that.
Got a contest or something else to draw people to your booth? Start promoting the contest online a week or so prior to the show. Any sooner and it becomes old quickly. Wait too long and you won’t reach as many people.
Create a special hashtag just for your company for just this show and invite people to post photos of themselves wearing your product using the hashtag. Draw several prize winners from among the photos during the show and give away a bunch of your products to both show attendees and those that weren’t able to attend.
By engaging with attendees prior to the show, you create social media buzz that increases the odds you’ll draw more people to your booth during the show. If you manage to come up with this year’s VW bus promotion that goes viral, you might even get a raise!