There are a lot of people in the tradeshow industry who are well-travelled and highly experienced, and I love chatting with them about tradeshow marketing. In this episode I sat with Michael Thimmesch, long time Skyline marketer, now a consultant with his own company. We covered a lot of bases of tradeshow marketing, including his approach of the FIVE LEVELS of tradeshow marketing. Where are you? Take a look:
This is a guest post by Mohamed Bah of Springrates.
If you have plans to exhibit at a tradeshow any time soon, or you want to bring your newest product to the latest conference, you’re going to need a way to market your product. Doing well at a show or conference is a great way to generate early buzz and test a product out before it hits the sales floor. If you’re still not sure about how you should be showcasing your product to promote sales, we have a few suggestions on the most effective methods you can use.
1. Do Something Differently You
Absolutely everyone will tout the effectiveness of being “unique,” or doing something that no one else does to stand out of the crowd. It’s for a reason: Being unique will help you stand out, but only if you do it right.
When you’re trying to find a way to stand out of the crowd, think about the things that make your product special, or the characteristics of your brand that are unique. A marketing strategy is more effective if it’s meant specifically for you! If your brand has a more “fall” theme, then something like business cards made in the shape of rectangular-ish fall leaves would be a specifically you strategy. Someone else could copy it, but it fits you far better than it would fit them.
2. Don’t Be Afraid of the Big Bad Display
Large displays can be intimidating. This is especially true when they’re not yours, but you don’t need to have the biggest budget to have a big wow display. Maximize your airspace and do something unexpected! Bigger isn’t necessarily better, but bolder can be pretty close.
Instead of going for a massive banner or a 3D style, try eye catching colors, or upright flags. It might be a throwback to grade school, but don’t hesitate to run the proverbial underwear up the flagpole: if you’ve got something that makes your product stand out, or you’ve got a brand-specific t-shirt, make sure it’s flying high for the duration of the show. It’s a quirky way to attract attention, and it should set you apart from the crowd.
3. Rescale Your Style
People, as a general rule, love seeing things in the wrong size. Is your product too big to hold in the human hand? Shrink it down to toy size, and watch people play with it all day. Is your product more on team teensy? Scale it up to enormous, and see people gawk over how huge it is.
Things like rescaling the size of your product can also give you an opportunity to put it in context. It’s all well and good to have the full-size model next to your booth, but if you can provide a scale model of your brand’s lawnmower trundling around a standard-size yard, people are going to appreciate that a lot more than having to imagine what it might feel like. Alternatively, blowing up the size on something small can give people a better look at the little details they might not otherwise get to see.
4. Practice Proper Audience Participation
If your product is something that people can really get their hands into, why not let them? “Try before you buy” has become an increasingly popular selling tactic, and offering conference attendees and trade show goers the chance to test out something you’ve made demonstrates confidence. A bigger demonstration will also attract more attention to your booth, especially if you can work it into the schedule of main events.
This option also pairs well with the previous, and doubly so if your product is something like a game, or if you’re planning some kind of stunt for the demonstration. Getting your audience involved in the usage of your product, or creating some kind of game around how it works, will get them even more invested in what you’re doing and what you have on offer.
Event marketing is tough. Depending on where the event is held, you’re in a larger space, and you’re competing with dozens, if not hundreds, of other vendors, for a limited amount of time and attention. By focusing on what makes you great, and playing to your product’s strengths, you’ll be able to effectively draw attention and showcase and sell your product well.
Mohamed Bah handles public relations for Springrates and in his free time enjoys playing with his dog, Leo, and working on cars.
As an exhibitor, we’re all looking for great results. But what if you get back to the office a few days after the show, and frankly don’t have a lot to show for it? The lead collection came up short, there weren’t that many “warm” or “hot” leads, and the boss is wondering why all of that money was committed to the show.
First, recognize that you can’t control results. The only things you control are your activities, your behavior, and your technique.
Let’s start with attitude. Books have been written about attitude. Suffice it to say that if you go into a complex tradeshow marketing program, a good attitude will help immensely.
Activities are all-important. From pre-show marketing, to having a good interaction with your visitors, to lead generation and post-show follow up, knowing what to do and when to do it is critical to your success.
Finally, what technique do you apply to your behaviors? Does your booth staff know how to properly interact with visitors? Do they know how to as
k questions, when to shut up and when to disengage?
All of your behaviors are subject to being done properly or not. And there is no end to determining what is proper and what works and discarding what does not work. Books have been written about techniques, attitude and behavior, so there’s much more to discover than what you’ll see in this brief post.
But back to results: if you are not getting the tradeshow results that you are hoping for, the three areas to examine are those that are most important to your success: attitude, behavior and technique.
Thanks to Sandler Sales for the tip. Full disclosure: I spent a year in a Sandler Sales Training Program, and this is just a tip of the iceberg.
I’ve been in the tradeshow industry for almost 20 years, and it seems like we’re moving into what may be the Golden Age of Tradeshow Marketing. Usually when you think of the “Golden Age,” you’re thinking of that long-forgotten past. A time of fun, peace and prosperity and good times. Us older folks might think of the Golden Age of Rock and Roll, for example, as the time when Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Buddy Holly were making music and leading the music charts. Or maybe we think of the Sixties as the Golden Age of Rock and Roll, when the Beatles led the British Invasion and with the help of bands such as the Rolling Stones, the Dave Clark Five, the Yardbirds and The Searchers dominated the music charts for years.
What about movies? Was the Golden Age the days of great movie stars such as Clark Gable, Dorothy Lamour, Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, Greta Garbo and others lit up the big screen?
Or is the Golden Age something that might be happening today, and we won’t realize it for decades to come?
Tradeshow marketing may, in fact, be moving into something of a Golden Age. Look at what’s happened in the past decade or so: an influx of a variety of new products and technologies that is impacting the bottom line and exhibiting capabilities and impact in unforeseen ways.
Fabric graphics, for example, have pretty much taken over the tradeshow floor. Sure, you could see fabric graphics ten years ago, but they weren’t much to look at. The printing quality was suspect, and the fabrics were not all that great. But technology has improved fabric printing by leaps and bounds, and the same has happened to the fabric that is used for printing.
And what about light boxes or back lit fabrics? Just a decade ago salesmen would come through our door pitching the next generation of LED lights, which were definitely impressive. But the past ten years have seen a drastic drop in the cost of LED lights, and a sharp uptick in the quality of the lights.
And what about social media? Fifteen years ago, social media frankly didn’t exist. Online promotions were barebones at best. Email marketing was fairly well established, but preshow marketing stuck mainly to traditional channels such as direct mail and advertising. But now, any company that doesn’t engage in using Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and add on some elements of their outreach via YouTube and LinkedIn is increasingly rare. All of those social media channels have matured greatly and can be used to drive traffic and move people around a tradeshow floor.
Video is also part of the renaissance of tradeshow marketing which contributes to the idea that we’re experiencing a Golden Age. More and more exhibits show off one or more video monitors, and you’ll increasingly see video walls, which grabs visitors’ eyeballs with a visual impact that was previously unobtainable, or only at an ungodly price. Video production has also come down drastically in price and obtaining great footage to go with your video messaging at a lower cost means more exhibitors can show off a lot more of their brand for less. Drones, for one example, have given anyone the ability to drop in aerial footage into their brand videos for a few dollars, instead of the thousands of dollars it used to cost. Most brand videos I see at tradeshows have at least some drone footage, and I suspect that most people don’t even give it a second thought (I do – drone footage is freaking cool, man!).
Add to all of that the coming-of-age of Virtual Reality, which will open doors to creative people getting involved to do more fantastic VR for tradeshows. The VR I’ve seen so far has been disappointing, as were the first few VR games and programs I’ve seen. But lately the bar has been raised, and the quality and creativity will come up.
What about data tracking and electronic product showcases, such as ShowcaseXD? This and similar programs will not only allow exhibitors to show off products in an easy format, the data that comes out of these systems proves to be extremely useful to companies. Didn’t have anything as sophisticated as that only a decade ago.
Automated email has been around for perhaps a couple of decades, but that also gets more and more sophisticated, and combined with a data entry, product catalog or context on a tablet, marketers can send out detailed, personalized responses based on visitors’ interests.
All of these – and more technologies that I’ve either missed or are in their infancy – are having a great impact on tradeshows and giving exhibitors the ability to maximize their dollars, create a bigger splash, take home more data and find an edge in a very competitive marketplace.
If not a new Golden Age of Tradeshow Marketing, at least a Renaissance or resurgence.
Got a tradeshow appearance coming up, but aren’t sure how to exactly get people to come to your booth? Maybe you’re tried emailing people, or spent a lot of time leading up to the show and during the show pitching things on social media but aren’t getting great results? It doesn’t mean that you aren’t doing it right – there are a lot of reasons why things either work or don’t work – but one thing that doesn’t seem to be used a lot these days is sending out snail mail promos to get prospective tradeshow visitors to your booth.
So let’s create a list of seven items that you should consider sending out, in order, prior to the show. Keep in mind, this will cost more than email. In fact, depending on the things you send out, you might kick up a pretty noticeable budget. But for argument’s sake, let’s say you’ve got the budget and want to really get people’s attention.
A NOTE: This will take quite a bit of planning and coordination. You’ll need to sit down with a graphic artist, your product development team to know what new products will be launching, perhaps an outfit that coordinates mail promotions – lots to think through, but I think it’s worth taking a hard look at how this may unfold and get a lot of people excited to come to your booth. I mean, snail mail! Pull it off right and you’ll have a lot of folks looking forward to coming to your booth.
Postcard Teaser Number One: Send this a few months, say 14 weeks prior to the show. On the postcard, do a “Save the Date!” tease, with the dates, times and location and bare bones information about the tradeshow, including your booth number. Nothing more. Just a teaser.
Postcard Teaser Number Two: Send this one about 12 weeks prior to the show. Change out the “Save the Date!” verbiage with a little more information. Be sure to include the details (show, dates/times, booth number, etc.), but add some more information. If you’re launching new products, tease that. Doesn’t mean you have to give away all the information, just let people know that you have X number of new products that they’ll be among the first to know about if they come by your booth at the show.
Send this about ten weeks prior to the show. It’s more than a postcard, this could be a flyer or letter that does the basics (show dates/times, booth number, new product launch, etc.), but invites them to go online and answer a 2-question survey for a chance to win something. OR…you may invite them to go online to a specially created landing page where they can sign up for an appointment with one of your representatives. The purpose of this email is for your prospect to consider making some sort of commitment to come to your booth.
Postcard Invitation to Pick Up a Gift: Send this eight weeks out from show time. This is one you can have a lot of fun with, but you’ll want to be careful as well. You might approach it this way: tell your recipient that you have a limited amount of branded tumblers or some other nice special gift – but the only way to get one is to either be one of the first 100 people by the booth on day one OR they can confirm an appointment and you’ll reserve the gift for them. Work with your promotional products expert to come up with something that fits your budget and also the number of guests you suspect might be able to make that commitment, depending on the size of the show.
Postcard reminding them of EVERYTHING: Send this just six weeks from the show. Tease your appearance, the new products launching, their chance to get a great prize if they book an appointment or are one of the first 100 to the booth.
Postcard or Flyer: Send this a month prior to the show. if you have a new exhibit that you’re going to show off, let people know that it’s going to be special. In fact, you might send out a teaser image (3D rendering or photo-in-progress) showing off a part of the exhibit.
Postcard Reminder: With just a couple of weeks to go, send out your last piece of snail mail. This could be a reminder or the various things you’ve already sent. If you’re planning to be active on social media, include mentions of all of your social media platforms and include any special hashtags that you’ll use during the show. If you’re doing a social media promotion, include that here.
This is a mere outline with a handful of suggestions. Get your creative juices flowing and figure out what items you can promote to get people to visit your booth. Maybe someone from your company is speaking or participating in a panel. Maybe you want to try some form of the “glove” promo where you send out a single glove and tell the recipient that they can get the other one if they come by the booth. There are literally thousands of things you can come up with that can be used in conjunction with an active, well-thought-out and well-executed snail mail marketing program that’s specific to your upcoming tradeshow appearance.
A ‘road-tripping’ version of TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, where I gather at the campground with old friends, hoist a few, pick some tunes, stare at the night stars, and smell the juniper and sage of the Oregon high desert. Totally off the grid for almost 72 hours with absolutely “NO SERVICE!” Good stuff.
As for the ONE GOOD THING? Hitting the road, doing a little camping – it’s a VACATION, no matter how long.
Of course, we always want to make sure our tradeshow best practices are out on display for everyone at all times. But as Steve Miller says, “Perfection is your enemy.”
And…we’re only human. That means you’ll find that your booth staff will sometimes be eating in the booth, or on their phone when people are walking by. Or they’ll fail to direct a visitor to the person with the right answer for the question. Or maybe you realize that your pre-show marketing efforts were lame this time around. Or your post-show follow up really left something to be desired.
Sometimes your graphics will be scuffed or torn. Perhaps your flooring is ripped and mended. All of these are irritating, aren’t they, because you want to always have the best presentation at all times. But perfection is not attainable.
So, keep moving forward. If one of your staffers is sitting in the back of the booth with hands in pockets, put on a smile and ask them to move to the aisle where they can be helpful. And vow to schedule a trainer who can teach staffers better habits. If your hanging sign or large graphics look great but are outdated because some minor branding thing changed, take a photo and plan to get together with management to find the dollars to make upgrades.
There are times that you’ll come up short. There may even be times you consider your tradeshow efforts a failure.
Improvement doesn’t happen all at once. But keeping tradeshow best practices in mind every time you’re involved in setting up the booth, planning upgrades, scheduling your booth staff and related show logistics, you will see improvement. But chances are you won’t see perfection.
Briana Belden, Brand Manager of Wedderspoon Manuka Honey, joins the TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee for a discussion about how they approach tradeshow marketing: preshow outreach, what happens during the show, follow up, branding and more:
As an exhibitor, or someone who manages an exhibit program for a company, you have oodles of details to keep track of each and every show. This often means you don’t have time to stop and ponder the very act of exhibiting at a tradeshow. But sometimes taking time to do just such a thing is a good thing. These questions are not aimed at the logistics of your exhibit, but are pointer more towards the internal conversation you may have with yourself and how you and your staff approach the act of marketing while standing in a tradeshow booth with the intent of finding potential clients or customers.
Do you have any blind spots?
What are your hidden strengths?
Are you really focused on the things that are important?
When it comes to networking, do you push your comfort zone or do you play it safe?
How well do you take care of yourself during the few days of the show?
Does everybody on your booth staff know all of your products or services well enough to talk about them fluently?
Do you sometimes talk too much to visitors just to fill time instead of letting them talk?
Do you have three good questions to start a conversation centered on the needs your product or service fulfills?
What information do you need to determine if a visitor is a prospect or not?
Once you qualify a visitor, what precise information do you need from them to move forward?
Are you comfortable you’re doing all you can to maximize the company’s time on the tradeshow floor without doing too much and getting burned out?
Do you have a tested plan to gather all leads and get them back to the sales team in a timely manner?
I could go on and on, but the point is to have you examine your involvement in tradeshow marketing from a different perspective and see if you could find some areas to improve. What questions should you be asking yourself or your team?
Over the years I’ve suggested that companies create a tradeshow-specific landing page for each appearance they make at a show. But frankly, I don’t see too many of them.
But I recently ran across a tradeshow-specific landing page from Digimarc that caught my eye. Digimarc is a Portland-based company that helps clientele with product identification, labels, barcodes and the like.
Digimarc has a tradeshow-specific landing page for their upcoming appearance at NRF 2018 at the Jacob K. Javitz Convention Center.
Let’s take a look at their landing page and see what they are doing right.
In the first screenshot, Digimarc starts off by everyone that they’re going to be at the NRF 2018. They mention their booth number and invite visitors to check out their store.
Next shot: you’re invited to dig a little deeper to learn about increasing operational efficiencies and more, and again mentioning the booth number. Right below that are a pair of buttons inviting you to schedule a visit with them at their booth, and offering an NRF Registration and Discount Code, reinforcing the notion that not only do they want to you stop by their booth, they want to make it easy:
In the third screenshot, Digimarc offers a chance to learn even more specific knowledge, with buttons to get better labels, implement easy checkout and engage consumers now.
Finally, there is an offer to get a personalized language booth tour – when you click through, the options are to get a tour in Japanese or German – making it easier for those international visitors to make a connection with the company. Then there’s a Lyft voucher and (still to come) an NRF Survival Guide. It’s all capped off with an invitation to follow them on social media to continue the show connection.
Everything is clearly marked, easily understood and very specific. The only quibble I have is that the date and location of the show (NYC in January) are not on the page. But you might argue that anyone going to the show already knows that information, and this tradeshow-specific landing page from Digimarc is being shared with people who are already aware.
In any event, Digimarc did a great job with this.
My question is: why aren’t you doing this with your upcoming tradeshow appearance?