You’ve heard the phrase “think outside the box.” But in the
tradeshow world, sometimes it makes more sense to think inside the box.
In many cases, it does make sense to think outside the box. Which means, generally,
to do things you don’t normally do. Turn it upside down. Work backwards. Do
But tradeshows have so much riding on them that the more you
have a plan and the better you stick to it – with minor deviations as warranted
– that it pays to stay inside the box.
Make the plan. Execute the plan. Stay inside the box.
While you’re making the plan, many weeks or even months
before the tradeshow, that might be the time to think outside the box. What can
you do that’s different? What your competitors aren’t doing? What might be an
activity in your booth that attracts people? What kind of different ways you
can think of to promote your appearance?
During the brainstorming and planning phase, come up with as
many different and unusual approaches you can think of that might help you
stand out. But vet them. Test them. Make sure they are practical and can be
executed as flawlessly as possible. Then, once you have something in place, iron
out the rough spots and prepare it for the show.
And once the show starts, don’t stray from the script unless
there’s agreement among the principals that it’s a good move. Otherwise, work
the plan, take notes on how it went, and make adjustments for the next show.
Thinking outside the box isn’t a bad idea, in fact in many cases it’s a great idea. Just know when and where to do it. The tradeshow floor where thousands of visitors are passing by, where competitors are putting up their best, is not the place to wing it.
The ‘modern business plan’ was hatched on a blog post by Seth Godin. I was a recent enrollee in Godin’s The Marketing Seminar, where at one point we were referred to the post which breaks down the five elements of what he feels are the important parts of a modern business plan: truth, assertions, alternatives, people and money.
It’s also possible to apply that thinking to how you
approach tradeshow marketing.
The truth of tradeshow marketing would be the facts
and figures of the specific show(s) that you plan to participate in. How many
people attend? What percentage of decision-makers and influencers are among the
attendees? Who are the competitors/exhibitors?
Assertions might include your thoughts on what you believe you know that is not necessarily supported by data. What new products are you launching that might be similar to new products from competitors? What types of marketing tactics and strategies are those competitors using? This is where you state what you believe to be true, although you might not be able to prove it.
Alternatives: This is where you play the “what if”
game. What if things go wrong? What is your plan B? What if you get lucky by
meeting the exact prospect that you didn’t anticipate? What if your top
salesperson is poached by a competitor? Hey, anything can happen. At least
opening your mind to some of those possibilities gives you a chance to chew
People: who are your best people and how can you best
use them? Where are your weak spots and how can you improve with them? Do you
need to acquire people to get your tradeshow department to run like a clock and
not like a Rube Goldberg machine?
Finally, money: Budgeting, logistical costs,
personnel costs. Return on investment, cost of samples. You know the drill. But
are your numbers accurate? And did you run the calculations a year later after
the show so that you actually know what your return on investment really is?
There are any number of ways of looking at your business or
marketing plan, but taking this approach helps to clarify several issues at once.
Give it a try!
I got an email the other day from someone whose newsletter I had just subscribed to, and in the introduction email there was a link to the top 5 most read blog posts on her blog. That’s when an idea light lit up over my head and gave me an idea for a blog post (as a blogger, you’re always looking for ideas, right?).
Next thing you know I was pawing through my Google Analytics account to find out what were the most-viewed posts on this blog. These are the ones that floated to the top, for whatever reason. It’s all organic. I don’t advertise, but I do share links now and then on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. On occasion there might be a link here from Pinterest. Or another blog.
This blog is aging. It’s over ten years old, having been launched in November, 2008. There are almost 1000 posts.
One more note: the analytics breakdown shows the front page as “most-viewed” and a couple of pages (not posts) showed up in the top ten as well, including the Contact Me page and the We Accept Blog Submissions page. But beyond that, here are the top ten blog posts since the beginning of the blog (in traditional countdown order):
Number Ten: The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Exhibit RFPs. I created a one-page sheet on what should go into an Exhibit RFP (Request for Proposal), and posted it on Cheatography.com, a site for thousands of cheat sheets. Kind of fun. They regularly sent me emails telling me how many times it was downloaded (500! 1000! 1500!). Not sure how accurate that is, but obviously it’s been seen by a lot of people. From September 2017.
Number Seven: How to Build a Tradeshow-Specific Landing Page.Inspired by Portland’s Digimarc, it’s a look at the steps you can use to put together an online site specifically to interact with potential tradeshow booth visitors. From December 2017.
Aaaaand, at Number ONE: SWOT Analysis for Tradeshows. It still surprises me that this post gets a whopping 3.95% of all of the traffic on the site. At the time I wrote it I had been spending a fair amount of time with a friend who was going through school to get his degree in marketing, and one thing that we discussed in depth was the SWOT Analysis. S=Strengths; W=Weaknesses; O=Opportunities; T=Threats. It’s a great exercise to work through in regards to your tradeshow marketing appearances. Check it out. It’s from February 2015.
Tradeshow pre-show marketing is kind of the lost stepchild
of tradeshow marketing.
“Yeah, we don’t do as much as we’d like. Just don’t have the
“Well, we post a few things on Twitter before the show, but
that’s about it.”
If this is your approach, you shouldn’t be surprised if your
results aren’t what you’d like. Let’s take a closer look at some tradeshow
pre-show marketing best practices and see if those results don’t come up a bit.
Know Your Market. Who do you want to come see your booth? Do your best to identify them, whether it’s by title, company, region, demographic, or whatever. Next, what problem do you solve for them? Once you’ve identified your market and what you can do to help them, you can start crafting your messages and the channels you’ll use.
Know Your Budget. It’s a given that most of your tradeshow budget will go to the actual show itself: the exhibit, shipping, travel expenses, booth space rental and more. But try to carve off a percentage of the overall budget for pre-show marketing.
Know Where Your Market Spends Time. Not as easy as it sounds. Maybe they’re on social media, and if that’s the case, what platforms? Twitter? LinkedIn? Facebook? Or is there a popular podcast in your market niche that’s worth looking at for possible advertising? Ask current customers and prospects where they spend their “industry time” and see what they say.
Know the Channels You Can Use. Sure, email, social media and list rentals might work. But what about phone calls? Direct mail? In-person visits? Yeah, that last one is rare, but if you are speaking face-to-face with someone you’d like to be at the show, take a moment to remind them and invite them by.
Know the Timeline You’ll Use. By creating a schedule of what to do when, and bringing everyone on your team up to speed on the schedule, you have a much better chance of succeeding. For instance, three months out is a good time to email a “save the date” notice for the show. Six weeks out might be appropriate to send a postcard or other piece of direct mail. A month out is a good time to start posting booth numbers on social media using show hashtags (be sure to include some cool photos from last year’s appearance!).
Know Your Neighbors. Yup, your show neighbors. Learn who’s next to you and across the aisle from you. Reach out to their marketing person and see what they might tell you about their appearance. If they’re planning on doing a live presentation in their booth four times an hour, that might affect your approach.
Know Your Lead Capture Process. Are you scanning badges? That’s a good start. But will that scan capture the time and manner of follow up, or the type of follow up that is agreed upon by the prospect? Have a system in place that works.
No doubt you can come up with a few more based on your own
experience over the years. But maybe these can kickstart the conversation!
I’m guilty of sometimes thinking that once a tradeshow is
over for the year, it’s over. For a long time. Until next year! But that’s not
really the case, no matter how much I’d like to be done!
As a tradeshow manager, or someone who attends or exhibits
at tradeshows on a regular basis, it’s easy to compartmentalize each show:
“Got another show in two months, but it’s a small regional one. I can wait another couple of weeks to make sure I get it all together in time.”
But now that the show is over, it’s a good time to start
planning – or at least thinking about – the next time you’ll exhibit at the
show. Look at your preparation time from how much of a splash you want to make,
how much “new” stuff you’ll implement in your exhibit, and of course, budget.
Budget drives everything. Almost.
If the biggest show of the year just ended, and you’re back
in the office, you have another 11.5 months before you pack up and head to the
airport again (and that doesn’t take into account another half-dozen smaller
shows that may keep you on the road).
Relax for a Few Moments
Give yourself time to breath. There’s still follow-up and record-keeping to be done from the last show. File and share data such as photos, visitor comments, leads, etc. with the proper people. Go over the metrics you collected, identify important information that will help you make decisions for next year’s show. Whatever you chose to document, make sure it’s archived and available for your team to review, digest and understand. As they say, if you didn’t write it down or document it, it didn’t happen.
What’s New Next Year?
But before too much time passes, look at the show from a new
angle: if you’re going to do something new, exciting and impactful (and why
wouldn’t you?), you need time to brainstorm, plan, research, talk with partners
such as exhibit houses, tech and AV vendors and more.
Most of your time will go into planning and design. Once the
plan is set, the implementation starts. Depending on your plan, that could mean
working with a designer or exhibit house to create a new exhibit from scratch,
or it could mean adding some unique element to your current booth (like we did
with our client Bob’s Red Mill when they wanted a 42” touchscreen with several
videos that visitors can pull up with a touch of a finger).
During the planning phase, you might be addressing the
launch of new products, new branding, redefining your objectives and goals, and
identifying how you’ll communicate your messaging, capture new leads and so on.
It’s a long process, and you should give it the time it deserves.
Many companies approach a new exhibit project as just that: a new exhibit and nothing more. Which means they don’t give all of the other items enough time and space. The exhibit is not a standalone item; it’s integral to everything else that your company is doing for the show. New products require proper display space, adequate space for graphics, and perhaps space to sample or demo them.
If you have a social media marketing director, make sure you bring her into the mix during the process. They can pass along photos and videos from the recent show and use them to build interest in next year’s show. During the lead-up to next year’s show, focus on building interest in the event, building interest in your appearance at the event, and finally on building interest in the products or services you’ll debut or feature. Yes, this deserves a much longer discussion, but don’t let this element slip away. Make sure, as a tradeshow manager, that you’re involved in the discussions on how this will unfold.
Booth Staff Training
This subject could be the topic of a complete book (maybe I’ll make this my next book!), but suffice it to say at this point that, all other things being equal, a well-trained dynamite booth staff will perform head and shoulders above a staff that isn’t properly trained. Your staff should be outgoing without being pushy, engaging without being trite. Know what questions work and what don’t. Always have a smile. Don’t take rejection personally. If you haven’t trained your booth for a while, consider how good of an investment it can be.
Get Everyone On Board
Before undertaking a new large project, make sure you are communicating properly with all of the various entities: management, marketing team, sales team, production team, outside vendors and partners. They should all be aware of the project from the beginning and what their potential part in the dance might be. Communicate often and do it well. It’s hard to over-state the importance of your ability to communicate!
When it comes to tradeshow exhibiting, is it wrong thing to think, “Well, there’s always next time!”?
Maybe your most recent tradeshow didn’t go as well as it could have. You didn’t meet all the people you had hoped to and didn’t bring home as many leads as you were thinking you should have. Your staff’s interactions with visitors weren’t as good as they could have been.
In other words, you’re thinking that it may have been a waste of time.
If you think that, spend some time to identify WHY it might have been a waste of time.
Was it the wrong show? Maybe your expectations of the show itself were unrealistic. The show organizers might not have been as clear as you’d have liked on the state of the show. They could have assumed more people would show up, but the audience just wasn’t there.
Was it the wrong audience? Each show has a specific audience. If the audience isn’t a good fit for your products or services, it could be that you didn’t assess the show well enough.
Was your booth staff lacking in training? A well-trained booth staff can lift you above mediocre or average expectations. After all, they’re the front line in your interactions with the attendees. If the staff hasn’t been properly trained on that interaction, your results will reflect that.
Were your products or services either “blah” or not properly represented in your market? Your competition may have similar products and services, but if you staff was not fully engaged and the presentation of your products was indistinct, or fuzzy, or unclear, you won’t catch attendees’ eyes. Was your exhibit not up to the task? An old or poorly designed exhibit might save you money to ship and set up, and put off another capital investment, but if it doesn’t look good, or have the functional elements that you need to properly execute your tradeshow, it’ll cost you money in the long run, not save you money.
On the other hand, if you’re saying “Well, there’s always
another tradeshow” and you’re at least modestly pleased with the results, take
a hard look at what worked and what didn’t. Maybe your booth staff was good but
could be better. That’s a pretty easy fix.
Or maybe your exhibit is decent, and only needs a few minor
upgrades to make it really good. Another easy fix.
Other things to look at: pre-show marketing, post-show follow-up, cutting costs for shipping or logistics, and so on. Individually, they may not have a big impact, but executing each element better than last time can have a cumulative impact that’s hard to ignore.
At the end of the show, when everybody has had a chance to
review from their perspective what worked and what didn’t, and why, do a debrief.
But don’t wait too long – do it the first or second day you’re back in the
office. That will give a little time for reflection from all participants, but
not so much time that they’ll forget important feedback.
Based on what comes out of that debrief, make decisions that will better prepare you for the next show. Because there’s always another tradeshow.
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.