Yes, we know that your tradeshow exhibit tells a story.
Often, a great exhibit design will capture the brand so accurately that the
design is often all that is needed. But frankly, that’s the exception more than
the rule. But even without an iconic design that broadcasts what your company
is about, your tradeshow exhibit tells a story anyway.
Design: even an average design can be executed well
and tell a big part of your story. But a compelling story can come to life.
Tell the story of how you created the soft drink because your Grandma used to
make something similar when you were a kid. Or how you invented something to
help a friend. Doesn’t really matter, your product or service likely came from
some inspiration. Can you tell the story of that inspiration in a concise way
using graphics and 3D elements?
Graphics: here’s where most of the story is told, and
the weight of this rests on your graphic designer and marketing team that is
communicating the correct message to the designer. Get it right and you’ve done
better than most of your competitors. Get it wrong…?
Craftsmanship: not all exhibits are built from
scratch. Depending on where you purchase your exhibit, it may be something
that’s designed and built from scratch in the USA. Or it may be from an
overseas manufacturer and it came direct from a catalog showing thousands of
similar designs. With an overseas manufacturer involved, you will be
hard-pressed to know the quality of the materials used for the exhibit.
Cleanliness: at least this is something you have
quite a bit of control over during the show. But a clean booth tells a story.
So does a dirty booth.
People: the booth staffers are your front line. Are they
well-trained in how to engage with visitors? How to ask the right questions?
How to politely disengage? How to act in a booth (stay off their phone, don’t
eat, etc.)? Whether you like it or not, visitors will forget a lot of things.
But they’re very likely to remember an unpleasant or below-average encounter
with a booth staffer. Just like they’d probably remember an encounter that
Stories are told with every piece of your marketing and your
prospect’s interaction with your company. What story are your prospects being
told, and what are they remembering? And is that story in line with your goals?
Wear colorful branded clothing. Whether it’s a staff
of two or three, or twenty, having colorful branded clothing will immediately
let visitors know who’s working the booth and who’s a guest. Bright colors
attract, so put your logo on the front and an enticing message on the back. And
to change things up from day to day, create a different colored set with a different
message for each day of the show, and make sure your crew coordinates. Bright colors,
especially if they’re tied into your brand work well: yellow, red, orange, blue,
Setup a giant prop and invite people to take a photo.
Could be anything: a mascot, a giant purse, a full-size model of one of your
products (if it’s small, for instance); something that stops people in their
tracks. I’ve seen mascot, angels, musicians, giant hanging props, exhibits made
from bicycle frames and more. They all had one thing in common: they begged to
have their picture taken.
Once that photo has been taken, invite the visitor to spread
the word on social media and include the show hashtag to make sure the post
gets seen. Offer prizes to people that photo and share online.
Give something away and offer an incentive to wear it.
One way is to print up a few hundred t-shirts or hats with your logo along with
a fun message and tell people that if they put it on right there, they can also
take home another gift. And tell them if you catch them wearing it at an
after-hours show (be specific as to which one), you’ll be giving away $50 bills
to random shirt wearers. This type of promotion gets others involved and spreads
the word about your booth and products throughout the show.
Have a unique exhibit that begs to be seen. Sounds
straightforward, but to break out of the cookie-cutter mold, it takes a
designer that’s willing to create something unique and wild and a company that’s
willing to spend to make it a reality.
Give visitors something to DO. Interactivity goes a
long way. At the NAB Show, there were several exhibitors that gave visitors a
chance to learn new software by joining them for a free class. Not only are you
drawing interested people in, you’re keeping them involved for up to an hour
and showing them exactly how the product works.
Contests. Give people a chance to win something by
guessing the number of beans in a jar, answering a quiz, spinning a wheel or
something else increases the chance you’ll get visitors to stop at your booth.
Make sure to engage them in a brief conversation to uncover their needs regarding
Famous mugs. Lots of companies hire famous (or at
least semi-well known) people to be a part of the show. Authors, speakers, sports
stars, actors, and so on can all draw a crowd. Authors in particular, if they’re
in your industry, can be a good draw if they have a new book out. I’ve seen
dozens of people in line to pick up a free copy of a new book and get it signed
by the author (and snap a selfie!), and I’ve waited in line to get a prop soft baseball
signed by Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.
Comment wall. I see these more and more. Ask a bold question
or make a bold statement and invite people to chime in with their thoughts on a
wall. Invite people to snap a photo of what they wrote and share it on social
media (make sure the wall is branded and has the show hashtag on it).
Bring media production to your booth. Know someone
that is a podcaster in the industry? Invite them to record a few episodes of
their show in your booth, and make sure to provide some good guests for them,
whether it’s people from your company, or others. The simple act of recording a
show in your booth will make a lot of people stop. That’s a good time for your
staff to engage those visitors politely to find out if they’re prospects.
If someone in your company has written a book, offer free copies of the book along with free printed photos with visitors and the author. This has worked great for years for Bob Moore of Bob’s Red Mill, one of our long-time clients at TradeshowGuy Exhibits. Every time they exhibit at the bigger expos, Bob spends time signing books and posing for photos while a photographer takes photos and has them printed up in a few moments for the visitor.
There are literally countless ways to draw crowds to your
booth. It all boils down to creativity and execution. What can you do to
improve the traffic at your next show?
What is tension in a business sense, or to be more precise, in
a marketing sense?
Briefly, it’s the concept of conflict. It’s the process of
creating a situation where a visitor can’t immediately reconcile one concept
Think Coke vs. Pepsi.
Nike vs. Adidas
One brand vs. another is one source of tension.
And understand, tension is not fear. You could say it’s the
opposite. Remember in high school when you were attracted to another person and
the tension that was created around it. You wanted to be with that person, but since
the very thought of expressing your feelings created tension, it made you,
well, tense! But in a good way, because you really did want to get to know that
person and spend time.
Another would be telling a story, but not giving away the
end. Maybe harder to do in the chaos and quick turnover of a tradeshow, but I’ve
seen it done. At the National Association of Broadcaster Show this year in Las
Vegas, Adobe (and many others) had huge classes going on teaching their new
software. That is a great story to tell: those that use the software want to
know how things have changed and how they can use it, so they sign up for a
free class to learn the story of the software and its changes. I’ve seen larger
exhibits steer visitors through a maze where you don’t know what you’re getting
into until you’ve seen the maze all the way through.
How do you tell the story of your product or service? By
What is it?
How does it work?
When can I get it?
What does it taste like?
When will it be available?
Where can I get it?
What does it cost?
The price of something is a story in and of itself. Are you
positioning your product against another similar product by offering it at a
lower price? What tension does that create? What if you price it much higher
than your competition? How does that affect the tension people feel?
Is your product something more or less “off the shelf?” In
other words, do you simply manufacture it and put it on a shelf? In that case,
price is a point of tension. Deciding to like the product or not is pretty straightforward
and deciding to spend the money may come down to the perceived value.
But what if what you offer is customized? That means the
customer has a number of choices to make, such as in the case of creating a new
tradeshow exhibit. And having to make a lot of decisions can freak out some
people, either in a good way or a bad way. Ideas can come pouring forth from some
people. From other people, having to come up with a lot of ideas may mean they
Many people are looking for something quick and easy. They
want a “push-button” solution to their problems. That’s why “turnkey” solutions
are often presented for more complex situations. Which is why customized
products create tension and demand a lengthier decision process.
By creating tension in a good way, you’re making your product or service attractive to people. What tension can you create with your tradeshow marketing and story-telling?
Calculating your tradeshow ROI is pretty straightforward.
Know how much you spent to do the show. Know how much you made off the show. Do
There are any number of ways to increase the ROI, but it mainly
comes down to controlling the main two numbers as much as you can: how much you
spend and how much you make.
have been written about how to put on a great tradeshow exhibit, train your booth
staff, use social media to beckon attendees and more. But for the purposes of
this article let’s focus on keeping your costs down.
Let’s start with booking your space. By booking early, show organizers will give you a discount. So book
early. Book the booth space. Book the electricity, rental carpet, internet,
cleaning, whatever. Several months before the event, check the show website and
put critical dates in to your calendar. By knowing when the various services
are to be booked to get the early discount, you can save a substantial amount
Bring your own.
Exhibiting pros know that when you’re onsite, some of the most expensive things
are the cheap things that you should have in your tradeshow
survival kit. Extension cords, scissors, felt pens, business cards, phone
chargers, extra cables, and so on.
Plan to ship to the
advance warehouse. While this is generally a money-saving exercise, it’s
not always the case so you may have to do the math. But by shipping to the
advance warehouse you’ll often get discounted rates.
Ship only what you
need. Here’s where you may have to work with your exhibit house. Many
exhibits these days are designed and built to be reconfigured into more than
one size. But to make it effective, make sure you ship only what’s going to be
set up at the specific show. Your warehouse can help coordinate the proper
items. Nothing is more frustrating than setting up at a show knowing that
there’s an extra crate that got shipped and you won’t be using what’s inside.
Another note on shipping: be scrupulous about how to use the space in your
crates. Many times a client will ask us to build some extra compartments into
custom-jigged crates so they can ship extra products or samples.
Get rid of items in
storage you no longer use. Yes, it may be great to think that you’ll reuse
that exhibit from 2011 someday. But probably not. No reason to pay for storage
for something that you’ll never use again.
Print only the graphics you need. Tradeshow graphics have a short life. If they last more than one show, it’s because they’re generic or the marketing team is lazy. Or maybe there’s nothing new to promote. In any event, you can save money on graphics a number of ways. Plan on having some of your exhibit graphics designed to be reused for at least a few shows. To save more money, have banner stands or other graphics produced at the show’s city to save shipping costs.
Are you faced with authors call “writer’s block” when it comes to coming up with ideas for your next tradeshow promotion? Or need to come up with a unique exhibit design or presentation that perfectly fits your company brand?
I wish I had an answer. You know, like the Staples “EASY” button. But it ain’t that easy. Not if you want an idea that can be fully executed and give you remarkable results.
So where do ideas come from? Ideas that actually work?
There are several places to look for and generate ideas, so
let’s go over a few.
What have other people done?
At your next tradeshow, whether you are an exhibitor or an
attendee, take some time to walk the floor and see what others have done. There
are going to be so many ideas that you won’t be able to capture them all. And to
take it one step further, if you see an idea you like, imagine how it would
work if you folded that presentation idea into your brand and products. And you
know that anything you see at a tradeshow had to go through a lot to make it to
the floor. It had to be created as a concept, then discussed at length to see
what would work and what wouldn’t. Then a 3D designer had to determine how to
put that concept into the real world. Then, once all parties had signed off on
the idea and concept, it had to go to fabrication, where the builders had to
figure out how to build it. Not always easy, especially if there are some unusual
or outlandish ideas that need to be brought to life.
But remember, just because it was brought to life and used
at a tradeshow doesn’t mean it actually worked, that it actually achieved what
the creators thought it would achieve. Which means it’s also worth asking “how
well did that work?” Probably the only way to find out for sure is to ask the
exhibiting company after the show how it all went for them. But by doing that
you might be tipping your hand that you’d like to use their idea for
What gets written about?
To see what is creative and actually works, pick up a copy of Exhibitor Magazine. To my way of thinking, all tradeshow marketing managers should get a subscription to this bible of the exhibit industry. Nearly every issue there is an in-depth look at tradeshow exhibits. Not only that, there is a breakdown of how the idea worked, how it fit with the company’s overall goals, what the results were, and often the cost. Even if the idea doesn’t exactly fit with your product or brand, use it to kickstart your own creative thinking.
Beyond Exhibitor Magazine, search online for creative
tradeshow exhibit ideas. There are a lot of them floating around, and any one
of them might be the inspiration you’re looking for.
Talk to others in the industry.
Networking can do a lot of things. One thing it does well is
spread good ideas. By talking to other exhibitors, designers, managers and
executives in the industry is that no doubt they’ve all seen some memorable
tradeshow exhibits along the way. Ask them what they recall, what they liked,
and how it worked. Make notes. And if you get a great idea that leads to
something, be sure to thank ‘em!
Creative thinking can often be generated in-house with a handful
of people. You may have even been in a brainstorming session or three in your
career. If done properly, they can be brief and productive.
Combining ideas from other sources.
Pick up a book on creative thinking and see where it takes
you. One of my favorites is Thinkertoys
by Michael Michalko. Worth the price no matter what you pay.
Any other books or ideas you like that help you creatively?
Make a note and share!
If you do a Google search for “showing up,” you get all sorts of links and suggestions as to what it means. Showing up for a performance, showing up for important events in your life for your friends and family, showing up at work by giving it your attention and energy.
Showing up is important. As Seth Godin put it, though, we’ve moved way beyond simply showing up, sitting in your seat and taking notes. Your job is to surprise and delight and change the agenda. Escalate, reset expectations and make your teammates delighted.
Sure, showing up is important. On a personal and business level to me, showing up means controlling my behaviors and emotions. Knowing that when I set out to do a day’s work, I have a pretty good idea of what I need to do (calls, projects, communications with clients, writing, etc.), and doing my best to do it, every day. For example, I made a commitment in January of 2017 that I would show up every Monday to do a video blog/podcast for at least a year. Once the year was up, I would assess it from a number of angles. Was is working? Was it fun? Was it good? Did it get any attention? Did my guests get anything worthwhile out of it? Did the listeners give good feedback, even if there were very few? Based on my assessment of those questions (not all were completely positive, but enough were) I committed to another year. Then another.
So here we are.
Showing up at a tradeshow is more than just being there. If
you are to take Seth Godin’s perspective, you want to have more than just a
nice exhibit. You want to show up with more than just average enthusiasm and
average pitches to your visitors. You should set high expectations for your
company and your team.
How can you do that? By starting months before the show and
having ongoing conversations about how to get visitors to interact. How to get
them to respond. How to tell your company or product’s story. How to make it
exciting to just visit your booth, exciting enough so that your visitors feel
compelled to tell others to come.
There are no wrong answers, and plenty of right answers.
Here’s a novel idea: using the 3D Virtual Tour technology that is often used on real estate to allow potential buyers to virtually steer their way through the home, and use that tech to allow people to visit your tradeshow booth long after the show has ended.
That’s the topic of today’s interview on the TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee. Phil Gorski of Ova-Nee Productions spent a little time sharing how he started the company and how the technology works on a tradeshow booth.
Big video is, well, BIG. It seems like ‘the bigger, the better.’ Admittedly, the quality of big video walls has improved noticeably the past few years. I can’t speak to the price – if the increased competition and quality has driven costs down, like it has for other products such as LED lighting. But it’s impressive. Let’s take a look:
Having never attended the National Association of Broadcasters Show in Las Vegas, I did not have a full grasp of the scope and size of the show. And once I was walking the floor earlier this week, it still took a few hours to fully comprehend how freaking big it is. There are nearly 2 million square feet of exhibiting space in 13 halls separable by movable walls.
Over 90,000 attendees showed up along with over 1600 exhibitors to see the latest in video and audio tech in all its glory: broadcast and cable TV, sports, podcasting, radio, lighting, cloud services and much more. It was all there. And it was overwhelming.
The biggest takeaways? As an old radio guy who started his career by playing single 45s on a turntable, I can safely say: we’ve come a long way (mentioning those 45s to the 20 and 30-something folks staffing the booths also was a good way to bring forth those puzzled looks along with a hesitant chuckle – yeah, I know I’m old).
Video is huge, as are the gigantic video walls, which seemed
to adorn nearly one out of three booths. Quality is impressive. Cameras are
going up in quality as the price creeps down. Seeing and playing with 8K
cameras showed attendees what the working video world will be working with soon
if they aren’t already.
Audio production, and in particular, the production of audio
in conjunction with video, is a really big deal. Avid’s booth featured a large
screen displaying how they mixed the music that was a part of the Oscar-winning
Bohemian Rhapsody. Also there were the Oscar winners, who sat on a panel discussing
Visitors also could partake in training on a large scale:
Adobe, Avid, DaVinci Resolve and many others were doing full-on all-show-hours
in-depth training on their latest products.
From an exhibit standpoint, I also saw something I’d never
seen before: many video camera and monitor manufacturers built set and had them
populated with stand-in actors. The idea was to give visitors a chance to put
their hands on the various cameras and zoom and pan and see how everything worked
under conditions that replicated what they’d find on an actual set.
I also saw at least three stationary cars equipped with cameras to film actors as they drove. One exhibitor went even further: behind the car there was a large video image of a road as if the car was moving. On the right and left were more screens with similar images. And for the coup de grace, a large video panel suspended over the entire car which simulated the movement of the sky, reflections of streetlights and more. An actor need only sit in the car and everything else is captured in one take, with little post-shoot work needed.
Lots of international exhibitors, including Europe and China, Korea and Canada among the more prominent. It seems pretty common that exhibits from China and Korea will set up exhibits with walls that enclose much of the space. I don’t see that as much from US exhibitors, so my hunch is it’s a bit of a cultural thing. I also don’t think humor passes easily from culture to culture. One exhibitor from China had a McLaren automobile on display (wasn’t really sure of the purpose, but it certainly looked sharp). As I was talking to one of the reps, I joked that maybe they should raffle off the car at the end of the show. All I got in return was confused look. Hey, I thought it was funny!
Exhibits were impressive from the big companies, and many of
the smaller companies also had a good look. Although as in any show, you always
see the smaller companies in the 10x10s around the edges of the main floor
struggling to be seen or to even have something worth seeing. The most
impressive things seen in the smaller booths were the company’s product lit up
with LED, or something moving that catches the eye.
Esports had its own section, showing off gamers and gaming.
We know that gaming has become a multi-billion dollar industry and if you
search for esports competition, you’ll find a lot. There were panels and
competitions taking place in the section, but frankly, since I’m not a gamer,
it didn’t hold my interest that long. However, my 18-year old son probably
could have spent all of the show in this area and it wouldn’t have been enough!
The tech that supports radio, tv, cable and Internet was
also displayed throughout the halls. Not being a tech guy, much of this was
over my head, but impressive nonetheless: network, audio, video controllers;
studio design and audio and video production boards, facility infrastructure,
transmitters, processors, automation software, captioning AI, streaming,
scheduling, logging, transcription…you name it, somebody was here promoting it.
I talked to well over a hundred people about the show, how
it worked for them, how it helped create leads, sell their products. Most told
me it was a great show for them. Several said this show in particular was the
one show that gave them most of their good leads for the year for them to
follow up on.
But not everyone agreed. One woman I spoke with said she’d been coming to the show for thirty years, and it’s not the show it used to be. One comment she made totally threw me. She said the “little Sony” booth wasn’t impressive at all. My jaw dropped because I’d been at the Sony booth (probably around 10,000 square feet) earlier in the show and determined it to be one of the top exhibits there, going so far as to walk through the booth for a minute or two shooting video to capture it all. But no, she said, “Sony used to take up a third of the hall!” She said that the networks (CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS) don’t send the people they used to, and the few they do send spend all their time behind closed doors in meetings, and don’t get out and mingle on the show floor like they used to. So her market wasn’t there to the extent they used to be. I found her perspective fascinating: no matter how much evidence you see to support one view, there’s always another view that’s just as valid.
I caught a couple of events on the main stage: opening day, NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith (and former Oregon senator) gave a keynote and ended by awarding MASH actor Alan Alda the NAB Distinguished Service Award. Alan sat for about 15 minutes after the award to chat about his career. I also caught the next morning’s panel, Tales from the White House Beat, featuring Smith chatting with ABC’s Cecilia Vega, NBC’s Hallie Jackson, CBS’s Steven Portnoy and PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor as they shared stories and insight into covering the Trump administration.
I was invited as a blogger which made me a member of the media, so I felt a bit of kinship with these professional journalists. I’ve been in radio news teams, hosted talk shows and been behind the microphone for decades, and it was great to hear the stories they told.
Lastly, a shout out to these folks: Josh at Time Lapse Cameras, Kent at Sharp Electronics and Suzy at FeiyuTech for their time and information. They reached out and invited me to check out their latest. Time Lapse Cameras has, as you might imagine, some great little affordable time lapse cameras which can be used to record any number of things from construction to exhibit setup and dismantle. Sharp showed off their new 8K cameras which are out later this year, and FeiyuTech demonstrated a new action camera, the Ricco, along with a handful of three-axis gimbals and other assorted goods for the video camera market. All good stuff and thanks for having me!
Is that a weird question: what does your exhibit remind
But think about it. We all have triggers. There are things that
we see in the present that reminds us of the past. Maybe it’s a song that takes
you back to your childhood. Maybe it’s a smell that reminds of your first love.
Could be anything.
Images, colors, stories: they all are shorthand and they can
remind us of something. Things that make us happy, sad, safe, tense.
Back to your company’s tradeshow exhibit: what does it
remind visitors of?
One good example comes from a client of ours, Bob’s Red Mill.
Its iconic red mill structure is a stylized representation of what a lot of
people see as harkening back to a different era. Mills represent the
hand-crafted way of milling grains – the loving labor that goes into producing
a high-quality product. We don’t actually see the millstone or how the grains
are ground under the weight of the stone, but the mill reminds us of that.
On the tradeshow floor, stories are told in shorthand by
using various materials, colors, shapes, fonts and more.
Green tells you: earth-friendly, plant-based, life, renewal,
energy, harmony with nature.
Red is the color of fire, blood, energy, way, strength, power, passion, determination.
Orange combines the energy of red and yellow and communicates energy and happiness, enthusiasm, fascination, creativity, determination.
When it comes to shapes, meaning can be communicated in a
lot of ways. Geometric shapes such as squares, rectangles, triangles, crosses.
Organic shapes are more free-flowing: circles, leaves,
rocks, clouds, ink blots.
Fonts tell a story, probably one of the most important. Every font has a unique personality and purpose. Bold block fonts tell one story, while flowing script fonts tell another. Thin fonts tell a story that’s different than fat ones. There’s a psychology behind using various fonts that are more than I want to delve into here, but the topic is worth taking a deeper look.
Some brands have clearly designated, iconic images (the red mill of Bob’s, the iconic “T” of Tesla, the siren of Starbucks, the apple of both Apple Computers and Apple Records to name a few). These can easily be put on a tradeshow exhibit design.
Other brands are less-known or not as well-defined, and in
those cases it often means working with a 3D exhibit designer with the skill to
use the shapes, colors and fonts needed to clearly communicate the brand’s
story in a glance with an exhibit.
If you don’t have an iconic, easily recognizable brand
(yet), we go back to the question: what does your tradeshow exhibit remind
Do the colors evoke good memories and associations? Do the
shapes clearly communicate a message that brings up a positive connection?
It’s all worth considering as you market your business by using tradeshows. After all, a tradeshow is the perfect place to present a clearly-defined image to your visitors.