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.
When you ring up your custom exhibit house and order a new
custom tradeshow exhibit, do you ever consider your company’s sustainability
Of course, there are a lot of things that can go into a
company-wide sustainability initiative, such as having it as part of your
company mission, doing your best to reduce waste through recycling, using less
power, automate workflow or whatever else that may fit, making sure your
employees are engaged in the process, and having ways to measure the
effectiveness of the program so you can show it off to both employees and the
But do you consider how a new exhibit can possibly help in
your efforts? There are a number of ways to use the opportunity of a new
exhibit project as a part of your sustainability efforts.
First, you have to ask the question. When you are chatting
with your exhibit house representative, ask them: “What ways do you implement sustainability
efforts in your exhibit-design and building projects?”
That gives them a chance to show their stuff. In my
experience, it’s rarely asked. But it is occasionally brought up, particularly in
regard to responding to an RFP. The more formalized the process, it seems, the better
the chance to have the question pop up. That’s where a company can fully
respond to those concerns.
There have been some occasions when the question is asked as
part of the conversation leading up to the sale, or as part of the project, but
it is rarer in my experience.
Which is a shame. I think the buying / selling dance is a great
chance (often a missed chance) to explore ways in which an exhibit company uses
sustainability efforts to great effect.
For example, we often work with Classic Exhibits, one of the
premier exhibit builders in the nation. They’re well-known in the industry for
the depth and breadth of their sustainable practices. Just one example:
aluminum is smelted and extruded locally in Portland, not shipped in, and
recycled a short distance away to keep transportation costs minimal. Their approach
to sustainability includes the ability to recycle everything except Sintra.
That includes wood, aluminum and other metal, paper, foam, clear film and clear
film plastic. All except wood is recycled at no cost.
Another Portland example, Boothster, uses building materials
that are very easy to recycle: carboard tubes, cardboard-printed pieces, bamboo
banner stands and so on. They position their company as builders that fully
adhere to the practices for sustainability.
Greenspace, also in Portland, positions their approach as “environmentally
sustainable design and fabrication.”
Another builder we work with at TradeshowGuy Exhibits, Eco-Systems
Sustainable Exhibits, approachas the design and fabrication of exhibits using
materials such as recycled aluminum extrusions, LED lighting, ECO-glass made
from 100% post-industrial recycled content, bamboo plywood, FSC certified wood,
plastic shipping cases made from recycled plastics and are 100% recyclable. Graphics
are printed on ECO-board, Paradise fabric (made from 100% recycled soda
bottles), and finishes are water-based low VOC (volatile organic compound) or
VOD-free, and Greenguard certified.
All of these go a long way to making your tradeshow
investment dollars be a part of your commitment to a company-side sustainability
This is a guest post by Tania Longeau of InkJet Superstores.
Setting up a booth at a trade show is a great way to build awareness of your brand and gain new leads. On the busy floor of a trade show, however, you only have 6 to 10 seconds to catch the attention of a passerby and draw them into your booth. You are lined up alongside several other businesses and, depending on the size of the show, you could have several thousand people walking past over the course of just a few days. If you want them to stop by your booth, you need eye-catching signage to draw them in.
Once you’ve gotten their attention, you need well-designed marketing materials like brochures, flyers, catalogs, and cards that they will take and look at again after the event. It sounds difficult, but learning how to make eye-catching signs, brochures, and other branding and marketing materials isn’t as hard as you might think. Keep reading to discover a few of our favorite trade show tricks.
Businessman Alan Lakein once said that “failing to plan is planning to fail,” and he was absolutely right. If you fail to do extensive planning prior to attending a trade show, you are very unlikely to have a particularly successful event. Goals and desired outcomes need to be established months before the date of the event to ensure that you have time to create everything you need.
Set SMART goals and come up with a solid plan of attack for meeting them. Think about what advertising and marketing materials you will need. Figure out whether you will make those materials in-house or have them printed elsewhere. If you plan on making them yourself, make sure you are stocked up on printer ink, paper, and other essential supplies. Trust us. Few things are worse than running out of ink at 11 p.m. the night before a trade show because you failed to plan and waited until the last minute!
Say it with an Image
When you only have a few brief seconds to grab someone’s attention, a sign or banner with lots of words just won’t do. A picture says a thousand words and, when you use images that are eye-catching, your signs will say a lot about your business, products, or services without needing to say a word. Keep the wording on your booth graphics short and to the point. Your signage should mostly consist of attention-grabbing images. Text should be kept to a minimum. On a busy trade show floor, very few people are going to stop and read an entire paragraph or a long list on a sign. Keep your message short and sweet.
Don’t Go Crazy with Fonts
You may love the look of the fancy font you use on your website or logo, but it may not be the best choice for creating trade show signage and displays. When you are designing signs, banners, and anything else that will be viewed from afar, choose fonts that are simple and easy to read. Remember that, on the trade show floor, your booth is competing for event attendees’ attention. If your advertisements aren’t easy to read, those attendees are just going to look elsewhere.
Be careful when choosing fonts for printed brochures, too. If most of your marketing materials currently exist online, adjustments may need to be made to ensure that they print well. Fonts and colors that look great on a computer screen or a smartphone might not look so good on paper, so be sure to do some experimentation to make sure everything is flawless.
Know When to Hire a Professional
There is a lot that you can do with the inkjet printer or laser printer in your office. Many of today’s higher-end models are capable of creating prints that rival professional quality, and you may be able to get away with printing many of your own signs, flyers, brochures, and pamphlets. It’s also important, though, to know when to hire a professional. Unless you have a high-quality inkjet printer that’s capable of printing large-format banners and other big displays, you should definitely work with a professional printing company. You only get one shot at making a good first impression, so the signage and displays you put up at your booth are extremely important.
Unless you have professional graphic design skill, working with an expert designer is a smart idea, too. A design may look awesome to you, but it may not actually be all that great. There is a lot more that goes into a successful design than just making it look pretty. A good designer can help you create brochures and signs that are eye-catching, tell your brand’s story, and evoke emotion. It takes a lot more than a copy of Photoshop to do all that!
When you are attending a trade show, setting your booth apart from all of the other ones around you is extremely important. There will be hundreds or thousands of people passing by your booth over the course of a few short days, and you will only have a few seconds to grab each person’s attention. With eye-catching signs, banners, and displays, you can let event attendees know what your business is all about and encourage them to stop by. With eye-catching brochures and pamphlets, you can encourage them to pick up your marketing materials and check them out after the event. Keep the above listed tips in mind, and you will be well on your way to meeting your goals for the event!
Tania Longeau serves as the Head of Services for InkJet Superstore. Tania oversees a team of Operations and Customer Service Reps from the Los Angeles headquarters. Before joining InkJet Superstore, Tania was a team leader and supervisor working for one of the biggest mortgage and real estate companies in the country. Images are provided by the author via Shutterstock.