Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.
Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.

Tradeshow visitors

Tradeshows Succeed Because It’s Real Life

Back in the dark ages of technology and social media, say 2008 or so, I read many prognosticators who predicted that tradeshows would disappear. Or become shells of themselves, simply because everyone was going digital. I remember seeing online ‘virtual tradeshows’ where you could navigate from booth to booth and see what companies were hawking.

Except that virtual tradeshows never really got going so much. And the real thing is doing just fine, thank you very much.

Why? My hunch is that it’s because people are face-to-face. In real time. In real life. Instead of interacting online over Skype or virtual tradeshows.

Don’t get me wrong: there is a time and place for interacting online, for social media, for Skype or Zoom.

But tradeshows are here to stay and they’re growing.

A recent (July 2019) post from Marketing Charts indicates that tradeshows have not only proven to be effective across all stages of the buyer’s journey, the channel has a projected annual compound growth rate of 4.3% through 2023.

The article shares other key points, including that tradeshows are the second largest and fastest-growing source of B2B growth. The B2B tradeshow market is expected to be a $15.7 Billion market in 2019, moving up to $18.5 Billion by 2023.

Yes, tradeshows as a method of marketing are critical to a company’s success. The money spent on tradeshows often will take up as much as a third of a company’s marketing spend.

There are lot of reasons that companies are successful at tradeshow marketing (as well as many reasons they’re not successful!), but to my mind it all comes down to the face-to-face aspect.

It’s Real Life, not digital.

How do You Stand Out in a Crowd?

Back from Thanksgiving week, a nice few days away from work. Sit down at the computer Monday morning.

Hundreds of emails piled up in my in-box. 785 to be precise. Lots of them with pitches on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I mean, a ton of pitches.

Delete them all: delete, delete, delete. Don’t bother to read them. They do nothing for me.

On a few, I decide to unsubscribe. But that takes longer. And with most of the newsletters I unsubscribe from, I feel like they keep sending me stuff. So what’s a guy to do?

It’s obvious that none of those emails stood out. They did nothing for me (I think I said that already). I’m not looking for any Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals, I have work to do. I’m not looking for Christmas presents for anyone, or to save money on things that I probably would not buy at any point. I’m busy and want to get these off of my to-do list as soon as possible, which means I’m scanning quickly and deleting almost everything once I determine it’s not a client, or a potential client.

I’m not their target market.

Email is one thing. Let’s move from email to other venues, such as retail, or online ads, or, hey, tradeshows!

When people walk by your retail store in a shopping mall, are you doing anything to stand out?

When you advertise online, what makes your ad stand out?

When people walk by your tradeshow booth, are you doing anything to stand out in a crowd?

It’s easy to ignore and delete an email. It’s easy to walk by a retail store without stopping. It’s a piece of cake to ignore ads on your screen.

It’s pretty easy to walk by a tradeshow booth, too, unless something really outstanding is going on at the booth. Maybe it’s a unique booth. Maybe it’s a presentation that draws you in, entertains you and informs you of the company’s products and services. Maybe it’s a unique food sample. Could be anything.

Tradeshows have a distinct advantage over emails, and here’s why: emails go out to people who have (supposedly) opted-in to a company’s pitches. But over time, it’s not uncommon for that company – which is often owned by another entity – to share that email address with another company, and soon you’re getting pitches from (somewhat) related companies or products or services. Has that happened to you? Happens all the time to me.

The difference that tradeshows have is that you have spent handsomely to be at the show. But the show is targeted, the audience is specialized. The people walking the show floor have also paid to be there, and they are usually there for specific reasons, the main one being that they are SHOPPING for something, and since you’re exhibiting there, chances are they’re SHOPPING FOR SOMETHING YOU ARE SELLING.

Still, you have to stand out in a crowd. Tradeshows have a lot of competition. Your biggest and best competitors are doing all they can to make their best pitch to the same people you’re pitching. That’s the name of the game.

Which means that whatever you do, it had better be good. It had better be worth your time and money.

It had better be something that stands out in a crowd.

TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, November 4, 2019: Seth Kramer

Seth Kramer has been doing tradeshow and corporate magic presentations for decades, so he knows a thing or two about how it works. In this week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, he share some of his experiences and hands out a tip or two:

This week’s ONE GOOD THING: Science Fiction from the Golden Era (and beyond!).

TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, October 28, 2019: Sam Smith

The biggest challenge of tradeshow marketing, it seems, is to draw attendees to your booth. There are hundreds of ways to do that. On today’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, Sam Smith of Social Point joins me to discuss the many ways his company has devised to get people to stop at booths and stay engaged.

Here’s where to find Sam and Social Point.

This week’s one good thing: the legal cannabis industry.

The Art of Tradeshows is in Hiding the Art

One of the newsletters I read regularly is Electric Impulse, a monthly newsletter from Electric Impulse Communications. I interviewed Leslie Unger, President of Electric Impulse Communications, in March of 2018. In this week’s newsletter, a comment of hers jumped out at me that made me immediately think of the tradeshow world:

The art is in hiding the art and you as the audience don’t see the work behind the curtain.

Leslie Ungar, Electric Impulse Communications

Tradeshows are about presenting your company’s BEST. You leave almost nothing to chance. An exhibit is carefully planned down to the last detail. The newest and best products are launched at tradeshows. Booth staff are either put through formal training or are at least given guidelines on how to interact with visitors and gather contact information for follow up. Multiple meetings are held, phone conference calls are scheduled, all to make sure that the graphics have the right messaging, the right images; to make sure that the exhibit colors and materials are right for the brand; to ensure that flooring or hanging signs fit the overall branding scheme.

A lot of damn work goes on behind the curtains.

Behind the curtain…

But visitors don’t see behind the curtains. They don’t see the months of work that went into the exhibit design and fabrication. They don’t see the planning that went into handling logistics such as shipping and installation/dismantle of the exhibit. They don’t see the chaos of the tradeshow floor during setup and dismantle. They don’t see the challenges that a company went through to put on their best face, to put their best foot forward at each and every tradeshow.

Think of it. Each and every tradeshow is like the Land of Oz. Behind the curtain is the Wizard (or group of Wizards), pulling the levers, manipulating information and ideas, maneuvering pieces from one place to another. All done to give each and every visitor an experience or impression that leaves them with a positive feeling about the company. The best exhibitors are those that go beyond that, though, and leave their visitors feeling more than positive. They leave them with a memorable experience that relates directly to their product. For example, a software demonstration that gives visitors the empowerment and possibilities that they just didn’t see before, and now they are leaving feeling creative and inspired. Or a product that they know they can put to immediate use that will save money and time, freeing up both resources for other important tasks.

Storytelling in a tradeshow exhibit is an art, a highly developed one. The challenge for each tradeshow exhibitor is to tell their best story with the people and skills on hand. And then to improve on it the next time around.


A Clean Booth is a Mean Booth

Wait a minute, how do you mean “mean”? As in average? As in angry?

Nope, as in “very skillful or effective” in a more informal sense: “she’s a mean bowler!”

But when it comes to having a clean and mean booth at a tradeshow, how might that work? Let’s explore.

Skillful and effective can certainly come in to play with your tradeshow presence. Your booth staff should be well-trained and know how to ask the right questions and collect valid and helpful answers.

Your exhibit itself should be clean. Having a small carpet sweeper or dust buster can help keep the floors clean. Garbage cans should be emptied regularly, especially if you’re at a show where a lot of samples are handed out, leaving behind a trail of debris.

Hiding things: most exhibits have counters or closets where personal items and extraneous items are kept. Often brochures or other needed items can be stored under a skirted table. In any event, keeping those extras out of sight helps to keep your booth mean and clean.

No food or beverages in the booth space. Yes, if you’re sampling foods, then it’s okay. But your staff shouldn’t be eating or drinking in the booth space. Psychology shows that often visitors will turn and go the other way if they encounter a staffer eating in the booth. It’s not inviting at all.

Have enough staff for the show. It’s a fine line: having too few or having too many staffers. Knowing the right amount and being able to effectively schedule the staff so that there’s always the right amount of staff comes from experience.

Knowing who the staff are: does this mean they all have readily identifiable badges or color-coded clothing? I’ve been in booths where it was impossible to know who part of the team was. In other booths, all of the staffers were wearing the same color shirt or wearing a shirt that was plainly branded with the company name.

Keep your exhibit and booth presence clean and mean for an edge over your competitors.


11 Ways to Attract Attention at a Tradeshow

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, fluorescent.

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 your product.

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?

Creating Tension with your Tradeshow Marketing

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 with another.

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 asking questions:

  • 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 freeze up.

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?


7 Questions You’ll Never Ask Your Exhibit House

Showing Up is Only Half the Battle

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.

Show up to delight your visitors

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.

What will you do beyond just showing up?

Asking the Right Questions

On the tradeshow floor, everything is important, but one of the most important is asking the right questions of your visitors.

I’ve been at three tradeshows in the past 5 weeks: two large expos (Expo West and NAB Show) and a smaller regional foodservice show.

In every show, I’m curious to see what questions are thrown out by booth staffers.

Frankly, I’m not impressed.

Yes, some good queries are pitched. But most initial questions or statements aren’t of much use to the exhibiting company.

“How are you today?”

“Would you like a free pen?”

“Still raining outside?”

(Looking at my badge) “What’s a TradeshowGuy?” (at least it got my attention)

“Have you been to this show before?”

None of those have much zing. Or pertinence to the situation.

How do you come up with good questions?

Let’s harken back to previous posts on this blog. To pose a good question, first understand what it is you’re trying to find out.

You’re there to sell a product or service, or to connect with distributors who will sell your products or services. Which means you want to know if the visitor even uses the product. Thanks to an interview we did with Richard Erschik, we know that the first question is often:

Do you currently use our product or a similar product?

After that, you’re trying to determine if the visitor is interested in purchasing that product in the near future:

Are you considering making a purchase soon? When?

Next, you’d like to know if the person you’re speaking to has decision-making power:

Who makes the decision? You? Or is there someone else that is involved?

Asking the right questions at the tradeshow.

And of course, you want to know if they have the capability to spend the money you charge for your service:

Do you have the money you’d need to invest in this product or service?

Many shows really aren’t trying to make sales on the spot. For example, the bigger expos are more about branding, launching new products and making connections with current clients, partners or distributors. In this case, what’s important is to get visitors to either sample your products (such as food), know about the new products, or in the case of other products such as electronic gear, cameras, software and more like we saw at NAB Show, to make sure that visitors were able to learn as much as they needed.

The company is paying good money – usually a lot of money – to exhibit at the show, which means that every visitor is critical. Ask good questions. Stay off the phone. Don’t eat in the booth. And don’t ask about the weather!

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Tradeshow Guy Blog by Tim Patterson

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