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


Expo West ’19 Diary: Second Full Exhibiting Day

I didn’t think the halls at the Anaheim Convention Center could get busier and more crowded than the previous day here at the Natural Products Expo West, but I guess I’m wrong.

It was really busy, and my FitBit says I’m at about 23,000 steps as I write this around 8:30pm. So not only did I walk a lot, bump into a lot of people, ingest about a billion food samples, but my feet hurt like jiminy cricket. Or whatever expletive you want to insert.

The day started with a referral from a present client. This is what’s so great about having your company’s exhibits on display at such a big show. Someone will inevitably see a booth, inquire as to what company designed and built it, and voila, a connection is made. It doesn’t mean any business will come out of it, but at least, from a sales standpoint, you’re working with a warm lead. So I tracked down the other exhibitor and we had a good introductory conversation. Who knows where it will lead.

Which is how I approach the whole walking-the-show-floor bit. During a long and busy day, you end up standing in front of a booth and someone in the space will ask a question, which starts a conversation. What do you do? Where are you from? Questions lead to answers, which lead to more questions. I’ve learned to be patient, and be open. Since my natural inclination is to be mostly introverted, putting myself out there isn’t natural. It requires more focus and energy. But good things usually come from it. No expectations, no real agenda other than meeting people.

With such a big show, one must make a conscious choice to move from one hall to another, from one floor to another, from one building to another. Otherwise you just won’t see everything. And even when you do that, there’s no way in hell one person can engage with 3500 exhibitors in three or four days. Do the math: that’s about 1000 a day, and with the halls open 8 hours, that’s about 125 an hour, or one booth every 30 seconds. Ain’t gonna happen!

Since that’s the case, I spend a lot of time working to reconnect with people I’ve met in the past, so we can make a brief reacquaintance, which is always good for business. During this process, you find out changes: companies bought or sold, employees promoted or changing jobs, or leaving the company. That’s what makes the world go around: change. It’s what leads to new business. What worked a year ago may not work next year. Any business owner or salesperson should be prepared for those opportunities.

During the day I had opportunities to take photos of exhibits, exhibitors, mascots and get my photo taken. Lots got posted on social media – always fun to give a shoutout to exhibitors to make the whole thing more fun. Let me close the day with a few more photos!

Add a Charging Table to Your Exhibit to Get Visitors to Stay

Need to keep visitors at your booth a little longer to go over some business with them? Adding a charging table gives them an opportunity to stay and gives you a chance to open up a longer dialogue with them.

Admittedly, you may not want every passerby to stop and plug in. But in my experience, most people won’t stop unless they have a valid reason. And stopping in a random booth to charge your phone is not a reason (again, for most people).

And if you have a table or counter that’s not currently equipped with a charging port, it’s easy enough to add when you get the charging port kit.

Charging tables come in all shapes, sizes and heights, so it should be a simple matter to find one that fits your needs and desire. Take a look at our complete charging table collection here, and browse a few images and photos here:

Nothing quite like it. I’ve seen many done for a number of clients, and all agree they come in very handy!

What the Pros and Consultants Never Tell You About Tradeshow Marketing

Tradeshow marketing is hard. It’s chaotic. Much of what happens in your booth at show is out of your hands, uncontrollable. I’ve talked to hundreds of exhibitors and consultants and experts over the years, yet they rarely, if ever, bring up one of the key elements that make tradeshow marketing so difficult.

And that’s the nuts and bolts of personal interaction with attendees. While attending shows is one thing, standing in the booth for hours over the course of two or three days is a different beast entirely.

You may have a plan: ask passersby specific questions (“What brings you to the show? Does your company use our product or service? If so, are you planning to make a purchase in the near future?” And so on…), make sure the conversation is completed properly with follow-ups, dates/times, content, etc. But when the show is underway, those plans often fall away and you end up having conversations that don’t regularly get to the point.

It happened with us at the Cannabis Collaborative Conference last week. Prior to the doors opening, my partner, Roger, and I talked about these questions and the information we were hoping to obtain from attendees. We were looking to qualify or disqualify those attendees based on those questions.

But our approach was lacking. It’s too easy to get into a conversation about something else because of a topic that the attendee brings up. Or once you start a conversation, someone else comes by and asks a question. Then you get distracted. We’re all human. We can’t make every interaction as good as we’d like.

TradeshowGuy Exhibits on the scene.

As the hours slipped by, and we had lulls in the number of people walking our aisle, we’d chat about how we were trying to do the right thing, but it’s not always possible. The human element makes it impossible to get it right all the time, or even much of the time.

Having said all of that, there were a number of pleasant surprises: people who stopped and asked specifically what we did and then wanting to make sure we followed up; people who saw my books on the table and inquired about them, which was a great opportunity to start a more in-depth conversation; people who saw what we did and referred us to someone in their booth nearby to chat with about possibly doing something with them in the future.

In spite of all of the misfires with a lot of attendees, at the end of the show we both felt that a lot of good came out of our appearance. We counted over 40 contacts that we’ll be following up with shortly. Many of them could be seen as strong leads.

It’s so easy to see all of those poor interactions as a reflection of lack of preparation or skill, but I believe that’s not the case. It’s just the way it goes. Often. People are easily distracted. People have their own agendas. They are unpredictable. Not everything goes exactly as planned. But at the end of the day, if you came away with a good amount of leads that you can follow with, that’s a good thing. Don’t worry about the ones that got away. They might not have been that valuable anyway.

And frankly, in this business, we won’t really be able to come up with an ROI for months and months.

Cannabis Collaborative Conference Photo Album

TradeshowGuy Exhibits just finished exhibiting with another 100+ exhibitors at the Cannabis Collaborative Conference at the Portland Expo Center. There were certainly a lot of growers and sellers of cannabis at the show (although products could not be sold at the show) displaying dozens of samples of cannabis. Our booth – #420 – was right next to Williams Canna Company, growers of high quality cannabis. They had about a dozen samples of cannabis on display in glass containers. While you couldn’t smoke it, you could certainly sniff it – and sniff we did.

I toured the show floor a number of times snapping photos, curious to see what kinds of exhibits were there and how companies presented themselves. Here are some of those:

TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, January 14, 2019: Tradeshow Makeover

Why do so many companies come up short with their tradeshow marketing plans? Often it’s in the execution. They have good plans, good people and a solid product or service to market. But their overall idea of how tradeshow marketing should be approached and executed isn’t strong enough.

With that, I sat down with Dianna Geairn and Alice Heiman of Tradeshow Makeover, a recently-formed company, to dig deep into how companies might want to consider approaching their overall tradeshow marketing program:

Dianna and Alice have graciously offered to share a couple of items that you, as a tradeshow marketing manager or small exhibiting company, may find helpful:

Free access to their exclusive Facebook page. Just ask to join and mention “TradeshowGuy!”

They are also offering a 6-module tradeshow marketing course – check it out!

This week’s ONE GOOD THING: The Lee Child/Jack Reacher novel The Hard Way. Good stuff indeed!

Tradeshow Marketing: Are You Motivated by Fear or Love?

Is that a crazy question – are you motivated by fear or love when it comes to tradeshow marketing? After all, it’s just business, right? And setting up an exhibit at a tradeshow is just a basic business decision.

But no matter if it’s a personal or a business situation, both fear and love can come into play. Among both clients and among people I meet at tradeshows, love plays a part because, let’s face it, lots of people love tradeshows! They love the noise, chaos, meeting loads of people, selling, setting up a sharp-looking exhibit and so on. But they also fear things. Like not meeting deadlines, spending too much money, not getting a good ROI, being in a poor location, having lack of control over the outcome.

I got to thinking about all of this because TradeshowGuy Exhibits will be exhibiting at the Cannabis Collaborative Conference later this month in Portland with about another 100 exhibitors. It’s a modest regional show that draws mostly Oregon-based companies, but it does attract some out-of-state exhibitors. As most exhibitors, we’re putting money, time and energy on the line. And we don’t know if we’ll get out of it what we really want. Which is to generate more business and leads, and to get a good return on investment.

Which means I’m motivated by both love and fear. Love of this business and getting out and mixing it up with people face-to-face. Fear of having our expectations come up short due to things beyond our control.

Do you fear cows? Or do you love them?

What IS within our control are the many steps that we can take prior to the show to generate some traffic at our booth; the actual exhibit; and of course, how we interact with people. Just this week I sent out dozens of post cards to exhibitors inviting them to come by the booth to pick up a copy of one of my books. And once they do, we’ll engage them in a conversation to determine if they’re a potential client by going through the various questions a good exhibitor should do.

Regardless of your motivation – love or fear – the one thing you can control is your activity. Know what your plan is, know how to execute it, and most of all, if the plan isn’t working, be prepared to make adjustments.

10 Things I’ve Learned from 10 Years of Blogging

When I started this blog in November 2008, it was a different world. I was employed as VP of Sales and Marketing by Interpretive Exhibits, where I started in April 2002. In 2008 Barack Obama was elected president, gas prices spiked at one point, averaging over $4.10 per gallon. First class postage stamps were 42 cents. CERN’s Large Hadron Collider was officially inaugurated in October of that year. And there was a global recession triggered by (among other things) a real estate bubble, Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, and a stock market crash. And remember credit default swaps? Ooooh, booy.

By 2008 I had spent six+ years in the tradeshow world and was still making my way around it. When an old radio friend kidded me by calling me “Tradeshowguy” I didn’t think much of it. But then blogging was becoming a thing, and as someone who liked to write, I wanted an outlet that had to do with my daily routine. And since it was easy to register a website domain, I did so with Just because. Even though I was employed by Interpretive Exhibits, I made sure that when I started this blog, it was not too closely aligned with them. I felt since it was my content, it should be separate. At the time, there were a lot of mentions and links on the blog of IE, but when the owner retired in 2011 and closed the company, I kept the blog going, started TradeshowGuy Exhibits and kept moving forward.

Being an old radio guy who had a home studio, I started calling consultants and industry experts and interviewing them and posting the interviews on the blog. Actually, I had been doing that prior to starting the blog and posting the interviews on the Interpretive Exhibits website, which I was also in charge of. It was my way of learning more about the industry and working to differentiate myself from other people in the industry.

Ten years down the line, what have I learned and gained from blogging? Here’s a quick list:

  1. Blogging is a commitment. Ya gotta show up, all the time. No blogging for a week or two or three and then waiting another month or four. You have to be there, all the time. Each blog is different, and it doesn’t matter a whole lot the frequency of posting, but it has to have a regularity about it. Whether it’s once a week, three times a week, twice a month. Readers should expect you to have something new on a regular basis.
  2. You don’t just have to write. You can also post video, audio and photographs. Even the occasional slide deck! Lots of options, so you’re not stuck with just writing.
  3. It doesn’t have to be long. Seth Godin blogs every day. Every. Single. Day. Most are short. But he’s always there, he’s always showing up.
  4. You learn a ton. By writing about anything, you end up learning more about what you write about. Sometimes it means you’re researching or talking to people. But often the simply act of putting words together helps you understand what it is you’re trying to communicate.
  5. Blogging isn’t a quick way to make more money. But it does bring in clients, if only haphazardly and almost accidentally. I’ve had companies find me because of my blog and they’ve become customers. One year, 2016, two-thirds of my company’s business came about because I was found online. Next year, that was down to less than ten percent. There’s no direct line between one and other but there is a line! But people do find me through this blog, and now and then someone buys something.
  6. By posting video, you learn a lot about video production. By posting audio, you can learn more about audio production. Even though I did audio production for years as a radio guy, it’s always fun to see what else you can do with digital audio production.
  7. Blogs are the perfect platform for podcasting and vlogging (video-blogging). I started TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee so I could have a regular outlet to get in front of a microphone and camera and share more of what I’m doing. Having a weekly deadline where I KNOW I have to produce is a good motivator.
  8. You have to be transparent. Yes, you can hide some things, but a blog generally lets people see the real you. Especially if you add in a regular podcast where you talk about yourself and your business. And in this day and age, that is an advantage because it helps make connections that you might not otherwise make so easily.
  9. Blogging allows me to meet a lot of people. This is mainly the result of asking people to sit for a short interview for my podcast, but however we connect, they know who I m, and I learn who they are.
  10. By blogging, I feel I’m always moving forward. The blog is a great space to share what the company is doing, to highlight new products, shows I attend or exhibit at, people I meet and much more.

Now that I’ve (surprisingly) gotten ten years of blogging under my belt, I think I have a good idea of what this is all about. Almost. Stick with me and let’s see where it goes!

8 Questions to Ask Before Committing to a Tradeshow Event

This is a guest post by Stacy Gavin.

If you’re prepping for your trade show debut, you probably already know a little something about how industry events can transform your business for the better. There’s a reason why the vast majority (87 percent) of C-suite executives believe in this tactic as a high-value marketing strategy and are investing more and more in this niche. It all has to do with the fact that attending the right trade shows can seriously bolster your biz and, in some scenarios, it can do it without a huge spend. But the keyword here is right.

  1. How Many Attendees Can I Expect?—You’ll spend lots of time and money orchestrating your debut—from coordinating a pro-level trade show setup to booking flights and accommodations for your team—and it will all be for naught if no one shows up at the event. Make sure that the show’s organizing body can present you with measurable, historical data illustrating how many people have showed up in previous years. Note that trade shows come in all shapes in sizes, from massive 100,000-plus attendee events to smaller conventions that cater to just a few thousand people.
  2. What Percentage of Attendees Has Buying Power?—Numbers are important, but don’t make your decision about whether to exhibit solely based on how many people will attend. The fact is that some attendees are more valuable than others, and you’d be better off exhibiting to a thousand decision-makers in your niche than a million entry-level employees in the industry at large. While some 84 percent of trade show attendees have the power to make or recommend final purchasing decisions, you should always ask the show at hand if they have event-specific data. This is important if your main objective is to close deals.
  3. What Is the ‘NSF’ of the Event?—In the trade show world, “NSF” refers to “net square feet.” This number equals the total square footage of all the rooms, areas and floor space in the given event venue. For reference, the country’s largest convention center, McCormick Place in Chicago, offers 2.6 million square feet of prime exhibit space. This, along with the number of attendees and the number of exhibitors, is often used as an indicator of the size of the event. The NSF will help you get a better visual of the breadth of the venue to help you determine whether or not this type of event truly aligns with your brand image and overall business goals.
  4. How Many Exhibitors Will Attend?—This is a good metric to know if you’re concerned with the presence of competitors. The last thing you want to do is be one of dozens of exhibitors in the exact same space vying for the attention of a small number of attendees. Note: You shouldn’t automatically be turned off by events with a high number of competitors, especially if you have the ability to stand out by creating an eye-catching trade show display or by leveraging the uniqueness of your product or service.
  5. How Many Years Have You Been in Existence?—We’re not saying you should automatically write-off first-time events. In fact, new conventions often offer discounts to exhibitors and may present you with the opportunity to grab better display real estate for a lower price. With that said, we don’t recommend that your very first exhibition be at a fresh, new event. You went to get your feet wet in the trade show world by experiencing one that’s well-attended and well-run. You can then use these events as benchmarks with which to measure the newer ones you attend later down the road.
  6. Is the Event Open to the Public?—Surprisingly, the way an event is labeled actually does matter. Trade shows are typically organized to cater to those within the trade and may be closed off to the public, whereas other exhibitor-focused events—often labeled as “shows,” “festivals” or “cons”—can usually be attended by those in the community or members of the general public. If your goal is to exhibit primarily to other businesses, it’s probably best to stick to events labeled as trade shows.
  7. Will There Be Additional Events?—Trade shows and conventions don’t simply exist to help you interface with potential clients and customers. They can also help you with other business objectives, like forging valuable partnerships, finding business suppliers, getting new ideas and even finding potential employees (some execs use these events as a method of “poaching” top talent). Much of this goes on at extraneous events, such as roundtables, networking events, speaking engagements and off-sites. Make sure to get a list of all the offshoot events before committing to a show.
  8. Will I Be Able to Get Premium Real Estate?—Finally, try to gauge what kind of booth real estate you can get with your budget at this particular show. This is one of the best reasons why talking with a representative from the hosting body is a good idea when you’re planning. You can ask questions like “How much booth space can I get for my budget?” and you might find that the reps will help stretch your space and find you the best location for your buck. Often, the most successful exhibitors are those who have good spots on the floor.

Talk to Others Who Have Attended

While it is important that you get the facts and figures from the trade show organizer, it can also help if you present some questions to others who have attended the same event in the past. Pose the question among your networking circle, on industry forums or on social media to get real, unbiased opinions on the show. Once you find the perfect event for your specific niche, budget and business objectives, you can be confident that exhibiting will bring a measurable return on investment.

Stacy Gavin is in charge of eCommerce Digital Marketing for HalfPriceBanners.

Prepping Your Tradeshow Program for the New Year

A Checklist

  • Write down all the shows you’re attending and the specific size of booths you’ll be setting up. Include dates, shipping addresses, products to be promoted, introduced or launched.
  • Plan social media broadcasts and interactions for the shows. Make a list of needed collateral, photos, videos and more that you’ll need to have.
  • List all of the various vendors you’ll use during the year, such as tradeshow exhibit houses, I&D (Installation and Dismantle) groups, shippers, graphic artists/designers, printers, promotional products providers and more.
  • Create a list of the people from your company will be attend each show. Check out show websites to find out dates that hotels open for reservations. Most show websites will have a downloadable PDF with critical dates, addresses and other information. Create a folder on your computer to store this information for easy reference.
  • Put all of the pertinent dates on your calendar with reminders if needed.
  • Speak to all of your vendors to get information on what is required for updates, including graphic file specs, turnaround time for any updates to the booth or repairs that need to be made.
  • Prepare sales and marketing materials.
  • Is your event staff going to wear uniforms or branded t-shirts? Get them ordered ahead of time.
  • Confirm event registration for all attendees.
  • Confirm booth registration for all shows.
  • Confirm schedule for payments and amounts.
  • Finalize budget for the year ahead.
  • Contact targeted attendees and book meetings a few weeks out, maybe a couple of months out if it’s a big show.

Being a tradeshow marketing manager is a non-stop, year-round job. Never-ending! By keeping things as organized as possible you’ll have a better handle on all of the loose ends that come up. Hopefully this list will help you out!

Have a great 2019!

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