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


What is Tradeshow Marketing?

(the following was previously published in the Salem Statesman-Journal):

The tradeshow is a unique marketing beast with a lot of tentacles and unless you control them they’ll end up controlling you.

But trade show marketing can be one of the most effective uses of your marketing dollar – IF you know what you’re doing. A recent report by Forrester Research showed the top 3 tactics marketers rely on were email at 87%, Public Relations at 77% and trade show marketing at 74%.

To begin with, when you exhibit at a trade show (not a consumer show, but a show specific to your industry), the audience consists largely of decision-makers who have PAID to attend. So they want to see what’s new, exciting or improved.

Second, trade show marketing is unique in that it’s one of the few places you can engage with a prospect one-on-one and find out what’s really important to them.

And third (I love this one!) a trade show is great for spying on the competition to see what’s new and upcoming with them.

Exhibiting at a tradeshow is more than just renting or buying a booth, setting it up and handing out brochures. The tradeshow environment is like nothing else; prospects should be qualified or disqualified quickly with a few pointed questions.

But it does work: less than three months after launching a new 10’ x 20’ custom booth at the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim, Portland’s gDiapers (now former) National Sales Director Mike Internicola said, “Our business has doubled since Expo.”

Mountain Rose Herbs at Expo West
Mountain Rose Herbs at Expo West

Mountain Rose Herbs of Eugene has seen double-digit growth for the past several years. Operations Manager Shawn Donnille says it’s due to ‘brilliant marketing’ and the fact that they are hitting several markets that can use their product. Trade show marketing has been a major piece of their marketing strategy for years.

Interactivity is a big draw. By bringing people into your booth you have an opportunity to engage them one-on-one. Usually a few questions are sufficient to qualify or disqualify them as potential customers.

Your entire staff should onboard see the entire trade show marketing picture, from the company’s show objectives to the pre- and post-show efforts to the nuts and bolts of what questions you’re going to ask visitors to qualify them. Once they see that, it’s easier for them to understand their role and buy into the company’s show objectives.

Stepping UP: Moving Out of Your Comfort Zone

Comfort level a concern

Most clients I work with on new booth projects are on the verge of moving out of their comfort zone. Why? Because they’re moving from simple pop-up type exhibits to full custom designed and fabricated booths, or at least some elements.

That means they’re stepping into dealing with a larger plan that involves shipping, storage, drayage, show labor and more. It’s not as easy as shipping a small booth case with a few graphics. Now you’re dealing with common carrier shipping lines, larger storage spaces, and coordinating a set-up staff that you may have little communication with or control over.

Don’t worry, it’s a common feeling! And from my vantage point, all the folks I work with are more than happy to have made the change, no matter how uncomfortable it may have been. They have a nicer, larger booth that proudly shows off their brand. Clients rave about the new booth and everyone goes home happier.

Even though the corporation is moving from small to large in their tradeshow presence, it’s the actual people that do it. Is there anyone in the company that’s experienced that move before? Much like a young sports team moving into the playoffs for the first time, having a few veterans around who have ‘been there, done that’ will help to ease the transition.

As in any endeavor, moving out of your comfort zone takes courage, thoughtfulness, planning and finally action. The more information you are able to detail before making the move, the less hassle you’ll run into along the way.

So you’ve taken on the challenge: you’re moving up and dealing with all that stuff – show labor, crate shipping, drayage, etc.  The simple fact that you are taking on the challenge as a company and human beings is significant: it takes you through the process. Now having been through the process once or twice, what used to be beyond your comfort zone becomes the new norm – the new comfort zone again.

Which means you’ll look to moving up even further in the not-too-distant future, right?

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photo credit: p_x_g

Are You Genuinely Green?

Guest Post by Marcia Yudkin

Are you enthusiastic about preserving Earth?  If you want to highlight this commitment as part of your business pitch, be aware that cynicism lurks in the minds of many customers.

To show that you’re not just pretending to jump on today’s green wagon, incorporate as many as possible of these factors into your marketing copy, suggested in the new book Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green by Shel Horowitz and Jay Conrad Levinson.

1. Hard facts (what you’ve done), not commitments (what you say you’ll do).

2. Substantiation for your claims – for example, back up the statement that your operations are carbon-neutral.

3. Third-party green certifications, with links that show what they mean.

4. Non-promotional material that helps readers understand the issues on which you’re taking action.

5. Advice for readers on how they too can follow suit.

6. Transparency and truthfulness. Don’t attempt to hide elements that go against your overall stance.

Your reward: The trust of those who share your convictions, respect from those who haven’t yet seen the light, and joyfulness in your conscience.

Reprinted with permission from the Marketing Minute

The Big Picture vs. The Details

You may have a good grasp about your overall BIG PICTURE tradeshow marketing plan. But what about the DETAILS?

Blurred vision

Overall execution of your plan at the show may be great, but if you slip on details, someone – a potential customer, perhaps – is bound to notice.

Some of the details to track: Is the booth clean and tidy? Are all your marketing materials in synch? Do all the colors match or complement your brand? Are your staffers greeting people with a smile? Do they fill out lead cards with all the information you require? Do the garbage cans get emptied when they start to spill over?

Details are important because they help complete the picture. If the carpet hasn’t been attacked with a carpet-sweeper and there are crumbs or bits of paper or junk, people will notice. If your graphics are peeling at the edges, people will notice. If personal belongings are not stowed out of site, people will notice. They’ll also notice if your staffers are talking on a cell phone, eating, drinking or sitting with their arms crossed.

So cross the T’s and dot the I’s – take care of details and the overall perception of your booth will be more positive.

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photo credit: Stefano Mazzone

Twittering at #ExpoWest

Follow Tradeshowguy on Twitter

A few quick observations on using Twitter at Expo West, the huge Natural Products show in Anaheim this past weekend:

1. A handful of companies are drawing people to their booths through Twitter. Many of them seemed to be amazed that it worked – but almost all that were using it were seeing results.

2. It seemed to me (again, anecdotal evidence) that the companies having the most success were small to medium-sized companies. I did talk to a few larger companies – those with at least 8 or 10 booth staffers and a larger island booth – but the response was, shall we say, a little less enthusiastic? “Yeah, I think we are – ask Jason over there, he’s doing some social media…I think.” When I talked with the Jason (not his real name): “Yeah, we’re using it. I mean, I’m doing some stuff online. Now and then…but it’s…uh…”

3. Before the show I gathered a list of just under 50 exhibitors who had posted their booth numbers and used the #expowest hashtag. I was able to meet ‘n’ greet most of them the first morning of the show. If there were other Tweeters they didn’t show up on Twitter with either their booth number or the #expowest hashtag. Without those, I couldn’t find them. Which meant most other people probably couldn’t either.

4. Some – but not all – were offering goodies for people that mentioned that they came to the booth because of a tweet. A free imprinted shopping bag, a larger product sample, etc.

5. Everyone that was actively involved with Tweeting among the smaller companies were absolutely enthusiastic when I mentioned I saw their booth number on Twitter. That enthusiasm for social media ran to other platforms: many had YouTube and/or Facebook pages as well.

Summing up: small companies can create consistent buzz using Twitter and other social media platforms if they have a dedicated social media staffer who ‘gets it’. Larger companies seem to struggle with what social media can do for them (although there certainly are exceptions – I’m just passing on observations from one tradeshow). It’s as if there are more layers of management and marketing and strategy and other roadbumps that appear to damper any enthusiasm that people within the company may have for using social media. For a larger company to succeed with social media, it’s my feeling they need to dedicate either a full-time person or – depending on their size – a small department to the task. Smaller companies can get away with using one person on a part or full-time basis for social media.

Natural Products Expo West: Natural Food Fest, Twitter-fest, ???

Waiting for the doors to the exhibit floor to open...

I’m heading south to LA (or as my friend Roger who lives north of downtown LA likes to refer to it: Hell-A) in a few hours to go to the Natural Products Expo West, held at the Anaheim Convention Center just across the street from Mickey and Minnie and Goofy and the others at Disneyland. Which is a great distraction if for some reason the Expo isn’t entertaining enough.

In the lead-up to Expo West, it was curious to see how the Twitter chatter has increased exponentially in the past 6 – 8 days. Three weeks ago I three the hashtag #expowest into the Twitter stream to see who might be going to the show…and barely got a bite.

But since late last week, the hashtag is showing up a few hundred times a day. I’ve compiled a list of 50 or so Twitterers (Tweeters?) who are exhibiting and plan to stop by and introduce myself.

The show is a great experience; this will be my 8th time. The first time you walk in that exhibit hall you’re overwhelmed and whatever plan you thought you had becomes secondary to all of the sights, smells, tastes and wonderful wacky people and exhibits that make up the Natural Products Expo West. This is where thousands of exhibitors meet with tens of thousands of attendees. Distributors, producers, retailers, manufacturers and all of the supporting vendors and folks who make the natural products industry go.

Yes, it’s quite a scene.

The first year I went I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Ziggy Marley (one of my faves) was the singer at the annual free show for attendees. This year its his little brother Julian Marley.

If You Go: What do you like to do at the show? Who do you like to connect with? What products are you looking for? Are you selling or buying? Is the show getting old and jaded because you’ve been coming for twenty years? Or does it feel fresh and vibrant? I’d love to hear any comments…!

Earth Mama Angel Baby
Earth Mama Angel Baby back wall

The company I work for, Interpretive Exhibits, has about eight booths set-up at the show. No, not OUR booths…booths that we designed and fabricated for other clients, including Bob’s Red Mill (booth 2546), Mountain Rose Herbs (2820), Nancy’s Yogurt(2780B), Natracare (3516), Hyland’s Homeopathic (1352), Bi-O-Kleen (3957), gDiapers (3358), and Earth Mama Angel Baby (4120). We also have a handful of other clients that are using booths we sold, but didn’t design and fabricate.

One notable exception this year in our line-up is the 20’x30′ booth we built for Kettle Foods in ’02. After the original owners sold the company a few years ago, the new owners took a closer look at all marketing expenditures and decided that the amount of money going in to tradeshow marketing was not giving them the return they desired. That and the fact that their image is so entrenched in the marketplace. So they’re looking for other ways to market with those sames dollars. And interestingly enough, they’ll have a new owner on board (as soon as the deal with Diamond Foods is approved) which could put them in a different direction all together.

So…Tweet-up? The details are in the right hand column of this blog – if you’re at the show and can make it, by all means, do! I’d love to meet you!

A Keen Tale of Customer Service

I first learned about Keen Shoes in mid-2008. I had just made a new friend Karrie and noticed she was wearing these pretty cool shoe that were half-sandals and half-regular shoes with a protective toe – more than an average sandal but with air circulation like a sandal. She bragged about how comfortable they were, how she could wear them hiking or in the water or for daily wandering around and they were always comfortable and versatile.

In November of that year Karrie and I were bouncing through the aisles and racks at REI in northwest Portland. I saw a pair of Keens on sale and decided to try ’em on. After wearing them around the store for fifteen minutes I was sold. Over the next several months they got a lot of wear. And comments.

I was standing in line at a grocery store and a guy looks at my feet and said “My Keens are the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn.”

“Mine, too!” I agreed.

His were a different style, one I had never seen before. But damn nice.

Before I get to the Keen customer service tale, let me tell you about my encounter with the Keen crew in person.

In July of 2009 I attended the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City. In the prep and run-up to the show I noticed that Keen was exhibiting there. I made a note to try and contact their tradeshow manager Dave. After all, I am in the tradeshow sales end of things and wanted to at least make a connection. Keep in mind that in the tradeshow industry, the sales cycle is very long: 5 – 7 years, as long or longer than the sales cycles for car-buying for most people. Companies don’t buy a new custom tradeshow booth (which is my task to try and sell) every year – maybe every five years, maybe every seven. Some companies I’ve worked with haven’t purchased a new tradeshow booth for almost twenty years. And they buy from people they like and know. So my goal with meeting the tradeshow manager at Keen was just to introduce myself and ask a few questions and see what might eventually unfold.

The show was an illuminating experience and yes I did meet a lot of people. But not Dave. I stopped by the booth several times, but he was in and out. One of the helpful staff pointed him out to me once, so I at least knew what he looked like. But I couldn’t catch up with him.

Keen’s presence at the show was extremely high-level: a creative booth built by Atmosphere of Salt Lake City using lots of recycled or recyclable materials; the promotions were engaging and creative and the staff always helpful.

I was sold on Keen and became a big fan, even if they might never become a customer. I must have told four or five dozen people about my Keen shoes and how much I loved ’em.

After the show and back in Salem (Keen’s HQ is just up the road in Portland, btw), I blogged about the show and mentioned Keen’s Hybrid Life promotion.

Next month – August – I was pulling on my Keens and the loop on my left foot – the one you stick your finger through to pull the shoe on – ripped.

I was aghast! The Keen shoe was not infallible! Here I thought they were perfect.

But no. Since I was a follower of Keen Shoes on Twitter I posted a Tweet about the loop tear:

Having heard of dozens of stories of how companies were using Twitter to respond to customer service request, I somehow assumed that I’d get a nice prompt reply.

Didn’t happen. My tweet vanished into the depths of cyberspace.

I forgot about it. Well, except when I was pulling on my Keens with the ripped loop!

Fast-forward to late December 2009. It finally dawned on me that I might get a response if I actually went to Keen’s website and contacted customer service. One of those palm-to-the-forehead moments. By now I felt there was nothing to lose: if there was any warranty it might cover a small repair, and if not – well, I tried.

In other words, I had pretty low expectations.

But I did get a quick response to my e-mail which outlined the Keen warranty. First, the claim had to have been made within a year of purchase.

At that point I didn’t even know the purchase date for sure, but thought it was more than a year back. Since the purchase was made on Karrie’s REI membership, I asked her if she could get that information – which she eventually did. And yes, it had been about 14 months since I purchased the Keens. So any claim at this point was moot.

But again – figuring I had nothing to lose – I tracked down the tweet I had send in August, took a quick screen shot of it (which included the date) and passed that back to Keen.

Shortly I received an e-mail which apologized for the lack of response to my earlier tweet. In fact, they had agreed that if I met the other warranty requirements (send photo, receipt, etc.) they would honor the warranty – because I had in fact contacted them – on Twitter – but they had failed to respond.

So I sent photos, copy of the email receipt from REI, etc. and waited.

No response for 2 – 3 weeks, so I sent another e-mail asking if they had received the photos and other documentation.

‘Yup’ came the reply, ‘your shoes are shipping in five days.’

Wow. Amazing, I thought, for them to go a little above and beyond what most companies would do and send me a replacement pair of shoes, even though my only initial communication was a single tweet.

Now that’s Customer Service.

Dave and I still haven’t met or talked even though I’ve tried a handful of times. But I’m sure we will and the first thing I’ll do is tell him that the company’s shoes are great but the Customer Service is even better.

Slides from “Social Media-Tradeshow” Webinar

Yesterday’s webinar (Feb 17) on “How to Use Social Media to Close More Business at Tradeshows” was fun and well-received.  I thought I’d post the slides so you could get a glimpse of what we went over…of course the audio track and discussion would reveal a lot more – but take a look here:

Building an Eco-Friendly and Sustainable Tradeshow Exhibit – A New Download

Note: We’ve just released a short report on ‘Building an Eco-Friendly and Sustainable Tradeshow Exhibit’ which you can now pick-up on our free download page.

As more and more companies move to environmental consciousness and responsibility, the desire to exhibit using eco-friendly and sustainable practices increases as well.

Interpretive Exhibits has been an environmentally conscious company since its inception. As more and more materials become available for exhibit fabrication, we discuss them with clients and make them available whenever appropriate.

Some of the materials that we consider during fabrication:

  • Bamboo – produces 35% more oxygen than average trees, matures quickly, and does not require re-planting
  • FSC Certified wood
  • Metals – recycled aluminum when possible
  • Paint – low VOC, organic paint, recycled latex paint
  • Tension Fabric – low weight and small shipping and storage space

Other considerations for creating sustainable exhibits:

Re-use: what possibility does the material have to be re-used in the future? In many cases old exhibit elements can be incorporated by non-profit organizations.

Re-claimed materials and local sourcing: the Northwest is a good source for re-claimed material. Using locally sourced re-claimed materials is environmentally friendly for a number of reasons: if it’s local, it requires less shipping costs. Also, it’s documented that for each dollar spent locally, three dollars stay in the community, so spending locally reduces carbon usage and helps sustain the local economy.

Weight: many materials such as plastic recycled faux wood are denser and therefore heavier than typical fabrication materials, which will impact the cost of shipping. In many instances, this is a trade-off between heavier construction and shipping costs vs. a more environmentally friendly fabrication approach.

Read the rest of the report by downloading it from our Tradeshow Exhibit Free Download page.

Creative Marketing in Tough Times

This article was originally published by the Statesman-Journal in mid-2008 and has been slightly updated.

Reaching your target market gets a little harder when your marketing budget is tapped by the recession. Even though the recession is ‘officially’ over (ask those looking for work if they think that’s true), you’re no doubt still challenged by tighter marketing budgets and other constraints.

So how do you get noticed in a busy marketing world with less of a marketing budget?

Brainstorm a little. Put on your thinking cap and see how you might adapt the following ideas to your product or service:

Picket Your Business: If your location is in a visible area, grab a dozen friends, make some signs and picket your business with signs that read “Company X is too nice!” or “Too good to be true!” or “Customer Service that’s Out of this World!” Who knows, maybe it’ll be a slow news day and a local news photographer will happen by (might not be a bad idea to alert them).

Business Cards are Like Confetti: Next time you get cards printed, double your order. Now find some complementary but not competitive businesses, and leave a stack of 25 on their counter in exchange for doing the same. Then drop by the library, go to the business book section, and leave a card in the books that relate specifically to your business or expertise. Slip them into magazines when you are waiting for an appointment with your doctor or dentist.

Pay it Forward: At the movies (or toll bridge or ball game or…) pay for the next customer and make sure the cashier gives your business card to the person. No guarantee the person will become a client but it can certainly get them talking. Okay, leave two business cards.

On-Hold Messaging: When people call your businesses and are put on hold while they wait for their party, they’re a captive audience. Now’s the perfect time to let them know about your company and any seasonal or timely specials you have going on. If you’re not doing this, it’s a missed opportunity – and it’s a low budget ploy to get in your customers’ ears. And yes, I do on-hold messaging!

Partnerships: The right partnership can double your business – as well as that of your new partner. Find a business whose clients can benefit from your service and chances are their clients will benefit from you. For instance: wedding planner + photographer; web designer + search engine specialist; house painters + window replacement.

Client Appreciation and Recognition: put on a barbecue at a local park or even a big back yard. Make sure your clients bring at least one or two business friends. Have a short ceremony handing out certificates, small prizes – anything to give recognition and appreciation to those that support you.

Offer Free Services: If you have a business that’s targeting the general population such as a restaurant, coffee shop, flower shop, etc., offer samples (free meal, drinks, roses) to other business folks. The key is to target people that see a lot of customers in a day and have an opportunity to talk to their clients at length. Think hair stylists and barbers. Who wouldn’t love to talk about a great freebie they just got, especially if it’s nearby?


Free E-Book: Write a short e-book that answers all the troubling questions your clients have and offer it on your website. If you can compile enough information, use the free version as an enticement for a longer in-depth e-book that you can charge for.

Blog Targeting: Got a lively blog that relates to your business or expertise? You should! If not, get one. If you do, strike up a deal with local internet cafes to make your blog the home page in exchange for free advertising on your blog.

Twitter: If you’re not aware of Twittering, think of it as short blog bursts that are instantly delivered to ‘followers.’ Learn who the leaders in your industry are and follow their Twitters (‘tweets?’) and let people know that you’re tweeting, too. If you blog chances are there is a tool that integrates your blog with Twitter so all your posts are sent out as a ‘tweet…’ Whatever your approach, Twitter is being used by more and more business people to pass on news, product comments, industry chatter and more.

Guest Blogging: Find a popular blog that relates to your industry, get familiar with its content and type of readers, and offer to send a free article for them to post. The article should offer useful information or unique insight into an industry situation or product problem. The more useful it is, the more likely you’ll be asked back – and other bloggers will take note, too. Make sure to include a ‘resource’ box with info on you and a link back to your website.

Articles: Write short informative articles relating to your product or service and distribute them via sites such as,, or Why give it away free? The more times your articles are read, the more chances you have to get a click back. When you consider how long articles can stay posted online, a single popular article can refer thousands back to your site.

Regardless of your budget or product or service, with some thought and creativity you can find a way to get in the face of (and perhaps under the skin) your most desired customers. Brainstorm a little, adapt some of these ideas and watch your bottom line.

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photo credit: Skeggzatori

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