Nimlok Design Director Dave Fugiel discusses the evolution of custom tradeshow booth design. Our conversation covers the latest building materials, printing technology and more.
Trade shows are a great place to stay in touch.
Let’s say you sell a product that has a long sales cycle of several years. How do you keep on those company’s radar screens so that when they are ready to buy, they think of you?
Trade shows happen to be an excellent and low-stress way to stay in touch. Let’s say Prospect Company A is exhibiting at seven shows in the next year. If you can get to two of them and greet the principals you’ll be making face-to-face contact on average every six months. This gives you an inside track on other sales folks pitching them with a similar product. And the good thing about trade shows is that you have several dozen (if not a hundred or more) potential clients at the same show.
Company managers, CEO’s and movers and shakers will attend the bigger ‘expo’ type shows, so that’s a good place to introduce yourself. Come up with an objective for meeting them – even if it’s as simple as “Hey, I was attending the show because I wanted to meet some potential clients.”
Don’t try and pitch them at the show, but do try and ask a few questions to get a feel for their interest and needs for your particular product.
Follow up with a thank you card within a few days, clip an article of interest a month or two later and before you know it you’ll be on a first name basis with your prospect.
That’s how sales are made.
A tradeshow is a unique selling environment. One where you can talk with literally hundreds of prospects over a few days – all one-to-one.
So what does it take to get the most out your personal interaction with booth visitors?
Keep these few tips in mind:
The visitor may or may not be ready to buy. Treat them as if they are on the verge of getting out their checkbook. Be personable and engaging and make sure you’ve answered all of their questions. They may not buy for a month or a year or more, but if they leave your booth feeling good about you chances are good they’ll be more willing to write a check in the future.
A visitor will probably only stop at your booth once during the show. Unless you have something they REALLY want, one stop is plenty for them. Don’t assume they’ll come back. So when they do stop, fully engage for the time they’re granting you.
If you’re tired, try not to show it. Yeah, we know you’ve been on your feet all day. But if you act bored and tired, your visitor will probably just keep going. Make a sincere effort to find out what’s important to your visitor. It may mean having a little fun at your own expense (making a joke about that yawn you just let out) so they see that while you’re tired, they really are important to you!
Guest article by Mel White of Classic Exhibits
Perhaps no term is more hyped and less understood in the exhibit industry than “Hybrid.” System manufacturers and custom builders are describing their latest and greatest designs as portable hybrids, modular, hybrids, even custom hybrids. Why the emphasis on this term? The answer is simple: value. More than ever, exhibitors are demanding displays that do everything – assemble quickly, look custom, ship light, and reconfigure. Just a few years ago that was impossible, but not now.
If you’ve spent any time walking a trade show recently, you’ve noticed the profusion of aluminum and tension fabric graphics. In a nutshell, those are the building blocks of hybrid displays. Aluminum is attractive, structural, and lightweight. Tension fabric is vibrant, durable, and cost-effective. Together they serve as the creative backbone for displays priced from $4,000 to $250,000.
But what makes them hybrids? Putting them in context with traditional displays will make the explanation clearer. For the past 30 years, the world of portable or modular displays has been dominated by pop ups, panel displays, and modular laminate exhibits. These are “systems” with defined configurations, components, and accessories. Custom exhibits, on the other hand, have offered endless design possibilities since they were built primarily from wood.
Hybrids merge those two worlds and are less systems than concepts. Hybrids start with aluminum extrusion (such as Octonorm or MODUL) and tension fabric. Beyond that, the design can be anything and can include anything. There are portable hybrids consisting of an aluminum extrusion frame and tension fabric graphics, which pack in roto-molded wheeled cases. There are modular hybrids which add modular laminate components and pack in roto-molded tubs or small crates. And there are custom hybrids which combine extrusion with just about anything else – metal, wood, plex, glass, and sometimes even portable or modular systems. As with all custom exhibits, it comes down to whatever fulfills the design and marketing requirements for the client.
Hybrids may not be the ideal for solution for everyone. For many exhibitors, a basic pop up or full custom makes more sense for their exhibit marketing goals. However, hybrid exhibits are here to stay until there is a replacement the versatility of aluminum extrusions and the bold impact of tension fabric graphics.
Mel White, VP of Marketing and Business Development, Classic Exhibits
Yup, I love marketing. And tradeshows. And loud rock ‘n’ roll. And I take inspiration from rock ‘n’ roll (and all sorts of other music – reggae, new age, grunge, punk, thrash, jazz, folk, etc…) so I thought it about high time to post a list of tradeshow marketing inspirations from my rock ‘n’ roll catalog.
Let’s see if you can find some of the same guidance by cranking up these tunes:
- “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd. If you don’t market properly who the heck is going to show up at your booth? You don’t want to be standing in the booth humming this song while your competitors are cleaning up.
- “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” by The Beatles. Transparency is one of the major currencies available for companies today. This means blogging about your company, answering all questions honestly, and not trying to hide things. It may have worked to cover up a flaw in your product 20 years ago, but in today’s connected world you’re better off dealing with it.
- “Heart Full of Soul” by the Yardbirds. When greeting people at your tradeshow booth give a genuine smile, a warm handshake and offer an engaging question. Your ‘heart full of soul’ will come through loud and clear and make you an attractive company to do business with.
- “Treat Me Right” by Elvis. Do you treat your visitors right?
- “Wanna be Startin’ Something” by Michael Jackson. Okay, technically it’s more pop and dance music than rock, but if it’s loud it sounds great. And your potential business partners appreciate the attitude of this song. If you wanna be startin’ something with a new client show them your willingness to step up to the plate. Warmly greeting people at a tradeshow booth shows that willingness.
- “I’m Free” by The Who. What a great way to entice visitors to your booth – by offering something of value for free. If it’s the right giveaway it introduces your company to visitors and invites them to stay in contact with you with the possibility of doing business in the future.
- “Takin’ Care of Business” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Yes, you’re in a far-away big city. Yes you can stay out late and party. But the bottom line at a tradeshow is: you’re there to take care of business. Do the business first and then save time for fun.
- “Rock Steady” by Bad Company. By exhibiting at the important shows year after year you’ll establish your presence and grow a business that people will love and respect. So keep rockin’ steady.
- “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” by R.E.M. While everyone else is cutting back on marketing budgets, trimming personnel and cutting corners, they’re leaving a lot of money on the table. A savvy marketer can use the opportunity of a recession to grab a wee bit more market share. When the recovery comes, and it will, you’ll be in a better position to become a market leader.
- “Got My Mind Set On You” by George Harrison. Nothing like persistence to get what you want. This cover tune by George Harrison hit Number One in January of 1988 demonstrates that if you want it bad enough, you can get it. This applies to more than tradeshow marketing of course – but it’s a great way to approach your next tradeshow appearance. Just follow these lyrics:
Its gonna take time
A whole lot of precious time
Its gonna take patience and time, ummm
To do it, to do it, to do it, to do it, to do it,
To do it right child
Next time you’re planning your marketing strategy, sit back, crank up the tunes and let the inspiration flow. And of course, come up with a few of your own (add ’em to my list if you like!)
You’ve no doubt arrived at a tradeshow booth wanting to find out more about the product or service being offered. Maybe you even scouted them out or found them on a recommendation.
But when you arrive you find that the staff greets you with indifference. Or worse, you find yourself ignored, and not because the staff is busy with other customers but because they’re chatting with themselves.
What do you do? Turn and walk away? I’ve seen it happen.
It’s a missed sales opportunity that will likely not be regained. All because your booth staffers didn’t have the presence of mind or proper training to greet you.
When you arrive at the tradeshow with a well-trained staff, you communicate a subtle message to visitors and fellow exhibitors: We Came Prepared. We’re Ready for You. Bring It On.
It’s all part of your bottom line: a well-trained staff can increase both the quality and quantity of your take-home leads. Team meetings every day can keep your staff focused and on task. A well-trained staff will invite visitors in by smiling and asking pertinent qualifying questions. They’ll determine who’s a quality prospect and who’s not, and effectively move the prospects into the sales funnel and the non-prospects out of the booth.
By taking the time to train your staff in engaging and qualifying your visitors, you’re investing in a valuable resource. And that investment will reap dividends in the real world – your tradeshow marketing ROI.
Have you ever been walking through a tradeshow only to be diverted by the onslaught of a loud steady hip-hop beat from a booth three rows away? It’s happened to me a few times.
Typically, if music at a booth is too loud, neighbors will complain and it won’t take long for the music volume level to drop to acceptable levels, whether voluntarily or through enforcement by show organizers.
So does all music at a show rub people the wrong way? And with thousands of exhibitors won’t low-volume music get lost in the hustle and bustle?
Perhaps, but there are ways music can be used effectively. At a recent show I was drawn to a light reggae beat emanating from inside a small structure. When I stepped through the door I was treated to Bob Marley’s ‘Jammin’’ and I was treated to a small art display that enhanced the exhibitor’s image.
Across the show floor at another booth my ears detected new age music that was barely audible from ten feet away – but it sounded perfectly appropriate for the product on display and added to the overall booth ambiance.
In both cases the music was unobtrusive and supported the client’s image. If you’re going to consider music as a background for your tradeshow it should do both.
What About the Legalities?
Not being a lawyer, but at least being familiar with the licensing requirements of ASCAP and BMI, it’s my understanding that any event or venue that features licensed music is required to pay a fee. For instance, if you play a radio over your on-hold system, technically you’re required to pay a licensing fee. Same at a restaurant, bar or other gathering place where pre-recorded music might be played – or a live band for tha matter. If you play music in your booth at a tradeshow, often the event organizers or convention operators will have a license to cover that performance.
If you want to play music at your booth, check with the show organizers first and see if they’re covered. If they’re not, check with your company legal advisor. If they determine you should cover your legal you-know-what, purchasing a performance license is relatively cheap.
No matter what the circumstance, moving out of your comfort zone is not easy. But busting that comfort zone is often a key step to growth.
Most clients I work with on new custom tradeshow 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. In other cases they’re moving out of the comfort zone of not doing tradeshow marketing to appearing with a small pop-up a regional shows.
That means they’re stepping into dealing with a larger plan that involves shipping, storage, drayage, show labor and more. Most of that stuff they haven’t had to deal with – at least not on the scale that a larger custom booth demands. 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.
A recent prospect made the decision to move into a larger 20×30 booth from a 10×20 in-line booth. They were ready to step up and break through that comfort zone as a company. But something happened on the way to the tradeshow. They started adding up the cost of drayage, storage, shipping – not to mention the cost of design and fabrication. Then the economy started to slide, so they regretfully sidelined the new booth project. Not because they didn’t want the new booth, but because the realities of all of the ramifications hadn’t been fully calculated. They were not quite ready for the new reality of living with a larger booth.
But there are many more examples of companies I’ve worked with that have made the step successfully. All contingencies were examined, all costs were vetted, and the decision was made to proceed. Bob’s Red Mill, of Milwaukie, Oregon, is a good example of this (see photo). When it was time to move up they made the commitment, and are extremely pleased with how the new booth has helped their marketing efforts at the larger tradeshows.
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 working through the process. They have a nicer, larger booth that proudly shows off their brand and help bring in more business. Clients rave about the new booth and everyone goes home happier.
And dealing with all that stuff – show labor, shipping, drayage, etc. – becomes the new norm. So it doesn’t take long before you’re back in your comfort zone again.
Last week I put up a blog post that poked fun at tradeshow visitors with the “Top 10 Annoying Things Tradeshow Attendees Do” – so this week I thought I’d turn the mirror around with Dumb Things Exhibitors Do.
No, don’t think anything of the fact that this list is twice as long as the other list! I just happen to see if from the exhibitor’s point of view – and it’s my job to point these things out, anyway.
So…the list, sir?
- Show up understaffed.
- Neglect to train your staff.
- Show up with nothing more than a booth and some people – and no plan.
- Forget to update the graphics to reflect new products or services.
- Fail to keep the booth as clean as possible.
- Ignore visitors.
- Stand in your booth with your arms folded (body language says – ‘stay away’).
- Wait until the last minute to call your graphic production company with a change of graphic plans.
- Wait until the last minute to do anything – exhibit planning and execution usually takes more time than you think.
- Being indecisive and letting time slip by and being forced to make quick decisions that may not be the best for the company.
- Think that the tradeshow and convention is your time to party, baby! 3 am? Sure, why not?!
- Bring a generic brochure to a show where you should be promoting a specific product or service.
- Think there’s only one way to do things – and remain inflexible to possible changes. Even in the midst of a show.
- Fail to listen to your customers. A tradeshow is a perfect place to do mini-polls and customer research.
- Failing to take a break when you clearly need it.
- Failing to collect pertinent information for each prospect: just enough and not too much.
- Neglecting to confirm with your prospect exactly when your next contact will be and what that contact will address.
- Not taking advantage of early booking for next year’s show before you leave this year’s show – it usually saves you some $$ and gets you a decent spot.
- Fail to watch every nickel and dime – so you can plan next year’s show taking into account this year’s cost savings!
- Debrief your staff at the end of every day while it’s fresh on their minds – and implement good suggestions the next day!
Feel free to add to the list of course. Just take a moment, sign up as a blog user and leave your comment. It’ll make it easier to add comments to the next post.
To see a list of 101 things a tradeshow exhibitor SHOULD do, check out the e-book “101 Rules of Tradeshow Marketing.” (PDF link)
Here’s a simple way to show off your company to prospective customers and clients from the minute you walk out of your door until the minute you return.
Wear a branded shirt or coat. It may sound simple, but look at what it does: it puts your name in front of people in the cab or shuttle to the airport. It shows your name off to people in the airport and on the plane.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with traveling anonymously, and it may suit you best. But why not take the opportunity to not only show off your company name while traveling, but to show how cordial and engaging you can be? This may be a better fit if you’re a salesman or PR person who enjoys interacting with other people, but it can work for anyone.
Some companies I know have all of their tradeshow staff wear nice branded clothing, such as a long-sleeve button, collared shirt with an embroidered emblem, so everyone on the plane, bus or hotel knows who they’re with.