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

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What I Learned From Talking Dogs

attentive

In cartoons and movies, dogs can talk. All the time. They must think we’re not listening. Or maybe they’re smart enough to know that we puny humans don’t understand dog-talk.

Whatever.

I don’t mind talking dogs. In fact, I like them just fine. My 10-year old son watches Scooby-Doo and movies like ‘Cats and Dogs’ and ‘Homeward Bound’ that feature talking dogs.

As far as he knows that’s the way it should be. Dogs and cats talking, and if they’re on screen we can hear and understand them.

It’s as if someone magically transformed those run-of-the-mill pets into super-beings that now are able to converse in languages not common to their species.

I wonder if we humans can do that….

Let’s say that we’re able to…uh…read minds, for instance. What would your booth visitors be saying if you could read the thought balloons above their heads?

“My, that booth needs cleaning.”

“Jeez, that guy’s on the cell phone again!”

“Hmmph, he should have at least used a breath mint to cover up that onion breath!”

Or what if all cell phone conversations within ten feet were beamed right to your head?

“Yeah, uh…let’s meet at the street…no, never mind, let’s do it after lunch. No, wait. Can you meet me here?”

“What’s your problem? I mean, what’s your freakin’ problem, man?”

“Yeah, I know, I know, but I really DO have to go out to dinner with her…it’s business…the boss told me I had to…”

I’m sure you’d hear a lot of idiotic and innocuous chatter. Maybe every 100th phone call you were eavesdropping on contained a nugget of information about your competitor or industry that made you rich.

Hey, since we’ve already established that dogs can talk, it’s not much of a leap to tell ourselves that we can hear private cell phone calls, right? Or read minds?

By imagining talking dogs, you can imagine a lot of wild and crazy things. Like making your booth from orange peels (what a smell!). Or creating a booth back wall of tires. Or teaching your visitors to juggle. Or sending visitors home with a Polaroid photo of themselves. I dunno – creativity comes in many forms. Are you being creative in your booth?

Are you being creative – I mean, really creative – in the important areas of tradeshow marketing?

  • lead gathering
  • lead follow up
  • booth design
  • visitor interaction
  • staff training
  • schmoozing with clients
  • putting on a demo
  • enticing visitors to your booth

If you can be more creative and interesting than a majority of your fellow exhibitors you’ll find yourself with more traffic.

The whole talking dog approach to this blog post was to draw you in and make you say ‘what the hell?’

Did it work? Did you wonder what the hell I was writing about?

If you’ve made it this far you should check out my new favorite book on creativity, ThinkerToys by Michael Michalko. I just finished it today and am already planning a number of ways to use it for future endeavors: sales, writing, brainstorming, planning, creating…so many ideas have come out of just READING the book that I can’t wait until I actually start to implement and use his ideas.

Check it out here (affiliate link): Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques (2nd Edition)

Also check out a funny talking dog joke.

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photo credit: raggio(ALL4HIM)productions

Tradeshow Time: Class is in Session

IMG_4574_1

What did you learn from your last tradeshow appearance? Did you learn that you, well, perhaps shouldn’t have even been there?

Sometimes that’s the best lesson you can learn: that the money you spent on the show was wasted and you won’t do that show again.

Or will you? Maybe the lessons you learned included the fact that this particular show was wasted, but that you learned enough about the show to make adjustments and refocus for the next go-round.

Let’s face it: even the most expensive marketing mistake comes with a lesson. Sometimes it’s hard to find, and other times it’s staring you in the face.

It could be that you learned that the show’s audience is not for you.

I recently teamed up with the Salem Business Network and Communication Steroids for the Salem Chamber of Commerce’s ShowBiz 2010, a business-focused day-long tradeshow. We prepped and planned, created and executed. And when it was over, we evaluated the results.

First, we couldn’t point to more than a handful of actual leads for Communication Steroids. And we had about 20 sign-ups for the Salem Business Network. As it turns out, signing people up via our laptop in a busy, chaotic show was more time-consuming than anticipated. So even had everything gone according to plan, the sign-ups would have been fewer than desired.

But luring people to sign up for something FREE isn’t always easy. You’d think so, but it’s counter-intuitive. When people hear that something is FREE, they often thing there’s a hidden catch or that the service is not worth much anyway. After all, they must reason, if it’s free what value can it have?

We also didn’t quite understand the audience that showed up to the show: instead of business folks, it was mostly (probably 90%) people ‘trick-or-treating’ to grab free samples and handouts at a lot of the booths. To their credit, the Salem Chamber of Commerce has tried to dampen that portion of the crowd by charging $5 entrance fee – but it still didn’t seem to have much effect. So there were few people at the show that we could actually describe as serious prospects.

Given all that, it’s hard to know how things will unfold over the next year. We did have a handful of folks we met who liked the offerings, and if any of them develop into a good client in the next 12 months we can say the minimal investment in booth space rental and graphics was worth it. But we can’t say it yet.

Every opportunity to get out into the marketplace is a chance to learn; to understand your market better, to research the wants and needs of your market, to understand the show better, to see how your people work in a chaotic sales situation.

Given that tradeshow marketing is not cheap, your best approach is to learn as many lessons as you can on as many different fronts as you can.

Doors are open: Class is in session!

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photo credit: Christina Spicuzza

Questions to Ask Before You Start Tradeshow Marketing

A recent LinkedIn discussion focused on ‘What questions do you ask yourself when deciding on an exhibit for a tradeshow event?’

There were a lot of answers and discussion on the topic, and after I chimed in with my two pennies’ worth, it got me to thinking: what does it take to even commit to a tradeshow marketing effort?

If you’re a new company looking for marketing opportunities and markets to tap, or a company that’s never done a tradeshow, it’s an interesting question to ponder.

In other words, what is the lead-up to the question asked in the LinkedIn discussion?

To my mind, the decision to even get into tradeshow marketing should begin with a handful of questions:

  • Can we reach a valuable market via tradeshows?
  • What will it cost us in terms of money and resources?
  • Is it a short-term or long-term effort?
  • How will it affect our image in the industry? In our market?
  • If we get involved, who’s going to do it?

After this, you’ll evolve to questions that may be particular to your company, but those are good questions to kick off your internal discussion.

Tradeshow marketing can be an incredible boon – or bust – depending on how well you do it.

You’re laying a lot on the line. Take time to examine it from all angles before jumping in the pond.

20 Tradeshow Exhibitor FAQs

Years ago websites started posting FAQ’s – Frequently Asked Questions –  as a way of helping those on the site seeking answers to a variety of items. Somehow I felt that FAQ meant ‘Frequently ANSWERED Questions’ because that was the point: Answer the freakin’ questions! But sometimes the questions that you WANTED to ask never got answered. So therefore you never saw those questions show up in an FAQ list.

But if you think about it, there are a lot of Frequently ASKED Questions that go unanswered. Or maybe in this case they’re INFrequently Asked Questions. Either way, it presents an opportunity to see what some of those questions are…

Maybe you have answers for these?

  1. What’s the theme song for a tradeshow manager?
  2. How much sleep will I get when I’m in Vegas for the show? Will it matter?
  3. Why do attendees ask such dumb questions? And why did my parents try to convince me that there’s no such thing as a stupid question?
  4. Will the airlines ever actually give me a decent meal again in my lifetime?
  5. What has the charge for extra luggage gone up to since the last time I booked a flight?
  6. Where’s my freakin’ exhibit!?? It should have been here yesterday!
  7. Why did I leave most of my business cards back at the office?
  8. Why did I let my spouse convince me that since the show is in Anaheim we should double up, bring the kids and tag a couple of extra days on the trip at Disneyland?
  9. How will I ever get away with giving my list of uncategorized leads to the sales department without them getting totally ticked at me?
  10. Why is it that the most uncomfortable shoes I have are the ones I brought to wear all day at the show?
  11. Where are those receipts I need for my expense report?
  12. Why do those graphics look crappy here at the show when they looked fine at the office?
  13. Where are our product samples?
  14. Why does our hired ‘professional’ presenter have such bloodshot eyes?
  15. The C-level celebrity wants HOW MUCH to appear at our booth?!
  16. The drayage bill was HOW MUCH?!
  17. You’re not going to put THAT photo on Facebook, are you?
  18. Why didn’t you tell me the CEO was coming?
  19. Can you make that espresso a double?
  20. Can you make that martini a double?

No doubt you can add your own questions to our Exhibitor’s FAQ…feel free!

Goin’ Mobile with Your Tradeshow Apps

Pete Townshend had it right when he penned ‘Goin’ Mobile’ at the turn of the Sixties:

I can pull up by the curb
I can make it on the road
Goin’ mobile
I can stop in any street
Invitin’ people that we meet
Goin’ mobile
Keep me movin’

We’ve been a mobile society for decades. But in the past few years we have started taking our computers on the road.

Smartphones sales jumped almost 50% in the first quarter of 2010, selling about 53.4 million phones in the quarter. Uh-huh. That’s a lotta damn smartphones! In fact, it appears that there will be more smartphones sold in 2010 than personal computers. Which begs the question: are you ready for the smartphone? As a marketer – and specifically, as a tradeshow marketer – are your customers able to find you and interact with you via the smartphone? And what does your website look like on a smartphone?

Let’s take a look at some of the more interesting apps you might use in conjunction with tradeshows.

First, there are apps that are specifically built just for tradeshows, such as iLeads and Follow Me.

You can access the iLeads podcast here and the Follow Me podcast here.

Both have great application on the tradeshow floor and are worth a close look.

In searching for apps that you might use at a tradeshow, event or convention, I came across a few blog posts that covered some very usable apps.

Corbin Ball’s post ‘Meetings and Tradeshows – There’s a Mobile App for That!’ has the most comprehensive list I’ve seen.

Eric Lukazewski of Echelon Design Inc came up with a shortlist of ‘5 iPhone Apps for Your Next Tradeshow’.

I haven’t used a business card reader, so I’ll have to check that out (although the one he linked to had a handful of negative reviews – so I’m going to look further). And the Whiteboard Capture Pro looks quite interesting. Again, I’ll take a look.

One more link: ‘7 iPhone Apps to Make Your Next Trade Show More Profitable’ by Matt Gratt at iPhonecto.com has a nice little list with links direct to the iTunes store. He mentions Tweetdeck, LinkedIn, and a business card reader as well.

The great thing about iPhone apps is that most of them are dirt cheap, so the entry cost, even for a ‘pro’ version is often only a few bucks – maybe the cost of a coffee drink or two.

Gear up your iPhone, Blackberry or Android…and go mobile:

I don’t care about pollution
I’m an air-conditioned gypsy
That’s my solution
Watch the police and the tax man miss me…I’m mobile!

McCormick Place to Benefit From New Legislation

It’s a done deal. The law that was expected to be passed is now, in fact, reality:

Officials of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) and the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau (CCTB) today applauded the passage of a new law meant to reform labor rules, establish exhibitor rights and realign McCormick Place operations with its major competitors in the convention and trade show industry.

Downtown Chicago

The new law calls for (according to today’s press release):

• New labor work rules that reduce crew sizes, require less overtime pay and eliminate hassles for customers.
• Expanding exhibitor rights, allowing customers to do their own work, regardless of booth size.
• The appointment of a Trustee, former MPEA CEO Jim Reilly, to oversee operations during an 18 month transition period and select a private manager for McCormick Place.
• Restructuring capital debt to allow the MPEA to further lower costs to customers and put the MPEA on sound financial footing.
• Allowing shows to select outside electrical and food service contractors.
• Auditing contracts to ensure savings are passed on to customers.
• Make recommendations to whether Navy Pier should remain in control by the Authority or become an independent entity.

I’ve only been to McCormick Place once and was pretty impressed – a very nice hall for all the big shows that come through. Let’s hope this law does what its intended to do.

For more information, click here…

Focus Group at a Tradeshow?

coloring

I spent a couple of hours this week as part of a focus group for Portland adult alternative radio station KINK.FM. There were about 18 of us, and I found it to be a very interesting experience. Having worked in radio for more than 25 years (I left the industry in 2002), it was interesting to experience being on the ‘other side’ for once.

I’ve seen focus groups, read about them, helped form them…but never been on the other side of the coin.

We were asked a lot of questions about our favorite stations, fave music, likes and dislikes about the station. All the stuff you might expect. For 90 minutes the facilitator guided us through a number of topics, while KINK’s Program Director scribbled notes quietly.

To the radio station, each of us represented thousands of their listeners or potential listeners, so they listened closely to what we had to say.

Do you do any market research in your industry? If you’re a professional speaker, do you take time to find out what your audience wants? Do you ask them what they DON’T like? Do you ask them what’s missing?

KINK.FM did all that and more. They fed us and gave us free CD’s and bumper stickers, too!

Now…here’s your task: can you use a tradeshow as a focus group of sorts? If so, how?

Would you have a short questionnaire that you can use to engage booth visitors? Can you set up a short demo of a new product and get their reaction? Can you show them mockups of a half-dozen proposed ads that your ad agency has conjured up? Should you bother to waste their time with annoying questions like ‘what do you think of this…?’?

Of course you can. You’re paying good money for your booth space. You have an audience of people that are interested in your industry – and probably your products – or they wouldn’t have paid to attend the show.

So take advantage of the situation. Set up your own series of mini focus groups during the show, and mine them for useful information.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll unearth a gem!

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photo credit: crazyoctopus

The Cold Call I Got Today

I so have to Call round

Cold calling isn’t rocket science. If you’re in sales, you gotta do them at some point in your career. Heck, I do cold calling on occasion. You never know what you’re going to get. But before I pick up the phone, I want to make sure I have a good prospect. So I ask questions of myself:

Do I know if this company exhibits at shows? If so, what shows? Who’s the person that directs that effort? Is he/she the decision maker? What have they done in the past? How many shows a year do they currently attend?

Y’know, that kind of thing. A little ‘market research’ so you might have a clue as to where a conversation might go, or to perhaps keep up if it takes a swift turn.

This morning I received a cold call from a sales woman who hadn’t done much of anything before dialing my number:

She: Hi, I’m with (insert company name). Do you do any business with the federal government?
Me: Yes…But I’m not sure exactly what it is you want from me. We already do a fair amount of business with the federal government.
She: You do? I’m not sure exactly what it is you do.
Me: Well, I suppose if you’d bothered to check out our website or do a little research on our company so you’d know what you’re talking about when you tried to sell something it would help. Which is what I do before I cold call someone.
She: So you’re not interested?
Me: It doesn’t sound like you know what we do. Did you even try and find out what it is we do before you called us?
She: (giving up waaaay too easily): Well, I hope you have a nice day. Thank you for your t— (hangs up)

Hey, don’t give up so quickly! I might be interested in at least hearing your pitch – but by not getting a specific answer, and abandoning the effort, it was a wasted call all around.

At a tradeshow it’s a different beast altogether. It’s almost as if you’re allowed to ‘cold call’ without doing an research. People walk up to your booth, you start zinging them some pre-planned questions. Based on their answers, you quickly determine if they’re a prospect or not. But you still will be in a better position if your questions are well-thought-out to elicit responses that pertain directly to your product or service.

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photo credit: 1Happysnapper (photography)

Get Some Publicity at Your Next Tradeshow!

day 280: usa today

Once you get beyond sales and generating sales leads at tradeshows, the next biggest benefit of tradeshows is the opportunity for press: Newspapers, Websites, Magazines, Radio. TV. Podcasts. Blogs. Social Media.

Naturally there are going to be reporters covering the show. They’ve got to write about something and it might as well be your company. Ask yourself what you can bring to the table: a unique product? A new product? A major personnel switch in your corporate headquarters? Do you have a new partnership you want to publicize? Or do you have a celebrity endorser that is going to attract attention?

A little organization and legwork can yield excellent benefits. You may hit the jackpot and become a featured story in a magazine or newspaper, or even a cable TV show featurette. This could give you press coverage that – had you paid for the time and space – could be worth thousands, even millions of dollars.

Unfortunately many companies let this opportunity pass them by. If you don’t have a strategic plan in place, what are you waiting for?

Do some research and find out what media outlets typically cover the show. Are they local? Regional? Trade magazines or blogs?

Who are the main contact people? Do you work with an ad agency that has contacts at the outlets?

Next you’ll need to refine your message: what products or services do you want to highlight? Put together short but complete documents on the products.

Then you schedule appointments with your management, marketing departments, CEO – whoever is most appropriate for the news or online outlet – and book as many apointments during the show as possible.

And whenever you get a media hit, capture it: copies of newspaper or magazine articles, print-outs of blog posts; copies of videos, podcasts, etc. Use those as part of your growing media coverage kit. Play it up on YOUR company website and blog.

And keep in mind, the more you play the media game, the better you’ll get out of it. Take notes, determine what worked and what didn’t, and make adjustments next time.

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photo credit: cuttlefish

Changes at Chicago’s McCormick Place

I don’t usually do hard news on this blog, but I was contacted this week by The Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau (CCTB), who asked if I might be interested in taking a look at the following story. Having been to Chicago a couple of times for events at McCormick it’s good to see this consumer-focused legislation moving into place.

(Dateline: Chicago)

Downtown Chicago

Changes were announced this week that “truly changes the landscape here in Chicago,” according to David Causton, McCormick Place General Manager.

What are the changes?

New legislation that wound its way through the Illinois General Assembly that basically gives the customer (the exhibitors) a new bill of rights.

For instance, “The legislation grants exhibitors the ability to do their own electrical work or contract it out, and bring in their own food for personal consumption.” That from the press release issued last Friday, May 7th by the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau (CCTB).

According to the e-mail I received this week from Maura Cheeks on behalf of the CCTB, the legislation is waiting for Governer Quinn’s signature to become law. He’s expected to do that soon.

As Maura put it: “The new legislation will create a new business model for McCormick Place. This important first step was the collaborative outcome of state, city, business and industry leaders to bring a host of positive changes for our meeting and convention customers, exhibitors and attendees.”

Check out links here for more on the story:

The CCTB’s official statement in support of the bill.

The CCTB’s President, Tim Roby, has presented a webcast with Dave Causton, General Manager of McCormick Place, to discuss how these proposed changes will benefit Chicago’s convention customers and exhibitors. View the webcast and video comments here – or click to view now:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1R9IAkOCxHY&feature=player_embedded

Along with the CCTB website, check Chicago Meeting Matters for background, fact sheets, videos and other information.

Wow. Hard news from Tradeshowguy Blog. Whodathunkit?

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