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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Roadmap to Tradeshow Success

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. Famous words, no doubt, and they certainly apply to any marketing endeavor you’re undertaking. If your goal is to simply appear at a tradeshow, you don’t have much of a roadmap. It might look something like this: rent a booth space, get an exhibit (doesn’t really matter what size or what it looks like); bring a few people from the office and talk to people that stumble across your booth.

Success! Of course, since you didn’t really have much of a plan, how could you fail?

On the other hand…

If you want to talk to bring home 300 leads, that requires a longer plan and a better road map. Setting a goal – any goal – immediately puts restrictions on your map. It forces you to go in a certain direction. And the good thing is that it makes you ask questions, such as:

  • How do we get enough people to our booth to collect 300 leads?
  • What kinds of leads do we want?
  • How do we qualify the leads?
  • What information do we want?
  • Do we need to do pre-show marketing to bring people to our booth? If so, what will that take?
  • How many people should we have in our booth?
  • How big of a booth do we need to support those people?
  • What will it cost to create that exhibit?

And so you. You get the idea. Sure, you can simply set up a booth, hand out a few brochures and samples and cross your fingers, but if you really want to bring home the bacon with a bagload of new prospects, it takes more than that.

It takes a roadmap that only you can put together, based only on what’s important to you.

If you want a little help, you could do worse than picking up my book Tradeshow Success. It’s got a pretty good roadmap planning guide, chapter by chapter.

But whatever you use, if you want to get somewhere, you need a map.

Tradeshow Exhibit Configuration is Fluid

Do you set up the exact same booth every year with no changes? Or do you find that you have to make minor or even significant changes from year to year because your needs change or some piece of your exhibit doesn’t function the way you thought it would?

Many exhibitors stay the same, but many change. Frequently.

Let’s say at one show – a big one that you set up an exhibit at every single year – you have had nearly the same configuration for five or six years. That’s not unusual. Although, in my experience, most clients we work with at TradeshowGuy Exhibits do at least modest changes nearly every year. Sometimes they do rather wholesale changes, like increasing their footprint by 50% or more. Or realizing at this year’s show they don’t have enough meeting space. Or product display space. Or that some element of the exhibit just didn’t work as anticipated.

There are always reasons for making changes. But if you purchased the exhibit, you’re kind of stuck with it.

Rental furniture adds a nice touch without a big commitment

Except. Not always. There are always a lot of ways to skin the cat, as it were. Let’s say – like a client of ours recently – you have a custom booth. You spent a lot of dough on it, so the idea of building another piece just to satisfy your functional needs is going to challenge your budget. When this happened to the client, who was looking for more counter space, we suggested that instead of having some custom counters built, why not rent some counters? That way, you’re only committed to one show with the revised configuration, and the cost will be lower than if you had them custom-built and bought them. And if for some reason you really like the configuration, you can either purchase them or choose to rent them again the following year. I see it happen frequently.

Same thing with furniture. It used to be that clients would ship furniture to shows in their crates. Chairs, small loveseats, tables. In some cases, that’s a good thing, especially if the table is branded or is custom in some other way like LED highlights.

But the furniture is unused the rest of the year. It can get scuffed and damaged during setup and dismantle. Renting the right pieces, such as a nice brand-new comfortable couch might make more sense. Do the math, take a look at the options, and make the decision.

It’s all fluid. Especially when it comes to the various smaller elements of your tradeshow exhibit: counters, furniture, product display units and more. Talk with your exhibit house rep or coordinator and see what options you might have that can both save you money and give you an upgrade on looks and function. It’s doable. Because it’s fluid.

When it Comes to Tradeshow Marketing, is Showing Up Enough?

You’ve heard it many times in the past several years: the most important thing is showing up. Be there consistently. Be there with your writings, your photographs, your content, your thoughts and leadership. Keep showing up.

On the flipside, I’ve also heard for years that if you’re going to exhibit at a tradeshow, you have to do more than just show up. You have to have a good plan or your time, money, and energy are wasted.

I think both viewpoints have some validity. So let’s break it down.

Years ago I worked with a client that had been attending the same tradeshow for years. They just kept showing up, handing out samples, gauging feedback, connecting with clients and colleagues. No reason not to, it was a good thing to do.

Then they got sold and the new owners had a more circumspect view of the marketing budget and decided to look at it from top to bottom. And that year, the slight shifting of the show dates of the big show they set up an exhibit at every year meant that two years of tradeshow marketing expense fell into one fiscal year.

Uh-oh. We’re spending that much on tradeshow marketing? Hang on! We gotta take a closer look at this.

So they pulled out of that year’s show and put the following year’s appearance on hold. The new owners had to look for their reason for being there. They found it: it was a great show for them, the benefits were worth more than the expense and they came back bigger and badder than ever.

But they had to lift the cover, so to speak, of why they kept showing up year after year. And they figured it out. And now they show up year after year.

Showing up is important. As David Newman of Do It Marketing put it recently:

Keep showing up for the people in your life.

For your clients, family, community, friends, prospects, colleagues…

Show up with empathy.

Show up with value.

Show up with caring.

Show up with help.

Show up with gratitude.

They.

Need.

You.

So yes, show up and exhibit at tradeshows, but do it with purpose. Know why you are showing up. Know what your goals and objectives are. Make sure your staff knows why you’re there.

And then have fun.

Supporting a Cause on the Tradeshow Floor

What happens when you, as a company, take a stand on an issue important to you on the tradeshow floor?

As with pretty much everything, the answer is: it depends.

Dave’s Killer Bread’s support of Second Chance

I don’t see it all the time, but there are a few examples where supporting a cause is a big part of a company’s tradeshow exhibit. A part of their public-facing stance.

The first one that came to mind was a recent update to an exhibit we did for Dave’s Killer Bread. Dave Dahl, the famous Dave of the namesake brand, had a, shall we say, interesting history. As a result, in 2019’s updating of the exhibit for Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, DKB focused a large part of their messaging on an issue important to them: making sure felons have a second chance. Their main counter and backdrop behind it were graced with statistics and images offering their take on the issue.

Another recent project seen at Expo West was Kashi’s spare booth warning of the lack of organic farmland in the U.S. There was no product to taste or see, just a simple 20×20 exhibit that displayed their concerns.

Kashi warns of lack of organic farming

Another client, Bob’s Red Mill, made a change to their overhead banner touting that the company was an employee-owned company.

Bob’s Red Mill added a subtle but important change to their hanging sign.

Once you start looking, it’s not hard to see the causes that companies support in their tradeshow booths. World’s largest B Corp. Zero waste to landfill. 100% organic. Save the Bees. The free-from market. And on and on.

Sure, you could say that especially in the natural products world, showing off your bona fides is just good marketing. And that’s true. But many companies go beyond that and plainly support causes as part of their tradeshow exhibit that a few years ago would be rare.

It’ll be interesting to see how this continues to unfold, and if it’s as obvious in other industries.

Multi-Function Stands for Your Tradeshow Booth

Nothing like having everything in one spot, right? With these stands doing yeoman’s work in your booth space, you’ll find a little extra space for other things, like more visitors?

3-in-1 and 4-in-1 stands offer choices of tablet (iPad or Surface) holders, hand sanitizer, and literature holders in one compact, convenient stand. And of course, they can be fully branded, powder-coated, with anti-theft locks, and wire/cord management that gives it a clean look.

Take a gander:

Contact us for more information. Go to our full Exhibit Design Search at TradeshowBuy.com.

8 Records to Keep at Your Tradeshow Appearance

Ever have one of those moments when you wish you had a picture of something from the tradeshow appearance you did, oh, six months ago, but you can’t find it? Setting up your exhibit at a tradeshow is a fleeting moment, and the more photos you take and the more records you keep, the better off you’ll be as you prepare for next year’s show. Here’s a quick video on a handful of things you might consider tracking from show to show:

One Year Later…

It was March 2, 2020, when things began to fall apart. When things really started to hit home.

I was getting ready to head out to Portland to catch a flight to Southern California to assist a number of exhibiting clients at Natural Products Expo West. It was a Monday, and I’d already heard from a few clients the previous week who’d decided to pull out. By the time Monday morning rolled around there were still some clients hanging on, but as the morning progressed as I alternated between packing and checking email and refilling my coffee, another couple of clients had cancelled.

In the midst of all of that, I managed to set my Hydroflask coffee cup in the microwave to heat another cup. You’re not supposed to microwave it. As I stood in the kitchen with a hundred things bouncing around my head, I didn’t realize what I’d done until it was too late. Oops! Hydroflask coffee cup meltdown!

The AirBnb was already booked, as was the flight and the rental car. I had reached out to a couple of friends that I was planning to drop by to see. I spoke with my wife and we came to the conclusion that since it was all paid for, even though there were only a client or two left on the list who still intended to be there, I might as well head out. What’s the worst that could happen, right?

As I sat on the plane in Portland awaiting takeoff, I got an email from the only client who had so far not cancelled. Now they were withdrawing. No clients left. A moment later, the official email came from New Hope: Expo West was cancelled. Nothing to do now but ride it out.

The next day, I went to the Anaheim Convention Center and found that about half of our clients had exhibit crates sitting in their booth space, but no one from the company had come to the show. So of course, I offered to assist. I spent the day coordinating return shipments, making sure that clients were taken care of.

The next few days were mostly a nice little vacation. I visited a handful of friends in the area, visited both the Nixon and Reagan Presidential libraries, which were fascinating, then spent a day at Joshua Tree National Park. Got a tour of the Entercom radio building on Wilshire, thanks to my cousin who worked there. Good memories. Hard to believe it’s been a year.

Since then, Expo West was initially postponed for a couple of months. Then cancelled. Then Expo East was cancelled. Then Expo West for 2021 was pushed back to the end of May. Then it was turned into a virtual event.

Shows keep getting pushed back, postponed and cancelled. Yes, a few are going on here and there, but industry vets seem to agree that tradeshows and conferences won’t return in full until early 2022. Sure, there might be an uptick in shows in Q3 and Q4, but not like it used to be. In fact, 2022 is still kind of up in the air.

Closer to home, TradeshowGuy Exhibits is still operational. We’re not going anywhere, and are looking to when clients are ready to upgrade exhibits for shows in 2022 and beyond. In the meantime, we’ve found a way to keep moving ahead – like most everyone we know – and keep after it day by day.


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Tradeshow Guy Blog by Tim Patterson

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