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

Event Marketing

TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, June 7, 2021: Kenji Haroutunian

On this week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee (now published bi-weekly!), Kenji Haroutunian of the Big Gear Show joins me to chat about the outdoors world, the tradeshow world and much more. Great to reconnect with Kenji:

Check out the Big Gear Show here.

This week’s ONE GOOD THING: The new Crowded House album, Dreams Are Waiting.

Tradeshows Help Take New Brands to Store Shelves

In all the years I’ve been attending Natural Products Expo West (and Expo East a few times), one of the things that I see time and time again is the number of small unknown brands looking to get a toehold in the crowded natural foods industry, and then to see them a year or two or three down the line as they start to appear on local grocery store shelves. And then some of them become much bigger brands, and a small number are sold to larger companies. And it seems like suddenly (although it’s been a years-long effort) that the brand is ubiquitous.

And I’ve been lucky enough to work with a few of them: Bob’s Red Mill, which was a growing brand when we started to work together around 2006. They’re world-wide now and Bob’s iconic face has appeared on billions and billions of product packages. Or Kettle Chips, which was a well-known regional brand on their way to national and international status when they became my first client in 2002. Since then, they’ve been bought and sold at least two or three times (okay, at least four – I looked it up) and are currently part of the Campbell Soup Company as of March, 2018.

We started working with Schmidt’s Naturals five years ago. At the time they were an up-and-coming Portland brand started in a garage. In the handful of years we worked with them on tradeshow exhibiting, they went from that small company to being purchased by Unilever and are now, as they say, ubiquitous.

There are plenty of other examples of brands that made their first appearance at Natural Products Expo West (this is getting to sound like a commercial for the show, isn’t it?) that I see on grocery store shelves: Brazi Bites, Mary’s Gone Crackers, Castor and Pollux Pet Food, Boom Chicka Pop, Rule Breaker and more.

I have no doubt it’s not a straight line from the tradeshow floor to the grocery shelves, but I firmly believe that many of these brands would not be where they are now without the benefit of consistent tradeshow marketing.

Check out this gallery of photos including exhibits from the show floor and how those products appeared this week on grocery shelves of a local store.

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.

Tradeshows are Returning, But Not Everywhere

A quick scan of my Linked-In feed seems to confirm it: shows are returning to a lot of areas in the country. This morning I saw the news that Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak said that Nevada would be “100% open” on June 1st. This is definitely good news for shows in Las Vegas. I also saw a story last week, speaking of Las Vegas, that Tesla’s Boring Company had completed the mile loop under the Las Vegas Convention Center. Not really related to Vegas opening up, but cool nonetheless.

The Las Vegas Convention Centered recently showed off their nearly $1B expansion with the debut of the new West Hall, touted as a 1.4 million-square-foot West Hall expansion.

Trade Show Executive published an article last month detailing the return of tradeshows to Orlando, Dallas, and Atlanta, which has also been shared extensively on Linked In.

So yes, no doubt shows are slowly coming back. And I think the key word is slowly. You might add “randomly” as well to that description since many states are still experiencing increasing COVID cases (hello, Michigan!), which means some areas will open sooner than others. And yes, politics plays a part. Pandemic fatigue also is a big part.

My big question, though, boils down to how exhibitors and attendees will balance their desire to get back to the show with their desire to believe they’re safe when they do. That may change in the next few months as more and more people are vaccinated and the country edges closer to herd immunity, but of course there are always flies in the ointment, like virus variants, refusal among many people to wear a mask in certain situations, and so on.

Bottom line: shows will return, but it’ll be months or at least another year before the whole country can say that we’re getting close to normal.

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.

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:

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