Category Archives: Trade Show Booths Displays

The Beauty of Smaller Trade Show Displays

The Power of a Smaller Display

On average, I see between 2,000 to 3,000 trade show displays every year. About 60% of those displays are in the 10 x 10 to 10 x 30 range. Multiply that by 15 years and that makes me either an expert on smaller exhibits … or just plain old.

It’s easy to be dismissive about smaller exhibits, in the same way some people are dismissive about small cars. I get that. A Corolla isn’t a Lexus and a Cruze isn’t a Cadillac. However, what I’ve learned over the years is that imagination, planning, and enthusiasm trumps booth size every time.

Let’s explore this from a non-trade show angle. Most of us have lived in apartments. Decorating an apartment takes imagination since you can’t make substantial changes — no removing walls, adding shelves, or painting it lime green. You want the apartment to reflect your tastes and interests, and still be warm and welcoming to guests. We’ve all walked into apartment in a soulless apartment complex and been ‘WOW’d’ by the tenant’s clever decorating, use of space, and personal touches. The tenant transformed nothing into something, often on a meager budget. I’ve found that it’s rarely about nice furniture or paintings. It’s about the details. They have a plan, they know themselves, and they are willing to put some effort into creating an attractive and livable space.

Details Matter

Smaller trade show displays are no different. The successful displays, or more importantly the successful exhibitors, approach it by having a plan and focusing on the details. They know there’s more to a trade show than buying a pop-up or a small hybrid and then designing graphics. It’s about achieving their trade show marketing goals.

Now don’t get me wrong. I see lots of beautiful smaller trade show displays with stunning graphics. We have eight years of exhibits photos on our website. What I rarely see are “stunning” trade show “programs” where the company does more than identify who they are and what they do. Outstanding exhibitors recognize that trade shows are theater. It’s about attracting, entertaining, engaging, and informing. It’s about leaving a lasting impression.

Let’s say your company manufacturers plumbing supplies. You exhibit at the NAHB International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas, typically in a 20 ft. inline. This is an important show for your company. You have a portable hybrid exhibit with tension fabric graphics, which show your products, logo, website address, and company tagline. In addition, your flooring has distinctive graphics, like water. You have a nice meeting area for attendees and a small but accessible showcase with your products.

Now, let’s assume that what makes your company’s products different is how quickly they connect. You could show it on a graphic (which you should). But, if the connection is truly “faster” then make it a game and offer prizes. Challenge attendees to connect it and time them with a stop watch. Or have them assemble a competitors while you assemble your connector. If they can beat you, they win some larger than life prize (which will never happen). You become a destination stop for exhibitors during the show.

Pre-show Marketing Matters More Than Size

Too often, we don’t see smaller exhibits as having the visibility and star power of islands. But they can. Effective pre-show marketing will drive attendees to your booth, but once they are on the show floor, it’s all about the presentation, messaging, and engagement of your display and your team. Your display doesn’t have to look like a prefab, soulless exhibit any more than a big apartment complex does. By infusing it with your company’s personality, creativity, and planning and adding a dose of clever attendee interaction, it can be welcoming and personal.

It takes work . . . . but as a very smart boss of mine once said, “That’s a good thing!” Agree or disagree,  I’d enjoy hearing your comments.

Article Author:

Mel White

What You Should Know about Graphic Design

What You Should Know about Graphic Design

  • The more information you provide, the more likely the final result will match your objectives
  • Graphic designers work on an hourly rate
  • It pays to remain loyal
  • Trust your instincts!

When it comes to graphic design, I am an idiot. I’m not embarrassed to admit it, although I probably should be since I manage marketing for three divisions. Yet, there’s rarely a day that I don’t make graphic design decisions about our websites, sales literature, email marketing broadcasts, and trade show displays. Does my lack of graphic design expertise show? I certainly hope not.

Like most marketing managers, or any manager who understands his or her limitations, I rely on talented people, such as graphic designers. Not only do they understand the tools, such as Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign, but they spend their days immersed in graphic design issues. They understand the nuances and the trends. They remind me that this color text on that background is unreadable and that I’ve created visual clutter and confusion in my effort to show too much.  If I ask them to add a “star burst” with a price, they guide me to a more contemporary solution that doesn’t reek of 1980’s clip art.

Fortunately, I’ve learn some valuable lessons over the years regarding graphic design, which I’ll share. These aren’t font, color, or layout tips. Remember, I’m an idiot. These are tips for anyone working with graphic designers, tips that will save you time, money, and slow the aging process.

Four Valuable Lessons about Graphic Design

It’s Your Project, Part 1:  I’d hate to be a graphic designer and work with most clients. Their expectations are unrealistic, their directions are vague, and their budget is pitiful. Most clients don’t know what they want and expect the graphic designer to be psychic. Clients will use terms like “modern” and “visually striking” and “colorful” and expect those concepts to be transparent to anyone. They are not, any more than a “tree” looks the same to someone living in New England or the Pacific Northwest or Australia. Take ownership of your project. The more information you convey to the graphic designer, the more effort you put into prepping the project, the more likely the final result will match your objectives. Take the time to collect examples of ads, websites, and sales flyers that you like. Graphic designers are visual. They’ll take those cues and use them to create your design. Too often I hear someone say, “I wanted something original and didn’t want to influence the creative process by being too specific or showing them examples.” Really? When did vagueness become a muse? Go ahead and be lazy. Just don’t pretend that your laziness is a brilliant creative design strategy.

It’s Your Project, Part 2. Let’s say you decide to ignore my advice in Part 1. I’m not offended, but I am snickering behind your back. Your graphic designer loves and hates you. You’ve made their job much harder, but you’ve made them a little richer. Most graphic designers work on an hourly rate with incremental time minimums. You are now paying for pondering and investigating and false starts. Each back and forth is getting you closer to your perfect design, but you’re paying for the privilege of having a graphic designer at your beck and call. If you work best following this process and have the budget, then hire a graphic designer full time or recognize that time is money, your money, and don’t complain when you get the final bill.

Mind Meld = Success and Increased Productivity. I’ve worked with the same graphic design firm for nine years. They are good, which is the most important criteria. Equally important is that we now have a history together. They understand what I want. I understand how best to communicate with them. They understand the exhibit industry and, in fact, have gone out of their way to learn about the trade show business — the graphic requirements, the shows, the publications, and much more. They have grown with us and have been instrumental in developing the graphics and branding for Visionary Designs, Sacagawea Portable Hybrid, Magellan Hybrid, and Perfect 10 Portable Displays.

The lesson . . . once you’ve found a graphic designer (or design firm) that you respect and like, it pays to remain loyal. They’ll watch your back with ad agencies and suppliers. They’ll guard your branding, even when you want to trample all over it because of a wild idea at 2 am with a shelf life of 24 hours. You’ll develop a communication shorthand, which saves you money and them aggravation. Each project is still your project but getting from point A to Z, generally skips about half the alphabet.

Trust Your Instincts. It got you this far, and unless you have a history of flops, bad decisions, and marketing Hindenburgs, you’ve learned something valuable along the way. Be open to advice. But trust your instincts. If you are wrong, you’re wrong. Heck, it was only a job in a down economy with little chance of future employment. ; – ). Finally, be amazed. There are lots and lots of people who call themselves graphic designers. Just as there are lots of people who call themselves investment advisors (GRRR!) or bankers (double GRRR!). When you find a talented graphic designer, one who syncs with your vision and your personality, hold on tight and be amazed.

For more information about trade show or event marketing, give us a call or Contact Us. We welcome the opportunity to assist you with your next show.

Article Author:

Mel White

ABC’s of Trade Show and Exhibit Marketing

Exhibit Marketing

  • Exhibit marketing is more than just selling from a booth space
  • Trade shows allow companies to showcase their achievements, build their business, and maintain their competitive edge
  • You can learn to be an exhibit marketing guru. Become certified
  • Understand and track your ROI. Creating a well-defined budget is the best method to track and manage your total investment in a particular show
  • If you need help, rely on your local exhibit consultant or contract with an exhibit consulting firm

What is Exhibit Marketing?

Exhibit marketing is all about marketing your products or services to buyers at expositions, conferences, and trade shows. A successful exhibit marketing program will be rewarded with increased revenues, referrals, and industry networking. The goal is to understand how exhibit marketing differs from the other types of marketing.

Exhibit marketing is more than just selling from a booth space. For many industries, it’s about bringing people and companies together to promote accomplishments, stimulate thought, share knowledge, build relationships, spur the competitive spirit, and reward entrepreneurial efforts. Exhibit marketing not only introduces buyers to sellers, but also fuels the competitive spirit by filling a hall with competitors, partners, and suppliers, each with goals and dreams of success. Trade shows allow companies to showcase their achievements, build their business, and maintain their competitive edge.

Exhibit marketing, like any marketing, must be learned through experience and education. Exhibit marketing isn’t taught in most colleges and universities, or covered in most marketing reference books, but if you are new to exhibit marketing, you can learn a great deal about it on the Internet and from your local exhibit consultant before risking a single marketing dollar.

Exhibitors must learn how to attract interest, to be remembered, and to turn prospects into customers. At a trade show, buyers and sellers are overloaded with choices and information. As an exhibitor, your marketing message can be consistent from show to show, or it can be tailored to the show and the location. Good marketing and salesmanship, however, are always involved.

Types of Exhibit Marketing

There are different types of exhibit marketing: retail, business-to-business, and event marketing. Retail shows typically focus on selling products and closing deals directly at the booth. Business-to-business shows focus on forging new relationships that are cemented after the show. Event marketing aims more towards delivering a message or creating brand awareness.

Exhibit Marketing Training

In the United States, there are trade shows for trade show professionals: EXHIBITORLIVE, E2MA The Red Diamond Congress, and IAEE Expo Expo. These shows offer trade show certification for people wanting to complete a curriculum of classes and seminars. The curriculum aims to cover all aspects of exhibit marketing. The classes are taught by industry experts whose expertise and opinion may vary. These certification programs, along with on-line resources and exhibit marketing books, provide enough basic information to develop an effective marketing strategy for your company.

Return on Investment (ROI)

Research shows that attendees recall only 15% of the companies they visit on the show floor. The other 85 percent are forgotten. The reasons vary. The company may have a weak exhibit or an ineffective sales presentation. Some companies are simply forgotten due to the inherent clutter and sensory overload of a trade show. This research data should be very important to you. You must never forget that show participation is a competition for attendee time and retention. Your ROI is directly related to your attention to, and overall performance in, all aspects of trade show marketing.

Creating a well-defined budget and comparing it against actual expenses is the best method to track and manage your total investment in a particular show. If you sell products in a retail show, then the revenue is easy to tally up and compare to the expenses for the ROI. If your show is one where prospecting, branding, and market positioning are the norm, then the ROI is more difficult to measure. Other benefits are difficult to measure but quite valuable just the same. These intangible benefits may be direct or indirect, and exhibit marketers look for subtle hints of these returns and weigh them against the opportunity cost of not exhibiting.

Using an Exhibit Consulting Firm

If conducting research on the web or taking exhibit-marketing seminars isn’t sufficient, you may want to consider using a consulting firm that specializes in helping companies succeed with their exhibit marketing efforts. Often these consulting firms cover general marketing as well as exhibit marketing. These firms provide a fresh perspective and advice based on years of experience. Typically, they bring a level of seasoned exhibit marketing experience along with the desire to find successful marketing solutions for your company.

Survey Service Providers

If you are looking for research information to support your exhibit marketing decisions, there are companies that provide research and survey services for this purpose. Speak with an exhibit consultant about which firms the consultant recommends.

For more information about trade show or event marketing, give us a call or Contact Us. We welcome the opportunity to assist you with your next event.

Article Author:

Mel White
Classic Exhibits Inc.

Do You Believe in Trade Shows?

Do You Believe in Trade Shows?

Most exhibitors don’t have a plan when it comes to trade show marketing. They purchase a display, which they think is THE PLAN. So before I harangue you with the obvious suggestions, let’s talk. Really talk.

You are probably a sales/marketing professional if you are reading this. You rely on Act-On, Marketo, or HubSpot for automation. You use CRM software like SalesForce or Infusionsoft. You have a comprehensive email campaign strategy and track it with Constant Contact, Yesware, or MailChimp.

When you have challenging problems, you tap into consultants for lead generation, sales training, social media, and SEO. And, when it comes to advertising, you have a team dedicated to maximizing your spend and metrics. In this hyper-competitive marketplace, you need every advantage that money, strategy, and discipline can bring.

And Then You Wing It!

Do You Believe in Trade Shows? That’s not meant to be a loaded question. You either do or you don’t. There’s no middle ground because exhibitors who “waffle” when it comes to trade show marketing are mostly wasting their money.

That’s not to say that trade shows are the same as trade shows pre-Internet. They’re not. Trade shows are much more efficient than they used to be because most attendees no longer “walk” the floor. They “research” and “shop” the floor just like they would an online purchase. They’ve already decided who they’ll visit days, even weeks before their feet hit the aisle carpet. Getting them to your booth pre-show is now more important than luring them into your booth at the show. stk313213rkn

Do You Believe in Metrics and ROI? Of course you do. Imagine conducted a sales/marketing meeting or presentation without metrics. You love numbers. You love studying and reciting them to others like parables from the Bible. You get visibly excited using a spreadsheet to compare the Toledo to the Albuquerque office.

But, when it comes to your trade show marketing, you are like a four-year old with blocks, relying on the # of leads to judge success. Sadly, you pat yourself on the back if the leads are electronic and not a roll of paper cascading off the counter. For most exhibitors, anything beyond that falls into quantitative voodoo. There’s no measuring costs per show, return on sales, or contribution margin per client.

Are You a Good Judge of People? You should be. It’s kinda required for anyone in sales and marketing. At every trade show, you are doing two things: meeting with customers and suppliers and evaluating your trade show staff. Far too often, we are spectacular at the first and abysmal at the second. We view trade show staffing along the same lines as a wedding invitation — the more the merrier and we pray no one gets so drunk they puke in public. When we do hold staffers accountable, it’s condensed into a pre-show rally which includes 10 minute booth training. It’s a joke.

Are You an Expert in 3D Marketing? I won’t bother to feed your ego on this one. You aren’t an expert. Not even close. You may be an expert at banner ads or print advertising or closing techniques, but you probably don’t know squat about exhibit design and trade show marketing. How do I know? Experience working with exhibitors and walking shows. Now, don’t misunderstand me. You know marketing and you know sales, but you decided at some point to believe that trade show marketing is more of the same. It is and it isn’t, and you’ll blow a ton of money until you know what works and what doesn’t.

Take Some Advice from a Trade Show Professional

VK-5088aaI mean this literally. Take some advice from a trade show professional.

1. Work with your Exhibit House. Exhibit Houses and Distributors do much more than design and build exhibits. They work with exhibitors on strategy, show services, ROI tracking, booth training, etc. They see the painful mistakes that their clients make that cost them money and prevent them from succeeding at trade shows. Believe me . . . they want your trade show marketing to be wildly successful. That way you’ll add more shows to your schedule, you’ll purchase new exhibits, and you’ll tap into their services.

2. Work with Independent Consultants. Like any industry, the trade show industry has seasoned independent consultants who want to share their advice for a fee. Some are generalists. Others specialize in booth staff training or ROI measuring or social media marketing or lead generation or overall trade show marketing. They know their stuff. They are paid to know their stuff. Don’t know who they are? Ask your exhibit house or use this niffy tool called Google. That said . . . always get references and do your homework.

3. Become an Expert. You can either continue to whine or you can take classes at EXHIBITOR or the E2MA Red Diamond Congress. There are hundreds of classes each year on every imaginable topic related to trade shows and trade show marketing. The classes are a great place to meet industry professionals and share your successes and failures with colleagues. For such a big industry, it’s actually a very small community.

No one can know everything. And what’s true for marketing automation software or social media advertising is also true for trade shows. Know what you don’t know and for everything else, seek help.

Article Author:

Mel White
Classic Exhibits Inc.

10 Tips for Any Trade Show Newbie

Trade shows can intimidate anyone new to exhibit marketing. The best course is to dive into the pool. The following tips — from the shallow end of the pool — will get you started. When it’s time to swim laps, review the other 50+ Trade Show Articlesguaranteed to turn you into Michael Phelps (or Mark Spitz for those of us with grey hair).

10 Tips for any Trade Show Novice 

1. A trade show is neither a vacation nor a death sentence. Although it may feel like a death sentence during teardown.

2. Be nice to the labor. They can solve most problems or create headaches. The Golden Rule applies until they piss you off. When they do, contact your I&D labor provider or show management. Also, the laborer(s) in your booth didn’t write the hall rules. If you disagree with the rules, contact your I&D labor provider or show management.

3. Breath mints are more valuable than gold or platinum at a trade show.

4. Comfortable shoes are more valuable than breath mints, unless you are wearing comfortable shoes and chatting with someone who clearly needs a 3 lb. breath mint.

5. Rule of Three — This is a sad but true fact regarding labor at most trade shows. If three people are assigned to your booth, one person will be a star, one person will be average, one person will be a dufus. Hire nine people and you’re guaranteed to have three stars and three dufasses. Sometimes you get lucky, and the ratio works in your favor. Sometimes not (I could name show halls where this is guaranteed to happen, but I’d have to check under my hood every time I start my car).

6. No two shows are the same. Think of each show as a first date. Look your best and do your homework about the show, the attendees, and your competitors.

7. Every exhibitor has a “Joe.” He drinks too much, gambles too much, and wanders too much. He’s like the explorer Ferdinand Magellan, constantly circumnavigating the show hall. About a half a dozen times a day, you’ll wonder what happened to Joe. Five minutes ago he was sucking down his third espresso, leaning on the counter, and ogling anything with two X chromosomes. Suddenly he’s gone . . . again.

8. Be ruthless about evaluating your show graphics. Everything else is secondary. Replace them BEFORE they need to be replaced.

9. I Bet You 50 Bucks You’ll Forget One of the Following:  wire management for the exhibit, cleaning supplies, business cards, belt (happens to me at least twice year . . . two belts in Las Vegas = one mortgage payment), lip balm (again, crazy, ridiculously expensive in Vegas), phone charger, your moral compass.

10. FINALLY, work with professionals, whether it’s a graphic designer, an exhibit consultant, or a certified trade show manager. Trade show exhibit marketing is a craft learned the hard way through trial and error.  It’s easy to burn through a lot of money before you finally figure out what works and what doesn’t work. Don’t stumble through a year or two of mistakes when you can rely on experts who can save you time, money, and embarrassment.

Bonus Tip:  For goodness sake, get some fresh air and a little sunshine once in awhile! Your mood will improve by a 1000 percent. And just once, put on the workout gear you bring to every show, put in the dresser drawer, and repack (unused) in your suitcase. Exercise is good.

For more information about trade show or event marketing, give us a call or Contact Us. We welcome the opportunity to assist you with your next event.

Article Author:

Mel White
Classic Exhibits Inc.

What Not to Wear (at a Trade Show)

Are They Really Wearing That? 

I’m no fashion expert. The yellow sweater I wear all winter is a dead giveaway. But you don’t have to be a member of the fashion police to spot these faux pas. Wear what you want if you’re an attendee, but as an exhibitor, you may want to consider these suggestions.

Men

New Shoes — Who hasn’t made this mistake and regretted it? After all, you want to look your best so you purchase new shoes. They look great, but they hurt like hell after Day 1. By Day 3, your blisters have blisters. Shoe Rule #2 – Take a little initiative sport and shine those puppies. Or at least get them shined at the airport while you’re waiting for your plane. It’s cheap even with a generous tip. Shoe Rule #3 – The belt is supposed to match the shoes guys! A brown belt with black shoes? Your mother would be appalled.

Golf Clothing — Here’s the easy way to decide on golf clothing. If it looks great on the golf course, it looks silly at a trade show. I don’t care if it’s the latest high-tech, super-duper sweat-wicking material. It’s still golf clothing. Now there are exceptions to every rule, such as a sports-related show, but in general, just remember there’s a reason why Fortune 500 executives don’t wear golf shirts and slacks to negotiate multi-million dollar deals.

Slacks — If your pants have a drawstring and elastic ankle cuffs, DON”T WEAR THEM. You can pretend they’re fashion fleece or casual Sansabelt pants all you want. Everyone else knows they’re sweats.

Slacks (cont.) — We all pretend we haven’t gained weight. But we have. Don’t wait until 7 am on the first day of the show to discover your pants don’t fit or they have that telltale “V” pucker between the waist and zipper. Unless I missed something important in Biology class, blood flow is important.

Women

Shoes — For some reason, which I’ll never fully understand, women love to punish themselves. Even more than men, they wear new shoes to the show, and then do the unthinkable by wearing high heels with pointy toes. Ladies, and I say this with all seriousness, you’re beautiful. High heel shoes do not make you more beautiful. If you are angling for a freak with a high heal foot fetish, take out a personal ad (SWF seeks MHHFFF).

Pantyhose — Another medieval torture device invented to punish women.

Perfume/Cologne — Do you remember the dirt cloud that surrounded Pigpen in the Peanuts cartoon? Some women (and some men) wear the fragrance equivalent by dousing themselves in perfume. Perfume should be alluring, not painful. Here’s a tip for applying the proper amount:  rub on only one free sample from the magazine.

Undies — Let’s just say that if you feel the need to make adjustments more than twice a day, you are probably wearing the wrong underwear.

Earrings — I’m going to catch some heat on this one. Let me be clear. Earrings are fine, but if your ears look like a Claire’s Accessories rack, you may want to remove 6-8 pairs. Lips, tongue, nose, eyebrow, and skull piercings are a matter of personal preference, corporate policy, and cult affiliation.

Pockets — Just the opposite actually. Men always have pockets. As an exhibitor, you need pockets for business cards, pens, trinkets, breath mints, etc. I’m not talking about a safari jacket with 37 pockets, but a dress jacket or skirt with two pockets will make your life much easier in the booth.

My sincere thanks to the fashion forward exhibitors at EXHIBITORLIVE for their suggestions, some of which cannot be printed without an R or X rating. Suffice to say that the term “cleavage” was a contentious topic between men and women. What did we miss? We’d love to hear your “What Not to Wear” suggestions and comments.

For more information about trade show or event marketing, give us a call or Contact Us. We welcome the opportunity to assist you with your next event.

Article Author:

Mel White
Classic Exhibits Inc.

What’s the Expiration Date of Your Trade Show Display?

Has Your Exhibit Passed Its Freshness Date? 

Trade show displays, like yogurt and milk, have expiration dates. While it may not be printed on the box, it’s not hard to spot one that’s starting to spoil. Here are 20 Clues it’s time to buy a new exhibit.

You Know It’s Starting to Smell When . . .

1. Graphics are attached with Velcro to a fabric backwall. While that may be OK for a FFA display at the county fair, it’s no longer acceptable at a professional trade show.

2. I&D won’t touch your property without hazardous duty pay. When show labor has to don hazmat suits before starting an install, that’s not a good sign.

3. Duct tape is an important design element. And you’re excited it now comes in designer colors — Baja Blue and Desert Sunset Yellow.

4. When your booth was purchased, a quarter could transform your hotel bed into Vibrating Magic Fingers. Ahhhhhh!

5. Attendees compliment the “vintage” theme of your booth and graphics. “Very retro!”

6. You decide to re-print your graphics and hand the graphic designer a floppy disk.

7. There are more “just in case” parts than actual display parts.

8. The shipping labels have added 50 pounds to the weight.

9. You lust over the two $99 banner stands in the adjacent booth.

10. The No Questions Asked Lifetime Warranty has expired.

11. It smells like the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Even Fabreze can’t kill that odor.

12. You found your distributor by flipping through the Yellow Pages of the phone book.

13. Your storage costs have exceeded your purchase price by a factor of 10.

14. Your graphics have a “Happy Days” theme, and the Fonz is still your unofficial spokesperson. “Ayyyyyyy!”

15. Someone tagged your crate with the Rolling Stones tongue graphic (and you think that’s cool).

16. It folds and weighs more than an AMC Gremlin.

17. Children flee in terror as if they’ve just seen a circus clown.

18. Your competitors gush over your booth . . . . “Don’t Change a Thing! Seriously, Not a Single Thing!”

19. You found a “Win a Free Palm Pilot” Promotional Flyer in the case.

20. Your boss says, “By golly, it was good enough for Old Joe, bless his heart and God rest his soul.”

If you answered “Yes” to any of these, put your display in the compost bin. How do you determine the expiration date of a trade show display?

For more information about trade show or event marketing, give us a call or Contact Us. We welcome the opportunity to assist you with your next show.

Article Author:

Mel White
Classic Exhibits Inc.

13 Common Trade Show Mistakes

Mistakes happen whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned veteran, but you can avoid the 13 Most Common Trade Show Mistakes. So, let’s take a few minutes, while your competitors are reading about Lindsey Lohan or watching reruns of Jersey Shore, to super-size your trade show marketing skills.

1. Going Too Big 

We all think we’re the big dog on the block, but we’re not. If you’re new to trade show marketing, starting with an inline 10 x 10 or 10 x 20 may make more sense. You learn what works — from graphics to display configurations — before investing in an island exhibit. For example, you’d be surprised how many folks think they need an enclosed conference room only to discover that their clients are more comfortable with an informal meeting area.

Most organizations participate in multiple trade shows each year. There’s usually a pecking order to those shows where some are more important than others. It may not make sense to “go big” at the secondary trade shows, when you could invest that money in your main show (where you’ll generate more leads and kick the bejesus out of your competitors).

2. Going Too Small

In general, smaller exhibits get less traffic than larger exhibits, if for no other reason than location. Bigger exhibits typically are centrally located, closer to the entrance, and along the main aisles.  However, the largest benefit of bigger exhibits is square footage and height. Island exhibits can include presentation area(s), multiple kiosks, seating areas, ample storage, large format graphics, overhead signage, product displays. While these are still possible in inline displays, the space limits how much can be done.

There’s a school of thought that says, “At the very least, match the square footage of your main competitors.” Here’s another idea . . . determine what you want to accomplish at the show and what it will take to exceed those goals, and then design a booth that achieves them. It’s not rocket science folks.

3. No Specific Goals

For whatever reason, some companies are on autopilot when it comes to their trade show marketing. If you ask them what they want to accomplish, their response it usually “increase sales” or “generate more leads.” Really? If those are your only goals, then you might as well toss in “World Peace” and “Ending Global Hunger” too.

Chances are your trade show goals coincide with your overall marketing goals. The skill to execute them in a 3D face-to-face environment. That’s where working with a knowledgeable exhibit professional makes all the difference. Just because you are a superstar at marketing, it doesn’t mean you know diddly about trade show marketing or exhibit design. A smart trade show professional will spend much of their time asking you what you want to accomplish.

4. Cluttered Graphics

Think back to the bulletin boards in your elementary school classroom. Does that memory make you smile? That’s very sweet . . . now do exactly the opposite for your trade show graphics. All that clutter may have been perfect for developing minds hyped up on Elmer’s glue and Crayola crayons, but our older brains can’t process that much information in 3-4 seconds. We need clear, straight-forward messages. That doesn’t mean your graphics can’t be colorful, witty, and creative. They just can’t be thematic chaos. The message should state who you are, what you do, and what problem you are solving in less than 4 seconds. Everything else is just pretty paper on a package. We like the pretty paper, but we like what’s in the package a whole lot more.

5. Giveaways for the Sake of Giveaways

It’s funny how free pens, stress balls, and rulers can give us an inferiority complex. They have them. We don’t, so we feel like a second-class citizen on the trade show floor. At the next trade show, we have trinkets, and we spend half our time giving them away just to justify having them in the first place. Don’t get me wrong. I like free stuff. But the free stuff better have a purpose. A bank that gives away nifty calculators. Smart. The chiropractor who gives away a pen shaped like a spine. Also smart. But when a software company gives away plastic water bottles. What’s the point?

The same rules apply for prizes or drawings. The drawing should create a buzz at the show, and should serve as a mechanism to engage potential clients in conversation. Fish bowls where attendees drop off business cards to win an iPod attract leads, but not quality leads. Do you really want a stack of unqualified leads for your sales team to sort through? Probably not.

6. Booth Staff Not Trained

I know you’re telling yourself,  “My staff knows the products and they know the company, why should I have to train them?” True. Now recall the last time you went to the mall to shop. Those employees knew the products and they knew the company. Did you feel like you received exceptional service. Did they approach you promptly, ask you open-ended questions, listen, and show you exactly what you wanted? Probably not.

Training before the show and before the show opens each day ensures that everyone understands the mission, that everyone knows their role, and that everyone gets their questions answered. Think of a trade show as a job interview. Every person who walks in the booth is deciding whether to hire you (or not).

7. Poor Follow Up on Leads

Why would you bring your own rope to your hanging? And, yet, the vast majority of exhibitors spend considerable cash preparing and participating in a trade show and then neglect the leads they gathered at the show. Well, either they don’t value the leads or there’s no plan on how to handle the leads. Most of the time it’s the latter. What’s the saying, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

8. No Daily Booth Preparation

When your in-laws come to town, you spend days cleaning, organizing, and stressing over dust bunnies. Three days later, you don’t care anymore. There are dirty dishes piled in sink and clothes draped over the recliner. The same scenario happens for most exhibitors. They polish and preen for hours before the show opens, and then by Day Two, they ignore the smudges, the carpet boogies, and the stray candy wrappers.

Every day is a new day in Exhibit-Land. Like Disneyworld, it’s gotta look perfect before the guests arrive. Assign that task to someone every day and create a checklist. Otherwise, it won’t get done, or the person with initiative will do it and resent it.

9. Partying and Socializing

It’s a trade show. You’re suppose to socialize and party during the off hours. But . . . and here’s the BIG BUT . . . you need to be smart about it. First, you’re on company time. Even when you think you’re not on company time, you’re on company time. That’s just the way it is. If the company expects you to socialize with clients, then socialize and be on your best behavior. If someone has to tell you what that means, then you shouldn’t be socializing with clients.

Second, trade shows may seem like a friendly gathering, and they can be, but they are actually a competition. What you say, where you say it, and who’s around when you say it, can have painful repercussions for you and your employer. We are all on high alert for hints, innuendos, and outright gossip about our competitors. It’s amazing what someone will tell you, or someone next to your will reveal, after a few drinks.

Finally, and this should go without saying, socializing should not interfere with your show responsibilities. Pace yourself cowboys and cowgirls. Showing up at the booth sweating tequila (no matter how good the tequila was) isn’t attractive.

10. Packing and Unpacking

I know. You’re tired, and you want to get back to your room, the airport, or home. That’s understandable. We all feel that way. But how you unpack or pack your booth will make your life much easier or much harder. You know deep down in your heart that it’s the right thing to do. Ultimately, the key to any successful trade show is planning and organization.Your exhibit is no exception.

Carefully unpacking the exhibit and organizing the packaging materials makes the assembly go faster and the repacking much easier.  You eliminate the head scratching that invariably occurs at the end of the show. When you take the time to repack the exhibit right, you ensure that the exhibit arrives at the next destination in good condition and ready for the next show. Think of your exhibit as yarn. You have a choice. You can either toss the loose yarn in the case and hope for the best. Or you can wind it carefully into a ball.

11. Participating in the Wrong Shows (not participating in the right shows)

This one is tough. Too often, you never know until you participate. It’s kinda like “Mystery Date” where you don’t know if the person on the other side of the door is “dreamy” or a “dude.” The best advice is to ask your suppliers or strategic partners who may participate in the same show. What’s their take on the trade show and has it been beneficial? If possible, ask for specifics such as lead numbers, sales from the show, and promotional ideas. What works and what doesn’t work.

In the end, you have to decide based on your own experience. Sometimes the show would have been better if only you had done this or that. That’s fine. You’ll make the adjustment next year. Other times, it wasn’t a good fit because you’re selling candy at a diabetics convention.

What you don’t want to do is allow tradition or momentum to dictate whether you participate. Just because you have (or haven’t) gone every year, shouldn’t determine whether you go or don’t go this year. Take the time to evaluate your marketing goals and determine whether the show contributes to those goals. If it does, then go.

12. Not Walking the Show and Talking to Competitors, Suppliers, and Potential Partners

It’s tempting to just hang out in your booth. After all, it’s safe and comfortable. But trade shows are two way streets. Potential customers are there to learn and discover new products, services, and suppliers. You’re there to work with those customers . . . but you’re also there to learn and discover as well.

Every show is an opportunity to improve your “game.” What are your competitors showing? What are they saying? Are there any new products or services which would benefit your company? Are there trends you’ve overlooked and need to study and implement?

No one is asking you to spy, but friendly conversation goes a long way with friends and foes alike. It’s all in your attitude and your approach. Don’t be afraid to say “Hello!” and ask how the show is going. You want to be seen as warm and friendly, and not as a medieval fortress with the drawbridge closed. Obviously the same rules apply as the “Party and Socialize” section — namely, you need to be smart about what you share (and don’t share).

13. No Pre-show Marketing

This may be last, but it’s certainly not least. In some ways, it should be #1 if only to get your attention. There’s no reason, absolutely no reason (unless you want to fail) not to have a pre-show marketing plan. You can spend a little, or you can spend a lot. At a minimum, you should contact your customers to see if they are attending the show. What they tell you may influence what you bring to the show and what you feature in your graphics.

Beyond that, the opportunities are limited only by your imagination and your budget:  from pre-show mailings and emails to advertising and contests, and from show sponsorships to industry press releases. You already spend much of your time trying to attract attention to your company throughout the year. Take that energy and creativity and apply it to your trade show marketing. If there was ever a venue for taking risks, it’s a trade show. The conservative, Namby Pamby approach rarely works in trade show marketing.

Be bold and beautiful my friend. The show starts in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

For more information about trade show or event marketing, give us a call or Contact Us. We welcome the opportunity to assist you with your next event.

Article Author:

Mel White
Classic Exhibits Inc.

Dumb Stuff People Do at Trade Shows

It’s So Maddening!

Now, I’m not calling anyone “dumb,” so lower your kitchen knives and baseball bats. What I am saying is that people do really dumb stuff at trade shows. Consistently dumb stuff. Anyone who participates in trade shows could write a book on what they’ve seen over the years. Pre-show marketing and post-show leads would cover several hundred pages.

So, let’s ignore those and concentrate on the easy, quick fixes, the ones you can change now. The ones you can implement before your next show in a month.

Senior Management

Bring them . . . but not all of them. Bring the President and the CEO, assuming they are personable and knowledgeable. Don’t bring them if they love to hear themselves talk. Don’t bring the CFO, the COO, or anyone who couldn’t charm a goldfish into a fishbowl. Clients want to talk to senior management. And their presence demonstrates that your company is serious about the show.

This rule obviously doesn’t apply if you do 80 shows a year. Pick the 3 or 4 most crucial and have the “chiefs” there. Tip: It’s much easier to get a trade show marketing budget approved if senior management participates. 

Come Late. Leave Early

Most shows allow you to enter the show hall early. This gives you time to organize the booth and make any last minute changes. More importantly, it’s the ideal time to walk the show, see industry trends, and get a better sense of what your competitors are showing. If possible, bring a colleague. That way you can compare notes.

It’s also a great time to talk to the other early birds. There are fewer distractions, and you’re more likely to have a casual, informative conversation. Staying late has similar advantages. Not surprisingly, tired exhibitors can be very revealing at the end of the day.

That said . . . adhere to the formal and informal rules of the trade show floor. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want a competitor to do in your booth.

Ignore the Competition

Many companies are arrogant about their competitors. They see themselves as “the leaders,” so what could they possibly learn? The answer is — a lot. Even knowing that you are still the leader is valuable when targeting new markets and developing your marketing strategy.

And, unless your company prohibits it, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. Friendliness is not a crime. You may be surprised at what you’ll discover, and a friendly competitor has been known to send business your direction if the client doesn’t fit their model. Tip: Beware of the red herring. Sometimes competitors can be sneaky smart about their sales, trends, and products. 

Ignore Your Customers

It happens. It’s human nature. We feel like we don’t have to spend as much time with existing customers since we know them. However, your customers come to trade shows to learn about new products, services, and companies. They also come to mingle with colleagues, meet new people, and share challenges. They want to feel valued.

If good customer says, “I was at the show, but —

a) You were so busy no one was available,

b) I was there but just never made it to your booth, or

c) Spoke to Bob (or Jane or Homer) and they said there’s nothing new happening”

Then, you have a problem. A correctable problem but a problem.

Ignore the Social Events

As much as we want to pretend otherwise, trade shows are business in a semi-social setting. The planned social events, such as the evening gala, meet-and-greet events, award ceremonies, and receptions are still business functions. Make it worthwhile. It’s your chance to meet new people, chat with industry colleagues, bond with existing customers, and find new customers.

Can it be hard, especially if you are a wallflower? Yes . . . but . . . wallflowers have an advantage. They are great listeners, and in any large room, the ratio of talkers to listeners is about 95:1. Ask the right question (or often any question) and the rest of the night is on auto-pilot.

Tip:  For anyone under 30, Social Media ≠ Social Events. And yes, you do have to talk to people. You can’t just text them. 

Rely on Memory

Unless you’re Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, your memory is flawed, hopelessly flawed. On Day 1, you will have little doubt that you can recall every single conversation. By Day 3, an important client will remind you that you spoke for 30 minutes about a critical new project on Day 1.

Whatever works for you, use it — paper, tablet, business cards with notes, digital recorder, etc. Yes, it’s better if everyone in the booth uses a similar system, but it’s even better if everyone takes notes that can be reconstructed at the end of the day or the end of the show. Tip: Don’t let “Joe” leave the booth at the end of the day without emptying his pockets. Otherwise, those notes and business cards will be trash can casualties or unreadable smudges by next week.

Please share your “quick fixes.” View it as volunteer community service for the less fortunate who see neither the forest nor the trees when it comes to trade shows. Don’t make me stand on the corner ringing a bell for the clueless. They can be saved!

For more information about trade show or event marketing, give us a call or Contact Us. We welcome the opportunity to assist you with your next event.

Article Author:

Mel White
Classic Exhibits Inc.

How to Boost Traffic at Your Trade Show Booth [Info Graphic]

How to Boost Traffic at Your Trade Show Booth

How to Boost Traffic at Your Trade Show Booth

This infographic titled “How to Boost Traffic at Your Trade Show Booth” aims to guide marketers as to how they can increase number of visitors on their booth with the help of few tips. This infographic is divided into three sections and each section highlights what marketers need to do in order to attract more eye balls. Know about different trade show displays and booths in New Jersey(NJ) and be a centre of attraction of your target customers