Best Tips for Trade Show Success

Best Tips for Trade Show Success

In this era of digital marketing trade shows almost appear anachronistic to those who prefer the ease of conducting business via phone and internet. Yet trade shows and other events are still great ways to meet new customers, deliver marketing to a wider audience, and introduce new products or services. Here are some tips to make your trade show/event a greater success.

Trade shows can be a major investment of marketing dollars and human resources and is why some companies avoid them. If considering trade show marketing the first thing one should do is investigate the event to see if it is the best place to present your business. Something I often do is attend a show first to see if it attracts the clientele appropriate to potentially buy my company’s products or services. Generally, if your closest competitors are there then you should be too.

If a company pays to bring staff from other territories to a major trade show the collateral costs of travel, hotel accommodations, meals, and more can really add up. It is a waste of money to do all this for a show inappropriate to your business. It only makes sense if you’re going to invest major human and financial resources into a trade show, ensure you’re at the right show, and that all staff working at the show bring their best practices and behaviour to your client interactions.

The following highlights common trade show and event marketing issues and how to prevent or resolve problems to get the best ROI.

The Exhibitor’s Guide: It amazes me how often marketing managers or staff do not actually read the exhibitor’s guide. There is so much important information contained in them they should be shared with all staff involved with the show; shipping, sales, support staff and even the company president if s/he is attending. It would take too long to list the number of times I’ve personally seen people go to the wrong venue, marshaling yard, or booth space; skip preregistration of staff; not pay attention to shipping or storage requirements, and more. These all add to delays, frustrations, extra costs and frayed nerves even before the big event is set-up.

Do:  Read and distribute the kit to all staff and bring both electronic and printed copies to the show. Many trade show venues have terrible wireless service and you may have trouble retrieving the electronic copies. Choose the best location for your exhibit to really stand out if possible, like a corner location, the prime locations (which will cost more) or near the entrance or food areas. Create a checklist for each step of the event. Record important deadlines in your calendar, spreadsheet or tickler file and use smartphone or computer notifications to ensure space applications, service requests for hydro, accommodations and shipping are all ordered in time and from the correct provider. Event owners usually contract many of the services to outside parties requiring the exhibitor to order/pay for most services separately. It’s easy to miss one of these details which can create serious consequences to the success of your event. Think:  you spent thousands on a video presentation and the marketing coordinator neglected to order electricity and wireless service.

Don’t:  Rely on other people to have this information because if your company doesn’t work as a team the left hand rarely knows what the right hand is doing. Disorganization, lack of communication or understanding of what is required by each member involved will lead to chaos on set-up day and add to costs.

Plan in Advance: If you are creating an exhibit from scratch and do not have a marketing degree or experience consider hiring a professional. Yes, it costs more than DIY but a poor exhibit is poor marketing and can damage the brand reputation. Avoid a display where the table resembles a yard sale and the booth looks like a flea market. Unless you’re exhibiting at a flea market, plan to impress for best results, appropriate to your trade.

Do:  Create a plan; utilize your own knowledge and creativity, or hire someone, to plan an attractive booth or display that is inviting, welcoming, professional, and not cluttered. Use bright, contemporary colour combos with professional signage in large print so they can be easy to read even far away. Present your products and materials with innovation and attractively to be pleasing to the eye. Unusual displays and lighting can do wonders. This will take advance planning and design. At times I’ve used pen and paper to draw booth designs (similar to how an interior designer plans a space design) and since I just dated myself, also use design software if you have it.

Don’t:  Skip advance planning. Don’t forget about marketing your attendance/involvement at the event. Don’t forget to ensure all necessary staff are scheduled to work in shifts because you could wear out anyone requiring to be on their feet all day. Don’t expect all planning to go smoothly as it rarely does. There are always last-minute emergencies so minimize them with advance planning that includes a schedule given to all parties involved.

Event Staffing: Oh boy. As a marketing professional who has worked hundreds of shows over the years there is nothing that show staff could do that would surprise me. I have heard/observed all manner of blatant sexual behaviour or harassment, drinking of alcohol and eating meals, inappropriate language and unprofessional attire and behaviours from people working events. For the record, none of them by me. But the funniest and most shocking thing I observed at a trade show booth during exhibition hours was a woman working a booth who inexplicably poured a bottle of water into a glass jar, then took out a comb, bobby pins and foam hair rollers as she proceeded to wet, curl and pin her hair at the booth. She completed her public hairdressing by wrapping it in a babushka. If she had brought a housecoat and slippers too she would have been the perfect vision of a 1960’s housewife attired for bed or making the kids’ breakfast. People looked at her oddly as they walked by because she and her company were not selling hair care products. I wondered what the owner of the company might have thought about his/her marketing staff member’s booth behaviour. I remember this occurrence fondly as it still makes me laugh.

Do:  Train all staff in proper, professional behaviour when working a show or event during exhibit hours (see more don’ts below). Tell them to smile often, be approachable and introduce their customers to your executives. Ensure your clients see a team of professionals and consider having education staff or “an expert” on hand to explain how a product works; have the sales staff close the sale. Many people hire attractive models just to work at events. Make sure they’re trained to speak knowledgably about your products or services, and they are dressed appropriately. Have booth staff wear branded clothing to promote the team look. Have hand sanitizer on hand in case you find yourself located near washrooms and during cold/flu seasons.

Don’t:  Forget that you and your staff are representing your brand, your company and the team as a whole. Firstly, ensure there is enough staff scheduled for short 1-3 hour shifts each day to keep everybody fresh and alert and to allow them time for meals and breaks. Don’t allow anyone to eat at the booth. No matter how discreet they try to be, it is not appropriate while working. Drinking bottled water is fine but open coffees, etc. are often spilt ruining your table display. Don’t allow at your booth sick or grumpy employees, rumpled dirty clothing or shoes, profane language, racism, sexism, poor hygiene or other inappropriate behaviour and attire. Don’t allow people to stand defensively, arms folded in front of them. That means “don’t approach me” and don’t allow staff to sit for long periods. They will look bored, lazy, disinterested or unapproachable. Clients will fault the company for these transgressions, not the individual.

Photo by Helena Lopes from Pexels

The Exhibit is Your Stage:  A trade show exhibit is the perfect place to show off your best products, services and brightest staff. Sales people love an audience! Educators love to train! Graphic designers love a new creative challenge so let them all team up to create something memorable! Often, a company’s best resources are their people. You may not have the trade show marketing budget of Apple or Disney but that doesn’t mean you can’t have an attractive, creative, professional exhibit space. You will be judged by your customers in comparison to other exhibitors so don’t be on the list of “ugliest booths” at the show.

Do:  Enlist all your creative staff to help make a memorable exhibit. If you don’t have any, hire a professional marketing company or freelancer. Tie-in other appropriate marketing or a special sale. Depending on the trade sector, games, contests and other fun things at the booth will encourage people to stop by. Utilize all media possible; print, video, digital, and social media to deliver the marketing message and/or to promote attendance at the show. Make your space inviting and welcoming and designed with traffic flow in mind. Don’t crowd the booth with too much product or staff. Have a comfortable chair or two available for those customers with tired feet from walking the show.

Don’t:  Have poor design, booth layout or unprofessional marketing. My favourite pet peeve is when the 8-foot table is put right at the front of the 8-foot wide booth with everything behind the table. How does the customer enter the booth to look at and handle your wares if you’re blocking entry with a table stacked like yard sale deals? Put that table to the side and invite customers in. Don’t forget to make them feel “at home” so they are relaxed and more open to a sales pitch. Don’t allow your booth to look like a rummage sale. Have proper signage, professional displays and don’t allow clutter. It should go without saying to not have things lying around the floor of the booth for people to trip over but I’ve observed people tripping and falling over obstacles at shows. You risk a lawsuit over that.

Products & Services: The main reason to exhibit at the event is to highlight your products and services, right? So why do we still find exhibitors with no free products or samples to hand out? Worse, I recall several occasions when I asked for an exhibitor’s business card and they didn’t have one! A trade show is one of the best opportunities for effective marketing to a large audience, yet some miss the boat by having nothing to give the attendee to remember the company and encourage interest in purchasing. It may surprise you but many people love the branded promo items ubiquitous at trade shows. A two-dollar branded promo item could help you close a megadollar sale; I’ve seen it happen.

Do:  Make sure all products and samples are appropriate for the show and are branded, labeled and displayed in the best possible way. Depending on the item that could be actual product, prototype packaging, a demo video, or spokespersons to speak about your product. Display your products properly on racks, shelving, or in tiers to not look messy. Give attendees a free food or drink product or sample, clearly branded with your logo. Give them a promo item, attractive brochures/catalogues, USB key with “your story” or a web link; anything to help them remember you. When your sales staff follow up leads they may be able to use that freebie or marketing collateral as a reason for their call or visit.

Don’t:  Give out anything for free that doesn’t have your latest branding on it or is outdated. I attended an event where an exhibitor handed out cassette tapes with a company overview. Last year, not three decades ago! I’ve also seen companies use an event to “get rid” of stale, dated, discontinued or used products. Why would you want to do that? Does anyone appreciate a poorly-wrapped, second-hand gift that looks used and has seen better days? Neither will your client. Economical marketing is fine but don’t economize on what could give a client a poor impression of you, your products, or the company.

There are many other tips and tricks for trade show success and these can be covered in future articles. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes but learn from them. Think of a trade show as similar to a speed-dating party. You only have so much time to make a positive impression so plan ahead, be on your best behaviour, present yourself and your company well and you will win positive attention and improved response which could lead to greater sales.

And remember, do your hair at home before working at any tradeshow!

Rob Shaw Media provides content marketing, design, print and promotional marketing solutions that can improve trade show results. Click here to learn more.



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