Trade shows

Trade Shows

Trade Show ROI

We can all agree the economy is still down and many companies have travel restrictions and employees tend to travel less in general. Consequently, the number of trade show exhibitors at the more than 2,500 trade shows annually in the U.S. have decreased. So, if you're considering attending trade shows, how do you get the most bang for your buck in trade show marketing? 

One opportunity to take advantage of is the lack of crowding at trade shows which provides your firm with an easier ability to get in front of your prospective clients and to have quality face-time with them at the show. It's more important now to exhibit at trade shows in these difficult economic days than when times are good. Buyers are seeking better values and new reliable sources when times are tough.

So how do you, as an exhibitor, make buyers do a double take? How do you stop them in their tracks and draw them into your booth? These are key questions that exhibitors should be asking themselves well before they get to the show. Here are some ways to achieve this:
Seek Professional Assistance
Trade shows offer great potential, especially during a down economy. The right item at the right price will do well if displayed properly. Making that commitment to invest in your company at a trade show can gain a competitive edge if you make wise decisions. To fulfill the potential that a trade show investment offers, seek professional assistance. Invest in a trade show exhibit provider and graphic designer. Find those who will listen to your needs and then tell your story. It's important that you be the "writer" of your exhibit. Let the professional be the advisor, the educator, the "editor" that hones your story.

Frontage on Main Street

The first key is to acquire frontage on "Main Street". Where you park yourself is key. Put yourself in the attendee's place. The floor is crowded, there are many vendors and you're not quite sure where you're going or who might have what you're looking for. When contracting with the show management's sales department, attempt to get frontage left to right along the aisle. Most people will start walking on the left, just as we all read left to right. Depth is far less important as compared to width. The more steps the buyer must take to walk by, ie, the wider the exhibit, the more time and opportunity for the buyer to be attracted. A corner, an island, a peninsula is the most ideal situation because of traffic flow and visibility. Another prime location, ask for the booth nearest the water cooler. Everyone likes to take a break and will probably take a long look at your booth. If you are a small startup, consider sharing a booth space with someone in the same situation. Sharing a booth can save you hundreds, if not thousands!

Exhibit Booth Presentation

The key elements in exhibit booth presentation, according to priority, are:

Signage - Just as headlines sell newspapers, effective signage draws potential buyers to your booth. Your backdrop should be simple and concise – five or six words to tell your story; something that people cruising by will get quickly. Place your logo high and make it at least 2' x 4' in size. Your goal should be to create a double-take effect by presenting well-lit logos and large colorful eye-catching signs. Think of your marketing materials as "bait for fishing in the aisles".
Lighting - The importance of effective lighting for displaying the booth and its merchandise cannot be stressed enough. Unfortunately, many trade show exhibitors assume that convention center lighting will be adequate. Even when lighting in the facility is adequate, it is usually mercury vapor lighting, which creates an unnatural bluish color. Halogen lighting counterbalances the blue cast of mercury vapor lamps typical of convention centers. It can also be used to flood or spotlight key items so they are brought into dynamic focus. Dramatic lighting creates instantaneous attention and attracts customers.
Color - Display presentations should be colorized from light to dark going from left to right. Creating order in colors is important. For example, a display of sweaters should present light colors on the left and move toward darker colors on the right, in the same way we read. Do not mix colors randomly because that creates visual confusion.
Grids - Versatile, strong and practical, grids are the foundation on which you can build your look. Backing them with white or color foam board, instead of allowing the curtains to show through, will give your booth a new look and a bolder personality. Color sells!
Booth Height - Typically, booths are 8 feet high. However, 10 or 12-foot booths are impressive because they stand out from your competitors' booths. Also, the placement of large signs at the 8 – 12 foot height makes it easy for customers to see your message and locate you from a distance.
Wall Selection - Your booth’s background wall is a key component in your presentation. Contrasting colors with highlight lighting will draw customers toward your merchandise displays. Drapery tends to absorb light like a sponge. One approach is expandable grid pop-ups with imprinted graphic panels. These provide portable, fast setup wall backgrounds. Foam board is another alternative that is often used as grid backgrounds. It is available in many colors, and provides a practical, yet attractive merchandise display background.
Flooring - And finally, don't overlook flooring. Like a tablecloth on a dining room table, your booth's floor treatment coordinates all the elements of your exhibit's presentation. White Masonite flooring offers real advantages over standard booth carpet. The material and light color reflects light onto the booth walls and, most important, your displays. It also gives you the opportunity to reinforce your signage by displaying, for example, your company logo on the floor. Think of it this way - the NCAA and NBA have reasons for promoting their teams and sponsors on their court floors.

Rent a Custom Booth

Have a booth built to rent. By renting, the booth should look like new each time you contract for its use. By renting, you attain great flexibility – something especially important during uncertain economic times. As you grow, you may need more space in which you can exhibit. Your exposures may change. One show you may have a corner and the next, an inline 3 wall. Some shows have line of sight (low side wall) rules. Other shows limit 8' height on all walls. By renting, you can roll with the punches while allowing you to experiment with size, shape and color to create the space that best presents your firm.

Dressing for the Party

Think of it this way - you're preparing to attend a very important event - a trade show. You want to look your absolute best to impress customers. It's all about your "look." How many potential customers will notice me? What is their first impression likely to be?

Network, but do it Right

Make the most of networking, but don't spread yourself too thin. People try to gather as many business cards as they can. They'd be much better off really connecting with five or 10 people. It's far better to develop a networking strategy before arriving. Send a pre-show postcard, e-mail or news release to clients and media who'll be there. Set up appointments and turn meals into networking opportunities.

Don't stay chained to your booth. Designate people to man it while you work the room. Be proactive by talking to attendees and make contacts right then, invite them to your booth, thus, your not relying on them to possibly take the time to walk by. Demonstrate that there is a face behind your company name… a "go-to person", which comes from relationship building, which in turn, brings repeat business.

And don't sit. Sitting behind an exhibit booth table sends the message that you're not interested or aggressive. People will just keep on walking, says Endress, who specializes in the psychology of business. Better yet, remove that barrier completely with support materials placed elsewhere. The best approach, line people up in front and within the booth, stick out a pamphlet, greet them and say, "Here, you need this." They take it, read the top words, hopefully they pause and then offer them more while pulling them into the booth.

Don't order a lead retrieval machine. They are promoted as convenient for a buyer to simply swipe their badge to provide their information. However, these machines, which look like a credit card reader, can cost a few hundred dollars to rent. Better yet, asking a client for their business card is the same thing and does not cost a cent. Don't overspend on giveaways. You know what I mean. The pens or coffee mugs you get made up with your company logo which can cost hundreds of dollars. Ask yourself what are the attendees really there for, the giveaways or the product or service you provide. Limit these and instead have bottled water and some cookies or something to eat at the booth. Something to eat while trolling the trade show floor is always greatly appreciated. Also, design two-sided business cards for the event. Include contact info and a photo on one side, with a list of benefits in working with you on the other.

Follow up when the show is over. A trade show is only as good as the business it generates, so don't stash that stack of business cards in a to-do-later file. Call, e-mail or send a handwritten note as soon as you return, at most within the first week after the show. Wait too long, and you've lost them.

Can’t Afford It? Go Anyway

If you can't afford the price of a booth at a trade show, attend anyway. Ask for a free pass to the vendor/exhibit area from the larger exhibitors. Once inside, walk around and begin networking by introducing yourself and tell people what you do, then exchange cards. You'll get almost as much mileage out of being there as if you had a booth.

When times are tough, many potential exhibitors cut back on their trade show involvement. This represents an excellent opportunity to get an even bigger ROI out of your trade show investment. Remember, getting the most out of a show is not about how many you do, but rather how well you prepare and present your company when you are there.

Here's to a productive year of trade show marketing!

Sources: Jim DeBetta, Lynne Meredith Schreiber & Lloyd Stone via

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