Trade Show Tips, or, Don’t Just Take a Pen and Walk Away

Hello, there!  It would seem that autumn is upon us.  The air’s getting crisper, the leaves are starting to turn, football season is in full swing, and I’m hearing talk of apple cider donuts.  At least in the Hudson Valley, anyway.

Onto the topic for this week.  If you’re a marketing professional, there’s a great chance you’ve been or will be involved in a trade show.  Some people like trade shows.  I happen to like them very much; it’s a great way for us to present ourselves in front of other members of our business community and the community at large, and make valuable contacts for business purposes.  Other people, however, dislike them.  Which is fine.  I mean, it’s eight hours on your feet, standing and walking around, putting yourself in front of people, and fearing the whole time that you won’t actually get anything out of it after you paid so much money to participate.

I will say that sometimes, that is the case.  Maybe you won’t get anything out of participation, not because you didn’t work hard, but because it just wasn’t where your targeted clients were that day.  Some people I know that work in B2B entities don’t exactly eagerly await trade shows for that reason.  As they do business strictly with other companies, they don’t get anything out of relationships with the average consumer.  There are, however, B2B trade shows that are specific to certain industries, where the “average” crowd is diminished in lieu of other business professionals.

But for the purpose of this post, I’m going to discuss a few tips for maximizing your involvement in a B2C trade show, like the one in which I participated last Wednesday.

Network, network, network.

I mentioned that some people don’t like trade shows because it’s a lot of time on your feet.  Well, like anything, you get out of it what you put into it, so be sure to walk around frequently and chat with people.  Trade shows are the best places to form connections and potential partnerships, so be sure to get up and around throughout the day.  Don’t just be a wallflower in your booth.

Make sure your booth is in a high-traffic location.

Sometimes you have the option of choosing where your booth will be located in the conference center, restaurant, banquet hall, or wherever the show is.  My firm was fortunate enough to be placed in the first room, through which all the visitors entered, which ensured that we got the maximum amount of traffic throughout the day.  Some of our competitors were in the next room over, but by that point, visitors to that room had already visited our booth and chatted with us.  In this way, the location of your booth at the show is an important part of your business strategy for the day.

Make it interactive.

Of course, you want to make your booth visually appealing, and have several pieces of collateral on hand that describe what you do, but look for other things.  Pens are almost a given, but try to order some other interesting things that are uncommon but practical.  Lately in catalogs I’ve seen shoeshine kits, little fans, letter openers, even customizable tins of gum.  There are lots of unique ways to put your brand name in the hands and minds of people, so think of what products would best suit your targets.

Be careful, however.  Trade shows are still about forming relationships, and while tchotchkes are nice to give away, it’s about much more than that.  Believe me, you don’t want a full day of people just grabbing your stuff and walking away.  That’s what many people do – they walk around with their bags, take stuff off the tables and just keep walking.  Like it’s Staples or something.  Worse than that is if you start talking to someone but you realize after a few moments that all they want is the pen.  That’s why you should try to talk to people as much as possible.  If they’re not feeling it, they’re not feeling it, but at least you made the effort.

Food always brings ’em in.

I think this is pretty self-explanatory.  One of the best ways to a person’s heart is through their stomach, so a great way to bring someone over is by offering them food.  And I don’t mean just a bowl of candy, but actual food.  We were lucky enough to have the wife of one of our reps bake cookies for the table, and almost all of them went that day.  People were amazed that a table could have fresh-baked cookies, and I understand their amazement – it takes a lot more effort to do that than stop at the supermarket and pick up a box of Freihofer’s.  Plus, when you get the person taking a cookie, it’s a great chance for you to begin a conversation with them.  All in all, a solid differentiation point between you and the other booths.

Don’t be afraid to be creative.

Often with trade shows, people just go the standard-booth-with-table-and-brochures route because (a) they don’t have time to plan much else, and (b) they simply can’t think of what else to do.  If it’s the latter option, that’s okay sometimes because some businesses just don’t warrant for much creativity based on their industry or the nature of their brand.  Our firm, for example, dealing in financial services, couldn’t do anything that was especially “out there”.  We did, however, improve on our setup by drawing several curtains.  Our booth was placed in front of a charming pond and gazebo, which is used for wedding photos when the facility hosts weddings.  Just by securing several curtains with rubber bands did we open up the lovely view of the landscape, and make our booth that much more inviting and visually appealing in contrast to the other vendors.  And I’m sorry for sounding like Martha Stewart just then.  But you get the idea.  Be resourceful.

On the note of creativity, I do want to share with you the idea of one accounting firm that, in my opinion, stole the show.  Every year, they’re known to do a unique theme with their booth.  One year they had an actual Donald Trump impersonator, another year was a casino theme, and last year they did a doctor theme where several of their CPAs showed up in scrubs.  This year, their theme was “Don’t let your accounting drive you mad”.  They decked their booth in orange tape, and adorned themselves in lab coats while their associate for the day, a guy who does a “mad scientist” act for schools and trade shows, had his own little laboratory set-up on the other end of the booth.  It was really impressive – he had viles and bowls of liquid, and it even smelled like an experiment gone wrong.  Throughout the day, he entertained visitors by taking roses, dipping them into a narrow vat of liquid nitrogen, and doing his spiel:

“I’m sticking this flower in liquid nitrogen, that’s about three hundred degrees below zero.  We had a really cold winter last year, remember?  Everybody was talking about a polar vortex.”

Then he removed the now-frozen rose from the vat and said,

“But you know what’s colder than a polar vortex?  A tax audit from the IRS!”

And then he smashed the rose into a thousand little pieces.  It made quite the mess throughout the day, but I’ll be darned if every person who walked up to their booth wasn’t entertained even in the slightest.  Then, they took a pen that looked like a syringe, and kept on moving.  The unique thing about that whole experience was that most of the people who approached the booth were not necessarily in the market for the services of the firm, but by putting on a display, the firm was able to solidify brand awareness and recognition among them.  And as it has put on unique displays at trade shows over the years, and will continue to do so, brand salience will take shape.  When people think of accounting in the Hudson Valley, they’ll recall this firm.  All because they always took the time to plan an amazing experience for their patrons.

So I think that’s the best lesson for today.  Trade shows are an excellent way for you to strut your stuff.  Regardless of whether or not you feel they’re worth your time, by maximizing your participation in them, you will definitely get something out of it.  Have any other great ideas or experiences you’d like to share?  Find me on Twitter at @NickNappoMFS and we’ll talk.

‘Til next week!




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