Trade shows may well be the most exciting form of marketing. Not only your company’s brand, but also your latest products and services and many of your key employees, are on full display, in person for potential customers to view. In addition, attendees of the show are able to size up your company relative to your competitors, who are also likely in attendance. That means that the pressure is on to convey what you have to offer in the best possible light, and in a way that sets you apart from your peers. Not surprisingly, a lot of work goes into preparing and executing the logistics of a trade show booth.
Early in my career, I held a position with a company that frequented trade shows and that considered the planning and execution of these to be an integral part of my position. I spent many years perfecting our process. In the end, I discovered that trade shows can be incredibly enjoyable (and more comfortable!) when they are carefully and accurately planned well in advance. In this article, I’ll share with you some of the key things that I have learned so that your experience will be just as successful.
Managing the Logistics
First let’s talk about the logistics. Whether your company is planning to secure a 10x10, 10x20, 20x30 or larger booth, there are many different components involved, all of which should be planned and ordered months before the show. These include things like:
Securing/ paying for the booth itself with the show’s conference center or hotel
Printing and shipping any and all marketing materials that you intend to display or distribute (brochures, signage, ???)
Ordering extra business cards
Planning and ordering any décor you intend to use (more on this in a moment)
Distributing promotional material (more on this in a moment as well)
The setup of lighting and electricity to your booth
And most importantly the CARPET and padding! I cannot possibly stress these enough. Most shows are 3-5 days long and standing on your feet on a concrete floor all day, every day can be very painful. Your feet and legs will thank you for remembering to add padding under your booth’s carpet. I learned this the hard way early on when, at my first trade show, I found myself visiting other vendors’ booths, just to stand on their padded carpet for relief!
Whatever you intend to provide, every single item must be shipped to the show’s location within a very specific timeframe. The reason for this is that conference locations have limited storage facilities and can only store items in their warehouses or storage units for a short period of time before an event. Therefore, conference centers or hotels have very specific time slots during which items have to arrive. You will need to obtain this schedule from them and then plan well in advance to ensure that everything arrives during this timeframe.
Lastly, don’t forget about the travel considerations for you and the rest of your team. Since some shows attract very high volumes of people (30,000+), including attendees, you will need to secure your air travel and hotel reservations well in advance. This also includes access to the trade show. If you are simply planning to attend, it is possible to purchase a day ticket or a full trade show access ticket at the time of the show, but you will generally receive a better rate if you buy these ahead of time.
Promoting the Event
Clearly logistics matter, but they are meaningless if your target audience doesn’t visit your booth during the show. Thus, it is imperative to launch an email and social media campaign before each show. As a branding connoisseur, I had the most fun by branding each of my shows in accordance with a specific theme. Many times, this theme was based on the season and the location. One specific show was in San Diego in July, and since my company was in the Desalination industry (water), it made sense to plan a tropical-themed booth. Before the show, I sent potential clients and trade show attendees a tropical-themed teaser email. It left them wondering what the hype was about and generated a lot of visitors to our booth. Had this predated the use of social media, I would have also included a social media campaign across the appropriate mediums prior to the show.
Creating the Experience
Of course, once you’ve generated interest and traffic to your booth, you have to follow up with a memorable and positive experience. At the tropical-themed show that I just mentioned, I created a booth that mimicked a tiki hut - with both a 12’ palm tree and a life-sized surf board. Prior to the show, I had purchased leis and had created custom graphics to attach to them, branding them to our company and the theme. The show was a hit. The combination of the traffic and the attractive experience generated a lot of new leads, as well as leaving the attendees with a favorable impression of our company and our services.
You’ve probably gotten the sense that a trade show is never just about showing up. It is about creating an experience that will bring leads for future sales and partnerships. When you are planning your trade show booth, consider your industry and your company’s products or services. What theme would be both consistent with these and also appealing to the show’s attendees?
If you are in a high-tech industry, your booth could convey a futuristic world. You may need to have multiple computer screens or other products at the show in order to demonstrate your company’s capabilities. If you’re in the food industry, you may want to mimic a Parisian restaurant, or a New Orleans club, complete with a faux brick wall. The key is to marry your company’s image and products to the show’s setting in a way that makes your booth fun and engaging for the audience.
Speaking of fun, trade shows can be very monotonous for the attendees, especially when they see the same thing at every company’s booth. That’s why it is so important to shake things up from time to time and be creative. We’ve talked about accomplishing this through the use of a theme, but you could also do something such as sponsoring a happy hour at the end of one day. Just keep in mind that attendees tend to dwindle by the last day. So never plan special functions for the last day of the show.
If you plan ahead all of the logistics, marketing, and social media that will make your trade show a success, keeping your audience in mind, your trade show can be very rewarding for business. Not only that, it can be a fun experience that people remember for years to come.