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How To Stand Out At A Trade Show
Think back to the last time you were halfway to the state fair. Each stand was brightly colored, full of interesting things to see, do and win. Hawkers shouted, “Now!”, “Three tries for a dollar!”, “Win a stuffed rabbit for a lovely lady!” Lights were flashing, children were running around and everyone seemed to be talking at once.
A trade show is like the middle of a state fair.
There may not be quite as many stuffed bunnies at a trade show, but the level of noise and distraction is almost the same. There are many other companies vying for your customers’ attention, all with product demonstrations, service information and freebies. On top of that, there may be speakers, new technologies to play with, raffles, food stalls and networking opportunities.
How do you make sure your company doesn’t get lost or overlooked in all the noise and commotion?
And how can you be sure that your (not small) investment of time and money will pay off for your company? That you won’t sit alone in your booth for hours, wishing someone would stop and talk to you?
The answer is in preparation before the performance.
If you’re exhibiting at a trade show, you need to do more than just pay for booth space, put on a nice outfit that morning, and walk in the door of your business to get real results. You need to think about how you will cut through all the “noise” to connect with your target audience.
What do you have to do to prepare?
1. Create a strategy. Saying “I want to go to this trade show and get customers” is fine, but that’s every vendor’s goal. You need to create a real, measurable goal for the show before you even apply.
Ask yourself things like: Why am I here? Am I promoting a specific product or new service? Am I trying to grow into a specific target market? How many people do I want to connect with? What types of people do I want to talk to?
Then check the show you’re considering against those goals. You’ll want to make sure that there will be enough people there, that they’re in your target audience, and that you have a reasonable expectation that you’ll get a good return on your investment.
2. Identify one (or two) things you really need to tell people about. The people you meet at the fair will be distracted. They will be tired (or soon will be). They may be far from home. Their feet will probably hurt and their hands will be full of promotional trinkets, brochures and papers that they plan to recycle as soon as they find a bin.
These are definitely not ideal conditions for meeting new potential clients. Don’t drive them further crazy by trying to tell them everything you can do for them and every detail of your offer.
Decide before the show what might appeal most to show goers – you should be able to get demographic information about them from the show organizers when you sign up. Then plan your strategy and marketing materials for the show around promoting that one aspect of your offering.
3. Set the stage for follow-up. You probably won’t make big ticket sales at the fair. You’ll be happy if you’re selling small volumes unless you’re selling products, but even then it can be difficult to grab the attention of potential customers long enough to get their credit cards out.
Instead of targeting immediate sales, set up a system to get your visitors’ contact information and contact them later. This can be as simple as a prize draw with the disclaimer that all entrants will be subscribed to your email newsletter. Or you can offer a short free consultation to those who sign up. You can also give away an article or report to be emailed to attendees after the show.
Either of these systems is inexpensive, gives you a way to get your visitors’ emails and/or phone numbers, and gives you an excuse to call later and talk about your product or service – when your prospect is less distracted and overwhelmed.
4. Think about a promotional item. You may need to hand out a promotional item to attract trade show zombies to your booth. If you do, make sure it stands out—that it’s not just another pencil or mini candy.
Standing out does not mean that the item has to be expensive. Some of the best and most sought-after items I saw at trade shows included hand-held paper fans (it can get hot in convention halls), massage lotion to soothe tired feet later that evening, and quality bags to hold all the “stuff” that people tend to accumulate on those events.
Just make sure that whatever you give away has some value for your booth visitors and makes sense for your business. That way, he’ll be less likely to be kicked out after the show and more likely to make you memorable.
5. Round it all off with your stand design. Visual chaos will reign at the fair. The lighting probably won’t be ideal. So you’ll want to design graphics and signs for your booth that are easy to see, easy to read, don’t get too busy, and reinforce your brand.
Your first step is to ask the organizers if you need to bring a table and booth structure or if it is provided. If you need to take it out, be sure to stock up and arrange for delivery in advance. If supplied, inquire about attaching signs, lettering and graphics to the structure. Ask if material will be provided to hang them and if there are any restrictions on attaching things to the cabin. You don’t want to show up with a roll of duct tape and find out you’re going to be charged a hefty damage fee if you use it.
Next, plan to print large format graphics for the cabin. You’ll want to include your logo and some simple text about your offer. Keep this very simple – most people won’t slow down as they pass, so you won’t have to hold their attention for long! You can also consider using photos, but you’ll need very high-resolution images to get good print results on large graphics, and that can be expensive. Make sure your booth graphics match your visual vocabulary.
Also, consider using freestanding or tabletop easels and poster printing. Mount the posters on foam board and display them around your booth. They are particularly effective near the front of the cabin for visitors who cannot read text that is far away.
Decide which marketing materials to bring with you. Again, base this on your goals and the one or two things visitors need to know about this exhibit. Don’t take every piece of collateral you’ve ever created and spread it across the table, as this will only make your visitors uncomfortable.
Do not forget to decorate the upper part of the table. Ask the organizer if tablecloths will be provided, and if so, what color they will be. If there aren’t any or the color doesn’t match your brand, you’ll want to get a tablecloth for your booth. Consider placing a pretty vase of fresh flowers on the table or a bouquet of balloons to add inexpensive color.
Think about how you will display your marketing materials and promotional items. Should you lay them flat? Place them in acrylic holders? Scatter them or stack them? You may want to try several arrangements until you find one that is the most visually pleasing.
Also, think about how you collect follow-up information – should you display a fishbowl for business cards or display a stack of response cards? Choosing the right place and way to present these items can really affect your response rate.
Finally, consider how the booth will look during the event. As people pick up marketing materials, raid your candy bowl, and collect promotional items, your booth may start to look messy. Flatten it every now and then to keep it looking professional.
These 5 preparation steps will help you navigate through the madness and chaos of your next trade show. And then, instead of wanting visitors, you’ll find your booth packed like a “win a bunny” booth in the middle of a trade show!
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