Advances in innovative technology are constant and keeping up with the latest in whiz-bang gadgets and technology tools is not always an easy endeavor. Event planning and tradeshow technology continues to advance, with products becoming cheaper and easier to use. Having these tools in your business arsenal can provide your company with a competitive advantage and can go a long way towards helping it achieve its trade show objectives.
Let’s take a look at some of the technology advances that are playing a significant role in today’s trade show world.
Go mobile. One of the difficulties of attending or exhibiting at trade shows is the fact that taking the show on the road means being away from your office and the resources you’d typically have at your fingertips. With the virtual explosion of mobile apps hitting the market, being away from the office no longer means going without. Hundreds of apps designed for both attendees and exhibitors at trade shows are now available for smart phones. These apps are used for networking, lead exchange, electronic ticketing, audience polling, surveys, pocket programs, pocket exhibit guides, course notes/literature collection and much more. There is a new website: www.meetingapps.com, that can help you find them. Many more apps are in the technology pipeline, so stay educated.
iPad and other tablet-based PCs. Apple Computer has released several game changers in the past few years. Its iPhone sold like hotcakes and spawned a crop of look-alike smart phones from competing vendors clamoring for their share of the “Apple” pie. The company has done it yet again with its innovative iPad, which has now led to a barrage of competing touch-sensitive, tablet-like PCs. All these highly portable devices are ideal for trade shows, where they can be used to give demos; view streaming event video; input data for surveys or lead generation systems; distribute handouts for attendees; or run bigger versions of the mobile apps described above.
High-definition video conferencing. Skype’s newest 5.0 beta version provides 760p high-definition video conferencing—with the ability to conference in four simultaneous callers—for free. This capability will prove ideal for speakers presenting remotely at events or for conferencing customers or partners in to on-site meetings or press events. The price of video conferencing technology has plummeted, and along with increasingly more dependable Internet connections, the video reliability is excellent.
Online collaboration. While email is an efficient way to quickly communicate ideas and thoughts to others, when you need to iterate on a topic with another person, it’s often inadequate. Wikis (collaborative websites) have emerged as a much more efficient manner with which to communicate on topics and collaborate on projects that require discussion and the effective management of information and documents. These websites provide an easy way to track conference or exhibition logistics and other details with geographically dispersed team members. Free tools, such as Google Docs, help manage the data side of things, making sure that everyone is working from the most current version of a document.
Doing effective marketing to promote your company’s participation in trade shows is essential to achieve your overall trade show objective, whether that goal is to boost traffic to your booth, generate sales leads or sell products.
Those of you who are responsible for event and trade show marketing and promotion on behalf of your organization are probably always looking out for that next trend or technology you can leverage to help you achieve these goals.
Let’s take a look at some of the emerging trends companies are using to improve their trade show marketing efforts.
Social media. It’s hard to find a company today that hasn’t at least dipped their toe into the social media waters. Sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and others have ballooned in popularity and are being used increasingly by event marketers. A recent study conducted by Forrester Research predicts that B2B companies will increase budgets for interactive marketing to $54 million by 2014, double the amount they spent back in 2009. Social media tools are being used by trade show marketers to promote participation in upcoming events or share news happening in real-time at events with customers, partners and prospects via Twitter feeds or YouTube videos.
Go global. While the U.S. economy slowly recovers from multiple years of recession, companies might look to exhibit their wares internationally. According to the World Bank, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in developing countries will grow nearly six percent in 2011, while the GDP in the U.S. will only grow by three percent. If your trade show budget doesn’t allow for the expense of exhibiting at an international trade show, look for opportunities to partner with a foreign company with complimentary products or technology or exhibit in a smaller booth within a group pavilion.
Marketing on the move. Mobile computing is probably one of the fastest evolving technology trends today. Smart phones are everywhere. Growth in mobile marketing is expected to continue its rapid rise in 2011. A research study conducted by Forrester Research found that mobile marketing will grow at a much faster rate than traditional B2B marketing mediums and predict that half of all web traffic will come through mobile devices.
Smart marketers are working to make sure their websites and blogs can be viewed adequately on these mobile devices. Other exciting news for tradeshow marketers and attendees is the introduction of tradeshow-specific apps. Look for apps that replace printed show directories; apps for sales lead management; and audience polling apps.
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Apple is now shipping the second version of its extremely popular mobile computing tablet, the iPad 2. Despite early skepticism, both consumers and the work world have embraced the iPad, as more and more apps hit the market to fulfill nearly every computing desire.
In general, business users en masse have adopted the iPad over competing tablet devices. Just three months after its April 2010 launch, Apple reported that the iPad was being tested by 50% of Fortune 100 companies. By the beginning of this year, that figure had jumped to 80% of Fortune 100 companies.
Better, faster, thinner, lighter? Check.
Courtesy of AppleThe iPad 2 offers twice the computing horsepower of its predecessor and a high- performance graphics processor that delivers a whopping 9X performance boost over the original iPad—all in a smaller envelope. Though the screen size remains the same, the unit itself is 33% slimmer than its predecessor and weighs a bit less as well. If stolen, the new iPad will also offer a feature that would enable users to “remote-wipe” data.
The iPad 2’s now features a front-facing camera for video-conferencing with VGA resolution. The rear-facing camera features 720P HD resolution. Front and rear cameras will not only make it easier to shoot impromptu videos, but will also enable more use of apps such as Shoeboxed’s business card scanner on trade show floors and conferences. In addition, any web-based app for registration, ticketing, or other forms of data collection will also now be easier.
For lead capture on the iPad, install your video, download iLeads and you’re ready to go. Be sure and put some quick response (QR) codes on business cards; the iPad’s camera and associated app can easily capture that data as well.
The unit comes preloaded with a video calling app, called FaceTime, and an app for capturing photos and videos and performing simple edits, called PhotoBooth. Onboard video editing will enable users to do videoblogging from trade shows and conferences or on the go. Another boon to trade show exhibitors will be onboard audio editing, which will enable podcasting from the iPad using the Garageband for the Mac app.
Another feature improvement is ramped up memory; the iPad will offer 512 MB of RAM, up from 256 MB in the original iPad. New mobile hotspot functionality on the iPhone means users will have a roving hotspot for their iPads if they need it, which translates to more opportunities to work remotely, work on the go, or work in areas with limited data throughput, such as trade show floors.
Whether you’re at the trade show booth or in a conference room, the video- mirroring app is likely to help presenters and speakers do a lot more with interactive presentations. Speakers can create presentations and show them on the iPad’s screen or plug into a larger display, and then collaboratively put together a takeaway from a conference session that will be unlike anything attendees have ever seen before. The iPad 2 will also be ideal for sales presentations and demos, plugging easily into flat panel TVs on trade show floors or conference rooms.
Exhibiting at a trade show is a marvelous way for your company to capture the attention of its target market in order to introduce a new product or service, generate valuable sales leads, get media attention, or sell products. Garnering that attention, however, can be tricky when your booth is amid hundreds of competing booths, each staffed with eager employees trying to grab the often-fleeting interest of passing attendees.
So how do you make your exhibit stand out? Research shows that exhibitors have mere seconds to grab the attention of attendees, often weary and overwhelmed by the vast number of booths. You can’t meet your tradeshow objectives unless you get those folks in your booth to hear your pitch, so exhibitors must always be on the lookout for new and creative ways to make their exhibit stand out.
One way is to walk the show floor and take note of what other exhibitors are doing with their trade show exhibits and displays. Notice what types of marketing strategies they are using to attract booth traffic. Also, pay attention to what booths seem to be drawing in the largest number of attendees. Is there an enticing giveaway drawing in hordes of people? Ask attendees that have stopped in your booth which exhibitors’ booths they were most drawn to and why.
Leverage your relationship with your display provider as well. They often can offer specific expertise on what has proven successful for other customers as far as boosting traffic. It is their job to stay on top of the latest in exhibit design, event strategies and promotional trends.
Another potential source of innovative ideas are trade show associations and industry consultants. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (www.ceir.org) is another great resource for ideas on how to increase your tradeshow exhibit’s visibility. Once you have developed some new strategy ideas to boost booth traffic, lead generation and possibly sales, just make sure they are all align with your company’s brand positioning.
Here are a handful of promotional ideas to draw in visitors to your booth:
Entertain them. Magicians, caricaturists, and celebrity look-alikes are sometimes cheesy but often effective in grabbing the interest of attendees, giving your booth staffers an opportunity to strike up a conversation.
Photograph them. Take a digital photo of visitors and superimpose them on unique backgrounds, such as magazine covers to create a memorable takeaway. Or use the image to perform a virtual makeover, so visitors can see what they would look like in various hairstyles or clothes.
Let them play. Provide a chance to play virtual sports, such as golf or baseball using simulation software systems. Winners take away balls with your logo printed on them.
Feed them. Weary and often hungry trade show attendees tend to flock to booths offering free food, coffee or beverages. While they are munching or sipping, make sure your booth staffers introduce themselves and give them the two-minute pitch.
Reward them. Offer an incentive to stop by your booth. A creative giveaway— with your logo and marketing slogan on it—could include tote bags, laser pointers, memory sticks, apparel, golf tees, pens, coffee mugs, etc.
Once you've decided to take the plunge into tradeshow exhibiting, the next question might be: what type of display or exhibit will we need? The answers will vary depending upon a multitude of factors. You'll need to ask yourself some basic questions, such as: how large are the events you wish to participate in? What type of audience do you wish to attract? What location type (in-line, corner, end, island) and size of booth space are you considering?
Other questions in regards to the frequency of exhibiting and how you will transport your exhibit also need to be considered before you can determine which type of display will best serve your needs and meet your tradeshow objectives. Another important question is how much do you have to spend on a display. When you include the physical display itself, plus banner stands, lighting, and accessories, you could be talking anywhere from a few thousand to over $50,000 in costs.
Once you've determined all these things, it's time to start evaluating the different types of displays. Let’s take a look at the various types.
Pop-up displays. These are made up of a lightweight, folding frame covered with magnetic-backed fabric, vinyl, or plastic panels. These displays are available in tabletop or floor versions.
Pros: Because they are lightweight, they are easily and less expensive to transport.
Truss displays. Structured around lightweight or aluminum tubing, these displays can be configured in a variety of shapes and sizes, from entire booths to special exhibit features, display walls, islands, and entranceways.
Pros: Highly configurable for added flexibility.
Panel displays. These displays are made up of fabric-covered rectangular sections that are connected to make a wall.
Pros: Also very flexible because they can be configured to fit different sized and shaped booths.
Table-top displays. This display type, which features a lightweight display that sits on top of a table, is ideal for small events. The displays typically have three panels with Velcro-attached graphics and headlines that can be easily changed and updated. Some come with briefcase-style cases for easy transport.
Pros: Least expensive option and more durable than pop-up systems.
Banner stands. These banner stands provide an easy, lightweight means to display your corporate banners or other signage. These are available in single, double or triple-sided models. You can use two placed together or separately in different locations within your booth. Some come with lights to enhance the image display.
Pros: They are lightweight, portable and durable.
Custom displays. Exhibit companies can help you design your own custom display in any size or configuration will fit your needs. You can also incorporate accessories, including cabinets, counter tops, back lighting and bridges. Most will also offer a no- obligation design and price quote for your proposed design, so you can weigh your options before committing to anything.
Pros: Designed exactly with your needs in mind.
Organizing your company’s participation in upcoming trade shows can be stressful and requires precision and strong organizational skills. To make it a tad less stressful, prepare a timeline of things that must get done and when they must be accomplished. This alone can help you stay on track, reduce some of the nail biting and prevent missed deadlines that can cost you down the road in lost discounts, rush fees and missed opportunities.
There are deadlines for choosing an exhibit space, for ordering show services, and for creating your exhibit. There is no one right way to create a timeline, as they can be organized in a myriad of ways (deadlines, tasks, etc.). However, once you come up with one that works for you, use it as a master template for creating timelines for all future shows.
Here are some general guidelines to help you in your planning:
12+ months out: Determine your objectives
Identify the role that trade shows will play in your overall marketing and sales plan. Will trade shows be primarily used to generate sales leads and prospective customers?
Conduct research on what shows will best achieve these objectives.
Determine a budget and project your return on investment (ROI).
9-12 month out: Initial planning mode
Compile a list of specific objectives for each show, such as number of leads, number of products sold, amount of publicity sought, etc.
Identify the booth size needed and type of display, along with marketing collateral and promotional items.
Register for the show and reserve your space with show management and request full details of exhibit requirements (deadlines, shipping information, etc.).
Create a trade show marketing plan that uses a mix of promotional methods to reach sales prospects.
6-9 months out: Fine-tuning your message
Develop your sales message that will communicate a compelling story and deliver the key points you want to make in as short a time as possible (preferably less than 30 seconds).
Choose an exhibit company to help create and deliver an exhibit that will fit your needs and budget. Research their capabilities, experience, and design talent, and be sure and check references of past clients.
Determine what promotional strategies, such as giveaways and attractions, you’ll use to draw attendees out of crowded aisles and into your booth.
4-6 months out: Tying up loose ends
Order promotional items (giveaways, takeaways, prizes, etc.)
Confirm delivery dates with your exhibit company to assure your display will be ready on time.
Determine who will be staffing your booth at the show, develop schedules, and plan training sessions.
Make travel and hotel reservations, if you haven’t already.
Determine how your exhibit and accessories will be shipped to the show.
Launch pre-show marketing initiatives.
1-3 months out: Check and double check details
Assemble packets of information for post-show marketing follow-up.
Contact show management for any last-minute details, changes, etc.
Finalize production of display, promotional items, and marketing materials and confirm shipping date.
Schedule dinners, briefings, or other meetings with customers, media, or sales staff.
Re-confirm hotel and travel arrangements. Last minute snafus are costly and can be eliminated by doing one last review of all your staff’s travel plans.
One week out: Crunch time.
Wrap up staff training of booth personnel.
Confirm shipping arrival dates for your display, marketing materials and promotional items.
There’s always going to be that one thing that completely slips your mind, however, having a timeline can help you stay focused, and more importantly, stay on schedule.
Making the decision to exhibit at a trade show is a significant commitment—in both time and expense—for any size company. Trade shows can deliver significant bottom-line benefits by generating valuable sales leads, increasing company awareness, launching new products or services, building brand recognition, finding new channel members and gaining media attention. In order to successfully achieve any of these, however, you must first select the right trade show for your company.
If you are the person tasked with this selection process, the burden is on you to make an informed decision, selecting shows that will deliver the right target audience for your marketing message. Here are a few questions to ask when evaluating your trade show options:
What are my goals? You first must determine your objectives for the show so you can choose the show that will give your company the best return on investment (ROI) in terms of your goals. If your goal is on-site sales, picking a show where there are dozens of competitors selling similar products will be a bust and a colossal waste of money.
Who will be there? Your first step will be to quantify the total number of relevant prospects, buyers, and influences who will be interested in your company’s products or services. Obtain an Exhibitor’s Registration Kit and look at the attendee profile of previous shows, including job title, industry representation, type of business, and geographical distribution.
Does size really matter? Bigger isn’t really necessarily better. Really. The size of the show should match your goals (number of sales leads, units sold, etc.). If you’re a smaller company, it might be difficult to stand out at big trade shows, whereas at a smaller one you might be more noticeable. Smaller ones, however, won’t generate the same high number of leads as larger shows so you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of both and how they relate to your overall objectives.
Will your competitors be there? Though you might not like competing for the same mindshare, the proximity of competitors in one place can be a boon for your business. Find out in advance which of your competitors are going to be there. This actually can help you formulate a winning strategy and effective marketing message specific to that show. What new products are you introducing? And, how and why are they better than your competitor’s?
Is it the right choice? Though you’ll never know for sure in advance whether a trade show is going to deliver a return on your investment, there are some ways to hedge your bets. Ask yourself whether this show is well aligned with the core competencies of your business or just one facet of its offerings? Is the right audience going to participate? Can my company stand out and be unique on the show floor?
What about media coverage? Ask for last year’s press list. Do any of these publications reach your target customers? Do you have a compelling story to tell them? If so, this show might be a good fit.
The Internet is called the “Information Highway” for a reason, as it provides an easy way to quickly to find information on an endless array of topics. It also provides an ideal vehicle by which to educate and communicate with vast numbers of people. For all these reasons, the Internet is a great way to promote your company, its products, as well as its involvement in upcoming trade shows.
Deploying a web-based strategy can help you maximize the chances of trade show success by increasing your exposure and message frequency to your target audience. It’s important to integrate e-marketing techniques to promote trade show participation before, during, and after each event.
Before the Show.
Devote an entire section of your company’s web site to highlight your participation in an upcoming trade show or event. Cross-promote this particular page and your site in traditional printed marketing materials, such as brochures, newsletter, or advertisements.
For people who are attending the show, provide an online form for them to fill out to schedule a demo, then follow up by phone to confirm the time. Have another form for people who are unable to attend the show—but are still interested—so you can provide them with information.
Contact the show’s management and seize any opportunities to utilize marketing vehicles it uses to promote the show, such as web sites, publications, or newsletters. If the show has a web site, look at web advertising, such as banners, links or any type of promotional copy, to lure site visitors to your site.
Generate some pre-show buzz by promoting a contest, quiz, drawing, game or other incentive on your web site. Contestants should be directed to your booth during the show to receive their prize, find the answer, etc.
During the Show.
Promote your online marketing resources. Ask visitors to your booth for contact info so you can add them to your online distribution list for newsletters, e-zines, etc. These online resources provide them with helpful tips so be sure and present this as an opportunity for them to receive something of value, not just advertisements and junk email.
Give the winners of promotional contests or quizzes some face time on your web site. Highlight photos of winners collecting their prizes at the show. And, let visitors to your web site who were unable to attend the event register for contests, drawings, etc.
Update your web site with daily highlights from the show. Include news, product launches, customer interviews, speaker summaries, etc., to keep everyone who couldn’t attend the event up to date.
After the Show.
Update your web site immediately. Add streaming videos of product demos or customer testimonials from your exhibit. Your customers can often tell a more compelling and credible story than your sales people by explaining how your company’s product solved a problem for them. Prospective customers often can relate to your other customers because they possibly share the same problems, concerns, and issues that need to be resolved.
Integrate new prospect email contact info into your database to develop an ongoing web-based communications program that includes email, e-newsletters, e-zines, and other important corporate announcements.
Make sure your site is continuously updated and stocked with valuable, useful content for your existing users and potential customers. The web is an excellent place to gather information about new products and technology. Seize the opportunity to use your web site to position your company as a thought leader in its industry.
Preparing a corporate marketing budget these days is a daunting task. All companies need to increase sales leads and amp up revenues, but shrinking marketing budgets have forced companies to carefully consider what must stay and what must go as far as budget items. An important component of the overall marketing budget is the portion allotted to tradeshows, which can be a valuable tool to help increase the visibility of your company and boost sales.
The reality, however, is that no matter how you look at it, tradeshows are expensive endeavors. You have to rent the space, create a display, promote it, stock it, and staff it. So before you decide to undertake a tradeshow, take a comprehensive look at all the costs associated with exhibiting as well as the expected returns.
Establishing an accurate tradeshow budget early is essential to developing an overall strategy that will achieve success and assure upper management buy-in. The amount you allocate to tradeshows will depend upon the scope of your efforts and the number, size and location of the shows you are planning on exhibiting at throughout the year. Though strategies will vary from company to company, the methods of establishing a tradeshow budget remain relatively the same.
Let’s take a look at some of the larger components you’ll need to be cognizant of when preparing your overall tradeshow budget.
Space rental. Exhibit halls will charge your company based on the size of your display so determine early what size booth you will be using so you can more accurately estimate how many dollars to allocate to booth space rental.
Utilities and related booth expenses. There will be a charge for installing and dismantling your booth. Other expenses include electricity, gas, water, and any other items you may require at your booth during a show.
Exhibit display, signage and accessories. This would include everything from display production, graphics, and banners to booth furniture, literature racks and any equipment needed to demonstrate your products. Crating and storage costs should also be added to this category.
Shipping and drayage. This would include all expenses associated with transporting your exhibit and materials to each location. Freight would include charges for shipping your exhibit, literature, and any other materials to the event location and back to your office or warehouse. Drayage costs account for items delivered to and from your booth space from the loading dock of the exhibit hall or conference center.
Travel and entertainment. Try to put together a realistic estimate on what it will cost you and your staff to attend each tradeshow. This estimate must include travel expenses (airfare, taxi fares, rental cars, etc.), meals, and hotel expenses. This category would also include any expenses associated with entertaining prospects and customers during the show.
Show marketing. This would include all the marketing and sales collateral required to support the exhibit. These materials could be used at multiple shows, so keep in mind that these costs will be spread over a number of shows. These might include product literature, handouts, staff training, and show promotional items.
Proper lighting is an essential component of your tradeshow booth and can help increase traffic and create a favorable environment in which to pitch your company’s products. According to booth design expert, Bruce Baker, who’s published articles on booth lighting, a good lighting system that functions at peak performance will boost sales more than any other item you can purchase.
Your lighting requirements will vary depending on your specific promotional goals, display configuration, exhibit color and design, booth lighting fixtures, and space. To determine what type of lighting will best create effective, creative exhibit illumination, you must carefully consider the following questions:
- What area or product in your booth will need to be the focal point?
- What visual impact, impression, or message do you want to convey through lighting?
When you want to create a spotlight effect to highlight one particular area of interest in your exhibit, you might consider overhead truss lighting. If you’d rather create a more inviting, warm and welcoming atmosphere to make prospects feel more comfortable, you might select a soft lamp or ambient lighting.
Special illumination techniques can be used to create a more dramatic atmosphere that can possibly draw more attendees to your booth by setting it apart from competing booths. Determining the mood you want to create—exciting and dynamic or warm and inviting—will go a long way towards helping you determine the most appropriate lighting.
Other questions to ask when weighing your lighting options are:
- What type of lighting is being supplied by the exhibition facility?
- How much power will be available in your booth?
- Would additional power be available, if your lighting needs require it?
- How are light fixtures attached to your display?
- How much can you spend on display lighting systems?
Once these questions are answered, you can go to your lighting supplier and find the best solutions for your particular needs. Good lighting can lead to increased booth traffic, additional sales leads, and possibly higher resulting sales, so choose wisely.