Graphics are a critical element of any trade show display. You could have the best promotion, best product and brilliant people in your booth but, if most attendees don’t notice your exhibit, it won’t matter.
There are many philosophies about how to create effective trade show graphics that persuasively break through the clutter. One solution is “Power Graphics” – singular images that have the “power” to make your exhibit standout from your competition, attract your target customers and almost instantaneously communicate your key message.
What makes graphics powerful? Graphics that are singular and focused have power. Images and words combined to communicate your message and brand personality without needing translation have power. Graphics without unnecessary elements in the design, displays and sales presentations so that your target customers can actually experience your message, your brand and your products are the most powerful.
The images and words that you use depend on your marketing message but here are a few general guidelines:
- Make sure your designers know everything that is important about your target customers – before they start work.
- Select a design team that knows how to design exhibits. This is a unique design task and many great advertising designers have little experience with or understanding of trade shows.
- If one image will communicate your message, don’t be afraid to let your designers build the exhibit around that one key image.
- Keep it simple and uncluttered. The details belong in your sales material, presentations and interactive displays.
- Make sure the key graphic can be easily seen from a distance. Avoid small or overly detailed images.
- Think in 3-dimensions. Dimensional graphics create visual interest.
- Incorporate words – in large, legible type. The most memorable images are often the combination of a few words and a graphic image.
- Use lighting to make the “Power Graphics” the focal point of the exhibit.
- Avoid commonplace and generic images, for example, photographs of happy customers, standard product photography and stock photography that looks like stock photography.
Effective use of “Power Graphics” can make a meaningful difference in your ability to get the most out of trade show participation.
Trade shows have always been great PR opportunities because they get press coverage. For decades, companies have used trade shows to make major announcements or introduce new products. Usually these announcements get more press coverage than they would ordinarily get because reporters covering the shows are looking for news.
For the past few years, companies have been extending their news reach by using free online platforms such as LiveStream.com or Ustream.tv to provide live online video of company announcements, news conferences, trade show product demonstrations and other events directly from the trade show floor. Both of these platforms incorporate live chat that can be used for “Q and A” sessions between company representatives and reporters, bloggers or the general public.
Now, some companies are cleverly reversing their trade show live streams to bring their entire company to the trade show. Some connect trade show attendees to company executives or technical representatives for live chat events. Other exhibitors are incorporating live feeds of their manufacturing facilities or service centers into their exhibits. The variety is almost endless.
Don’t limit your imagination about how to use live online video. Live video streams can be a great way to promote your exhibit before the show. It can be a great way to present highlights of a show when it is all wrapped up. Live video of product demonstrations and testimonials from the trade show floor can be powerful at generating online sales while the show is going on. If a company representative is making an important presentation at a show, consider how you can use online video of this presentation to promote your company and products.
Consider providing a show cam to your entire team “back at the office” or in the field
Live video can keep your entire company involved with the show. Think about running a daily live stream program from the show just for your company’s staff. It can be as simple as a daily wrap up of the big events from the show and observations of what the competition is up to.
Don’t push the boundaries of the technology too far
Technology can be great but it is no substitute for the live one-to-one contact that trade shows make possible. Make sure that you company is well represented by the people staffing your exhibit.
Plan for everything to go wrong
Live online video can be great but it is not always reliable. Make sure that you coordinate any live stream plan with the show staff and your tech support team. Test everything in advance, and then test it again. Make sure you have a contingency plan and that the live video broadcast is just a plus to your overall promotion and PR plan. The best way to have things go smoothly, is to plan for problems.
Have you ever incorporated a live streaming video into your trade show sales effort?
Most companies end up purchasing several kinds of displays to work for different types of events. For small, local shows they have tabletop and standing displays, table covers in various sizes, and portable trade show stands. For larger spaces they have modular displays. And for their "big show" they have a custom exhibit.
Now some companies are asking a lot more from their trade show design firm. They want to invest in trade show exhibits that can be used for many types of events, will hold up to a lot of uses but still look new, and that can be easily updated for new shows. They are commissioning Multi-Purpose Custom Exhibits.
These companies are investing in large custom exhibits that are composed of components that can be used in smaller booths. In some cases it is as simple as cleverly designing a large backwall so that a 10 foot section can be used in a small booth. In others an elaborate custom space with stages, interactive displays, meeting area and merchandise fixtures is created for a large, island booth at a major trade show. After the show many of the components can be reconfigured to use for smaller exhibits.
Multi-Purpose Custom Design has financial benefits
The main motivation for moving to Multi-Purpose Custom Design is financial. Sometimes the initial custom display is a bit more expensive but most companies experience savings in the first year.
Brand consistency across all shows
Because all of the components for trade show displays are done at the same time, it is easier to maintain brand integrity. There is consistency in graphics, colors, copy positioning and product displays.
How to start work on a Multi-Purpose Custom Design
Put together a list of all the shows on your Trade Show schedule along with planned booth sizes. Make sure to gather any special exhibit requirements. Determine how long the exhibit will be used. Is it for a year, or for longer? Define your marketing goals and how the exhibit will be tied into your company’s overarching brand campaign. Then select a custom design firm that understands how to create Multi-Purpose Custom Exhibits.
Yes, it takes a bit more planning in the beginning but the benefits are worth the effort.
Some trade shows are great investments and deliver lots of high quality leads; others are just a waste of your marketing budget. The trick is to find the productive shows without making a lot of mistakes.
I always start by defining my marketing goals and target customer. This immediately points me in the right direction. Armed with that information, I put together a list of all the shows that reach my target customers and then evaluate them.
What kind of show should you attend? Often it is a mix of consumer shows, industry shows, buyers' expositions and educational conferences. Each kind of show has its place.
Then look at these key factors to decide which trade show is best suited for your business:
1. Does the show help meet your marketing goals?
If you are interested in a regional market or are new to trade shows, consider participating in a smaller, local trade show. If your goal is the acquire the largest number of qualifies leads, to support a major new product launch and/or to significantly build awareness, participate in the major industry tradeshows that capture the largest number of target customers. If your objective is build your network and to position your company as a thought leader, then investigate show where your company can be a show’s sponsors and a company representative can be a featured speaker.
2. Is it the right market space?
A show that matches your exact market space is often the best show to attend. You can learn a lot by looking at who exhibits at the possible shows. A list of past exhibitors is usually available from the trade show management or on their website. Call a few of the past exhibitors and ask about the quality and number of attendees at previous years' shows. Identify the shows that have an exhibitor mix that will attract your target customers and that are complementary to your business.
3. Determine which shows your top prospects attend.
See if the attendee list from past shows is available. Review the list to determine which shows have a large number of your target customers on the attendee list.
4. Identify which shows your best customers attend.
Call your customers and ask which shows they plan to attend and which shows they would like to attend. If there is a show that some of your customer would like to attend but are not planning to attend, ask if they would attend if they received a free pass to the exhibits. Most major trade shows offer exhibitors a limited number of free passes, so if your customers would attend the show with free passes, this could be a good reason to attend this show.
5. Figure out where your competition will be.
How many of your competitors will be exhibiting at the show? If you are not there, will you be at a competitive disadvantage? Trade shows usually bring together many competitors under one roof. Look for shows where your company will stand out as a leader in your market.
6. Consider timing Does the show's timing make sense?
Will your company have news? Do you have a new product to announce or roll out? Does it conflict with another more important show?
7. Are there any special PR opportunities?
Exhibitors have a distinct advantage capturing Trade Show PR because they have higher-profiles than attendees. They can also more easily and effectively demonstrate their products. This is particularly important for new product introductions. Ask the Trade Show management for last year's press list and if they have any information on who is planning to cover this year's event. Are there any media outlets attending that provide opportunities for you to reach your target audience in an impactful way?
Finally, take a look at the cost to attend each show. Will it have a positive return on your marketing investment? Which shows have the best returns?
Put it all together and you should be able to pick the best Trade Shows for your company.
I like to think about a trade show like an expedition. I’m headed off to some exotic land in search of treasure. I will be deep in the jungle, cut off from civilization for days. It will be hard to get supplies. I know that that my team should expect no outside help. The fate of the entire expedition rests in the hands of the people I choose to man the booth, careful planning and how well equipped we are to meet the expected – and unforeseen – challenges.
The treasure is, of course, new customers and sales. And getting those new customers requires an action plan.
Plan your targets in advance
About 75% of show attendees plan booth visits and meetings before the show starts. Review the attendee list in advance of the show. ID your targets. Start to invite people to visit your booth a few weeks before the show. Personal phone calls are most effective and harder to ignore than e-mails and mailings. Think about pre-show communications that will create anticipation of your booth – it can feature a special promotion or some buzz about a new product release.
Make sure you and your team are outfitted for this adventure
Select clothes that look professional or that support the theme of your booth, but also make sure that everyone will look great all day. Plan on it being either too hot or too cold – attire with a jacket that can be removed is a great choice. And wear comfortable shoes. (One of the biggest mistakes I ever made was wearing beautiful, brand new shoes that were not a great fit to a trade show.) It is almost impossible to really smile if you have been standing for 6 hours and your feet hurt.
Have enough staff or find a partner
Ideally, you will have enough staff in your booth to meet with prospects and give your team breaks. If you have limited staff or have only one person at the booth for a show, find another larger company to partner with. It is best to do this before you select your booth location so that you can be located next to each other or share a larger space.
Pick the right team
Who you pick for this “expedition” is essential to making it successful. Fill your team with high-energy people who have an upbeat attitude. And make sure that everyone who is representing your company has deep product knowledge.
Plan your sales material carefully
People who attend a show are bombarded with information and the best way to be remembered is from your sales literature. Make sure it is easy to carry and packed with valuable information – your goal is to make sure people take your material back to their office. If you have a really valuable prospect, make sure to get their contact information and send material to them after the show.
Carefully select your bait
Over 90% of exhibitors bring a premium or free sample to give away at a trade show because offering an attractive free gift is great way to attract people to your booth. You will be the best choices and can usually save money if you plan this in advance.
What do you do before a show to make it more successful?
These days everyone is looking for ways to get more from their trade show budget. Since your competitors are probably tightening their budget too, it's the perfect time to take advantage of the situation with some creative thinking.
There are lots of ways to save money on your trade show budget – from managing travel and entertainment expenses to strategies for consolidating shipments to the show – but I’ll leave all of that to you. My focus is on ways to save money on your trade show booth without giving up any marketing impact. Here are a few tips on how your trade show booth can be high-impact for less money.
- Reduce transportation costs with a new lower-weight booth
Trade show design has really changed in the past few years. High energy and transportation costs have pushed design houses to rethink their approaches. New booths are constructed from light-weight, high strength materials, They are less expensive to ship and also have a sleeker, more contemporary look.
- Design for easy assembly
As designers have started to work with new materials and modular components, hard-to-assemble booths built with rigid infill panels and wooden construction are vanishing. Find a design firm with a proven track record of creating booths that have big graphic impact but do not require a cast of thousands to set up.
- Rent - don’t buy
Many large trade show design firms rent trade show components and booths. If your company only has one or two trade show events each year, or you need to get a larger booth just for one annual trade show, renting can be a great option.
- Buy a Used Trade Show Booth and Accessories
Some companies trade in or sell off trade show displays frequently in order to update their display to match their latest ad campaign. A smart buyer can pick up a like-new display for a fraction of the original price. If you take this route, be sure to buy from a provider who refurbishes and customizes displays.
- Update your current Trade Show Display
If your company already has trade show booths, take an objective look to see if they can be updated to fit your current needs for an affordable price. Also be careful about investing in an outdated booth that is very costly to transport, assemble and operate because it can be a false savings. But sometimes the most cost-effective path is to update graphics, fabric and add new components to an existing booth.
If you're ready to save money on your trade show budget, we can help you get started!
You have designed the perfect promotion and it requires a giveaway. How do you select a premium that builds on the promotional message, has high-perceived value among your target prospects and is consistent with your brand position?
Set your budget
The first questions you need to ask are, “How much can you spend to reach a new prospect or make a sale?” and “How many premiums do I need?” The price range for trade show giveaway items is enormous. Timing, quality, order quantity and special orders, all affect the price. Since you will save a lot of money per unit with a larger order, try to find an item you can use for a number of shows.
Do a Brainstorming Search
Once you have a budget, limit your search to items that fit within your budget. Look for items that extend the promotional message and support your brand. Look for items that are relevant to your target and related conceptually to your business.
Look beyond premium websites – pick up the phone and call a couple advertising specialty firms. Describe your promotion and give them your budget requirements to a sales rep. Let them get back to you with some promotional item recommendations.
Use your favorite online search engine and search for items that are related to your promotional theme. Almost any item can be labeled, imprinted or packaged with your logo. Don’t restrict where you look for ideas.
Ask coworkers for ideas.
Here are a few idea starters:
- Your goal is to select an item that is useful and has real value to your prospect.
- The highest impact, low cost premiums are informational items related to your product – article reprints, special reports, free audio or video download codes that can be redeemed on your website, or computer software. Other more expensive informational premiums include industry-specific DVDs and books.
- If an informational premium isn’t suited to your business and target customers, consider a specialized tool, something that will make your prospect’s job or life easier.
- Seasonal items have high impact at the beginning of the season – summer items are great ideas in May and June, but far less effective in August.
- Tote bags – everyone at the show will be on the lookout for a really great tote bag. Avoid the economy or value tote bags – they will be passed by or discarded when attendees are offered quality bags. This is a nice addition to an informational premium.
- Inexpensive items can be appealing if they are high quality and useful. For example, a tin of quality, mini breath mints is a popular item at B2B shows.
- Items that incorporate new technology are popular everywhere. For example, LED flashlights are a highly valued item.
Put together a list of candidates
First put together a list of all the possibilities then cross off the following items:
- Eliminate low quality items. It is better to skip the free gift than to give a valuable prospect a pen with your logo on it that doesn’t work or leaks all over her hand.
- Avoid generic premiums that have nothing to do with your business except your logo: sports water bottles, pocket office kits, picture frames, etc.
- Give away items that people can not easily transport home. If most attendees fly into the show, avoid large items like golf umbrellas or breakable items.
- Forget about heavy and bulky items unless you plan to deliver them to your prospects’ offices later. Just think about carrying this item around the showroom floor for hours then bringing it home on the plane.
Selecting the item
Now comes the fun part – picking the item. Look over your list and see if a few items really support the promotional theme and desired brand position. Pick the top 3 to 5 items.
Review the finalists with your sales team and a few of your customers to see if there is a consensus pick. If you have a tie, select the least expense item.
The finishing touch
Make sure to incorporate your message on the item. Have it imprinted, labeled or packaged with your company logo, name and contact information. Don’t let there be any doubt where it came from.
Everything in your exhibit has to work to build your brand and acquire new business. A trade show premium is no exception. If it isn’t winning you new customers, take the money and put it to good use closing sales.
For decades companies were satisfied to give away trade show premiums that built brand awareness and didn’t do much more. Company logos appeared on everything from camouflaged jackets to rubber ducks. Most ended up discarded or given away to friends and family. Now marketers are reexamining their strategies and replacing free gifts with promotions.
A promotion is an incentive to act – it is something that will directly generate qualified leads and drive sales.
Building a successful promotion
The first step is to define your target customer and decide what you are trying to accomplish. Every business wants to increase brand awareness but now marketers want promotions that also motivate an action. Do you want to get leads, get people to try your product, make sales at a show, drive people to your website, or generate retail traffic?
Once you have defined your goal, design a promotion to target your prospects. Don’t just give something to everyone who passes by your booth unless everyone is a great prospect. General giveaways generate unqualified leads and your real prospects will be hard to find in the mass of names gathered at the booth. Most sales reps won't even bother to follow up on any of the show leads because it is too hard to find the qualified prospects.
Structure the promotion in a way that starts a dialog with target customers and encourages follow-up conversations or contacts.
Does your promotion require a free gift, a sales incentive or both?
Some promotions work best with a sales incentive – discount coupons, gift certificates for future purchases, gift with purchase or other sales promotion offer. Some companies have found that combining a sales incentive with a premium giveaway is their unbeatable combination. Make sure to get your prospects’ names, email addresses and phone numbers, and some additional information that identifies the best prospects. If you choose to use a giveaway, capture the prospects’ names and contact information in exchange for these gifts. Also take the opportunity to ask one or two questions that will make the qualified prospects stand out.
Games, Drawings and Prizes
Games and drawings are very popular and will engage people. The trick is to design a contest that will appeal mostly to qualified prospects. The easiest way to create a focused game or drawing is to select a prize that will mostly interest a qualified prospect. So never give away money or TV sets. Instead think about giving away your product or a related item as a prize. Then increase participation in the contest by giving away lots of prizes throughout the show.
Track your results
Establish a way to measure the success of your trade show promotions. If you used a sales incentive, code it so that you know what the show offer actually generated. If you gave away a premium item, after the trade show, survey your customers and your exhibit team about how well it worked.
Work to answer these questions:
- Did the offer attract qualified prospects to the booth?
- Did the promotion achieve your sales and/or lead goal?
- Was it profitable?
- Did your prospect and customers find the premium and/or sales incentive useful? Or did they discard or forget it?
- Did the promotion, sales incentive and/or the premium project the right corporate image?
Selecting a great premium
There are plenty of exciting trade show giveaways that will make your promotion a success. Learn more about creating promotions that work in “Part 2 – Selecting a great premium”.
I attend a lot of trade shows – hardware, books, electronics, men’s wear, food service, medical equipment, etc. – if there is a trade show, odds are I’ve probably been to it. It’s part of my job. Sometimes it is a delightful part of what I do – but all too often I can walk an entire trade show floor and not see one new, inspiring idea.
So far this year at the shows I have attended, I have found that most booths are professional looking and nicely designed but I often don’t remember anything the minute I move on to the next aisle. The words that come to mind: boring, formulaic, and devoid of any discernable brand personality.
Everything is perfectly planned, so why aren’t you more successful?
You have a great location for the show – right up front, with lots of traffic. You have a beautifully designed booth that is uncluttered and well-merchandised. You have great people who know that a positive attitude is essential. Yet people just keep passing by, and don’t even slow down.
Ask yourself, why should someone stop at your booth?
Think about what it is like to attend this show or conference. After three hours of seminars and speeches, the conference attendees finally get a break. They enter the exhibit hall and are greeted with hundreds of booths and the din of people chattering, music and sales presentations. They quickly walk down the aisles and select a few booths to visit. What can you do to make your booth one of those stops?
Avoid being part of this “boring sea of sameness”?
Do something different and unexpected. Break out of the "just another trade show exhibit" pack. And do it in a way that sells your product and builds your brand. I know it is much easier said than done, but here are a few breakout ideas:
Have you seen any unique and enticing booth ideas that created buzz on the exhibition floor and attracted visitors?
- Entertainment: If it is appropriate to your overall message and product, hire a professional performer to be part of your booth but give it a twist. One small book publisher was promoting a new series of activity books include a book on juggling. They secured two booths located directly across from each other. Then they hired a two-person comedy juggler team who did a juggling show across the aisle. It was hard for anyone who saw this simple spectacle to pass them by without stopping. More importantly, it was hard to forget that the publisher had a juggling book coming out.
- Create a place to “escape” from the show. Provide a place to really relax that gives you a sales opportunity. Many exhibitors provide comfortable seating or have conference tables with chairs for meeting with prospects or set up beverage bars with stools. This just creates a place to relax and avoid a sales message. Often it creates a place for your staff to sit where no one can see them. The breakout idea is to incorporate the escape into the overall sales message. A travel incentive company who promotes South Pacific Getaways created a tropical beach getaway with a couple real palm trees, some fresh exotic flowers, beach chairs and tropical beverages. They added ambient sound with tropical birds and waves and simple lighting effects. The staff was dressed in tropical business attire and was actively engage in greeting people and answering questions – they were not relaxing at the beach, they were smiling, attentive and working all the time. It was the most popular place at the entire show. Everyone who entered received a “Tourist Guide and Passport” that provided information about the company’s travel incentives.
- Incorporate an interactive demonstration. Make your booth interactive and experiential by turning the sales process into an active, dynamic experience. It doesn’t need to be a technological wonder and it should always involve 1-to-1 interaction between the sales staff and the prospect. Have something unusual for people to do, touch, smell or even taste. Bring your products to life with interactive demonstrations that focus on the key sales proposition. And if you do incorporate technology, make sure that it is not complete “self-service”. A medical technology company used an Interactive 3D display to allow prospect to explore their product, zoom, see internal mechanics, and even go a simulated “test drive”. The 3D simulation provided the company the opportunity to introduce key prospects to a very costly medical device but required some assistance from the booth staff so that there was a natural opportunity to start a dialog.
- Everybody wins. If you are going to have a prize drawing, come up with something more enticing than a fishbowl for the entries and a random drawing sometime in the future when most of the entrants are already left the show. Attendees remember events, games and competitions. One clever exhibitor created an “everybody wins” contest with thousands of prizes. Instead of being just another booth with a free logoed giveaway, they enticed people into entering their booth, and spinning a gigantic wheel of fortune. Even most of the people who won the smallest prize – a promotional item with the company’s name, website and phone number – remembered the company because they won their prize.
- Open and inviting. The simplest way to increase the effectiveness of your trade show marketing is to open up your booth. Get rid of the table across the front and get rid of any barriers. Eliminate all the clutter. Design your trade show exhibit for graphic impact with large, attractive images and clean, simple and bold elements that will draw one's attention. Add dramatic lighting and motion that welcomes people into your booth.
If you want a Trade Show exhibit that is memorable and persuasively communicates your brand, keep it focused on one overarching idea. Think Big. Create a “Big Idea”.
When a prospect walks into a Trade Show they are confronted with hundreds – even thousands of different marketing messages. If you are lucky, your company will have 15, maybe even 30-seconds to capture that prospect’s attention.
The less you try to say, the more people remember.
One way to break through the competitive clutter is to have a single-minded message – a simple statement that sums up the most important thing you can say about your company that will convince a prospect to consider buying your product – and then to communicate this message with creative that is attention getting and memorable. This is often referred to as a “Big Idea”.
What if your company doesn’t have a single-minded message?
Sometimes the answer is already part of your company’s marketing program. For most companies, particularly B2B firms, I have found that there is no single-minded message in the advertising and marketing communications. Usually there is a well thought out graphics standard, a nice logo and tagline, and some positioning and benefits copy on collateral and the company’s website.
If your company doesn’t have a single-minded message, develop it. Look for a key insight about your brand. Start with your customers’ buying behavior to discover one significant reason why customers buy – or why they don't buy – from your company.
Then answer this “simple” question, “What is the one thing we want to say to our target customer to convince them to buy from us?”
Ask the people who work with you the question. Sometimes the head of Sales and Marketing can answer the question immediately. But if no one can answer the question, answer these three questions:
- Why do you need a big idea?
- What is the problem you are trying to solve?
- Why does the problem exist?
Then sum up the answers into a one sentence response that answers the question, “What is the one thing we want to say to our target customer to convince them to buy from us?”
How can you come up with a “Big Idea”?
Once you have a single-minded message, you can start to work with your creative team to create a “Big Idea” that powerfully communicates the message. A good place to start is to select an exhibit marketing support firm that has the capability of working with you to craft this “Big Idea” and to align every aspect of your trade show effort to support the “Big Idea”.
Communicate this “Big Idea” in every element of your trade show exhibit – from the graphics and exhibit to the people who are staffing your booth to promotional materials – make sure that everything is building an attention-getting, memorable message.
You can incorporate your “Big Idea” into all the elements of your trade show program:
- Exhibit theme
- Live presentations
- Traffic building attractions
- Booth staff
- Pre-show promotion
- Lead response and follow-up
Does your company have a single-minded message? Has your exhibit marketing support firm delivered a big idea for your company?