Alexis Exhibits

Trade Show Secrets to Success

For small businesses, trade shows can be a great opportunity to reach out to a targeted audience and deliver your marketing message. The goal, of course, is to ultimately convert potential sales leads into satisfied, happy customers.

Despite brutal economic conditions, trade shows still offer a significant payoff for small businesses. Even in today’s business world of websites, social media, emails and voicemails, trade shows still offer one of the best opportunities for companies to build relationships with face-to-face contact.

Let’s take a look at some trade show secrets (shhh, don’t tell anyone) that could help your company succeed in the trade show world, regardless of your budget.

Pick a show in a vertical, niche market. Instead of exhibiting at a trade show at which all your competitors will be, fighting to gain the attention of the same audience, pick an offbeat, smaller show. Every business has smaller, vertical markets in which they would like to gain a foothold. The advantage is these shows typically will cost less, and you can focus on delivering your message to a new audience, not on besting your competitors’ efforts.

Don’t listen to the hype. Instead of relying on the word of salespeople desperate to sell you a booth, talk to other exhibitors to find out what type of experience they’ve had not only working with the exhibit management but also the results they have experienced from exhibiting.

Attend the event first. If you’re considering exhibiting at a really large (read: expensive) trade show, attend it first. Walk the floor and ask both the attendees and the exhibitors about their experience at the show. Find out whether they felt attending or exhibiting was worth their time and money.

Skip new trade shows. Don’t invest in unproven commodities, especially in these tough economic times when even the larger shows can struggled for survival. Save your trade show budget for shows with a proven track record of success that you know can deliver the ROI you need to justify the expense.

Speak up. If you’re a small business with limited resources, exhibiting at trade shows might be beyond your economic means. That doesn’t mean you can’t add trade shows to your marketing mix. Contact the show management and inquire as to any possible opportunities to be a speaker or panel expert.

Get them while they’re hot. After the show is over, don’t let months go by before contacting sales prospects. Follow up with those attendees who took the time to stop by and hear your company’s pitch within two weeks of the show.

Unleash the Power of PR at Tradeshows

One initiative often forgotten about at trade shows and conferences is public relations (PR). Obviously tradeshows are an excellent way to increase visibility of your company with a targeted audience of potential customers. Most companies are well aware of this and focus their efforts solely on garnering the attention of attendees in order to generate sales leads.

What many companies fail to recognize is the vast potential to also grab the attention of the media covering these events. Magazine editors, writers, consultants, and bloggers attend shows to gather information and become educated on what’s new in that particular industry. They want to know what products are being introduced, what new technologies are emerging, what companies are partnering together, and what new services are being offered.

In order to get their attention, companies must be proactive. Tradeshow organizers engage in promotional activities that include the media so be sure and look for opportunities to get your company included in any pre-show newsletter or press release distributed by show management. Contact the show’s PR staff and ask for any opportunities to contribute industry information or research, or provide industry “experts” at your company to participate in panel discussions, give speeches, or to teach product- or technology-specific classes.

Several months before the show, put together a press kit that includes: a one-page company overview; a press release on whatever you’re introducing at the show; product spec sheets on each product or service; case studies or user stories demonstrating the real-world benefits of your products or services; recent news articles; and a CD of images of your company’s products that the editors can use for publication. Also be sure and include the business card of the person within your company responsible for PR. Put press kits in the show’s media room, as well as in your booth.

A few weeks out, obtain the list of all members of the media who are pre-registered for the event. Contact the key members of the media and schedule a time for them to come to your booth and meet one-on-one with a company representative to get a demo of your product and an overview of your company. Make sure you have something newsworthy to share with them: research findings, significant new technology or products, market news, etc.

If you have significant news to share, you might consider holding a press conference. The show management can assist you in obtaining a room outside the chaotic show floor and can also help with preparations such as food or drink you might want to offer weary members of the press.

Keep in mind that good PR is about building relationships with the media and positioning your company as a thought leader in your industry. If an editor likes you—and as a result, the company you represent—he or she will be more likely to contact you for information or interviews with key personnel when they are writing an article on a topic with which your company can offer some expertise.

How to Choose Effective Trade Show Giveaways

When attendees at trade shows leave your booth, you would like them to leave with a great lasting impression of your company and its products. Giving them a great pitch on your company and an impressive demonstration of your products is an effective way to do that. Another way is to give them something to take home as a way of thanking them for their time and in the process something that will remind them of your company and its products.

These so-called “giveaways,” or promotional gifts can be super marketing tools when chosen carefully. Attendees love the idea of getting something for free, whether it’s a tote bag, a mug or a random ballpoint pen. Note: yes, attendees will take pens even when they are not intended to be giveaways. Gift giving can build goodwill, be an incentive, communicate a message, and create awareness.

Giveaways should be used to reinforce a company name, core benefit, and image, create a positive feeling, remind attendees of the company name, and to obtain contact information of prospects. Be sure that whatever item you choose as a giveaway, make sure your company logo or name is on it. Enhance your positioning strategy even more by including a branding message, slogan, and phone number as well.

So how do you choose the most memorable ones to use as tradeshow takeaways? One good way is to cross-reference your own promotional ideas with retail items that are trending high at the moment. Do this by surfing through gadget catalogs to see what’s being featured. Some item might be all the rage, and while your marketing budget might not be able to splurge on that actual item, popular accessories (a holder, portable speakers, etc.) with your company logo might be.

Also, keep in mind your objective and who exactly will be receiving the giveaway. Will it be used to enhance a theme, convey a specific message, or educate your target audience? Determining a purpose of the giveaway will go a long way towards helping you select the right gift. If you’re still stuck, consider consulting a promotional specialist to help you make the right selection.

Another important consideration will be your budget, as giveaway items will vary greatly in price, with quality, quantity, and special orders all impacting overall cost. Once you’ve determined how much you have to spend, you might also consider ordering the same item for several different shows, as the greater the quantity, the lower the individual unit price will be.

Unique trade show giveaways can help draw prospects to your booth, so make sure your sales prospects know about it in advance. Send them a teaser invite with details of the giveaway, or create a two-piece premium, sending one part out to key prospects before the show and directing them to collect the other half at your booth.

Deploying Online Marketing Strategies to Promote Trade Shows

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 website 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 websites, publications, or newsletters. If the show has a website, 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 website. 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.

Exhibiting at International Trade Shows

As a response to the US economy’s Great Recession and as protection against future bust cycles, many organizations are increasingly thinking global, looking to expand their businesses into emerging foreign markets. Exhibiting overseas is one of the fastest and most cost-effective ways to identify the best foreign markets for your company’s products and services.

Exhibiting internationally introduces many new challenges for organizations and requires thorough research to determine which ones will attract your target market. A good starting point is the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service (FSC), part of the International Trade Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

If you’re the person put in charge of exhibit management at your company, you need to do your research to make sure your company’s significant investment into international trade shows isn’t a waste of time and money. Tactics that have proven successful in trade show exhibiting in the U.S. might fall flat in another country.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when exhibiting internationally:

Hire a translator. Probably the most important step is to hire an expert (preferably native-born) translator who not only understands the language but the culture of the country and its people. This person will prove instrumental in helping fine-tune your company’s marketing message, slogans, and marketing collateral to assure that your message is effectively delivered to this new audience.

Hire a designer. It might also be a good idea to hire a local designer who understands how this foreign market will interpret the colors, design, symbols, logo, and look of your exhibit. For example, one color might be considered lucky or prosperous in one country, yet might symbolize something completely different or have a negative connotation in another.

Check on technical and safety standards. Before you commit to a foreign show, make sure your products comply with international technical and safety standards, which may vary slightly from those in the U.S. Another important consideration is power requirements. When exhibiting overseas, your electrical equipment might need to be adapted to different power voltage outlets.

When in Rome… Things are done differently in other countries. Be sensitive to how business is conducted and how decisions are made in the host country. Read up on proper business etiquette, how the sales process typically works, and the nuances of relationship building there. In Japan, for example, a handshake at the end of a business meeting is as good as a signed contract.

Exhibiting at an international trade show can bring big benefits and open up an entirely new market for your company’s products or services. A savvy planner, however, must do their homework well in advance.

Need Exhibit Management for your Trade Show? Let’s Talk.

Long after the Trade Show is Over Where Will the Swag Be?

Swag is a part of the DNA of every trade show booth. Some items have been worth their weight in gold, due to the attendee’s reaction to them, while some were a waste of money. Will the promotional product make it home or will it be left in the hotel room? There are many questions which should be posed and answered as you consider the worthiness of this endeavor.

The ultimate question is: does that Tchotchke really matter, and will it move the person along the sales funnel? Depending on your target market and what they expect, answers can vary. Below are some questions to consider when reviewing the options for your giveaways.

Questions, Ideas to Consider When Choosing a Tchotchke

  1. How useful is it? Is this item something you would truly use after the show is over?
  2. How does this piece relate to your company and its brand? Will it reinforce your brand image?
  3. How can this swag be tied to the overall booth theme?
  4. Will this item be kept at the recipient’s office? Or is it a fun item that will be given to someone at home, like a child?
  5. Is there a way that this item can share your unique sales proposition?
  6. Can this item easily go through security at the airport?
  7. What types of conversations can the booth staff build around this item as it is being given away?

All of these questions should be reviewed to determine what to choose or pick out. Unfortunately, due to the hurried nature of getting ready for a show, the selection of the “right” promotional product is at the bottom of the list of tasks to accomplish.

Kathleen Hanover has written a post titled: Trade Show Marketing Tip: How To Choose Smart Swagwhere she presents a great idea:

“Let’s say your company sells a breakthrough solar panel that is 27% more cost-efficient than anyone else’s. Why not give away a small, solar-powered calculator? And what if that calculator had a formula printed on it that the recipient could use to calculate her cost savings over your competition? (Needless to say, it would also have your logo, tagline, and other pertinent details.) The possibilities are endless.”

Think about two different types of giveaways. Use a less expensive, but effective, giveaway for the freebie vultures for those people that come by your booth looking for the free giveaway. Don’t totally discount these people because they may actually just be trying to get your information and the giveaway will cause them to think of you whenever they use it. The second giveaway should be something a little nicer. It is a reward and thank you for a visitor stopping and engaging in genuinely interested conversation regarding your product. You definitely want to give them a reason to remember you.

Consider a Charitable Gift Rather than Swag

Depending on the audience at the show, a contribution to a charitable cause might gain more recognition for your firm than a giveaway. The show might have a cause they are supporting, like a food bank or a local animal shelter. You could coordinate your efforts with the show to add your contribution along with theirs. Let the press know what you are doing in lieu of spending money on giveaways and you might be able to gain positive exposure for your efforts. The press would be seen by show attendees and those who are not there.

Choosing the appropriate gift is often on a trial and error basis. Consult with a promotional products expert to discuss the wide range of options at your disposal. They can guide you in selecting the right item which will meet and possibly exceed your goals. Walk the show aisles to see what other exhibitors are using. You might see something which can be used for another show.

The good news is you have many options to choose from which can allow you flexibility in meeting budgetary considerations. What has been a great giveaway for you in the past?

Trade Show Targeting – What Makes My Customer Tick?

Understanding the business concerns, issues and problems of your prospects and customers is paramount in crafting a marketing message. This message is a critical component of your trade show plan, as well as your business marketing plan as a whole.  However, it is not easy to tap into their minds.  This process requires market research to effectively derive their characteristics for purchasing.  During the last few years, the buying patterns have changed and possibly your customer persona has evolved into a totally different person.  Keeping up with the shifts and changes can be difficult.

One way to tune into the mindset of a customer base is using focus groups.  They can be quite effective in uncovering the thought processes and preferences of an audience.  If you are not familiar with this research form, let me provide some additional information.

What are Focus Groups?

Focus Groups are great at capturing the attitudes and opinions of a “selected” group(s) of individuals.  The moderator poses questions to the group affording the participants the opportunity to share their views.  It is important to remember that these groups are qualitative in nature and sometimes would need to be followed up with a quantitative research project to ensure statistical reliability.

However, the catalytic nature of focus groups can provide direction as to what the next steps should be in the evolution of the idea being tested.

In essence – you are testing ideas or communication messages to determine if they are on target or not.  Customer and prospect language or what they “hear” can be TOTALLY different from what you are communicating.  Being in tune with your audience can spell s-u-c-c-e-s-s.

Using Online Research to Probe the Minds of Your Customer

Rather than in-person focus groups, participants are recruited for the online experience.  Typically, 12 – 15 are secured and they commit to the process.

  • A research moderator posts questions over the course of several days as the conversation evolves and probes respondents for details and clarifications when needed.
  • Respondents can log in and answer each days’ questions whenever it’s convenient for them – some folks are online at the crack of dawn, some like to log in and take a break during work hours and others log in after dinner is done and the kids are in bed.  Being convenient means that respondents can take time to think about the questions and provide thoughtful answers.
  • Clients are able to log in and observe the discussion and leave private messages for the moderator regarding comments they would like clarified or suggestions for new topics.
  • They last over a three-day period which allows for reflection on questions answered and possible modifications to the moderator’s script.

The participants interact with each other and the moderator as they provide their valuable insights to questions posed.  In the process, all sorts of light bulbs are illuminated and most often a new, enhanced direction is revealed.

Mike Courtney from Aperio Insights shares these insights when considering online focus groups to determine your trade show messages.

Most likely there is a current marketing communications campaign going on within your company.  Does your audience really understand the campaign or is there some confusion on the message you are attempting to convey?

Or you can assess whether your prospects deem you as a trustworthy resource.  Or do they trust your competition more than you?

Have the prospect or customer “explain” your services or products to the moderator of the online focus group.  Are they accurately defining your offering?  Note: this question can be quite revealing as to how far off the mark your audience is to what your product does or what your marketing message is.

One other word of note – research can beget research.  The more you uncover – additional questions will surface.

As you research and make your trade show marketing plan, consider taking the pulse of your customers.  If you can translate their heartbeat (the business issues) into your marketing message, a match is made and most likely you will have a new customer.

Is Your Trade Show Exhibit a Good Investment?

Many marketing executives can’t completely answer this question. They essentially repeat what was done in previous years with slight variations in execution. Taking a moment to analyze your trade show goals and results can help you find new ways to acquire more customers and make your trade show investment really pay off.

Trade shows are expensive, but they can also be one of the best sales and marketing investments your company makes. Trade show exhibits provide unparalleled opportunities to forge stronger customer relationships, win-back old customers and acquire new, high-value customers. But you should expect this effort to deliver more.

Maximizing your Trade Show Exhibit investment

  1. Incremental sales and profits
    Track your results and determine your Trade Show ROI. More information about how to calculate your Trade Show ROI.If your trade show ROI is not acceptable, then look for ways to make improvements. First, look for gaps in sales and customer tracking to ensure that the data is accurate and complete. Next, make sure that the shows selected were good choices and had significant attendance from your target customers.

    Then look for marketing gaps: ineffective or no lead follow-up, insufficient planning, staffing issues or other reasons that the shows were not productive. Once you identify an issue, you can adjust your strategy and improve results.

  2. Improved competitive position
    Did your company strengthen relationships with current customers, increase brand awareness, launch a new product that differentiated your company, expose your company and products to a new market? Generally, did your trade show investment help position your company for future sales gains and market share increase?If your trade show exhibit doesn’t improve your market position, then carefully evaluate your strategy. How can you adjust your trade show marketing plan to outdo your competition?
  3. PR and Investor Relations
    Did you generate meaningful press coverage? Did your company’s trade show presence result in improved perception of your company in the investor community? Do you get any significant consumer education opportunities from the show?If your trade show attendance has not been a PR opportunity, it is a promotional gap that should be evaluated for potential for your company.
  4. Market intelligence
    Trade shows are an excellent way to gain competitive intelligence. They also can be used for market research and provide an excellent opportunity to gain customer insight.If your trade show isn’t providing your company with market intelligence, develop a plan to maximize this unique opportunity to gather both the latest competitive info and to learn more about your customers.

Have you analyzed your trade show investment? Are you satisfied with your results?

Trade Show Planning: Creating a Timeline

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 months 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.

Goal Setting – How to Evaluate a Successful Tradeshow

As corporate tradeshow marketing professionals, justifying participation in trade shows is one of the most daunting tasks that we face. The competition for every penny of your marketing budget is fierce and very few executives are in love with tradeshows.

How can you convince others in your organization that shows are a good investment? How can you say that you had a successful show when there was never any measurement technique established? Like any other investment, it must start with goals. When the decision is made to exhibit in a show, you and your team need to produce a written set of measurable goals that everyone buys into.

These may include a number of completed lead sheets, meetings with certain key prospects, the number of individual demonstrations, etc. This list, created well before the show provides a very effective guide for exhibit design, graphics, booth staffing and show activities. Everything planned for the tradeshow must be done with your goals list in mind.

During the show, you can assemble the data to report which goals were achieved and which were not.

A team meeting 2 weeks after the show will allow you to share your results and will clearly demonstrate the value of the show. This then becomes a procedure that is done for every event.

A lack of goals leaves the future of your tradeshow program totally to chance. Need help establishing your goals? Our exhibit management is based entirely on strategic planning. Let’s Talk.