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.

The Key to Tradeshow Exhibit Success: Location, Location, Location

When you’re planning for the upcoming year of trade shows, it’s important to remember that the location of your booth at trade shows can be key to getting the maximum amount of traffic. Lots of traffic can equate to a higher number of qualified sales leads, which you need to justify the expense of attending these shows.

The first step is to plan for the trade show early. When you book early, you’ll have more options to choose from for your booth location. If you wait until the last minute, you’ll be limited to choosing from whatever booth spots are not sold. The only plus of waiting: you might be able to find out in advance who your neighboring exhibitors will be. If a show doesn’t sell out, by booking later, the show organizers might offer that accompanying booth—if vacant—for free or for a greatly reduced price just to fill it.

If a particular show is a success for you, sign up and reserve your spot for the following year’s event while at the event or shortly thereafter, which might get you a better location and better deal too. Keep in mind that if you are a returning exhibitor, the event management’s sales folks want you back. Use this as a bargaining chip in your negotiations for next year’s booth rate and location.

So what are the prime locations when choosing your booth location? Let’s take a look at a few of the primo spots that exhibitors crave.

Close to the exit from the restrooms. You might balk at getting seated near the restroom at a restaurant, but tradeshows are an exception. Everyone eventually has to go to the bathroom and as they leave, they are often in strolling mode and more likely to stop.

Adjacent to food kiosks and/or Internet cafes. Be the first booth they see after they grab that cup of coffee, eat that bagel or check their email. Once their hunger is sated or their caffeine withdrawal has ebbed, they will be ready to give you their full, undivided attention.

Close to the entrance/exit of the exhibit hall. It’s guaranteed that everyone will have to walk by your booth multiple times a day. Be the first booth they see when they enter the hall, before they are worn out from hours of schlepping up and down the aisles.

End of aisles or on back walls. People often look to see how long aisles are and stop to get their bearings before they embark down an aisle. Seize this opportunity to grab their attention.

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.

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.

Which Trade Show is Right for you?

It is an age old question – should we exhibit? This question surfaces on a regular basis in all marketing departments. There are certain shows, based on their great performance in the past, that are no-brainers. But there can be others which you may not know much about.

Ask Customers and Prospects about the Trade Shows They Attend

The first point is to simply ask others about the trade shows that they like and attend. Make it a habit to ask customers and prospects alike “which trade shows do you attend?”

  • Which is the “best” one for finding new products?
  • How are the shows different and what makes them different?
  • If they often attend more than one – which one is most important?
  • Which one would they skip if they had to choose?
  • Which show(s) have caught their attention, but haven’t yet made a priority?

You might consider conducting a short survey that can be sent out to your prospects and customers to solicit their responses. There are many free survey tools available to use, like Survey MonkeyZoomerang, and others.

Talk with the Trade Show Organizer

The show organizer’s job is to be an expert on who attends their events. Typically they have concrete, measurable registration surveys and audits for you to view. Initially, you can review their prospectus; then, if it looks like a fit for you, call them directly. They know that a successful show is predicated on the right buyers finding the right vendors.  Consequently, they make a science out of profiling their customers, and you should too.

To begin profiling your customer, start with these questions: Who do you want to attract to your exhibit booth? Who are the ideal customers for your product and/or service and what is important to them? Depending on whether your market is, business to consumer, or business to business, the criteria will be different. Regardless of the specific terms, you will need to define your customer. The broad range of data categories are: demographics (who is my customer), psychographics (what do they do), behavioral (how do they do it) and causation (why they do what they do). According to Barry Siskind in an article called The Right Place to Exhibit – A Strategic Approach, “causation is the sum total of all the demographic, psychographic and behavioral data you have accumulated. It matches up your features and benefits with your customers’ perception of their importance.”

As you profile your target audience, you can ask questions to find out where they are and the best way to reach them. Given that shows have various geographic focuses (regional, national or international), you will want to choose those ideally suited to both you and the audience you serve. Ultimately, you have plenty of choices, though finding the right trade show can be challenging. “The right show is a blend of audience, cost and logistics. Good event selection is a solid base upon which the rest of your exhibit program is built,” Siskind reminds us.

Resources for Locating Trade Shows

If you need to look up a show, here are several online resources for you.

Events in America: www.eventsinamerica.com

Trade Show News Network: www.tsnn.com

The Trade Show Calendar: www.thetradeshowcalendar.com

Selecting the right trade show is just the beginning of the process.

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.

Making Sure Your Booth Gets to the Trade Show

This horror story happens – you are at the show, but your booth isn’t! Somehow it was lost or misplaced in transit. This post covers the basics of transporting your booth property to the show site. It is important to note, this is one area where you can experience savings by planning ahead.

Candy Adams, in her article on Exhibitor Online Lost in Transportation provided 12 questions you should ask regarding transportation to avoid any snafus. One question is, “where is your freight going?” Her response:

The quickest way to not get your shipment to a show is to provide inaccurate or incomplete shipping information. But there’s more to getting your freight from Point A to Point B than filling out a shipping label and affixing it to a box. Specifically, you need to tell your transportation carrier whether the shipment needs to go to the trade show’s advance warehouse, or direct to the show site. If you don’t make the distinction, you might be sitting in your booth space waiting for your freight to arrive from the advance warehouse, while it’s still en route direct to the show and set to arrive the following day. Not only will you not have your freight, but your setup costs will escalate as the installation laborers twiddle their thumbs until it arrives. What’s more, the additional day it takes the freight to travel direct to show site can result in late-delivery penalties if you miss your on-site targeted delivery deadline.

As Candy stated, you have choices on how you can ship your materials to the show. You can ship them to:

Advanced Warehouse by a certain date

-Or-

Direct Deliveries to the Show Site on specific dates

Each show will have a designated shipping company for you to use and their information can be obtained in Exhibitor Kit supplied by show management. However, you may have a preferred carrier, one you use regularly.

Key Questions which Determine Freight Costs

As you are working with the transportation issues, these are key pieces of information which will determine the cost of freight:

  • Number of Pieces
  • Estimated Weight
  • Estimated Size
  • Addresses for Pickup/Delivery

Remember, items that arrive after the receiving deadlines can incur additional charges. Once again, you can save money by planning ahead!

An important note: make sure you have the address of the venue correct. Candy shares in her article:

There can be confusion, especially in major cities, if a specific street address or hall designation isn’t provided. I’ve witnessed freight delivered to the wrong convention center in cities with multiple exhibition facilities, and to the wrong Marriott or Hilton since there can be multiple chain hotels in metropolitan areas. Unless you want your carrier to guess which venue is the correct destination, provide the full venue name and street address.

Transportation Timing and Charges

The shorter the transit time, the higher the charges are for most deliveries. Here is a brief summary for your review.

  1. The lowest charges are usually common carriers, but unless you pay a large premium, you cannot designate the delivery date. This works mostly for advance receiving shipments but does not work at all for direct to show site shipments.
  2. Next lowest is the 3-5 business day. Lots of flexibility in that the shipper can designate day and time to deliver as long as we have at least 3 business days. If they designate a time, or if the day is on the weekend or a holiday, there is an extra charge.
  3. The 2nd Business day is still higher priced. The shipper can still designate date and time.
  4. Overnight is higher still.
  5. Same Day is the highest cost, and it will be delivered as quickly as possible.

Transportation companies designated by show management or those you have used in the past can be great resources for you. If you are new to this, ask questions. Typically, you will find great advice from them and if you plan ahead you can save money.

Transportation problems can be avoided by careful planning. This is an area where you want time to be on your side by advance scheduling.

Staff Your Trade Show Exhibit to Win!

Anyone who has attended a trade show can tell you that the best booth, in the best location, with the best promotion, may not get the sale if you do not put together the right team to represent your company.

Overall, you are looking for people who are fun to be with and who can help bring your booth to life. Here is a checklist of critical factors to consider when selecting your team.

  1. Make sure you have the right number of people to staff the booth. It depends on the type of show, your business sector and the type of promotional campaign you plan. A good rule of thumb is one person for every 50 square feet of booth space, including break coverage.
  2. Make sure that the people staffing your booth have an appearance that is consistent with your brand and trade show campaign.
  3. Look for people who are naturally friendly and outgoing, and who smile. You want people who are eager to meet attendees.
  4. Select people who are good listeners and who know how to ask open-ended questions that encourage prospects to talk about their needs.
  5. Choose team members who know your business sector or who can be quickly trained to knowledgeably answer questions. It is best to select people who know your product, your company and its capabilities, and who know the competition.
  6. Think about attire and set a dress code. Don’t leave this critical element to chance. Make sure your entire team is willing to follow the dress code.

Once you have selected your team, make sure they have the tools they need and are properly trained to represent your company, qualify leads and secure sales.

Tips for Selecting the Right Trade Shows

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 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.

How to Make Exhibits Eco-Friendly

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), trade shows are the #2 producer of waste in the U.S., following the construction industry, a dubious honor indeed. So what can you do as an exhibitor to be more environmentally responsible? Though it would be difficult, if not impossible, to have a tradeshow exhibit that’s is 100% sustainable, the goal of many companies is to move more in the “green” direction. Doing so might not be as difficult as it once was as many exhibit companies are now offering more and more sustainable exhibits.

What makes it eco-friendly? Good question. Let’s take a look at some of the options for companies wanting to create eco-friendly exhibits.

One way to reduce waste is to choose exhibits made from materials that are eco-friendly, meaning they are made of renewable, recycled and sustainable materials. The frames of exhibit systems can be made out of aluminum, which is 100% recyclable. Substrates, panels, banner stands can be constructed out of other recyclable materials, such as Sorghum, bamboo, PET plastic, cardboard, and biodegradable foam board.

Another huge energy waster is lighting. Choose LED lighting instead, which reduces energy usage by 90%. Exhibitors can even go green on the printing on displays by using low Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) inks and eco materials.

Lest we forget shipping, many exhibit companies are offering shipping cases that are made entirely of recycled plastic so the entire case can be recycled. These are also often very lightweight, again reducing the amount of energy, or carbon footprint, associating with shipping it.