Making an Impact

Creating Memorable Trade Show Experiences

Tradeshows – also known as expos, expositions or trade exhibitions – are a tremendous way for businesses of all types to meet others in their industry, showcase new products to potential customers or demonstrate their latest innovations.
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From medical devices to construction machinery, there are tradeshows to meet every need. Many are staggering in their size and scope, held in large convention centers and attract thousands of curious visitors.

The Frankfurt Book Fair dates back to 1454, soon after Johannes Gutenberg developed printing, and is the largest in the world, annually drawing over 7,000 exhibitors from 106 countries and hundreds of thousands of attendees.

The massive CES – formerly the International Consumer Electronics Show – is held every year in January in Las Vegas. It boasts over 3,900 exhibiting companies and draws at least 170,000 attendees from 150 countries every year. At the hands-on event, the next generation of technological innovations and breakthroughs are introduced to manufacturers, developers, technology specialists, hardware experts and others in the field.

The CES trade show serves as a platform aimed at a specific audience, for a good reason. The technology trade association represents the $292 billion American consumer technology industry and is a sight to behold. The CES is an extremely well-organized event targeting markets ranging from the Internet of Things (IoT) to product design and manufacturing, sports, robotics and machine intelligence, start-ups, advertising entertainment and content, automotive and home and family.

For anyone involved in electronics, this is the place to be seen, meet and greet others and showcase products and innovations.

As the saying attributed to American inventor and businessman Thomas A. Edison goes, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Vendors need to be organized many months in advance if they want to be successful and reach their goal audience. When it comes to trade shows, success is largely due to preparation.

Whether smaller events held in community centres or enormous exhibition halls occupying hundreds of thousands of square feet in cities like New York or Toronto, there are many do’s and don’ts when it comes to successfully participating in a trade show. Booths can be expensive, as can graphics and signage, banners, lighting, tables, display cases, audio-visual systems, computers and tablets and product.

Booths need to be manned, so there is also the issue of company owners taking time away from their office or paying staff to be present. Some trade shows are brief, whereas others last several days, an important consideration when examining one’s expectations.

Both seasoned veterans of the trade show circuit and newcomers need to start with questions. What are they hoping to achieve by having a booth at a trade show? Do they seek greater brand awareness? Are they interested in selling goods at the show? Do they seek to build their email database of potential customers or suppliers? These questions and others must be discussed long before deciding to participate in any exhibition.

Success or failure of exhibitors at trade shows depends on several factors, starting with the booth itself. Since colossal events like the CES often have hundreds of booths vying for attention, it is crucial that exhibitors set themselves apart from the competition. In many cases, it is worth the expense of hiring professional designers to create a specific look and feel for a booth.

Once an attendee approaches the booth, it is equally key to have someone friendly and knowledgeable talk to them about products or services. If a company owner is unsure, uncomfortable or shy when it comes to talking to strangers, it is essential to hire a speaker who is well-prepared to talk to attendees.

Before a visitor leaves the booth, they should receive some form of branded takeaway, which will create a favourable impression and provide a means of contact in the future, even if the item is a simple as a pen, USB stick or tote bag bearing the name, contact information and website of the company.

In today’s fast-paced world, just having a website is not enough for companies to be successful. To draw visitors to booths and displays is vital to tap into the power of social media. Not long ago, they were a few basic options, including Facebook and Twitter.

Today, mainly through apps developed for smartphones, there are dozens of social media sites, with recent estimates predicting about 2.6 billion users. From Tumblr to Instagram, Google+, Snapchat, Pinterest and LinkedIn, there are plenty of ways to inform potential visitors about a trade booth and what it can offer them.

The immediacy of social media sites can be used to inform guests about developments and updates as they happen. Hashtags can be used to generate interest and alert raffle winners about prizes they have won. Photo-heavy sites like Instagram are ideal for displaying products, while platforms such as Facebook Live provide the ability to connect, respond to questions and interact with viewers in real time.

Just as important as proper staging, well-lit attractive displays, informed and motivated speakers and memorable giveaways,

Companies at trade shows must collect contact information from those attending. Not everyone may be willing to part with their business or email address, so raffled prizes for filling-out forms are a good incentive and depending on budget, can include everything from small gifts to tablet computers or even vacations worth thousands of dollars.

Every trade show booth wants to be remembered positively, and companies need to be creative yet professional with their approach, never cheesy or fake. Advance promotion – namely informing existing and potential customers of your attendance prior to a tradeshow – must begin weeks, often months, before the event itself. Marketing campaigns have to be innovative, yet tasteful; a business with juvenile or poorly thought-out displays, gaudy colours or annoying music will certainly be remembered, but for all the wrong reasons.

This image creation includes having an appropriate dress code for people manning the booth. The best way to go about this is to design clothes that fit with the booth and its marketing campaign. There is nothing wrong with a polo or short-sleeved casual shirt branded with a company logo, for example, but designs and colors must be consistent. Nothing screams ‘lazy’ more than a company with staff wearing clothes emblazoned with an updated logo, but the banner at the booth behind them having a decade-old design.

Human beings are visual and attracted to movement. Brief, well-filmed and tasteful videos playing on large screens (or several computer screens) relating to products or services are a great way to capture the attention of passersby. While this requires a certain degree of expertise and investment, professional-looking videos playing in the background at trade shows are a terrific way to inform and educate attendees.

With the price of computer technology continuing to drop, it is not always necessary to hire expensive audio-visual technicians to make a powerful impact and memorable experience. Depending on budget, USB sticks (DVDs are so 2010!) can also be handed out as a way of connecting with a potential audience and promoting a company.

Marketing efforts do not end when the trade show is over and the booth has been boxed and sent to storage since promotion and follow-up are ongoing efforts. If prizes were given away at the show, winners who left before the show’s conclusion need to be informed by phone or email. Additionally, contact information from visitors needs to be compiled into a database. Filming short videos during trade shows on a smartphone and posting them on a YouTube channel afterward is also a tremendous way for vendors to connect with their audience days and weeks after the show has concluded.

From well-designed booths manned by knowledgeable and friendly staff to printed promotional material, collecting contact information and giveaways, trade shows are a great way to get the word out about products and services.

June 4, 2020, 10:36 PM EDT