by Caitlin Crawshaw
As a small firm with a small marketing budget, trying to stand out at a trade show can feel like a David-versus-Goliath proposition. You worry that your modest-sized booth will be lost in the shadow cast by your neighbour’s city-block space, complete with 15-metre yacht and go-go dancers. But in the end, size doesn’t matter so much as the quality of your representatives, the design of your space and your marketing strategy. “I’ve seen some small booths do extremely well and larger booths not do as well,” says Sandi Stetson, owner of Edmonton’s Verve Marketing and Communications. It’s not about the amount of space you have at the show, she says, but how you “break the step” of people walking by. Here are a few tips to help you do just that.
1. Get the Right Spot
According to Kate Cheney, the president of ConventionALL Management in Calgary, the first thing you should do well in advance of the trade show is find out the floor plan. If this information isn’t available in the materials you’ve been sent or what’s provided online, contact the event management firm directly. It’s good to know where your competitors are, if possible, and make sure you’re not neighbours. You can also choose a booth in a strategic location like an island, which is a booth located in a corner or at the end of a row.
Cheney also urges attendees to check in advance where the exits, bathrooms and other important places are located. “Then, when someone asks you, you’ve got a conversation starter,” she says.
2. Create the Right Space
Even the most well-positioned booth can fail to draw in prospective clients, Cheney cautions, and booth design is critical. Include eye-catching signage, product samples and giveaways without cluttering up the space. Tables should be pushed to the side in order to remove barriers between company reps and trade-show visitors. Make sure you also have adequate lighting.
You can also design the space to reflect a store or office environment, says Stetson. Retail businesses might include mannequins wearing clothes, products on racks, display cases and anything else that highlights their company’s products. Service-based businesses or companies that sell products too large for a trade-show space can use DVD product demos to draw people in. Playing music can also work, provided you use it well. This means keeping it at a decibel level that doesn’t hinder conversation or irritate your neighbours.
While there are companies that will design your booth for you, Stetson thinks DIY booths generally work just fine. For inspiration, you can visit other trade shows and analyze the booths drawing crowds to see how their displays are set up and how they’re interacting with people.
3. Find the Right People to Represent You
It’s not enough to have warm bodies in your booth for the duration of the show. Your company representatives are the face of the company. “Don’t send someone who doesn’t know the product or service, or doesn’t have the personality to reach out to people,” Cheney says.
Generally, using employees from the company is better, but Cheney has seen temps do a great job, too, when they’re trained properly. It’s also important to find people who can handle the physical exertion involved, Stetson says. “Choose people who can stand for a long period of time and not get tired.”
4. Use Technology to Its Best Effect
Twitter is a good way to draw people to your booth, says Kelly Martin, owner of a Calgary-based promotional products company called Promotional Bridge. During the trade show, attach the event’s hashtag to your tweets to engage in any online dialogue about the event. This also lets your Twitter followers know that you’ll be at the event. “Some of these trade shows are huge and, if someone’s not looking for you, they can walk by you,” Martin says. You can also send tweets with code words attendees can use at your booth for free prizes.
Other tech options include using QR codes in print material to lead people to web pages that offer more information about your company.
5. Focus on Your Goal
Last November, Sue Paulson and her husband launched their window-covering business, Win Shades Inc., at Edmonton’s Fabulous at 50 trade show.
Their goal for the day was to book six appointments for free consultations. They created a discount for trade-show attendees and managed to get 18 people to sign up. Even better? Most of these hot leads resulted in sales. “We considered the show a huge success for us,” Sue Paulson says.
This sense of mission is critical. According to Cheney, in order to get the most out of a trade show, companies need to know why they’re going in the first place. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about sales, either. “It can be about connecting with people you already do business with and only see once a year,” she says.
Trade shows can also be a good source of referral partners. At the Fabulous at 50 show, Paulson chatted up non-competing businesses, including an interior designer and a mortgage broker, to see how they could refer business to one another. And finally, whatever your goals, come prepared with the right marketing materials, staff, giveaways and whatever else you need to achieve them.
6. The Giveaways
Giveaways can do a lot to lure people to your booth. “We’ve done everything from golf clubs to barbecues to TVs for clients,” Martin says. “I like to do substantial, big things so people can see it. You can give away a watch, but it doesn’t draw attention from people walking by.”
At a recent trade show, the Calgary branch of Alltech – which specializes in animal feed additives – brought a photo booth where attendees could snap pictures of themselves dressed up in Halloween masks and Mardi Gras beads. At the end of the event, they received their photos by email. “It allows you to bust out of your trade-show, shaking-hands mode and have a little fun,” says Emily Kay, Alltech’s Canadian marketing manager. “That’s the kind of environment you want to create.”
In order to keep costs reasonable, Martin suggests companies not give away free swag willy-nilly. Instead, she recommends having inexpensive giveaways on hand for folks who may not be the target audience, as well as higher-priced items for people the company really wants to attract. “I suggest having one or two pre-qualifying questions to ask people in order to determine if they’re a good prospect,” she says. “If they’re not a good prospect, give them the inexpensive giveaway and move on.”
7. Follow Up
It’s essential to follow up as soon as possible with all the prospects, referral partners and other new connections that you make at a trade show. But don’t just pick up the phone and start calling, or blast out a single email. Instead, Stetson says, it’s important to think about how people want to be contacted. If you’re not sure, do what works for your personality. And in order to avoid bothering people, Paulson suggests that any entry forms for freebies include a box respondents can check off if they want to be on mailing lists or receive further information.