Hands-on Marketing or Boring Booth. You Decide.

By Chris Ilcin, Account Superintendent, Sonnhalter

We’re in the thick of trade show season, and that brings up the age-old argument: Are they worth going to?

The ROI of a trade show can be the trickiest equation to manage. Very few feature direct sales, and how do you prove that a sale 6 months from now had anything to do with a 10 by 20 booth?

The short answer? You can’t. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go, just that you should make the most of your customer’s experience.

I just finished reading a great article from Greg Zehe, from GES. It’s his review of a couple of standout booths at this year’s CES and how they succeeded through “hands-on marketing.” And it reminded me of some of the other key strategies to ensure your booth is a stand-out:

  • Think outside the booth – While I may not recommend advertising on the show daily, it’s critical to do something for your customers outside the booth. Floor graphics are eye-catching and effective. A pre-show coffee or post show happy hour/dinner creates good will (and an escape from expensive show concessions). Just make sure that any activity has a measurable call to action or other way to gauge, even anecdotally, the effectiveness.
  • Appeal to the senses – Do something that catches the eye, ear or other senses of show attendees. Make popcorn or donuts. Project on a blank scrim instead of hanging your logo like everyone else. But think outside the box. No one wants another booth blaring electronica.
  • Have enough people at the show, just not in the booth – Treat your booth like a busy ER. Have newer, or less knowledgeable employees “triage” (greet) incoming visitors, and asses their needs and interest. From there they can steer active customers to knowledge and product experts, so their time isn’t monopolized. Have other people checking the other booths for potential customers, but don’t …
  • Sweat the competition – Yes, if it’s an industry show, your biggest competitor will be there, and most likely will be doing something you’re not, or showing off a new product you wish you had made first. Guess what, so do they. And you’re never going to learn a trade secret at a trade show, so play nice.
  • Meet with the editors – Publications that cover your industry will be at the show, and yes, many of their representatives will be interested in selling ad space. But, they will have some of their best prices of the year, as well as packages, and most importantly, they’ll be accompanied by the editors and influencers who make the decisions on future print, and instant digital content.

But most importantly, go with some goals and a clear message, or don’t go at all. There’s enough creativity and new ideas out there, and inside your company. Tap into it, and make a statement with your booth, time and presence.

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