Once Upon a Time…
Trade shows have always been a
marketplace where potential attendees wandered through the aisles. When
something caught their eye, they would enter the booth to learn more
about the product or service. As an exhibitor, a clever message,
promotion, or display was crucial since enticing attendees into the
booth was an important measure of the show’s overall success.
Clever mattered and the overall booth served the same purpose as a
magazine or television ad: enticing people to try your product and
service. As a result, marketers went to great lengths to create witty
copy, smart graphics, and an interactive experience. In some cases, the
copy, graphics, and experience had little to do with the actual product
or service. It was more about generating traffic and leads, regardless
of the quality
Does Clever Still Matter?
|Several years ago, we designed a
20 x 30
island design with a park theme. It included paths,
artificial grass, a swing, benches, trees, and a gazebo. The
concept was “A Walk in the Park,” which highlighted how easy it
was to work with us – design, customer service, exhibit builds.
It was a clever idea that attracted traffic to the booth. Even
today, our customers still comment on the design, but when I ask
them about the underlying marketing message, they draw a blank.
Does that approach
still work? Yes… and no. The ability to create a creative,
integrated, and informative trade show experience for an
attendee will always be the “holy grail.” However, being clever
may not matter as much as it used to. That may seem
counter-intuitive, but trade shows have changed.
Google/Amazon in a Really Big Building
The Internet has changed trade shows, but
not in the way you think. For years, “experts” predicted that virtual
trade shows would replace physical trade shows. That hasn’t happened,
nor is it likely to happen anytime soon. According to
tradeshow attendance has grown for 21 straight quarters.
People want to be with people who share their professional and personal
interests. Today’s trade show attendees are far less likely to wander
the trade show floor. They pre-shop in the same way we all do research
before buying a new television, car, or service. Attendees are less
inclined to discover a vendor at the show. Instead, they identify who
they want to visit and plan accordingly. Is there a chance they’ll
stumble on a new vendor? Of course, but that’s the exception rather than
What Does That Mean to You?
Your job is difficult and allocating
scarce resources is one of your main challenges. Clever takes time. And,
if the goal is less about enticing random attendees into the booth, then
it becomes more about communicating a problem and your solution. That
message is easier since it’s something you do every day. So, what do you
do with all this extra time? You devote it to pre-show
marketing and to building
qualified traffic to the booth… before the show even starts. Successful
trade show programs are as much about pre-show and post-show as “the
That’s not to say your trade show exhibit shouldn’t be attractive. It
should, but I would encourage you to focus on more practical matters the
next time you design or rebrand your display. What do you need in the
booth space to conduct business? Make it less about showmanship and more
about conversations and information. Take the time you would have spent
creating the perfect theme and use it to create targeted social media
campaigns and invitations to your clients before the show. Give them a
reason to put you on their calendar at the show.
It’s OK to be clever, but on a list of trade show marketing
priorities, smart (and successful) beats clever every time.
Mel White is the VP of
Marketing and Business Development at
Classic Exhibits Inc
© 2013 by Mel White