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Trade Show Planning

We were recently approached by a client to prep them for a trade show and put all the pieces together. We have prepared and designed trade show booths in the past and were excited to dive right in. It's not too often these come along. We love them just for the fact that there are so many "conventional" (excuse the pun) out there, that it takes a little bit of faith to move in a clean and simple direction.


Do Your Research

The Toronto International Auto Show was exhibiting weeks before the clients show so we decided to head over for some recon and check out of all the displays, video reels, interactive tablets, and any other items that make for a great trade show experience.

One set up that made the biggest splash in my eyes was Ford. They had a giant blue wall and a single screen highlighting a film where a stunt driver is doing something you think you'd never see a person do in a car, let alone a Ford. The audio was cranked up so you have that visceral roar of the engine as a souped up Ford Fiesta tears up the streets of San Francisco. As soon as the film started everyone in the entire area took their eyes off the show cars and lifted them up to the screen, for at least 5 minutes everyone’s attention was fixed on that one screen.

Pretty impressive. What do I think Ford achieved? They didn't junk up their area with distracting visuals, they had one screen that made everyone's eyes turn towards their display. The message Ford is sending? Ford is not the old "Model T" that rolled off the line in 1908. They're in tune with all generations and are "Focused" (the puns keep coming) on everyone. They successfully made the Fiesta an attractive buy for the youth market. Not the coolest car coming off the lot, until you see this video.

What is Your Message?

The attention span of trade show patrons is quite limited due to the constant onslaught of stimuli. Understanding this is paramount in determining how to position "what you do" the number one question at a trade show. "What do you do?" in order to get the persona attention you must be as specific as possible. Not every business has an easy response like "we sell paper" - it's usually more involved with some service based companies and even harder for elaborate integrated process providers.

You have to let go of some of the things that are less "big picture" and more on a specif segment of your business that falls in line with the essence of the trade show. I know it's tough and you have so much to offer, but its going to fall on deaf ears if you come off like a jack of all trades.

Booth Design

Knowing how much you want to invest in a booth design rests on a number of questions:

  • How many times am I going to use it?
  • Where am I going to use it?
  • How am I going to transport it there?
  • Is it all that unique? (If not, how can I make it my just that much more different)
  • Is it flexible? (can i change up the artwork and graphics without having to start from scratch)
  • Can I make a buck if i decide to sell it after the fact?

You'll soon find that the excitement of trade shows is a direct result of countless week of stress and an ever draining pocket book leading up to the event. If you ask yourself the above questions you might find yourself investing in an elaborate setup.

My suggestion is always custom. Budgets aren't always there and depending on where the trade show is (much more expensive to cart a custom booth around the globe) investing in something that is outside of the conventional will always get noticed. Just hit the trade show floor and you're bound to see similar setups and designs. Don't think that this is what is expected at a trade show so you have to have that too. That's not the case, its usually for portability and convenience. Portability is good and convenience is good, but not always awe inspiring and interesting.

The Take Away

To SWAG or not to SWAG? Unlike the experience at Ford, lots of people feel inclined to use SWAG as the take away. I'm sure you've seen everything under the sun being handed out at trade shows, from bouncy balls to remote controlled helicopters. Keep in mind of all the cool SWAG I've seen at trade shows i can't even remember the names of the companies I've taken popcorn and candy from, was handed a toy of sorts or especially the countless pens i have sitting in my drawer even though they have their name right on it. If you think your SWAG will make them remember you, you might want to think again. Here are some good tips when contemplating purchasing SWAG:

  • Does it distract from my message?
  • Is it useful to someone?
  • Is it more exciting than what I have to say? (if it is then you probably shouldn't be there in the first place)
  • Could your money be better spent elsewhere?

Ultimately when considering a take away it should be one that is intangible. Aside from a point of contact (business card or putting your digits in their phone) an attendee will remember where and when we heard a good bit of information and take aways should always be the relationship you've initiated with the knowledge of your product and service you've been able to translate.

Set Your Expectations

So what is the point of exhibiting at a trade show? A lot of time people head into a trade show and leave with disappointment. You have to keep in mind why and what the possible outcome will be and come up with a plan on how to achieve and manage those expectations. Here are possible reasons you would exhibit:

  • Generate Leads
  • Build brand equity
  • Look for potential partners
  • Attract talent
  • Flex muscle

Take note of the above reasons and make sure that you make peace with what may come out each area. This will ensure that you’re calm and collected during the event and ensures you don’t over stretch and come off one dimensional in your conversations with people. Don’t over sell, you want to make sure that your subtle confidence shines through. When you’re calm and cool you immediately build trust and set the tone for the conversations. Control the situation.

Above All Else

Your personality is the secret weapon. You want them to remember you and the brand, not the giveaways, not the treats and candies, but the interactions people have with you. Provide interesting information.

Trade shows are lively places and most people are in good spirits, after all they’ve invested so much, what do you have to lose at this point, so put your smile on and prep yourself for a long day of interacting with strangers.

Part 2 will follow where I go into more detail on the trade show experience at DX3

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Paul Phillips
Written By

Paul Phillips

Co-founder, Partner and Creative Director at Jackson Wynne @tack_paul