Explore with us, if you will, the fascinating world of trade shows from three different viewpoints: the exhibitor, show organizer, and attendee. Each role faces their own set of challenges when tackling trade shows and in this mini-series, we are taking a closer look at the strategies used by each party to reach their goals.
Let’s begin with one of the biggest challenges all exhibitors face: attracting and engaging attendees. The average exhibitor will allocate anywhere from 15-25% of their trade show budget towards driving booth traffic and here are some of the strategies they use.
Location, Location, Location. The majority of exhibitors start their strategy by choosing the best show hall real estate (booth location and size). Cindy Adams of Exhibitor Magazine breaks down the psychology behind how attendees approach a trade show floor in her article titled, Natural Selection.
Cindy explains how exhibitors who experience lower traffic tend to be located in separate buildings or halls (from the main floor), on dead-end or split aisles, or alcoves. She also identifies five traffic patterns called: The Triangle, The Rule of Right Turns, The Wide Aisles, The Bull’s-Eye, and The Zoom Zone. In short, these patterns suggest you avoid the front corners of the show hall, assume attendees veer to the right, traffic is highest along the wide aisles (which tend to be the main aisles), and the best locations are dead center or up front at the main entrance.
Keep in mind, many shows manage booth selection through a point system. The points are based on an exhibitor’s seniority, square footage of booth, and overall dollars spent with the show organizer. For those of you who find yourselves on the lower end of the point system, remember this: location is only part of the strategy and not the only solution. We’ve witnessed booths in prime spaces completely empty, while others in less ideal locations manage to drive a steady flow of traffic.
That said, let’s take a look at some of the strategies exhibitors are using to drive attendees to their trade show booths.
Pre-Show Marketing. On average, 70% of attendees create a list of booths to visit before stepping foot on a show floor. For this reason, we recommend starting your pre-show marketing two to three months out. Try using humor, personalization, or storytelling to break through the static and connect with your audience. For example, consider sending handwritten letters (yes, the old school kind) to your clients and prospects inviting them to your booth for a personalized gift.
A study done by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research found the conversion of booth visitors to qualified leads rose 50% when a pre-show promotion was used.
Augmented Reality. Nowadays, you are only limited by your imagination when it comes to creating a virtual reality. We’ve seen setups where a customized app turns booth graphics or brochures into an interactive 3D model. This type of software is perfect for manufacturers of large equipment or companies who struggle narrowing down which products to display.
At CES 2015, Lowe’s debuted a new virtual shopping experience (currently being rolled out at their retail stores) called the Lowe’s Holoroom. The way it works is participants design a room with the help of a trained sales associate using an iPad. Their designs include endless configuration options for items like flooring, countertops, paint, appliances, etc. Once the attendee is satisfied with their selections, a virtual experience is simulated through the use of an Oculus Rift headset. While wearing the Oculus, the participant can look around the room and make additional changes through the help of a sales associate using the iPad. When the design is complete, a video is exported to YouTube 360 for sharing and viewing at home with a Lowe’s-supplied Google Cardboard. Click here to see a video of Lowe’s Holoroom in action.
Entertainment. Companies have been hiring entertainers to create a buzz and drive traffic to their booth for decades, because, well, it works. However, with today’s audience, it can be tricky to find something they’ve never seen before.
One of the more unique forms of entertainment I’ve seen used to drive booth traffic was done by GES at the Exhibitor Expo. GES had launched a new tagline earlier that year, GES: The Art and Science of Engagement, and were struggling to find a way to tie in their messaging with a performance that would also attract attendees. That’s when William Close and Earth Harp Collective came into the picture. William turned the venue into a musical instrument by running 45-foot harp strings from a base (located in their 20×30 space) to the ceiling. Teasers were sent out to attendees a couple of weeks before the show saying, “When art meets science, does it make a sound?” At the show, William was accompanied by a drummer who played an orb shaped instrument rigged to the ceiling with pads fastened to the sides, an electric violinist, and singer whose new aged vocals invoked a trance-like state among listeners. For more, check out the case study or click here to watch the performance.
Beyond the Booth. Expand your presence by looking for ways attendees can interact with your brand outside of your booth. Examples of this include being a speaker or panel member for a breakout session, sponsor relaxation lounges, charging stations, coffee bars, or Uber rides. Brainstorm ways to brand inside an attendee’s hotel room by customizing room keys, robes, or towels.
The idea is to push the envelope. Try new things and get people talking. Consider the needs of your audience and find ways to provide solutions to those needs, even if that need is simply entertainment.
The Balancing Act of Hosting a Trade Show
Until next time!
photo credit: pcruciatti / Shutterstock.com