Do You Have a Love-Hate Relationship with the Trade Show Booth in Your Life?

by Melinda Pradarelli
There is an art and a science to trade show booths. Find out how to make your exhibit more engaging to your target audience.

As trade show season heats up each year, marketing directors around the world can be heard asking are we ready?”

That question is quickly followed by a litany of others: Do we need to be at all of these shows? Do we really get any leads? What’s the return on investment (ROI)? Is our booth boring? And then comes the counter-questioning. What will people think if we aren’t there?  Will our competition run away with the attention and leads? Will people think our company isn’t doing well if we aren’t there?

For many, booth presence, design, and messaging don’t get enough attention until it’s too late to do anything different than repeat the same play from last year. So, for those of you reading this, kudos, because it looks like you’re trying to get ahead!

I’ve built a lot of booths over the years. Here are nine steps our team takes to determine how to get the maximum ROI from a booth and how to make it stand out.  

1. Do your research. 

What is your competition doing? What does their booth look like and feel like, and how are they engaging with their audience? Now that you have a baseline, it’s time to take it up a notch. Get online and start digging. Check out booths from other industries and think about what you would want to see or hear if you were visiting the booth. 

2. Run the numbers. 

Look at the total cost of your booth from last year, including the structure and the giveaways. How much did it cost to design, build, and ship to the event or events? How much did you spend on collateral materials and products in the booth? What did the booth space itself cost? Once you have an understanding of the total invested, it’s easier to justify redistributing the dollars or even asking your boss for more dollars (smile). 

3. Invest in making it better. 

We’ve all seen it – a booth with cheap looking tables lined with pens and business cards. It’s the one people walk by. Even if your product is wonderful, it won’t matter if your booth isn’t. If you are going to be at the show, you have to invest dollars and time to stand out. 

4. Keep the design and messaging simple. 

No matter what you do, don’t over-complicate it. Clean design, clear messaging, and a booth that is organized and flows well will put you ahead of much of the competition. Eliminating confusion for potential customers is key. The bottom line is this: can someone tell what your organization does and what you want to promote or sell if they are walking by the booth from 10 feet away? 

5. Consider banners AND video. 

Banners allow you to highlight your logo prominently along with a simple, focused message. If you have space for a few banners, they are also a great way to highlight a handful of distinctions. Just keep in mind what will be visible behind a table or staff member.

If you’re looking for more flexibility, there’s no better way to tell your brand story and show your product than by creating a powerful video. It doesn’t need to have audio—it just needs to inspire. The nice thing is you can update the video content based on which show you are attending and the segment of audience you are targeting. Don’t be afraid to invest in a larger TV to display your story. We recently worked with a client and used an 85-inch TV with a relatively inexpensive mobile mounting system from Amazon. It became the centerpiece of their booth story. 

6. Give them something unique. 

Often times, people think the only unique part of a booth is what you giveaway. It’s time to think bigger. Here’s a few case studies of booths we’ve created to get your brainstorm started:

Give away professional quality photos. We created a unique upside down structure—a room in a home with messaging that said “we’re turning real estate upside down.” Then we brought in a professional photographer who took free photos of anyone and everyone. We uploaded the photos to the client website where people could download them for free after providing their email and answering a few questions about lead generation. We also provided social media templates for people to share the photos, creating a surge of online activity. We not only generated a lot of traffic to the booth, but also had competitors coming to the booth who wanted their photo taken. 

Urban Acres Melinda and Ellen

Make it meaningful. Another time we created a freestanding, hands-on activity where people’s participation (coloring!) generated dollars that would be given to charities. 

Interactive is always better. In other cases, we’ve talked with clients about renting interactive elements large and small. I was even part of a show where we built a full sand volleyball court (yes, with real sand, music, grills and all) and created a party atmosphere that reflected the fact the product we were selling was an appetizer that brought the fun to every occasion.  Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Remember: a hands-on activity can generate greater brand recall and creates a unique customer experience. 

7. Shop around. 

Once you define the elements you want for your booth, start comparison shopping. Get estimates from multiple sources, including local and online vendors from PIP to Joy Displays to Amazon.  If you plan ahead, you can find better deals and sometimes even free shipping. 

8. Demand quality. 

Not every vendor has the capability to make your logo and messaging look good. Be sure you understand the quality of what they can deliver and the level of brand assets (logos, colors, design files) you need to give them to ensure your logo and photos look crisp and clear. 

9. Test it. 

This may go without saying, but we’ve seen it happen. Don’t wait until the last minute to finish the booth. You want to be able to set it up, check the quality, and ensure there are no hiccups before you get to the first event. 

A Real Life Example: Brava Roof Tile

We recently worked on a booth transformation with Brava Roof Tile. This is a great example of taking iterative steps. The challenge? Their booth was literally falling apart from use. It also cost a lot to ship from event to event.

It was time for a new, more portable booth. With their first event 12 weeks away, time was short. We brainstormed with their team on how to create a clean, strong framework that could grow with them. The first goal was to simplify the messaging and the look. They also wanted to find a way to show where their products fit – i.e. with luxury home and commercial properties in amazing placeslike the nation’s top theme resorts and national parks. Here’s a photo of their previous booth: 

Below is the new booth with back lit banners, simple messaging, an 85-inch TV with custom video showing their amazing roofing installs and a trimmed-down approach to bringing product to the show. The video features a 90 second loop of beautiful custom color roofing installations for their Cedar Shake, Barrel Tile, and Slate products. Each segment of the video employs simple messaging and sweeping drone footage that inspires. The home featured at the front of the booth sets the stage for their ideal clients. 

Now What?

So, let’s assume your booth is ready to go and it looks amazing. Now what? Make sure your audience knows in advance that you have something new happening at the next show. Create a promotional plan for before, during, and after the trade show.

Engage your audience before you get to the show. This is something many companies forget to do. Start a drip campaign aimed at your customers using the attendees list that many organizers will provide to you as part of your exhibiting package. Set up a specific time for people to stop by and say hello. Better yet, give them a specific reason to visit. We’ve sent out golden tickets before a show, giving those who “sign up online” VIP access to a new product launch at the upcoming event. We’ve asked people to vote on the type of swag they want to get at the show and then reserve a pick up time to get the swag. This builds buzz and gets people excited to engage with you at the show.

Follow through with the promotion at the show.  It doesn’t do any good to build excitement if the customer is disappointed when they get to the booth. Ensure everyone working the booth knows what has been promoted in advance so they can meet client expectations. If you are giving away swag, don’t run out. If you have an appointment set, be sure you’re at the booth on time. Post photos from your exhibit on your social media and encourage people to visit.

Reach out after the show. At the end of a show everyone is tired, including your team and the attendees. It’s easy to see why people return to the office and put the show in their rear view mirror. But this is the golden opportunity to follow up. Send an email a few days after the show that thanks people for stopping by. Ask them how they liked the booth and how you could make their show experience better. If it’s done in a personal way, it’s sure to impress. For those sales representatives who didn’t attend the show, make sure they know what happened at the event—key highlights from the conference, feedback and photos from your exhibit, and any specific information about discussions with leads who they may be contacting.

Ready to start strengthening your booth?

If you’re not sure you have the firepower to brainstorm or build your new booth, reach out and chat with our team. We’d love to help you reimagine your exhibit!

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