Are Trade Shows Still Relevant? 5 Observations

We’re just back from traveling to several major industry trade shows for our clients – the annual International Builders’ Show in Orlando and the AHR Expo in Las Vegas. In this world of apps, social media, e-marketing and virtual everything, does the age-old face-to-face trade show still have legs? Our answer: it depends.

Here are five observations from LMO’s Building Industry Practice Group to help us marketers get the most from the unique “touch and feel” experience that trade shows provide:

  1. Strategy
  2. Location, location, location
  3. Messaging, messaging, messaging
  4. Think visual
  5. Convey enthusiasm

Seems pretty simple, but you would be surprised by how many companies – and these are major, national brands – aren’t able to accomplish these basics. While walking the aisles, you can glance at a booth and in about 10 seconds decide whether or not you want to cross the threshold. That’s the challenge. And as marketers, it’s not worth spending the dollars to exhibit, if you haven’t thought through what it takes to succeed in a trade show venue.

  1. Strategy. As with everything, if you don’t have a clear strategy at the outset, your trade show experience will fail. For as many years as I’ve been attending national building industry trade shows, it still amazes me how obvious it is that so many exhibitors have no strategy. You can tell by just standing in the aisle and looking at the booth. Establish goals upfront, make those goals clear to the sales folks working the booth and then measure the final results. Maybe it’s as simple as generating leads, or maybe the goal is to out-smart the competition with a first-to-market new product. Have a clear strategy before taking the first step.
  2. Location, location, location. This is a duh. Solid thought and research needs to be spent on your booth location. Is it near the main entrance, close to the restrooms, near a food court, across from a competitor, blocked by a monstrous booth or next to a company with a loud buzz saw blaring every 30 minutes? This important decision cannot be delegated to a staff member who does not understand these criteria. You can spend thousands of dollars on promotion, booth incentives and famous spokespeople and not succeed simply because the location was wrong.
  3. Messaging, messaging, messaging. You have only 10 seconds to grab a customer’s attention. Do you know your audience? Do you really know their pain points? How are you solving their problems? If you are introducing new products, is it obvious what’s new? Is your company name bold and present? How about your brand?  Before you even begin your booth design, these basic questions should be discussed, agreed to and then re-visited throughout the booth design phase. Caution: too much messaging can be detrimental.
  4. Think visual. From an interactive standpoint, it doesn’t get any better than a trade show venue for that “touch and feel experience.” So if you don’t have a booth designed around a visual and interactive WOW, then you’ve not done your job. Overall simplicity, easy-to-read graphics, interactive kiosks (that work!), an inviting booth layout, soothing color schemes and maybe a place to sit for a bit. These are not wish list items; these are must-haves.
  5. Convey enthusiasm. You can have the best strategy, the best booth location, terrific messaging and visuals, but fail because those working the booth really didn’t want to be there . . . and it shows. Assign staff to work the booth who have a track record for being successful in a trade show environment. It’s not for everybody. It takes stamina, strong product knowledge and an obvious passion for the industry. Caution: overly eager booth workers can be a turnoff.  

To make a trade show be a relevant investment in your marketing mix, really depends on how mindful you are of the points above. If ignored, then the marketing investment falls short. If embraced, you stand a better chance of a successful trade show experience.

As marketers, we owe it to our clients to help them reach continued success with trade shows, because based on the enthusiasm at the venues we attended last month, trade shows will continue to play a viable role in the marketing mix in the near term.

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Cary Griffin

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