WHY EXHIBIT? Part 4: Marketing & Branding

Part 4 of our Why Exhibit? blog series covers the why & how of exhibiting when generating brand awareness and running a marketing campaign are your top goals.

Generating market and brand awareness is always a beneficial by-product of attending a show, but it’s not always considered a top reason for exhibiting—and sometimes it should be. Depending on the show, your company’s history and current marketing strategy, there are several situations in which it’s worth adjusting your trade show plan so that building your brand is your top goal.

Even if developing brand awareness is your top goal, lead generation and sales will still be important secondary goals, so you should have a lead capture and follow-up plan in place—see my post on Nurturing Leads & Sales. But if your company is in one of the following situations, then the focus of your booth and how you meet your goals will be very different:

  • You’re a new business, and you need to get your name out there.
  • You’re trying to expand your geographical reach by exhibiting at a show outside your traditional marketplace.
  • You’re trying to market your product or service in a new industry, one that hasn’t had much exposure to your brand.
  • Your company has implemented a brand new advertising strategy, and you want to test it in an engaged and pre-qualified audience—at a trade show.
  • You want to generate publicity about a recent merger, acquisition, or expansion.

Trade shows are great for introducing yourself into the marketplace to a pre-qualified audience. However, it’s going to take time to get established. Trade show attendees might be a little unsure of newcomers on the floor. They may show an interest in your business, but they might not become high quality leads…yet.

So when you’re the new guy on the floor, or you’re promoting something new about your business, don’t expect great lead results—those will come next year, when they see you again. Instead, the focus of your strategy for these events should be on your graphics, and on ensuring that your display clearly tells visitors who you are and what you do.

More than anything, make sure your display is eye-catching. You need the audience to notice you, so they recognize you when they see you next year, or at other industry shows throughout the year. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there are some surefire ways to make sure your booth is drawing the eye:

  • Lighting: Be sure your display is well-lit, whether it’s overhead lighting or graphic backlighting, you are going to draw attention by being bright rather than dark.
  • Something Different: Choosing the right display system includes many factors (like shipping, setup and purchase cost) but if it fits your other needs, try choosing a display system that stands out from the usual suspects. Look into displays like Custom Pop-Ups, Serpentine Wave Tubes, Octanorm or That Lite Thing, or even a Custom Built Exhibit.
  • De-Clutter: Visitors ignore booth spaces that are crammed full of product, literature and tables. Make sure you have storage space, bring as little as possible to the show floor, and keep only the most necessary tables and chairs.
  • Be Bold: When designing the graphics for your booth, keep it simple. Don’t go into details with too much copy or too many images. Focus on who you are and what you do—the rest can be saved for handouts or conversations. A clear message will make it easier for visitors to remember you.
  • Avoid Gimmicks: Celebrity guest stars can be great, but they work better for companies with an established presence at that show. If you’re itching for something fun, focus your creativity on your giveaways instead.

As I mentioned in the first post of this series, I’m not going to sugarcoat anything. Measuring your success when generating brand awareness is your goal, is difficult. It’s like putting up a new billboard on the side of the road: you have a pretty good idea how many people pass by, but how many really noticed? How many actually registered your brand in their minds?

Do not despair. Aside from waiting to see how successful you are next year, there are ways to get a feel for your level of success at your first few shows. If you’re tech savvy, try incorporating a hashtag or QR code landing page into the design of your booth or your handouts, and tracking those clicks online. Watch for an increase in direct traffic during and just after the show. There are digital tools available for tracking your brand awareness, like Klout. Do your research and find out if any of these tools are right for your business.

If tech isn’t your thing, get creative with pen and paper. Print comment cards that will provide you with valuable information about your visitors, and then offer an incentive for filling them out—like a contest or draw. It might not tell you everything, but it will give you a general idea of how much attention your brand received at the show.

Finally, don’t forget that you’re counting on establishing your brand at your first few shows, so be sure that the essentials of your booth—the type of display and the graphics—go unchanged for the first few years. You can make small additions as needed, but you want to be sure that visitors are recognizing you from year to year, or between events.

Keep all of these in mind when you’re building a trade show strategy around branding & marketing. In the next Why Exhibit post we’ll go into detail on exhibiting when Product Testing & Promotion is your goal.

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