The days of in-booth demos and glassy-eyed product presentations are quickly going the way of the fax machine. In their place are trade show programs that are heavy on pre-show promotion, in-booth technology and laser-focused lead qualification strategies. Maybe the biggest shift changing the face of the trade show landscape is the consumer-generated experience.
No longer are your prospects and customers content to merely pass by and act as receptacles of information. They want to drive, click, post and discover your products and wares on their terms, and in a way that’s more in line with the way they experience life outside the convention center. It’s a different world out there, to be sure, so this month we picked the brains of 10 industry pros to find out what they’re doing before, during and after the show to make the on-site experience as multi-dimensional as the attendees that frequent it.
Event Marketer: Standing out in a sea of sensory overload has always been a top priority for trade show marketers but it seems today’s attendees are more time-challenged and finicky than ever. What strategies have you implemented to combat the “walk on by” factor?
Kurt Miller: Remember that standing out starts before the event. Think about your engagement strategy, attendee targeting, message, pre-event offers, social media and direct dialogue with your audience. Play in ways that are provocative, relevant and not expected. Engage audience members on their terms by first addressing business needs, not your needs.
Pre-event, use customer and peer voices in communications to drive the brand marketer’s value proposition. Customers trust outside and peer points of view and it establishes non-bias, empathy and trusted expertise. In your communications, enable potential attendees to craft their own agendas and offer them something exclusive and of business value, not just a tchotchke, to redeem when they engage face-to-face.
Kathleen Searle: It’s about differentiation. Differentiation means always raising the bar, looking for that idea that no one else has thought of looking for. It’s about a brand placement opportunity where no one else has had their brand placed before. It’s about showing up where people don’t expect to see you, on the stairs going up to the convention center, or on the catwalk. It’s about looking for those different opportunities for your brand to stand out. When you can figure that out and you can truly differentiate, that’s where you will truly be noticed.
And don’t just rely on your booth. Booths alone no longer cut it. It’s becoming about an integrated marketing strategy. Look to all of the different channels of communication that you can tap into, including stakeholders, to really deliver your message.
Andre Ribeiro: Contests and sweepstakes are a viable way as long as they are part of an integrated marketing campaign that embraces social media and the web and is leveraged in a pre-show marketing campaign.
Brook Salomon: Theatre presentations, limited to 10 minutes, offer a deep dive into more technical information and position us as a trusted advisor. We are able to get information in attendees’ hands in a non-salesy way, which really helps. They will come back if we’ve given them the right information. Also, we have a “Be Heard” area where attendees can offer testimonials and give feedback on anything they would like to tell us. We offer those who participate a t-shirt saying, “I’ve Been Heard.” We can click through them and upload them to YouTube.
Debbie Boncek: A well-trained staff. It may be simplistic, but training a staff to work in a trade show environment can draw and provide the most ROI. People spend lots of money on staging, rigging, lighting and electronic signs, but at the end of the day if you don’t have a well-trained staff that understands working in that environment, you will miss the mark and people won’t come into the space.
EM: It’s obviously about so much more than the booth these days, but getting back to the booth for a moment, any tips for making your footprint sing?
Laura Taylor: There should be something that draws them in. Nestle’s Good Food Good Life Home booth had as its main draw a large dinner table. It was huge and piqued people’s interest as they walked into the exhibit hall. It also helped that we had the biggest piece of real estate. Our booth was probably twice the size of the second largest booth at the ADA Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo last fall. For this particular meeting we’re a destination, we invest heavily in our booth presence and educational sessions, as opposed to investing in some of the association corporate support sponsorship opportunities. If we had a budget to be able to do both, we would, but we have to pick. We found our booth has been our draw.
KM: Go minimal in your on-site space design. Obey “less is more” in terms of space and resource/asset design to provide a clean look and carry it from communications, signage and site advertising to the physical space itself. Be true to a “design for purpose” philosophy, not “everything including the kitchen sink” because “everything needs to be on the floor.” Clean will stand out if it’s done consistently.
Think and implement the “cool environment/hot content” rule. Focus on the mode and location of interactions with your audience, visually and tangibly. Yes, obey eight-foot, eye and hand-level rules of layered information, but consider what “goes” there and how it will persuade attendees to interact. Start with clear, simple messaging lines, not eight-word slogans. Craft your “bug light” elements (gesture technology, projections, kiosks, data visualization) carefully, not purely as a gimmick, but with business or experience relevance.
Also, lighting matters. Whether it’s evocative, isolating, bathing, projecting or sparse, harsh, overpowering or typical—your audience will notice. Light appropriately, and match the content and information highlighted by your experience to the appropriate lighting attention and effects. It will add comfort, emotion and punctuation to your attendees’ total perception of your physical experience at every stage of their journey and compared to your neighbors and competitors.
BS: Keep messaging short, under three words, and visible from 15 feet away. And design the booth to be open and spacious and make everyone feel welcome, which in our case exudes our brand in color and feel. We are all about being open, capable and affordable.
EM: Assuming you’ve gotten the attendee’s attention from the aisle, now what are some fresh ideas for driving traffic into the booth?
Matthew R. Lesher: Using an NFC-based [Near Field Communications—read more about it on pg. 44] scavenger hunt or rewards program is a great way to engage attendees and drive traffic to booths and reward them for checking-in at the location. For example, attendees that check in at all locations are entered to win an iPad. Businesses provide attendees with NFC cards or stickers that they then tether to their cell phone, no smartphone needed. Once tethered, brands can engage those attendees on their mobile phone and drive traffic to the booths with real time, relevant messaging and announcements. [The offer might be]: “Come by from 2:00-4:00 for a chance to win an iPad.”
Once at the booth, attendees “tap” an NFC reader to check in to enter a contest, no form required, or earn a point or reward. Attendees with the most visits are rewarded. Businesses can deploy a scavenger hunt in the booth to help drive traffic to specific items or around the conference location. This NFC solution is fun and engaging for the attendees and provides the business with unprecedented level of insight into its attendees. A win-win for both.
KM: Establish and activate a “membership/rewards club” approach to audience activation. Think of it as similar to the experience frequent flyer customers have when preparing for their flight. They’re offered preferred content and interaction opportunities ahead of time by “opting in.” Facilitate a curb-to-carpet experience that greets them, validates their agenda and business needs and undertakes that with concierge service at the actual booth and/or meeting room experience itself.
In scenarios where you have exhibitors who are also partners or customers, use those relationships to drive interest, education and referral. Instead of an old-school passport stamp, consider Augmented Reality, iPad/tablet and/or mobile apps that demonstrate the relationships in physical space with targets that reveal information and enable attendees to redeem that knowledge for a gift, or exclusive business-relevant offer like a consultation, white paper or test-drive. Promote the app and its value before and during the event as well via electronic, digital and analog means like signage, kiosks, people, image codes, RFID and more.
KS: Having a teaser campaign prior to the [Heli-Expo] show drove incredible participation in our unveil to the point where as we stood on stage prior to the unveil our booth property, which was close to an acre in size, was completely filled as far as the eye could see. There were individuals in the aisles and at other booth properties trying to watch the unveil from where they were standing. That physical presence on-site tells me that the teaser campaign worked very effectively, but also we had close to 18,000 people visit our webcast.
Debbie Boncek: It starts at the beginning of the planning and really putting together a pre-show through post-show plan that includes reaching out to attendees before they have even arrived, making them aware of the messages you want to deliver, and getting on their agenda. Be prepared and get information in their hands.
EM: What are some ways to boost engagement and keep prospects in the booth longer?
Matt McGowan: Beer and Wine! Just kidding. Intelligent, client-focused booth staff. The booth staff needs to know the product they are selling, who it is designed for and its limitations. Too often companies hire temp staff that just don’t get it.
KM: Begin by engaging targeted attendees in a dialogue on their own terms. Whenever possible, use humans and technology to know something about them before they show up. Even if you don’t have that data, do “effective triage” upon their arrival to find out what it is they are looking to solve or answer. Match them with the right experts, supported by robust and varied content. Start with empathy—listen to their needs and have a conversation, not a presentation or demo except as a means of illustrating evidence or expertise. Also, know when to release them! Long is not always best, especially if you know they have what they need to move forward or they’re not worth a lengthy time investment during this particular visit, only a tire-kicker, or clearly pressed for time.
KS: We try to create the right type of environment through a variety of different interactive tools and provide the information that is of interest to them. We do a lot of benchmarking ahead of every show to determine what really is top of mind with our customers at this point in time. Having your sales team there with all of their sales tools to make sure they’re armed to have detailed conversations is highly critical. [It also helps to] invite a customer to talk to attendees. For a potential customer to hear that value proposition from an existing, satisfied customer is priceless.
AR: Have people manning the booth who can engage and carry out the story. Dynamic interactive displays with touch screens are another way. People can interact and engage in what you are selling by themselves, and if they have a question, they can ask the staff.
Jenni Bair: Create an interaction with product engineers and equipment to feel and see the movements and the way the equipment works. You can’t get that from a spec sheet. Seeing is believing.
BS: It all goes back to staffing. Make sure people in the booth are trained to have engagement conversations. Have experts in the booth to answer any and all questions.
Shannon Jenest: Be as efficient as possible. Remember, customers are tightly booked. And offer a media lounge for journalists. We offer them our charging products for computers and smart phones, docking stations, a free wi-fi connection, along with food and drink and a good working environment.
EM: It sounds like the key to the “new” trade show experience is less about demos and presentations and more about the attendee-driven experience. How do you create that?
KM: One way is to organize “zones” of an experience based on different modes of learning—not on what you have in your toolbox to sell them—and enable them to have a journey that might cover more than one mode in a visit: one-on-one, one-on-few, or group/many, to discover and interact with people and information in different ways. Think of the experience as a consultation space based first on business need (not product/solution) then match the product/solution content to the need, not the other way around. This is more than being customer-centric.” It’s a different way of organizing experience, people and content, and it ensures that attendees will encounter your message in a way that meets their capacity to know and understand.