No one wants to fail, especially when trying something new - like a trade show. Unfortunately, being new puts you at a disadvantage. There is one sure-fire way to stave off potential doom: establish realistic expectations.
Setting expectations is a primary management tool. They are the framework for your success. They establish roles, delineate goals, and define action plans. They get your whole team heading in the same direction; everyone knows the game plan. Instituting expectation setting into your preparations will shorten your learning curve and bring you one step closer to your "best case scenario."
So how do you initiate good expectations?
#1: Plan ahead
This seems obvious but it's surprising how many new exhibitors don't do it. You and your team need to know where your trade show road is leading (your goals) and how to get there (your strategy). Use a checklist, make and write down a plan.
- Time management. There are a lot of time-sensitive elements associated with participating in a trade show: entry cut-offs, printing deadlines, shipping timelines. Miss any of these and you rack up serious costs in late fees, rush charges and shipping fees.
- Read the exhibitor's manual. It's essential to follow the rules and regulations if you want to avoid unnecessary fees. It will also tell you who to contact for help with hanging banners, procuring electricity, connecting to Wi-Fi.
- Pre-show marketing. Once you've made a plan and studied the rules, it's time to tell everyone about your new endeavor. Hello! Social media! Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn... Include them in your plan under marketing. Use your company's blog to create a buzz. Studies show trade show attendees know which booths they're visiting before they get to the event. You want to be on their lists.
#2: Select your staff
One of the most common trade show mistakes is sending the wrong people and/or not training them. Make sure you send people who match your trade show plan's purpose. Once they're selected, thoroughly train them in everything from setting up equipment to the company's history to the latest product. Empower them with knowledge.
- Make sure they understand the overall plan and goals for attending the trade show. Be clear about what's expected of them. People work better when they know what's expected of them.
- No one can be high-energy, on-the-go all the time. Prevent burn-out by establishing a clear staffing schedule that gives each person a break. This will keep them rested, energized and in good spirits which will ultimately benefit your exhibit as a whole.
#3: Display quality, not quantity
Trade shows are synonymous with excess. They're loud, they're crowded, there's a lot for attendees to see and absorb. Give your audience a break. Use the less-is-more approach to booth design.
This is counter-intuitive. You'd think flooding your booth with graphics and multimedia and giveaways would help you keep up with your competitors. Quite the opposite. It causes you to blend in with them. Keeping your display simple will distinguish you from the crowd and raise attendees’ interest; they'll be drawn to the calm atmosphere. It makes your booth an oasis. It's not always about being the flashiest exhibitor, but instead creating an environment people want to go to and stay in. You can even try making your booth comfortable, by providing seating or even plush floor mats that provide foot comfort to attendees that have been walking all day.
Simple doesn't mean boring. A wall of banner stands or a well-considered hybrid backdrop can be stunning. Sticking to essentials also helps induce interactions between attendees and your team members. The minimal messaging can evoke attendees’ interest that they’ll be compelled to approach and interact with your people in order to get your full message.
#4: Follow the leads
Use lead capture apps to record and track leads quick and easy. The question becomes how to incorporate the technology into your exhibit. Do you arm your staff with smartphones or have visitors interact with a tablet on a display stand? Whichever method you choose, plan it! This is the vital information you came to get. Don't let it slip away.
Once you've decided on a recording and tracking system, make a plan for contacting the leads post-show. Many companies choose to contact leads the same day or during the trade show. This isn't effective. In fact, it comes across as pushy and over-eager. Waiting a day or two post-show has a two-fold effect: it projects confidence on your part and it distinguishes you from other companies. You'll also get their undivided attention which increases your chance of furthering the relationship.
#5: Give pertinent giveaways
Giveaways are definitely helpful when it comes to getting visitors to remember you. However, they need to be pertinent to your brand. As Colin Hageney suggests in his article 5 Common Trade Show Mistakes and How to Avoid Them on Bullpen Marketing, have three levels of giveaways:
1. Something for scoopers
This is an item that costs less than a dollar for the people that just come by the booth to get stuff. This item should not only have your logo but it should have a web address for them to visit in order to learn more about your company.
2. Something for qualified prospects
Depending on your budget, this could range from $2-5. The people who receive these items are ones who would be a good fit for your product or service. Perhaps they attended a presentation, a demonstration or entered your contest. The product you're giving them should reinforce your company's brand and offering.
3. Something for clients
Often times you'll have clients visit you at a tradeshow booth. You'll want to reinforce your relationship with a gift. Depending on the value of a client to your business, these can be $5-50. Often times, nice golf shirts are given to clients so they can be walking brand disciples for your company.
And then there are printed materials. Brochures, flyers, catalogs. Be careful with these. They can be quite costly and usually don't get read. In fact, they can prevent visitors from interacting with your staff. Attendees will simply take the handout and keep walking. This kills your ROI. Distribute these materials judiciously as part of or after a conversation has ensued.
What to giveaway, how and to whom should be included in your initial plan. Getting your trade show exhibit planned, ordered, staffed, up and running will be hectic and nerve-wracking and overwhelming. This is part of the process. But you can take control. Set expectations, make a plan and take advantage of these flop-avoiding opportunities. They will improve your trade show experience and lead it to great success.