Veterans and rookies alike can easily make a fatal trade show exhibit error. In short, it’s all in the planning. When you have a truly successful show, there’s nothing quite like the jump you will enjoy in your business. That is why trade shows are so popular: because they work! You will delight in your event as long as you avoid the following five fatal errors.
1) Not creating a comprehensive master event plan – A master plan should begin many months in advance of the event, perhaps even a full year. That old cliché works overtime in a trade show: proper planning prevents poor performance. Here are some highlights of a thoughtful and inclusive trade show plan:
- Marketing plan – The marketing plan is a plan-within-a-plan. In fact, your event marketing (and sales) plan may be bigger than the rest of the master plan. Do your homework to discover how to build an effective trade show marketing plan. This must include pre-show, during-show, and post-show strategy. The components must be interdependent, uniform, and above all engage your target in the marketing message intent.
- Budget and projections – The event budget is critical and should include sections on space rental, exhibit/display costs, shipping, personnel expenses, promotional marketing, lead fulfillment, on-site services, and miscellaneous spending. Additionally, you must include projections that are quantifiable, sensible, and clearly demonstrate goals for a tangible return on the overall investment in the event.
- Display and graphics – Briefly, your trade show display and graphics must pull people in within seconds, and engage people clearly in your marketing message both powerfully and simply. There are a lot of mistakes that are easily made in this matter, so it is critical that you take the advice of informed experts.
- Eco-friendly footprint – According to the US EPA, trade shows are the second largest producers of waste, behind the construction industry. There are many ways throughout the entire event to reduce your tradeshow eco-footprint. Again, do some homework in this area.
2) Selecting the wrong or inconsistent marketing message or event – selecting the right show to be in and employing a strong and consistent marketing scheme are fundamentally crucial.
- The wrong event/show – Too many exhibitors do a show simply because “we always do this show”, or because their competitors will be there. Pick events that directly match your target demographic audience and overall objectives.
- Not clearly defining your marketing/sales message – Know exactly why you are entering an event. Is it to showcase a new product or service? Is it to build your brand? Is it to expand into a new territory? Whatever the reason, the marketing and sales efforts must be synchronized perfectly to match your intent and objectives.
- Marketing message reinforcement – Make certain that pre-show and post-show marketing and sales efforts are consistent with the central message. Use the same images and colors on marketing materials that you will use for your exhibit. Use similar sales content/verbiage throughout the event progression.
3) Logistics and shipping – Oh boy, a lot of people mess up on this aspect. Due diligence is one key to a successful show.
- Exhibitor’s handbook – Study the exhibitors handbook/kit (from the sponsor) carefully and completely. This is your bible for survival. Most all of the essential information you will need for the event is provided in this tool.
- Deadlines and timelines – All of the event logistics and so forth should be contained in the exhibitor’s handbook or kit. Missing a deadline can be a significant expense, or prevent you from the show completely. Pay attention to the details.
- Double-checking/follow up – Even if you believe your arrangements are done and set in stone, always re-check and follow up to be sure all is happening as planned.
- Hotel and travel – The earlier you can book travel and lodging for your event staff the better. Get all the discounts you can, and try to use train travel instead of fights whenever possible, to reduce carbon emissions
4) Making exhibit booth mistakes – There are many ways to fail – or lessen your chances for a successful event – if you make mistakes regarding your actual trade show display. Here are several:
- Poor location space – By selecting a strategic time to actually enter the event, you can get a good idea (from the sponsor) where your competitors will be located on the show floor, and avoid being next to the competition. Further, when choosing a booth space, try not to get “buried” in the wrong place. You can read more about this online.
- Wrong display provider – Of all the errors that can be made with your exhibit, picking the wrong display vendor is the biggest. Price is not everything when it comes to exhibits! Look for highly professional vendors that not only stand behind their products, but also are concerned with you becoming a long-term client. The best trade show providers regard client service as an investment that is mutually beneficial. They should want to help in any way they can. Once more, do your research methodically.
- Graphics – Here again there are a multitude of ways to do poorly. In short, keep graphics impactful, simple, and in direct sync with your marketing message. Keep your logo front and center. Make one central image huge, crisp, and appealingly complimentary to your sales intent. Never use too much text (one or two sentences is all), and be sure that your text is at or near eye level. Select a simple color scheme and use it consistently on all parts of the display (and marketing components).
- Fullness – Use trade show booth accessories – like counters, lighting, kiosks, furniture, and monitors/electronics – to add fullness to your exhibit. Be cautious to keep from overdoing it or underdoing it. Fullness means completeness and appeal.
- Staffing and training – Staff selection and training should be done months before the event. Your staff is a direct reflection upon the values, mission, and culture of your company. The ultimate objective of your booth personnel is to generate qualified leads. Do not waste valuable time by treating everyone the same. No, take the necessary minutes (during the show) to pre-qualify all prospects. Staff must look and act professional at all times and should know exactly what their responsibilities and expectations are, through ample training. Be sure that your staff has food, water, and breaks. There are many tips available online to help with the staffing and training of your event personnel.
- Presentations – All presentations should be engaging, professional, and to the point.
- Giveaways and prizes – Throw out the old fish bowl. Use a raffle or drawing for one or two big prizes. Have plenty of thoughtful giveaways that are useful in the long run, and will stick in peoples’ memories. Snacks and bottled water are okay, but don’t waste money on throw-away items.
- Phone and email – Although email is a better venue than phone, you must grab ahold of all leads while still warm and take them to the next step in the sales and marketing plan.
- Face-to-face – Often times the next step in converting leads is to sell them on a brief meeting, face-to-face.
- Electronic communications and social media – Try to avoid paper and snail mail. Not only is paper follow up overwhelmingly ineffective, it is not eco-friendly.
- Show evaluation – How will you evaluate event performance without measurable metrics? Take the time to analyze show results prudently. Your analysis will include conclusions and lessons learned in order to make improvement for the next event.
There is so much more to a successful trade show than entering the event and setting up a display. In this article I have only touched the surface of mistake topics. You should do research on each of the above points and learn all you can in order to assure event victory. Again, selecting the right trade show provider and doing your homework can make all of this easier. Here’s to your trade show success!