Trade shows are vital for today’s businesses. In a digital world where the majority of B2B and B2C dealings take place online, they’re rare but valuable opportunities for the one-on-one interaction customers and prospects crave. They’re also advantageous chances to gather information about the competition, find new marketing ideas and build brand recognition.
Of course, being able to make the most of trade show exhibits depends on approaching the occasion in just the right way. Far too many companies make mistakes that could easily be avoided with the right resources. These highly common blunders can be costly in a number of ways.
1) Lack of Advance Planning
Considering the numerous factors to consider when exhibiting at a trade show, appearances shouldn’t be spur-of-the-moment situations. First off, you need to decide what you’d like to achieve as a result of the experience. Ideally, those objectives should fall in line with those of your overall marketing efforts and maybe even expand upon them to a degree.
Most booth design experts and seasoned exhibitors alike agree the best time to start planning for next year’s trade show is immediately after this year’s if not before. Begin by setting your goals, budget and hopes for ROI at least a year in advance. By the nine-months mark, you should know which type and size booth you need, have it reserved and be brushing up on exhibit restrictions and guidelines.
On approaching the sixth month, most of your exhibit design details should be in place, and specific marketing messages should be taking shape. This is also the time to decide which promotional items and take-home materials will be made available to attendees.
At three months, ordering giveaway items and print materials, determining who will man the booth, training staff members, making travel and exhibit delivery arrangements and other details should be coming into play. During the last three months leading up to the event, all those aspects need to be finalized. This is also the time to repeatedly evaluate and reexamine your checklist to make sure all bases have been covered.
2) Choosing the Wrong Size and Type of Booth
From 10 x 10 linear booths to larger peninsula and island options with more aisle exposure, plenty of choices are available. Each one comes with certain size and display restrictions as well as its own price tag.
Going too small could leave staff members and visitors crashing into each other as well as any kiosks and other display elements. Going to the opposite extreme might leave your exhibit looking bare and drain portions of the budget that could’ve been better spent on more effective components.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to others in your network for advice. Professional exhibit designers and trade show representatives can aid in deciding which booth would best serve you. All other aspects aside, the booth itself could easily be the deciding factor in the effectiveness of your efforts.
3) Poorly Planned Graphics
Obviously, you want to pack as much as possible into your display to get the right messages across to visitors. Trying to do too much could leave attendees overstimulated, though. Keep your brand’s color scheme in mind when planning out the graphic aspects of the display.
Feel free to add in extra vibrance, various fonts, different textures and other design elements, but don’t go overboard with it. Focus on sending out direct information about your company, its products or services and mission statement, and build other design components around those messages.
Also keep in mind, blank space has a certain amount of power in its own right and can go a long way toward making a positive impression on those who visit your booth. Seven common elements of design arise in all forms of art, and they certainly apply to trade show exhibits as well.
4) Using Outdated Displays
There’s no harm in trying to save money wherever possible when planning for a trade show, but some corners just aren’t the best ones to cut. Exhibits can certainly be reused from one show to the next; however, they should receive regular makeovers. Your marketing campaigns, brand images and other elements change, so if you’re recycling old exhibits, be sure to update them accordingly.
5) Sending in the Wrong Staff Members
Displays play a significant role in the effectiveness of trade show appearances, but the people manning the booth are even more crucial. Team members who represent your company should be well-versed in the finer points of your industry, company, products, services and other details to truly do their jobs effectively.
Also remember, even the most well-seasoned team members need ongoing training in the process. Start prepping staffers well in advance of the show to ensure they fully understand the goals of the experience and how to go about fulfilling them.
6) Choosing the Wrong Giveaway Items
When deciding which promotional items to bring to an event, plenty of companies approach the matter thinking any giveaway is a good one. Though visitors love free gifts, there needs to be at least some method to the madness.
Consider your company and industry when choosing which promotional items should make the cut. For restaurant equipment suppliers, customized high-end knife sets or industrial oven mitts might be nice. Tech companies may fare well with solar-powered phone chargers or thumb drives. Those who want to send out a message of sustainability can’t go wrong with items made from recycled or responsibly sourced materials.
Certain classic promotional ideas can certainly be part of the mix, but giveaway items should also fall in line with your brand.
7) Insufficient Pre-Show Advertising
Chances are you wouldn’t launch a new product or service without fanfare because doing so would be a fruitless effort. This same concept should be applied to upcoming trade shows. Send out emails. Create hype on your website and social media outlets. Have press releases published about the event. Be sure to promote any contests and giveaways as well. Start this portion of the process well ahead of time to give visitors plenty of time to plan to attend.
8) Appearing at the Wrong Shows
One of the primary rules of marketing and advertising is to always go where your target audience is most likely to find you. Trade shows are no different. Some are universal opportunities for those in all market niches to excel, but others are more industry-specific events. No one is saying you should limit yourself to a single yearly trade show, but don’t try to make an appearance at all of them, either.
9) Failing to Engage Visitors
People who visit your booth don’t want to be idle bystanders listening to repetitive sales spiels. They want to be part of things, and thanks to modern technology, they have high expectations in this regard.
Sure, your team members are a vital because they provide personal engagement, but they’re only part of the picture. Try to incorporate other interactive elements into your exhibit. Digital displays, touchscreens, virtual reality portals and numerous other options are at your disposal. Use them to your advantage.
10) Ignoring Deadlines
From your preplanning agenda to entry cutoffs set forth by event organizers, dozens of deadlines are going to come into play. Letting them slide or putting them off until the last minute can be disastrous. We’ve already covered the importance of planning ahead, but following through is just as crucial.
11) Not Conducting Attendee Research
Knowing your target audience is critical to virtually every aspect of businesses, including creating successful marketing and advertising strategies and developing new products or services. This rings true in the case of trade shows as well. Be sure you understand which types of prospects will be attending the event in question. Use this knowledge to establish appropriate messages for each category of potential visitor and their positions in your sales funnel.
12) Not Having a Backup Plan in Place
Planning well in advance of a trade show can help reduce the likelihood of last-minute disasters, but Murphy’s Law can’t be ignored. If you need two staff members to man the booth, train four because you never know when an emergency might arise. Keep a standard supply of giveaway items on hand in case your latest order doesn’t arrive on time. Develop a strategy for dealing with logistical issues like delayed flights. Consider what could go wrong and create a plan for dealing with it effectively.
13) Ignoring Visitors’ Opinions
Businesses are nothing without their clients, both longstanding ones and newcomers alike. Knowing what those customers need and expect is the key to keeping them out of the hands of the competition. Continually fulfilling their demands means listening to what they have to say whether it’s positive or negative.
This goes for people visiting your exhibit as well. Send out your message, but don’t ignore their questions and concerns. Listen to what they have to say and respond to it in an affirmative manner. Beyond that, take it to heart when honing future products, services, sales campaigns and other matters.
14) Not Looking at the Bigger Picture
For most companies, gathering intel and networking are primary focuses. What better time to do so than when it’s all right there in plain sight? Give your booth and its visitors ample attention, but take time to walk around as well.
Notice how visitors are reacting to other displays. Take note of elements competitors have in play that you don’t. Could incorporating those in future shows work out to your advantage? Connect with potential suppliers, partners and clients who are exhibiting. Visit with established connections as well to help strengthen your working relationship.
15) Overlooking Day-to-Day Maintenance
Paying attention to visitors, conducting contests and other matters are main concerns while guests are present, but the day doesn’t necessarily end once they all leave. Tidying up your display, restocking print materials, making sure plenty of promotional items are on hand and other small details are vital to ensuring things run smoothly from one day to the next
16) Failing to Follow up on Leads
No matter how many connections you make at a trade show or how much contact information you gather, it’s all essentially meaningless if ignored after the fact. Follow up on all those leads, and do so quickly while the experience is still fresh on their minds to avoid letting them grow cold.
17) Not Measuring Results
Plenty of marketers preach the importance of measuring the effectiveness of marketing campaigns, paid ads and other tactics. Otherwise, there’d be no way of knowing what works and what doesn’t. This approach should be applied to trade shows as well.
Get the right metrics tools in place well ahead of the event. After the fact, keep a close watch on leads and conversions directly resulting from connections made at the show. Doing so will help you develop more effective marketing tactics and trade show exhibits moving forward.
18) Improper Display Storage
As mentioned, it’s possible to reuse displays from one show to the next with a few touchups and revamps. If those displays are damaged while in storage, though, they may not be usable the next time around. Take care when packing up your display at the end of an event to ensure it’s there when you need it.
19) Not Turning to the Pros for Help
Unless you have a knowledgeable and experienced in-house team dedicated to trade show exhibits, things could fall apart fairly quickly. Don’t be afraid to enlist the services of the professionals. They stand ready to help with every leg of the process, from maximizing booth space and design elements to display setup, dismantling and storage. They happen to be well-versed in dealing with those unexpected hiccups, too.
In a Nutshell
Countless companies have made these trade show mistakes and learned from them the hard way. Fortunately, you can benefit from their experience. Keep these points in mind when preparing for your next trade show, and use them to help ensure your success.
Christian has over five years of professional event marketing experience. He has handled everything from on-site labor supervision to managing exhibit design projects in-house. He also enjoys rock climbing and any other outdoor activities. He is a critical thinker who is constantly challenging the status quo.