I’ve always thought that only a mere fraction of marketing had stopping power, regardless of the merits of the product advertised. After walking so many trade shows, the rule seems to hold for booth design. Too few score points like the attention-grabbing Hippeas example above, where color, originality, brand integration, takeaway samples and a selfie-frame combine for a memorable experience.
Recently I was at the Summer Fancy Food Show, a great show by the Specialty Food Association. The show is big—the largest specialty food industry trade event in North America—filling up the Javitz Center in New York City with 4,000+ exhibitors.
Attendees are treated to aisle after aisle, booth after booth of interesting and sometimes cutting edge products. Too many to stop and talk to everybody. Just like consumers, attendees are time and attention starved, making this an apt microcosm of marketing. If you plan or work shows, you know that 1) you have just a few (maybe just one) events per year and 2) you need ROI. Your KPI’s might be foot traffic, samples handed out, cards collected, lanyards scanned and, of course, follow up conversations. At the end of the year, you need to see new clients and new revenue from this marketing channel. Here are a few suggestions to make your show booth as effective as possible.
Effectiveness in four stages:
You can imagine what attention requires; things like color (like the vibrant surfboards at Belgian Boys), simplicity, even smell and sound can work. As you might suspect, there were a lot of great smells at the food show! Knowing what your audience is looking for is a basic requirement. But beyond generalities, they may be watching out for certain trends. This is especially true in food, so communicating benefits or ingredients that are on trend is a good idea since many attendees are retailers looking for ways to boost category performance, attract new types of customers, etc. You might ask yourself, “Am I broadcasting my most important attribute to the aisle loud and clear?” Make your booth “do the talking” in this respect.
Approach is more difficult. First, you need to be more interesting than your neighbor. People are drawn to other people and if your booth is lacking people, it’s lacking energy. So step 1 is to have enough of your own people there. A show is a big investment, so bringing an extra person is not a huge incremental cost, but it does add energy to your booth and capability to sales efforts (another set of legs and eyes to walk the show, hand out booth invitations, etc). Below, there was a good crowd at the Lamesa booth, drawn in by good smells, bright lighting, great display and seating.
When you are together in the booth don’t just stand there; talk to each other, laugh, smile, talk to passers-by—be attractive. Your story also comes into play here. Your booth design, how you dress, your merchandising, all of it needs to project your brand story to create intrigue and chalk up more approaches.
One thing I noticed at this year’s show, there was not a great amount of video being utilized, either as information or visual effect. I think this was a miss because motion can be very compelling to people in terms of approach. True, ambient sound is an issue, but people are so visually attuned these days that a well done video can provide a lot of information even without audio. It also adds some energy and sophistication to your experience. Food for thought.
Getting someone to stop, notice and approach is huge—I think it’s the 80% of the hurdle, actually. Why? Because the you are in control of the rest you through engagement and learning. Story, by the way, is still a huge part of engagement, but in this stage it’s you who is sharing it. You need to not only come across like you know your story, but live it. Easier for founders of start ups, but certainly learnable for any of your employees as long as they understand it and believe it. Story is not just your history, but also the aspirational brand you can feasibly become. Story isn’t just your product attributes, but the “why” behind the those attributes.
Beyond story, your guests need to be entertained. This is sales, you say, not a cocktail party? Possibly, but getting new purchase orders at the show is unlikely. On the other hand, meeting and impressing people is very likely if you’re a good host. At a food show, everyone has great food, so that is a must. Take away samples are great if possible. But something to do, to look at, something that makes someone stay for a minute is golden. This mini beer garden did it for this group.
You need your visitor to learn about your product and story, of course. Your well-honed pitch, demo and any takeaway material will cover that base (I also like the simple “how to” display in the Soberdough Brew Bread space, below.) But this is a perfect time for you to listen and learn as well. Why is the person at the show? What do they hope to accomplish? Who are their customers? Is there alignment between you? What challenges do they have? What drew them to your booth?
Since you have colleagues there with you, try and double up on anyone who looks like a real prospect. Invite your colleague in and introduce them. A second set of ears helps and it’s impressive to be introduced around. This happened to me at the Plymouth Artisan Cheese booth (below) when cheesemaker Jesse Werner introduced me to his partner and wife, Sarit, to better understand their brand story. People remember great hospitality and conversation, because there will be far less of those than demos and one-sheeters.
That cost versus benefit thing
After seeing the examples above you may be thinking about your budget, and it’s certainly true that custom and complex booths can get expensive and difficult to transport and set up. Many times I’ve heard that a client doesn’t need to spend “too much” on their booth because their customers are serious fill-in-the-blank with radiologists, financial advisors, software engineers, food buyers. Sales people who run booths often think, “I can sell with or without a great booth around me.”
But here’s the calculus: given the high value you believe a show can bring you, doing a few lower cost improvements will boost your ROI. Creativity is one. The Hippeas selfie frame is a fun idea that is low cost, for example. Will it alone create a sale? Probably not. Did it trigger an approach, a conversation that can become a sale? Quite possibly. The point is to dedicate some time to thinking and design to get to good ideas. The graphics seen in Plymouth Artisan Cheese, Belgian Boys and Soberdough are high impact but not necessarily high cost. This design thinking and solid execution will pay off for many shows ahead. Likewise, adding another person to extend your capability and boost your booth’s energy? A bargain relative to the potential return.
Just ask yourself this, when the show is over and your customers fly home to be greeted by 600 unread emails and a backlog of work, what is it that they will remember about your encounter?
Samples, if possible to give your product away, are another lower cost benefit. This candy distributor (above) has the advantage of handing out samples parents can take home to their kids! Lighting? Most people overlook the possibilities smart lighting offers to make merchandise look great, accentuate graphics and messages or to set a specific mood. Investment-wise, I was probably most impressed with the mini beer garden idea (speaking of lighting for mood, note their string lights). This could be done for less than $1,000 and really adds to the experience for 20×10 or larger spaces.
I hope you are motivated to try new ideas to help you get attention, trigger more approaches and ultimately provide a memorable experience to your visitors. Maybe do as I did and walk your next show and journalize things that work on you.