Best way to shine at a trade show? Provide an experience

When it comes to standing out in a crowded marketplace — online or otherwise — strategy is important. For companies, B2B trade shows and expos are no different. (B2B is short for business-to-business.)

In fact, pop-up banners and black tablecloths are not cutting it anymore.
“There are lot of opportunities to reach your audience, but what’s most important is that you need something catchy, a giveaway or a game, you can’t just have information or a flag, you need something to draw them in,” said Heather Breymeyer, director of sales at the Three River Convention Center in Kennewick.

Josh Kandle, director of marketing at Cougar Digital Marketing & Design, agreed: “When you walk in to a trade show, you are there to see something, do something or take something. You need to provide all those experiences at your booth. You want some kind of engagement, which creates muscle memory and elicits an action.”

Cougar Digital recently launched Crimson Vine Marketing, a marketing agency specializing in wineries and wine-related businesses, at the Washington Winegrowers Association annual convention and trade show in February at the Three Rivers Convention Center.

The West Richland-based company had a two-pronged approach: give away 20 wine barrel staves with custom hand lettering to those who agreed to share an anecdote — aptly called “Washington Wine Stories” — which were recorded and shared across social media sites.

“It allowed them to have an experience at our booth, while in turn we’re providing something of value to our booth visitors — visibility,” Kandle said.

Kandle said trade shows provide also a great opportunity to generate content like videos, online reviews and social media engagements.

Games also offer an interactive component to help potential customers engage in a way that feels natural. They also can be great conversation starters.

“From guessing how much of something is in a container, to putt putt golf, to Wheel of Fortune, you can try different things to make your visitors engage with and have a positive experience,” Breymeyer said.

Brandon Lange, recreation, facility & marketing supervisor at the city of Kennewick, said the city’s Parks and Recreation Department’s s’mores-making station at the January Tri-City Family Expo was popular with children and their parents.

Promotional items and expo swag are important, but they have to be unique and useful to your audience — pens and mousepads won’t cut it anymore, Breymeyer said.

But how do you get people to know where you are in a crowded show floor?

Social media campaigns work, but Cougar Digital took it a step further by using geofencing to serve up ads using the Google Display Network and Facebook to people around the convention center.

Breymeyer said business’ behavior in the booth is just as important as how nice the booth looks. It’s important to always maintain eye contact, she said, and suggests putting down the phone.

“Make eye contact, stand in front of your booth, and walk out toward people in the aisle, be inviting,” she said. “If you don’t look at them, they’re going walk on by.”

Lange said the post-show follow-up is just as important as what happens during the trade show and sometimes it pays to be craftier than email.

“There is a change in marketing. More than ever, people don’t want to be sold to, they want to be the ones making the decision,” Lange said. “An email is easy but impersonal. A personal follow-up is going to be better because it shows you’ve taken the time. If you’re trying to drive revenue, a call would be better, especially if it’s a big sale.”

Lange suggested asking leads and booth visitors to sign up for the email list as a way to receive information, so they feel they have control.

But, there’s an even bigger shift happening when it comes to acquiring new business after a trade show.

“There’s a new tactic we’re seeing that if you want to work with someone or get somebody’s business, follow them on social media and engage with them,” Lange said.

Thomas Dickinson, store manager for Rick’s Custom Fencing & Decking in Kennewick, a winner at the Home & Garden Show, advises against trying to display everything at your booth. Instead, he recommends creating a simple booth that displays a vision for what your ideal customer wants. The strategy worked: the company’s booth won an award for best multi-space arena exhibit at the event.

“Last year, we were trying to show and display everything we did,” he said. “This year, we built a cedar deck pergola trying to make it easier for them to envision what a project would look like at their home.”

And it was a hit. It didn’t hurt that they also were giving away a Traeger, he said.

But he agreed, follow up is important.

“Making sure that everybody that you talk to with is given a proper follow-up,” he said. “Everybody was called by Monday.”

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