Co-Authored by Nikki Parrotte
Whether you represent a medical device company, food and beverage distributor or consumer brand, exhibiting at conferences and expos is often an effective way to engage with your target audience. Though a 5,000-person event may not get you the same impression numbers as an influencer’s tweet or even a major media mention, there is something to be said for the quality of those interactions. Meeting your consumers face-to-face goes a long way in creating brand loyalists, so this trend is here to stay.
Here are six tips for creating a successful expo experience:
1. Make Your Booth Interactive
The worst expo booths are the ones with large signage, a couple of brochures and an annoyingly eager sales person trying to speak to you as you run past refusing to make eye contact. When discussing the plans for your booth, try to incorporate some kind of interactive activity. This can be a taste test, fun fact quiz, prize wheel, product demo, etc. Last year, we attended the AARP Life @50+ event for the American Physical Therapy Association and our booth had local PTs available to give visitors a three-point balance test and evaluation. We had huge lines of attendees waiting to take part, simply because we offered something fun and engaging.
If nothing else, at least have something cool to give to your booth visitors. Your giveaway can help you stand out and be memorable amidst the other 100+ exhibitors. Think about your audience – what would they use? Ensure your giveaway supports your brand, fits with the event and offers something unique. This branded vintage lunchbox and thermos from An Event Apart, a conference for web designers and developers, really takes giveaways to a new level. Think outside the lunchbox.
3. Pay Attention to Detail
Everything from designing collateral and shipping materials to getting licensed to serve samples and ordering booth furniture has to be planned to a T, and done far in advance. Though you’ll need to sign up for a booth close to a year in advance, you’ll want to seriously start thinking about your booth strategy at least four to six months before the actual event. (Bonus tip: When packing boxes to be shipped to an event, create a list of each box and its contents, then mark the box number on the outside. If you are missing a box when it arrives, you’ll know exactly which one and what items need to be replaced. We did this when organizing our presence at the IDEA World Fitness Convention for Pure Canada Maple and it worked like a charm.)
In-person events are designed to be social, and social media allows you to draw people to your booth as well as extend the experience to non-attendees. Begin following the event hashtag a couple of weeks in advance, and engage by making comments and following attendees. Also, ensure to include the event hashtag in all related posts so your content is categorized and appears in the conversation search. And, don’t be afraid to push for social mentions. If someone seems really excited about your product, encourage them to tweet you. If they take a picture at your booth, ask them to tag you on Instagram. If you’re representing a brand like Wilsonart at the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show and a prominent media member like, say, Jeff Devlin of DIY Network’s I Hate My Bath is attending the event but hasn’t visited your booth, tweet him an invitation. Also consider running booth-related contests that have a social component.
This tip is especially important if you’re stuck in a corner or outside of the main exhibitor hall. Find a way to make your presence known to media, retailers or other exhibitors where the real action is taking place by parading your product or service around. We did this recently with our client Pivotal at the Outdoor Retail Summer Market by (very blatantly) putting this gear bag innovator’s 360-degree pivoting handle to the test in front of anyone who’d watch us wheel it around. We received many questions and positive comments, and sent considerable traffic from the main hall to the pavilion across the street, where our booth was located.
6. Take Advantage of All Free Opportunities
If you’ve ever exhibited at a major trade show or conference, you know that most of what you’ll be offered in terms of publicity is a sponsorship (press room, gift bag, happy hour, etc.) or some sort of pay-for-play opportunity. While these are great means for exposure, not everyone is on a BIG brand budget. So, milk those conferences for all the unpaid opportunities they’ve got. If there’s an online or physical press room, make sure your brand’s materials are there. If the expo is offering a list of attending media, set up appointments or send preview product samples. If you’ve got a new product to show off, look for editorial exposure in the event publication (usually shows will have one), in an on-site event-sponsored show recap reel or in the on-site new product showcase.
Have you attended any conferences or expos recently? Share what you learned in the comments!