10 Ways to Turn Up the Heat to Boiling & Engage at Trade Shows

Trade shows are the lifeblood of events marketing. Go to a city, spend a week in a hotel and see nothing much but the hotel room, convention center and a few dinners.

Trade shows seem almost Darwinian. The effort just to survive — make sure everything and everyone shows up while attempting to get a few decent leads — is admirable.

I thrive at trade shows. Or at least, that’s my objective. Here’s a few ideas that’s worked for me:

  1. Make a trade show fun. Partner with related companies at major tradeshows and create a game for attendees. Among the most successful created was trading cards with a variety of characters, each related to a brand. The characters also appeared in a children’s fire safety book. Once collecting a certain number of trading cards, participants win a prize. Turns out most participants will collect all the cards anyway, driving traffic to all partner booths. Trading cards also makes it easier for an attendee to start the game at any booth.
  2. Hashtag your event participation. You and your company isn’t alone at trying to get some attention via social media. A bit of research and you’re likely to discover the hashtag for whatever the event, the venue, the city, etc. Use those hashtags when you can. A savvy social media person on the other end will likely echo (retweet, favor, like or quote) your posting. You’ll be exposed to a larger audience and get more attention.
  3. If it’s exclusive, it’s worth it. Phrases like “limited edition” and “collector’s edition” works, even at a trade show. You see our trading cards above. We even put them in protective sleeves when people finished their collections. At a recent event, we had a limited edition poster available for the first 500 or so who put our hashtag out on social media with a photo. It worked.
  4. Hype it and they will come. Many trade shows offer to be a part of e-mail blasts or special editions. There’s always the “official” publication too. Card decks and website ads along with being included in the welcome bag. Picking and choosing which ones to sponsor and where to appear seems like a lot of wasted money, but I always coordinate the hype. Point everything to a single destination of information — a good landing page on your website is a great idea. However, use Bitly or another URL abbreviation tool to create different links to track which ones are the most effective based on cost.
  5. Stand out in a crowd. Create buzz in just your appearance. Many companies will hire models (some call them “booth babes,” but I prefer “brand ambassadors”). A few years ago, the brand ambassadors were asked to add a wig to help unify their look. This bright colored blue (and one of the our corporate brand colors) helped define our personnel from others. Now the company is known for the “blue hairs.” Attendees look for them every year.
  6. Hire ‘booth boys’ too. More often than not in the male-dominated industries, event companies hire attractive females as the brand ambassadors. Normal men can be intimidated by gorgeous women. not to mention it can be alienating to females in the industry. I find hiring a good mixture of both provides for wider appeal.
  7. Always interview brand ambassadors in advance. Brand ambassadors are just not a pretty face. Often event professionals will go with the photos that modeling agencies provide when selecting who to represent your company. Bad idea. I always go a couple of months ahead and interview potential brand ambassadors in person, getting a feel for their personality. A beautiful but unapproachable or rude brand ambassador is worse than a pretty and gregarious one.
  8. It’s my party and you’ll come if I want you. A lot of companies like to set up huge parties or receptions at trade shows, but not everyone can afford that. Instead, get in touch with a fun destination near the venue — a dueling piano bar, a bowling alley, a comedy club — and set up a reception for you and as many as your company can afford. Print up about 30 percent more invitations and, as attendees stop by your booth, check out the quality of the attendee. Is it a title you’re targeting? Hand them an invitation. It’s exclusive entry.
  9. Don’t forget the wife and kids. Surveys show more than half of all people attend tradeshows for the giveaways (or swag). Not all shows are appropriate for this, but a some are a family affair. Among the giveaways, include some for kids. I always have a couple hundred on hand in case any kids wander by. Everyone working our booth is trained to step forward to hand off the fun giveaway. It leave the parents with a warm feeling for your company. In some male-dominated industries, it’s also normal to come with t-shirts or other clothing sized only for the men. Many times, the gentlemen among the group choose smaller sizes to take home to the wife or girlfriend. A few small and medium t-shirts goes a long way.
  10. Survival of the prepared. Trade shows can be overwhelming and making it through the long days can be a challenge. I like to put together a “trade show survival kit.” This box includes candy, nuts, mints, bandage, pain reliever, upset stomach medicine, hand sanitizer, lip balm, notepad, pen, lens cleaner, etc. It’s full of those items one seems to need but can never quite locate when needed. Providing these to partners and others working the long hours helps create a good vibe.

These are just a few of my ideas. What about yours? What makes your trade shows a success?

Published by

Michael Cheek

With more than 20 years of communication experience, Michael Cheek offers solid marketing expertise, especially in the digital frontier. He currently resides in Georgia but he's open to relocate anywhere the opportunities take him. Learn more at http://MichaelCheek.com. You can follow him on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/MichaelCheek and see more about his professional experience at http://LinkedIn.com/in/MichaelCheek. Reach him via e-mail at mcheek@gmail.com.

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