By : Benjamin Steele
When it comes to conventions and trade shows, your approach makes all the difference. It can mean your experience is either a complete disappointment or inspirational and filled with new contacts.
It’s not as simple as putting your logo on a sign and purchasing some branded pens. You need to approach conventions the same way as marketing in a saturated environment. After all, even if there are no direct business competitors attending, everyone will be competing for attention.
Standing out isn’t just about looking good, it’s about engaging. You’re going to want to become the place to be on the trade floor. Even a small group of people who are engaged or having fun creates a buzz that will make other business owners drool with jealousy.
Quality, Not Quantity
It’s going to be more effective to invest more of your limited budget into doing well at a single conference. If you try and stretch your budget to attend multiple events, you’ll be at a greater risk of unsatisfactory results.
If you haven’t invested enough in your table, and one conference goes poorly, your outreach is just as likely to fail the second or third time around. But a single successful conference could outweigh two or three mediocre attempts in leads and contacts.
First, pick your small business conference carefully. Remember that going outside your usual networks can be a real advantage, so don’t be afraid of shooting far afield. Research previous attendees and keynotes to get a feel for the audience, look into what’s happening this time around, and choose one that will be highly relevant, or that might attract the kinds of clients you’re looking for.
Booths are really, really awkward. If you’ve ever walked a trade floor and watched the people sitting in front of tables smiling hopefully at you, pleading with their eyes for you to walk over, you know what we’re talking about. When you’re standing in a row of 10 fishermen, you’d better have good bait.
Two of my favorite pieces of advice for attracting attention to your booth include food and games.
Snacks always go down well when people are on their feet. Bonus points if it’s feasible to bring homemade baked goods. If not, individually packaged sweets are always a safe bet. The laying out of food is a global invitation, and the breaking of bread is a recognized relationship-building tool across many cultures. It’s important to put in a little more effort than a bowl of candy, even if you drop by a local Dunkin’ or Starbucks in the morning for a bulk order of coffee and donuts. Offering food is a fantastic unspoken way to thank someone for their time and interest. Plus, once they start chewing, you have several precious seconds in which to start your pitch!
Games and raffles are up next. They’re not just a way to interact with passers-by, they’re also a useful tool for collecting business cards. This can help you a lot when you’re slogging through post-conference follow-ups. Most people will be happy to drop a card into a bowl for even a small prize.
Don’t be afraid to experiment! The more inventive your activities, the higher chance you’ll grab some interest. For example, did you know that you can rent button-makers? Grab some of your scrap branded material, a few magazines, or just some paper and markers, and let visitors make their own buttons! It’s tons of fun.
Dress to Impress
No, we’re not talking about you this time. Dress up your booth! This can range from simple presentation techniques to investment in cool tech.
Let’s start simple. Having a tablecloth or skirting in a pleasant neutral color, or eye-catching saturated one if that’s more your style, can really pull together the look of your booth. It’s a good idea to diversify your print material. A bare table looks awfully unprofessional, so in addition to your detailed pamphlet, put some bite-sized chunks of information on table-toppers, cards, paper airplanes … Whatever takes your fancy.
Remember not to fall into the trap of simply blowing up your logo and putting it on a sign behind you. Get some large pictures printed, of you and your employees at work, or at a previous conference, or playing ultimate frisbee, to put a human face on your business. Try to think about human stories that you can tell in relation to what you do. Many of the most successful brands leverage emotional marketing to foster loyalty and create brand ambassadors. Even your own story, about starting a business and overcoming challenges along the way should resonate emotionally in a room full of likeminded individuals.
Another way to stand out from the other booths is with lit or digital signage. With an LED display and the right content management you can take your message from static to engaging. Until you can scare up the budget for something fancy, a TV, a tall stand and a laptop running a video will do, but for truly impressive booths investing in new technology like a digital display or programmable LED lighting can bring very good returns. After all, making a habit of relying on old technology can slow down your business development.
On top of everything else, anything permanent that your purchase for a convention can be repurposed when you get back to business, and used again when you decide it’s time to make another trip.
Conventions are a tricky beast. Their expense can be a bit of a gamble, but only if you don’t plan and invest in your trade show strategy. Picking one, or a small number of conventions to focus on can help you build a business community, and, if you make enough of an impression, you might end up speaking in front of the other attendees next time.