Getting ready for a trade show can be overwhelming, even for those of us who are regular exhibitors. Early in my career, I was at a show every fifth week, which made life quite busy for a year or two. To make it simple for all of us, here's a quick and easy calendar of activities you need to keep in mind.
Don’t underestimate the power of the free offer
Okay. Before you sniff at that premise and protest how downscale that sounds compared to other “more serious” strategies for increasing traffic to your trade show booth, hear me out.
Of course, you should do pre-show outreach to and make appointments with both regular contacts and registered show attendees. Of course, you can bond with clients and future customers by hosting events or speaking on a panel. Create a warm, inviting environment in your booth where visitors can find calm and relaxation amidst trade show chaos - manned by a well-trained staff who can expertly and unobtrusively engage visitors to find out if they’re potential customers. Needless to say, you can use eye-catching and benefit-oriented signage to attract qualified prospects.
But see, there’s just something about the word free that gets people to come in. As you know, when people see their colleagues congregating, they’re bound to wonder what the buzz is all about - and follow suit. So here are some ideas for free stuff - and not necessarily useless knickknacks either - that can create buzz and drive more traffic to your booth:
Free gift just for stopping by - This could give show visitors a solid reason for showing up, absent a new product or new product feature from your company. The right gift can promote your product, engage prospects, and create better recall. It could be a price discount, a free book, or other special gift that will attract someone in your target audience. Forget random items. Attract people to your booth via giveaways that will deliver quality leads.
Free sample - What better selling tool than to give customers a taste of your product or service? Moreover, people love to hang around booths with free samples. Selling a technology or service? Give booth visitors one month’s free use of the tool in exchange for customer information. Selling a consumer product? Sample-size freebies are always a hit. In the hospitality business? A 10-minute neck massage right there and then! You get the picture…
Free workspace - For those with big exhibit spaces only. Trade show guests will always need (very) short-term office spaces to catch up with work or phone calls or to simply take a break. Offer them desk space, some comfy chairs, and plugs and they’ll really appreciate it.
Free WiFi - Visitors will flock to your booth if they know they can get wireless access. Not all trade show venues offer free WiFi; providing prospects with the password in exchange for their contact info is a win-win bargain. Bonus points to exhibitors who can tie up this freebie to their product or service.
Free charging station - An entire day spent at a trade show means that attendees will likely need to charge their phones. Provide walking around-chargers or extra AC outlets in your booth and a place to put the devices on as they recharge - and you’ll be drawing visitors like flies. You’ll also earn their thanks and, who knows, you may even get inquiries about your product or service.
Free food - Who can turn down free coffee, juice, donuts, or cookies? It’s a great way to stave off hunger between booth visits when lunch or dinner is hours away. Moreover, recipients of these free goodies would likely politely listen to a short product pitch in exchange and maybe even ask a question or two. The important thing is, you got them into your booth and gave them a chance to look around and survey your offerings. Don't put the food on the front tables so they can furtively "grab and run." Put the food in the middle of the booth so they are serious about walking in.
Once upon a time, I covered trade shows as a market analyst for a major consumer publication. Shortly thereafter I flipped to the other side of the desk and ended up with a press conference on one side of the Consumer Electronics Show and a photo shoot clear across the exhibition hall. Let’s just say that roller skates were very much on my mind by the time I finished my Mrs. Doubtfire dash back and forth across the crowded exhibit halls.
I empathize with journalists who have been given the immense task of covering trade shows, scouting for new trends, and trying to maintain relationships with industry leaders. That is why when I have a client exhibiting, I try to be a resource to media covering the show by helping them identify my clients’ product introductions long before the show, setting up interviews or, better still, pre-show interviews to save journalist’s precious time, jet-lagged exhaustion, and, especially, their shoe leather.