Five Ways to Make Your Small Exhibit More Effective
You’ve got a small booth — 10-by-20 feet — and a budget to match. You’re getting ready to exhibit at one of your biggest shows of the year, an exhibition that’s jam-packed with big booths and big money. How do you get attendees to notice you?
“Visibility, interactivity, and involvement are different in a smaller exhibit, so you need to put more thought into how you focus your event,” says Marc Goldberg, CME, partner and founder of Marketech, an exhibit-staff training and measurement firm based in Westboro, MA, and a veteran small exhibitor. “You can’t outspend other exhibitors, so you have to outsmart them.”
Here’s what Goldberg and other industry experts had to say about making an exhibit larger than life.
1. Promote ‘Til You Drop
A targeted pre-show promotion is key to combating the disadvantage of size.
“Before visitors arrive at a show — unless they already know you — they have no idea whether you are a 10-by-10 or the largest exhibitor on the floor,” Goldberg says. “A two- or three-part promotion program gives the illusion that you are a player that must be seen. That is the objective: Get on your attendee’s ‘must see’ list.”
Does that mean you should send a flyer to every attendee? In most cases, no. Bob Burk, CTSM, marketing-communications manager for Norwalk, CT,-based chemical manufacturer King Industries Inc., explains. “If you’re doing a show with 10,000 attendees, you can’t afford to do a direct mailing to all 10,000 if you’re a small guy, but you can handpick 150 to 200 and target your market with a pre-show mailing,” he says. “We’ve found that very effective.”
At the International Coatings Exposition in Chicago this October, Burk targeted roughly 350, or 10 percent, of the show’s 3,500 pre-registered attendees who fit King Industries’ target audience based on job function. He sent out a direct-mail piece two weeks prior to the show. One hundred twelve attendees brought the flyer to Burk’s booth — a 32-percent return.
To find out which attendees fit your target market, ask show management for its attendance profile. “Most shows do a pretty good job of providing a prospectus that profiles who the attendees are and what their product interests are,” Burk says. “That should give you some clues on where to focus your efforts.”
When it comes to the promotion itself, Goldberg says one plan that works well for small exhibitors is a three-phase promotion. Give attendees a preview of your booth experience with a pre-show promotion, continue that experience in the booth, and then reinforce the experience with a post-show promotion. “This achieves greater memorability,” he says.
Goldberg puts this plan into action in Marketech’s 10-by-10-foot exhibit. Before the show, he typically sends attendees a 3-by-5-inch, four-color postcard printed with the message “Experience the Results.” When attendees visit the booth, they see the same message. After the show, Goldberg sends a 4-by-6-inch, four-color postcard with a photo of the Marketech staff and the message “Experience the Results” repeated again. At EXHIBITOR Show 2004, Marketech landed 36 qualified leads with this promotion — 33-percent more than the 24 qualified leads gathered at the 2003 show.
Keeping costs down is always top of mind with small exhibitors, but when it comes to promotions, Goldberg recommends splurging a bit. “Most exhibitors commit about 6 percent of their trade show budget to promotion. A small exhibitor must commit more,” Goldberg says. “Why? To drive home why a visitor should invest time to visit the exhibit .”
2. Focus Your Graphics
Every exhibitor needs graphics, Goldberg says, but a small exhibitor’s graphics need to be more effective and more attractive than most. “Your message must be clear and memorable to overcome the issue of size,” he says.
Patti Burge, an event-marketing and management consultant, offers some guidelines for catching the attendee’s eye. “Keep booth graphics simple and succinct,” she says. “Text should be benefit-oriented, not feature-oriented. Determine the most succinct way to say what your company or service does. An attendee shouldn’t have to ask, ‘What does this company do?’ More often than not, attendees will just walk by a booth if they can’t tell what the company does.”
3. Do It Yourself — or Find a Way to Do It Cheaper
If you have the time and the know-how, Burk suggests creating your own graphics. “If you’re able to do some of your graphics yourself using the standard computer programs out there, you can save a great deal of money because you don’t have to pay a graphic designer and an advertising house to produce them,” he says.
Kris Thatcher finds innovative ways to produce high-impact exhibit components for less. When the president of trade show consulting and hardware provider Kass Marketing Group LLC, based in Carrollton, TX, needed to rent a round pedestal with a red top for a client’s display, she refused to pay the hefty price quoted by her exhibit house.
“The standard tops were black and ran about $250 to $275,” Thatcher says. “When I inquired about a red top the price nearly doubled. But a trip to my local Plexiglas supplier netted me four, 24-inch red circles for the price of one custom top. My client will lay the red Plexiglas on top of the standard black. With careful packing, we should get several shows out of them.”
Burk discovered he can save on booth carpet by using a non-standard supplier. “Our company’s facility has 12 buildings, and we’re constantly changing our carpet, so it was less expensive to buy from the company that produces our office-building carpet than to go through the exhibit house. We probably saved 50 percent of the cost of other options from exhibit houses — a savings that could be channeled into exhibit-program components with bigger impact.”
4. Design for Change
When Burk designs a booth, he tries to envision a variety of ways he can use it. This ensures that the final booth design will be configurable in a number of different ways, and it allows him to change the look of the booth from show to show and year to year —which makes the exhibit more competitive.
For example, Burk’s current two-story, custom booth was designed with the usual components — cabinets, wall sections, and display pieces — but they can be used in everything from a 10-by-10-foot to a 20-by-40-foot configuration.
“We’re going on eight years with the same booth,” Burk says, “and every year people think it’s a different booth. But it’s the same framework that can be configured in several different ways. Rather than make an investment every two to four years on a new build, we’ve been able to save time and money by planning components to give the old booth a new look each year.”
5. Think Outside the Booth
To stand out in a sea of exhibits, Burk recommends scenery and props. At one of King Industries’ major shows for its Lubricant Additive Division, Burk rented a 1932 Packard, which he parked in the center of his 20-by-20-footspace next to two lead counters and signs that proclaimed the company’s “long-standing affair with the automobile.” Burk’s Packard cost $2,300 less than the company’s regular booth rental, and increased the number of qualified leads by more than 35 percent over the previous year.
Burk recalls one exhibit manager from a seminar he taught at EXHIBITOR Show 2003 who employed this technique with success. She works for a company that manufactures latex gloves for the medical industry, and jazzed up a standard 10-by-10-foot with a huge latex glove. “Rather than throwing up a typical pop-up, she had a big hand made,” Burk says. “This 8-foot-tall hand with a latex glove on it became her entire booth.”
The crafty exhibit manager even went the extra mile and connected her booth structure with her pre-show promotion. “She did a pre-show mailing with five points about her product that corresponded to the five fingers on the glove in the booth,” Burk says.
Sandra Monroe, marketing-communications manager for outdoor power-systems retailer Argus Technologies Ltd. of Burnaby, BC, Canada, builds her booth with product. “For our 20-by-20-foot space, I’ve moved away from sending large booth pieces and I’m using our equipment to design the booth,” Monroe says. “When I started at this company, we shipped a heavy custom booth to our 400 shows. That makes sense if you have small products or services and need something to fill the space. But I realized the booth just took up too much room.”
Monroe’s solution? She tossed the booth and created a walk-through exhibit of the company’s products. “Even though the products are not attractive, they’re what the customers want to see,” she says. “And the money saved on shipping and drayage can be put toward new signage and better lighting.”
Monroe also made her products the foundation for her giveaway, which she combined with a product demo.” One of our products has an air conditioner in the bottom to keep batteries at a cool temperature,” she says. “I put bottled water in the bottom and turned up the air conditioner. This way, we were able to give customers cold water and demo our product at the same time.”
Whether you use one or all of these techniques in your next exhibit, with a little time, thought, and elbow grease, you’ll only be as small as your imagination.
By Nicole Brudos Ferrara