I’ve been in a bit of a trade show marketing mindset lately. Primarily, because I just helped our friends over at pcCentral with their trade show presence for the ABI “Taking Care Of Business” Conference in Des Moines. It also has to do with an ongoing, aching PAIN I have from trade show marketing.

Simply put, it all comes down tho this: Why do trade shows always seem like three days of the walking dead? Why can’t exhibitors at least pretend to be excited to be there for more than the reason that they aren’t staring at a flickering computer monitor all day? Why can’t the attendees feign interest long enough to let the shrimp puff plate get refilled?

TRADITIONAL Trade Show Marketing is Pointless!

Luckily, this year’s ABI conference stood out from all others as a spectacular success!

Trade show marketing doesn’t have to be boring or expensive. Check out what CreateWOW did for pcCentreal at the ABI “Taking Care Of Business” Conference this year!

PC Central tagged us for the development of their trade show materials about a month before the show started. Normally, I like to give a little more time to occasions that require printing of posters, videos, specialty items and the essential brochures and sundry items, but that’s not in most clients’ nature, now, is it?

“Do it now. Do it right. Do it BIG and do it cheap! … Oh, and it better not suck.”

Right! So we took on the challenge with vigor… and threw in some ZOMBIES to boot 🙂

Here are 5.5 simple steps to creating trade show marketing that doesn’t suck and it doesn’t (have to) cost a fortune, either.

1. Start at the beginning, not the past…

2. Brainstorm (for more than 20-minutes):

Businesses, pay attention.  This is what we creatives do best. When other infinitely creative folks are in the room, watch out! There usually results “cerebral smoke” and a lot of loud laughing and cussing (for all the good reasons). But in all of it’s fun and silliness, the brainstorming part of creating good trade show marketing strategy is what I’d consider the MOST IMPORTANT!

For GOD’S Sake, don’t grab a 10-year old box of brochures out of the janitorial closet and try to hand them out (or just leave them on the table as people walk by…  because we KNOW you do that). CREATE an engaging reason for the attendees to come to your booth/table/corner/whatever. This is imperative. If you’re not going to try, don’t bother!

For pcCentral, we sat in a room reviewing the current marketing and branding they’ve been using on their site, and in their collateral. While there was a glimmer of creative and a slight twist to the client’s approach, we decided, after a few additional cups of coffee and a lot of tangents to go deep and heavy with a full-blown ZOMBIE Theme.

3. Let Slip The Dogs Of War (Sorry William…):

With every good brainstorm, there comes bolts of lighting and cracks of thunder. While not literally, now is the the time to harness that creative energy and build a trade show environment that is an assault on the senses? Bring  your “A game,” because most typically, everyone else is bringing their worst. How often do you get the chance to square off with your competitors in a single room, with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of prospects as your captive audience? If you don’t / can’t capitalize on the opportunity, then my only suggestion to you is to save the money and stay home.

4. Save on the Crap Wrong Things (…and Pay For The Right Things):

Trinkets, pens, baubles and notepads litter our closets like the ribbons and trophies from long lost AAU meets and Little League baseball games of 1979. Mama was so proud of you, but are you an Olympic athlete today? Sorry, NO. So what the heck does the NASA ball point and halogen flashlight have to do with qualifying you to provide a product or service that’s worth the real gold? Absolutely nothing.

Have you ever picked up a pen and said, “I bet these guys really know their shit about Federal Tax Preparation!” Absolutely NOT!

On the other hand, if you invest in engaging elements that are relevant to your product or service, then the recipient might…  MIGHT…  remember why they have it along with the bag of other swag they’re dumping into the bottom drawer. They MIGHT even save it to show someone important!

5. Get Off Your A$$ And Shake Someone’s Hand! (You’re not in a cage…):

Often, as I walk around many trade show floors, I feel a little like I’ve been transplanted from my own reality to some kind of sick scientist’s experiment where we’re all watching human-like species while being confined against their will.  Sometimes I throw breadcrumbs at them to see what happens…

C’MON people! Like I said above, this is YOUR chance to get out and talk to those that you NEED to talk to the most. Get out from behind the tables and the banners and shake a hand or two. This is basic Networking 101. If you don’t press some flesh for the next three days, you’ll be better of stying in the hotel ordering room service on your company’s credit card. It’s all worth the same.

5.5. Follow up (I’m not even going to remark on this…):

If you can’t capture leads at a trade show, then you’re trouble isn’t your brochures, flyers, posters videos or even your booth. Look in the mirror.

Here’s the video we did for pcCentral:

Simple. right?

Obviously not.  Even after bringing the ZOMBIE fest to ABI,  it was evident that people STILL don’t get what trade shows are for.  Sure, you get great keynotes, great breakout sessions, and food, but why would your boss (or why would YOU) send you out for three days to do basically NOTHING?

I gave you 5.5 simple steps to help make your next trade show a success.  There are a LOT more ideas out there. There are a LOT more ideas in your head.

I guarantee it. 

Just start at the beginning, not the past.

Keep Cooking!
Andrew B. Clark
The Brand Chef