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Global Marketing and Exhibitions Part 1: Why your global approach should be different than domestic


In this three-part series, we are going to explore why your global marketing approach should differ from your domestic approach and how that translates into successful exhibiting around the world.

There are many small- to medium-size companies out there who reach out to me seeking help for their first global tradeshow. As globalization continues, this trend will continue. It’s important to realize whether you are just testing a market or attacking it head-on, that the messaging needs to be relevant to that audience. What works in the U.S. isn’t necessarily going to work elsewhere.

In this first article, we will begin by reviewing marketing on the show floor. Are you a company that does on-site sponsorships, door drops, giveaways or pass out fliers to drive people to your exhibit? Maybe you simply have your graphic messaging and some refreshments. Regardless of your approach, tailoring these items to your audience is really important. Below is a breakdown of key items to keep in mind when marketing on each of the seven continents…Well, six since I don’t think anyone will be attending a show in Antarctica anytime soon!

Many of us know that when exhibiting in Europe, it is common to have some sort of refreshment area. Depending on the size of your stand, that could be a small area with coffee and water, or in some cases, people create massive kitchens. Most of us would fall into the middle-of-the-road range. Maybe this is a small counter dedicated to a refrigerator, coffee maker and a few snacks. This is often seen as more valuable than spending money on giveaways, such as pens. However, have you carefully thought about what you may give out for snacks or drinks?

For example, throughout Europe, many people drink sparkling water instead of still water. Beer and wine, depending on the region, is also common to have on hand. However, if you are at a show in Germany, you’ll want to serve a regional beer. In Cologne, Kölsh is the main brew of choice. If you try to serve Alt bier from Düsseldorf, you may receive a negative reaction. The rivalry between the two regions is great and something that should be taken into consideration when in the area.

Maybe you’re exhibiting at a regional show in China. We are used to many shows having a global focus, and therefore, understanding English graphics. However, oftentimes in Asia, it is more appropriate to have your messaging translated into the local language.

A country like China has many dialects. Most Americans are familiar with the Mandarin dialect, which is considered the official language of The People’s Republic of China, but many may make the mistake to assume that is acceptable Chinese throughout the country. If one is at a show in Shanghai, it might be more acceptable to translate into the Wu dialect, and if you are in Guangzhou, then the Yue dialect. It’s important to research the show and see what is common.

North America
If you are using photos in your graphic messaging that aren’t specifically of product, make sure images are not offensive in any way to that region. Often, people forget and assume what is acceptable imagery here is acceptable there. As an example, the U.S. is very prudish opposed to other cultures. If people from Europe came here with very provocative graphics selling underwear on display, many U.S. citizens would be offended.

It’s also important to remember that Canada and Mexico, even though they are part of North America, are not the United States! They each have unique differences and cultures and need to be treated and marketed to as such.

South America
Social media and smartphones are all the rage for marketers in North America. On the show floor, people hold Twitter contests, blast emails with updates, use QR codes for entries into contests, etc. However, you need to think twice about whether social media and the use of smartphones on the show floor are appropriate on other parts of the globe.

In 2012, only approximately 14 percent of Brazilians had a smartphone. In Argentina, the number was slightly higher at 20 percent. To put it in perspective, in 2012, Nielsen reported that 50 percent of Americans used smartphones.

While reports show that those with smartphones in Argentina and Brazil actively use them, if you are trying to rely on getting your message across via smartphone technology and social media on the show floor, it is likely a large number of attendees will miss it due to lack of device ownership.

If you are a tech-based company, the likelihood of you exhibiting at a show in Africa is on the horizon. This may not only be in South Africa, but also Nigeria. Nigeria is now ranked one of the continent’s most active technology markets. A lot of the growth is phone and Internet-based. Globacom of Nigeria just signed a $750 million contract to upgrade their voice and data network.

Many technology companies like to use technology to portray their product and give demonstrations. What you have to keep in mind, though, is that visual technology, like touchscreens and seamless, large LED walls, aren’t as abundant in this region. It is difficult, and often expensive, to get the same items available in the U.S. market in other markets like South Africa and Nigeria. They may have one or two options, but at smaller sizes or a somewhat different technology. For example, in the U.S., it is possible to get a large, all-in-one computer/touchscreen monitor… even up to 50 inches. Often, to do a large touchscreen format in other regions, like South Africa or Nigeria, you may have to use a standard monitor with a touchscreen overlay run by a separate computer.

If this is something that is an issue for your messaging, then perhaps thinking about running a looping presentation on a standard monitor and computer is better than an interactive one.


American exhibitors tend to believe exhibiting in Australia is just like exhibiting in the U.S. because Australians speak English, but a new exhibitor will quickly notice many differences if they don’t plan ahead. English is the official language, but Aussies do have several unique words and phrases that you may want to work into your sales conversations or be prepared for. However, avoid those slang and informal terms, such as “G’day, mate.”

If you stick to simple giveaways, like pens or key chains, those are usually a safe bet. However, believe it or not, I just saw an ice scraper glove as a giveaway. This is a very regional giveaway as many areas don’t have ice or snow to worry about. Could you imagine a cold climate company not thinking and bringing that to a show in Mumbai where it’s hot all year round? A handheld fan is probably more appropriate there!

This all may sound like common sense, but you’d be surprised at how many companies commit these types of blunders. From large to small companies across the globe, it happens. Sometimes they can turn into funny stories, but other times, not paying attention to the small details can really hurt your sales and cost your company a lot of money to repair damage done.

Stay tuned for part two of the series where we discuss pre-show marketing, and in part three, we’ll tackle post-show.


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