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Revamp Your Tradeshow Strategies or Get Crushed by the Competition

By Guy Zwick

We all know that tradeshows are back and only going to continue reemerging with greater force than ever before. So the question isn’t if or when you can start thinking about using this marketing strategy again, it’s how you’ll do so. Right now, the companies that will win in this arena are those taking this opportunity to reevaluate their prior strategies and reinvent themselves. The ones that will lose will be those that stick to their old methods. Not only will that approach fail to win you any favors, but it may also end in your brand’s own marketing demise. Here’s how to make sure you don’t get trampled by the competition. 

Stop Regurgitating What’s on Your Website

Think for a second about what your company does when they exhibit at a show. Are you doing anything different than what you did 10 years ago? Be honest! Most put up a backdrop that displays some images, plays some looping video or drops the current message or tagline. They might also worry about how comfortable the flooring will be on their staff’s feet. Then, they have little handouts that share what their company does, pictures, content information and a little bit of candy and a giveaway to go along with it. This is often done in the name of branding consistency, but do you know what else it is? It’s straight up regurgitation of what’s already freely available online on their website. In other words, it’s repetitive and boring. 

Instead of this, think of new ideas that, first and foremost, will get attention. Grabbing eyeballs in a crowded tradeshow hall is half the battle, after all. One of the best tips for this is to avoid thinking whatever is in your booth has to perfectly correlate to your company’s website, branding and products. Here’s an example. My company recently helped a customer in the cloud storage and security space revamp their exhibitor approach. We imagined the idea of hosting a chemistry lab right at their booth, a la science experiments for adults. Related to cloud storage and security? Not even a little bit. But effective and engaging? 100%. So start by thinking beyond your website. Far beyond. 

Make a Splash 

Whether it’s something like a portable science lab or an electrifying LED video wall, the point is to switch up your game. You want people to not only notice your booth, but to come and check it out, and then stay a while. This means you need to make it eye-catching, memorable and fun. One of the best ways to do this is by making it a party. I don’t mean to include some party-like elements, either; streamers aren’t going to get the job done. I mean to make it an actual party. Serve cocktails (if you can at your given event) and food, get some music going, bring cool sh*t like a dartboard and pool table. You want people to want to lose themselves at your booth for 90 to 120 minutes of their life because they’ll have a great time and remember you later. 

Another way to flip your old strategies on their head is by using technology. There was a time when tech like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) was too expensive and only available to the heavy hitters who had endless budgets, but that’s over now. Today, all of the glitz is accessible to average companies with average resources, which means it’s time to take advantage of it. Technology can be a huge draw and keep folks engaged at your booth, so get after it. 

Invest the Money

If you’ve been with me until this point and are enthusiastic about revolutionizing your old tradeshow approaches, this is where your smile might fade. But hear me out. The reality is that being tight-fisted with your tradeshow strategies is going to accomplish one thing and one thing only: keeping you in the losing lane of the race. Your competitors are going to keep investing more and more into the experience they deliver at these shows, and the gap between yours and theirs will only widen over time. 

Yes, completely disrupting your past approaches and making a real splash will cost you upfront. You’ll need to invest time, money and energy into transforming your strategy. But, that’s the means to a powerful end. Only when you give your tradeshow and booth design the attention and resources it deserves do you stand a chance of getting visitors, engaging them and succeeding in being memorable long after the confetti is cleaned up. Only then can you win new customers and ultimately get some serious ROI on your efforts.  

It might sound extreme, but this is no exaggeration. If you continue exhibiting at tradeshows like you always have, you will get crushed by the competition. That’s a guarantee. The wisest marketers and companies are realizing this, and changing everything about the way they show up at these shows. And you can, too. 

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