by Larry Kulchawik
The biggest mistake that U.S. companies make when taking their U.S. tradeshow experiences abroad is assuming that their formula for success in the U.S. will work the same internationally. Marketing tactics and exhibit designs that are effective in one country don’t always work in another. Exhibiting abroad requires a recalculation of thinking and exhibit strategy for both exhibit design and engagement styles. Here are some tips for American exhibitors when taking their brand and message abroad.
- Don’t go it alone. Find an experienced partner from the region, or one who is familiar with the venue, culture and the event. Work with them to create an exhibit layout that meets the regulations and expectations for the event. Communicate inches/centimeters with your partner—it will save time and confusion. Your partner will be helpful to help you understand how the international venue approaches freight and material handling, labor and other show services. Show service contractors, as we know them in the U.S., are not the same abroad.
- Design your exhibit to accommodate cultural expectations. Should you include a raised floor, or use a carpet? A raised floor in Europe is not only used to hide electric cords and create a level floor. It is often viewed by the exhibitor as a stage that invites guests to their “kingdom.” Other design questions that should be asked: Are hanging ID signs used and permitted? Is the lighting above or within the booth? What are the electrical requirements? Include a bar area with kitchen? Catering or not? Private seating areas or open? Live presentation or one-on-one discussions?
- Tailor your product offering to the needs of the world region in which you’re exhibiting. Does your product or service have the same demand or attraction for this region of the world as it does in the U.S.? What unique value proposition does it offer? Promoting American designer shoes in Italy may be a hard sell.
- Be sensitive to cultural differences. As an exhibitor working the stand, learn about local topics to discuss (sports, art, attractions, history), as well as topics to avoid (religion and politics). Learn how to greet guests- shake hands, bow, or nod? Your product, services and exhibit design may be great, but how you engage with an international audience can make or break your chances to attract new buyers. Just as fish don’t know they’re in water, people often find it difficult to see and recognize their own culture until they start comparing it with others. Take the time to understand the culture.
- Consider hiring a receptionist in the booth from the country in which you are exhibiting. Although English may be the language of business, most European and Asian trade shows will have visitors from neighboring countries, so a receptionist who speaks several languages is extremely useful. They are also skilled at the art of engaging with your visitors to make a good first impression, from the visitors’ point of view. A pre-show briefing of your company’s value offering is usually all that is required of a reception temp since your team will be nearby to provide the technical knowledge.
- Translations are a sign of respect. Take the time to print your business cards in two languages. Although many attendees will speak English, a dual- language card demonstrates your sensitivity and your seriousness about marketing in their country. Along the same lines, you may want to translate the graphics on your exhibit stand as well. This does not apply to your logo or tag line, but may help explain your product or service benefits. Translations should be proofread by a bilingual expert who is familiar with your industry.
- Not all international shows require a badge for entry, especially at auto, boat or consumer shows open to the public. Without badges, it’s more difficult to identify potential buyers. A quick evaluation will be necessary. If show badges are not provided for visitors and exhibitors, make your own for your booth staff to wear. At least attendees will know who you are.
- Be aware of how to dress for the show. The casual golf shirts with logos worn by exhibitors at many shows in the U.S. might not be appropriate for a show in Europe or Asia, where a more formal attire is expected. Ask the show organizer or your exhibit partner for advice here. Your first impression can be a lasting impression.
Larry Kulchawik is the head of Larry Kulchwawik Consulting and author of Trade Shows from One Country to the Next. For more info, visit www.larrykulchawik.com