Try These 4 Modern Trade Show Practices

Try These 4 Modern Trade Show Practices

Experiences, Young Customer “Experts,” Social Media and Audio Branding Bring Pizzazz to Trade Shows

Many B2B firms spend considerable time and energy on trade shows and industry conferences.   Several we experienced in 2017 focused on well-honed techniques, including thought leadership presentations and case studies along with attractive booths offering free samples, manned by knowledgeable executives.

Thought Leadership and Case Studies

Try These 4 Modern Trade Show PracticesThis past year, I enjoyed moderating group panel discussions in New York at two demographically-focused trade shows: Marketing to Gen Z in July and Marketing to Moms in October. Thanks to the quality of the discussion and presentations, the business intelligence surpassed our initial expectations. The emphasis on learning and sharing best practices and insights in a smaller setting (approximately 100-150 participants) made this easy.

Attractive Booths with Free Samples Manned by Knowledgeable Representatives

By comparison, in March we attended another industry show, the Natural Products Expo West, which was held at Anaheim Convention Center. This is a very large show, with over 80,000 in attendance that takes up over eight football fields in square feet. It attracts both B2B and consumer attendees.

In talking with company executives and owners who man the booths at this show, we learned that one of the reasons for returning year after year is to renew connections among natural products peers, and (as expected) to make new connections with potential suppliers, partners or distributions. For example, one smaller popcorn snack company made a valuable connection to Loblaws, the large Canadian retailer, which led to its products being sold in Canada.

Try These 4 Modern Trade Show PracticesWe were impressed by one firm’s diligence in compiling trends for this show. For our part, we noticed a marked difference in which booth designs appealed to Boomers vs. Millennials. For example, booths with a modern-traditional design aesthetic (e.g., white background with beautiful ingredient illustrations) intrigued our Boomer team members but didn’t seem to attract the overwhelmingly Millennial trade show attendees. The booths that garnered the most attention (although the traffic could be attributed to the free samples!) had much more jarring, red and black graphics (e.g., Beyond Meat) and even risqué approaches. Of course, the Millennial crowd at the trade show may not represent the B2B decision-maker, but even still, we wondered if some brands’ design aesthetics were off-target for the Millennial consumer.

Says Diane Vargo, Senior Event Specialist for Vitamix:

Our trade show booth for large shows is very eye catching – it’s bright and includes our red and black brand colors. Our booth is particularly striking in Europe at Ambiente, where most of the booths are very white. Our booth stands out and gets attention. In the US, trade show booths tend to be more colorful.”

modern-trade-show-practices-5Our observations led us to think about modern trade show practices, and how a company or brand can get the most impact from its trade show participation. We spoke with Ms. Vargo to get her take. Of course, the first question to answer is, “What is the goal of participating in this particular trade show?” Vitamix has a well-developed approach with both B2B commercial and household shows.

Our Top Contemporary Trade Show Practices

Along with the age-old approaches, try some of these contemporary trade show practices to get more attention, participation and sales.

  1. Use social media, apps and other tools to schedule meetings most effectively. I was impressed by the techniques suggested by Alexandra Samuel in her WSJ article “The Power of Conferences in a Social-Media Age.” I particularly liked the idea of making an Open Table reservation and inviting other participants to join into a themed dinner. And, I couldn’t agree more with researching the contact on LinkedIn and Twitter before meeting. Vargo adds:

“In my experience, your brand will be better off to engage more in social media than gimmicky technology. We have a social media team, and they are focusing efforts on trade shows. For instance, we did a Facebook live event at IHH (International Home and Housewares) this year. It included a live demonstration with one of our chefs to showcase different blending techniques. We worked with a local videographer in Chicago. It’s instant marketing.”

  1. For educational sessions, ask a young, articulate customer to be an expert for the audience. It’s proven that we learn anecdotally from stories and brand case studies. At the Gen Z conference in New York, one of the most popular presentations was hearing from a member of Gen Z on stage. Hearing this one 16-year old Gen Zer likely stuck with many of the audience members more than many of the compelling statistics did.
  1. Use experiential marketing to give them a reason to stay at your booth. Vargo explains how Vitamix incorporates experiences into their trade show booths:

“Experiential marketing is a big deal. We do scheduled demos and targeted ones for dealers and clients. For instance, this year we built an elevated demonstration bar with seats and a low front, and added a few café tables.  It allows people to sit for a few minutes and creates multiple levels of viewing from the front of the booth all the way to the aisles. When we do the demonstrations and give samples away, people are interested in what we are doing. They are not only amazed at what you can make in the Vitamix, but how easy and tasty it is. Getting people to come closer to the demonstration bar helps us engage in longer conversations and creates a learning environment for all.”

  1. Deploy audio branding to enhance the experience. Audio is often overlooked as part of the trade show experience, so this element can really help your brand stand out. Says Colleen Fahey, US Managing Director, Sixième Son,

“Sixième Son recently developed the audio branding for a 4D ride experience for a new drug delivery system launched at a pharmaceutical trade show in 2017. The attraction, which included sensory cues like bounces and jolts, led the healthcare professionals on a 3D monorail ride through the lungs, showing the way the treatment worked against the disease. It wasn't just a matter of scoring the brand music in a way to bring excitement to the storyline. The sound had to be spacious when the monorail car was experienced as going through a big, airy environment and compressed when the car zoomed through narrow tubes.”

Have you tried any of these four approaches? I’m sure there are many other new trade show techniques that organizations deployed in 2017, and I’d love to hear more about what your firm is using and finding effective.

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    Michal Clements

    Michal is co-author of Tuning Into Mom and an experienced consultant. Michal develops winning growth strategies and detailed go to market plans for some of the world’s outstanding organizations including McDonald’s, Gatorade, Abbott, Barilla, Tylenol, Clorox, Key Bank, Eagle Ottawa, Quaker and the Baker Demonstration School.

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