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5 Ways to Become a Star at Your Next Trade Show

So what do fortune cookies have to do with trade shows for building products? Nothing, really. But as a totally unexpected medium for your brand message—part of your overall show strategy—they’re a fun and inexpensive way to pull prospects into your booth and start a conversation.

But this post isn’t about fortune cookies. It’s about making the most of your 2012 trade show investment.

I know you’ve probably had some pretty successful shows in the past. You’re not new to this. But how are you measuring just how successful the shows have been? Are you taking advantage of all the leads you’re acquiring? Are they qualified leads? What’s your ROI (Return on Influence)? If you aren’t sure, you’re not alone.

After more than 20 years of working with clients in the building products industry, I’ve seen a disconnect that often stems from treating trade shows as individual events rather than integrating them into the overall brand-communications strategy.

Now, with the economic pitfalls that have paralyzed this industry, I know trade show exhibition has been put on the back burner for many of you. It still stands to reason, though, that the sheer power of trade shows to cost-effectively connect with hundreds—even thousands—of customers and prospects makes them an important way to showcase your brand.

Taking the time to strategize before embarking on your 2012 trade show program—and, in particular, pre- and post-show communication—is the most effective approach. Here are 5 ways you can effectively maintain brand consistency and reach brand stardom at your next trade show:

1. Stakeholders and Strategy
Kind of sounds like a Milton Bradley® game, doesn’t it? Get together with all key stakeholders and your creative team well in advance of the show to discuss overall strategy. Your creative team can help you formulate the best way to let your brand shine. Discuss the core messages you want to convey and how you can bring them to life.

These planning meetings should yield a succinct strategy for connecting with attendees before, during and after the show. The strategy will address how you will achieve your goals, influence exhibit design, and act as a script for your next blockbuster show.

2. Booths in the Zone
In a recent Marketing Profs article Stephanie Janard interviewed industry expert Les LaMotte, founder and CEO of Xtra Lite Displays (www.xtralite.com). According to Les, the key to maximizing booth traffic is to make sure the booth commands attention at several distances, starting with about 30 feet away. Your booth needs something eye-grabbing that attendees can spot from that distance. “Side wing” displays that catch attention from several aisles are also a good option.

The Big 3
1 The Memory Zone
—about 15 feet away.

2 The Sensory Zone—close enough to interact with booth materials and demos.

3 The Data Zone—as much a state of mind as a particular proximity, the Data Zone is where booth visitors are looking for evidence that your product or service will solve their problems.

3. Loud and Clear
Competition at trade shows is fierce, and many companies think creating an exhibit with a “wow” factor is the ticket to generating traffic. Although you certainly want your exhibit to be visually effective, it’s critical to make sure the brand doesn’t get diluted in the process.

Instead, focus on creating clear, concise messages that support your brand attributes and resonate with the target audience. Start with words on paper. Seriously. You should be able to express your core message in one sentence. Once that’s established, building on it visually becomes easier and ultimately more effective.

4. Social Bee
Engaging socially with attendees prior to and during the show can have an extremely positive impact on attendance and participation. It isn’t, however, something you should use as a one-off campaign communication. It should be part of your overall marketing efforts. Social media isn’t a solution. It’s a tool. A way to become more intimate with your audience.

You can use social media tools to create curiosity and anticipation prior to a show. It’s a vehicle for being human. Let’s face it—your company isn’t about a tool or a widget. It’s ultimately about people who make something for people. I recommend having a point person to be your social voice. Make someone responsible for monitoring the conversation. This person can also blog about the sensational things that are happening during the show and stay connected with attendees long after the show is over.

5. After Glow
Everybody’s all excited and gung-ho during the show—preparation, dinners, drinks, enthusiastic conversations. But what happens after the show? Here’s where the ball gets dropped—little or no follow-through with the new “show” friends you’ve made. Capitalize on everything you’ve worked so hard for. Follow up with a thank-you letter. Ask them to stay in touch by subscribing to your e-newsletter. Socialize with them via Twitter and Facebook.

Measuring your effectiveness is also paramount. Utilizing a toll-free “trade show” number is a great way to track response. You can also capture important information via an online survey. Find out what resonated with them most. Coded response cards are another way to glean information and connect post-show.

Need help mapping out your trade show strategy?
Download our free Guide to Trade Show Stardom for Building Products Professionals.

What’s your trade show track record? Any big hits or misses? I’d love to hear from you. Here’s to creating a sensation and saying something new!

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