5 ways to get more bang for your exhibition trade show buck

I’m writing this from the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS), the largest manufacturing show in America, at McCormick Place through Saturday. More than 90,000 people have registered for this gigantic event so far.

Walking across a floor of 1,800 exhibits, you quickly get the sense that, at a time when marketers tend to question if trade shows are worth attending, it’s clear there are no such hang-ups as it applies to this show. There’s a whole lot of heavy investment from manufacturers going on here in their presence. With this in mind, I can’t help but wonder about return on investment and what kind of steps brands can take to help themselves stand out once they say, “If there’s one trade show we want to be at this year, that’s the one.”

Here are some takeaways and tech ideas I witnessed at IMTS that you can consider incorporating for your own trade show efforts this fall, especially if you’re preparing for a massive, high-visibility trade show like this one.

Stand up for iPads

You’re trapped with one attendee who is talking your head off and it’s clear they’re not going to be a serious buyer. Meanwhile, isn’t that so-and-so who you’ve been meaning to talk to walking up to your booth? How do you ditch the gabfest in front of you elegantly? You may be able to divide and conquer resources if you have a securely mounted iPad display stand. Visitors can walk up to the stand and scroll through valuable information about your company’s products and services.

Walking by hundreds of booths at IMTS, I saw two of these stands used. I expect I’ll only see more of them at future shows. It’s very slick and helps act as another “salesperson” for your brand.

 

Webcasting

There’s a great opportunity in live webcasts at the show: First, it extends your appeal beyond the immediate trade show floor to the social web. Second, it involves people in your booth on a deeper level as interviewees and not just casual browsers. So it’s no longer just a booth but an experience. Many booth experiences start and end with the physical walls of the brand. It doesn’t have to be that way any longer.

IMTS had several live webcasts throughout the day via its IMTS TV, which could be seen at nearby hotels, the event’s shuttle bus and online. Taking a page from this experience, whom could you interview at your booth, even for just a couple of minutes? Could you target them in advance of the show and invite them to be a part of your webcast, which may extend into a longer conversation afterward? Where can you share this information beyond your website?

3D video projection

A screen mounted on a stand? That’s OK, but rather expected. When done well, a video projection on an ample-sized banner, complete with audio, can lure people in and tell more of the brand’s story with a high-end quality. I’ve seen but one company only lightly touch upon this application, without audio.

Or there’s really taking the experience up a notch — using 3D images (also called “3D projection mapping”) to transform a part of the booth into a captivating spectacle of video. Just Google “3D projection mapping” and you’ll see what I mean.

So if we can create 3D video projections on landmarks, why can’t we do these at trade shows? The answer is, we can. Compelling video that brings the product to life gets noticed, especially in a crowded hall.

Private rooms/sections

You heard me. Get a room — as in think about how your booth can be sectioned off to accommodate “VIPs” at the show.

Several exhibitors at IMTS have created what could be described as less of a booth and more of a lounge or café. That can be visually appealing and inviting, but for my taste, private rooms/sections within an area facilitate better one-on-ones and lend themselves to sensitive conversations that can’t be conducted out in the open.

By the way, don’t forget that shows can be used for recruitment opportunities too. The issue in manufacturing isn’t so much a lack of jobs as it’s about finding qualified people to fill specialized positions. Some here have seized on that opportunity by realizing that their audience isn’t only potential buyers of product but also potential referrers of talent.

Granted, I know creating a “private” area of your booth isn’t necessarily cheap, but really, when you’re spending a lot on this as it is, do you want to treat a serious buyer/candidate like anybody else wandering by?

Social media

I get a lot of questions about industries that aren’t “ready” for social media just yet. Some skeptics say manufacturing is one of them. Which is interesting, considering I’m looking at a Twitter stream with the hashtag #IMTS and seeing major manufacturers tweeting about their booth’s events and engineers chatting with each other about what they’ve seen and heard at the show.

So if someone says, “Our industry isn’t into social media and won’t care about using it at the show,” challenge that assumption. Could people check into your booth on Foursquare and be rewarded for it? Could you tweet your booth location and share what events are next? Could you upload pictures and video for those who missed a crucial speaker? Yes. And they’re doing it here.

Remember, much of this activity with social media isn’t confined to the booth or even the show. It extends beyond that.

It’s easy to fall in love with how big your logo looks on a trade show wall over a few days. But there’s a much bigger picture than that. If you can capture some long-term leads today, you can continue the conversation on the web long term, which can grow into something much more tomorrow.

So think about how you can integrate your online presence more so your trade show booth works even harder. Like a machine.

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