Why Your Tradeshow Booth Isn’t Winning New Customers

A picture of a trade show

Bad Business Booth Habits 101

Ah yes, the classic business conference. Depending on how you view this all too common event, the thought of having a booth at a business conference will likely elicit two distinct sets of feelings:

Viewpoint #1

Business As Usual

Feelings

Indifference, Ease, Boredom

Viewpoint #2

A Chance to Stick Out

Feelings

Enthusiasm, Opportunity, Fun

One of these attitudes is more strongly associated with success in turning conference attendees into legitimate prospects for your service – the other, not so much.

Don’t think your outlook has anything to do with successful performance? Take a gander at some of the research of Sigal G. Barsade, a professor out of Wharton [LINK TO PDF]. And if you’re still not convinced then you just have a bad attitude and there’s nothing else I can do about that

To be fair, it isn’t difficult to find yourself in the “Business As Usual” camp, especially when event marketing booths have become old hat. For someone who presents these exhibits on a regular basis, the standard signage, handouts, and freebies can quickly become crutches that carry the same booth from one location to another, time after time. The problem is that the presentation is being carried instead of being lifted up.

“But what’s the big deal, my booth looks like everyone else’s?” Exactly. That’s the big deal. When the conference attendees leave, they don’t remember your booth because they all looked the same. Vanilla.

Don’t be Vanilla.

Don’t model yourself after what others are doing. It’s better to be original and take risks than to be typical and play it safe. Plus, no matter what kind of momentary fame you may get, your chameleon ways will soon be found out.

If you realize that this applies to you, don’t start beating yourself up. Instead, make a resolution to never again default to the easy way out of having a boring booth! Become a part of the “A Chance to Stick Out” club.

Stick out to bring crowds to your booth and provide a unique experience!

A picture of rubber duckies and a Stormtrooper

So how exactly does this relate to attitude and perspective?

It is simple really. The formula for turning attendees into customers is creating a memorable booth experience, and the prerequisite for creating a memorable booth experience is viewing business conference events in a positive light – as opportunities to stick out. It all starts with your perspective. And only when you have the right perspective can you start taking strides toward using your booth to win customers at business conference events.

Now’s your chance to take a moment for a reality check and candidly examine how you view business conference exhibits. Work on re-framing your perspective so you can see opportunity rather than monotony. Even if you aren’t quite there yet, keep reading; perhaps your excitement will grow after reading more about ways to ditch the drab of the business conference booth. Let’s take a look at common booth tactics that should be abandoned. And in a later article, we will explore successful strategies to adopt for winning over your visitors.

Eliminate What’s Dragging Your Booth Down

Before you start adding new things to your presentation, you first have to remove the components that are taking away from its success. There are a number of practices and philosophies that have become very common among business conference exhibitors, and the key to making a lasting impression is discarding the status quo.

Woody Allen Was Wrong

Sorry Woody, but in this case, 80 percent of success is NOT just showing up. The worst mistake you can make with event marketing is simply showing up. Otherwise you’ll end up with a booth that looks like this:

An example of an ineffective booth

Don’t do this.

It is easy to think, “Well as long as I put my brand out there and get exposure, then that is better than nothing!” Unfortunately, that line of thinking can lead to trouble. Exposure, in and of itself, is not the end goal for a brand. Organizations with the best reputations understand this.

Not all branding is good branding. Simply showing up doesn’t cut it and here’s why:

1. It communicates that you don’t care

A customer of ours was planning to order a gift for attendees at an event as a show of appreciation. The original thought was to give various golf accessories customized with the company’s logo, that is, until our sales rep asked the customer if any of the attendees played golf. If the sales rep hadn’t asked this obvious question, then the customer would have made the mistake of ordering a gift that would have left the attendees feeling not so appreciated after all.

“But the company gave the attendees a gift and put its brand out there for additional exposure!” True, but the exposure sucked! In fact, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say people are more put off by a thoughtless gift than by no gift at all. Likewise, the audience at conferences and events can easily become disenfranchised with a company because of how poorly the event marketing is executed.

2. It raises doubt about the quality of your service

When passersby see a mediocre booth they can’t help but wonder, “Is their service mediocre, too?” This may be your first and only impression that you leave with attendees; you can’t afford to instantly turn off potential clients on the basis that your exhibit was boring.

You may want to think twice the next time you consider “whipping up” a booth at the last minute for a business conference; it could be more harmful to your brand than helpful.

Just Say No to Booth Babes

Booth Babes

You’d think that in our current day and age the Booth Babe would have gone the way of the dodo bird, but alas this stunt continues to find itself in the repertoire of more exhibitors than it should. You might be thinking, “But wait you told me to stick out, and now you say I can’t use Booth Babes to achieve this?”

There are only two ways you can stick out. One way attracts crowds because the exhibit is used as a medium to display your company’s value in an exciting and unforgettable fashion. The other way utilizes surface-level stunts to grab attention to the booth but not to the company.

So how exactly is the Booth Babes gimmick bad? Let me count the ways:

1. It’s offensive

Having women dress in scanty outfits simply to attract a crowd is degrading to the women hired to play the part and offensive to many of the onlookers (women and men alike!). Think about the type of brand image you are projecting when you use Booth Babes: “We are shallow and sexist. We condescendingly relegate your interest to that of a caveman (no offense Geico!).” Is that the kind of message you want to communicate?

2. It’s a crutch

Relying on Booth Babes to bring traffic to your exhibit is a crutch that grants you a free pass from having to conjure up any creative and original marketing ideas on your own. What could have otherwise been a very unique and engaging approach has now become a tired tactic.

3. It’s a distraction

The visitors who do stop by an exhibit with Booth Babes are either coming because of them or in spite of them. Regardless of their reason for visiting, all attendees leave the presentation with only one memory: Booth Babes. No one remembers the conversation, the product, or the presentation. “But people are taking photos with the product and the Booth Babes to show their friends! That’s free exposure!” First, no one is taking a picture to be seen with your product. Second, no one is looking at your product when they see their friends’ photos with the Booth Babes. Remember, not all branding is good branding.

4. It’s typical

So many have opted to using Booth Babes that you’d be hard-pressed to find a business conference or trade show without at least one exhibitor pulling this stunt. For that reason, Booth Babes don’t have the same power to compel that they once held. Attendees have experienced the gimmick and they expect more (and I don’t mean more Booth Babes).

5. It’s ineffective

The culmination of the above results in an ineffective strategy for winning customers at business conferences. Even if you’re able to draw a crowd with Booth Babes, your audience is still there for the wrong, and completely unrelated, reason. And if you’re selling to unqualified leads you might as well be selling to no one at all.

Okay enough with the Booth Babes; I think you get the point. Let’s move on to the third practice to remove from your business conference booth strategy.

Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner!

A picture of slot machines

Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner!

What’s better than winning while gambling? Winning for free!

Raffles and giveaways run amok at business conferences, and attendees often make the most of the occasion to enjoy the adult’s version of Trick-or-Treat. Unfortunately, the treat is only on the receiving end and the trick is on the giver. Here are a few reasons why raffles and giveaways aren’t such a sweet deal after all:

1. It’s Temporary

Raffles are very deceiving because they always initially appear to be successful. The crowds at your booth drew a ton of attention, your booth was the talk of the town – “Wow, can you believe they’re giving away an iPad?,” and now you could fill an entire Rolodex (do people still use those?) with all the contact information you’ve gathered from the raffle sign-up.

It looks like you’ve knocked it out of the park, right? But once you start following-up with those contacts you’re disappointed to find that no one is interested in your service. “Well, I must need to work on my sales approach.” Wrong. The problem started back at the business conference; the problem is that you have a list of unqualified prospects.

The look of a disinterested, unqualified prospect

“No thanks”

Unqualified Prospect: “Sorry, I’m not interested.

The reason your prospects are unqualified is because you’ve tried to create a relationship based on the value of your giveaways rather than your service. No lasting relationship can be founded on the prizes won at a business conference. It’s the equivalent of paying for friends; once the gifts stop, so does the relationship.

2. It’s Misleading

Giveaways are something people can get excited about. In fact, your booth visitors are way more excited about what they might win than what your service is about. They’ve been misled (by you!) to pay more attention to the raffle than the company offering the prize.

Raffle Tickets

 

All the attendees who don’t win the drawing go home saying, “How awesome would it have been to have won an iPad?” The attendees who do win go home saying, “I can’t believe I won an iPad!” You’ve succeeded in creating buzz, but the buzz is all about winning the free giveaway instead of the exciting things your service offers. You’ve helped them create a lasting memory: they’ll never forget that they won an iPad from “some company.”

3. It’s Hollow

Giveaways tend to be on two ends of a spectrum. On one end they are very useful and desirable gifts but unrelated to your service (Ex: a free iPad, assuming you don’t work for Apple). At the other side of the continuum are drawings for “prizes” that are less useful and more salesy (Ex: a free packet of marketing collateral, exclusive advertorial pieces, coupons for your service, and a free ticket to an upcoming seminar your company is putting on).

Gee, Thanks!
In reality, both gifts suffer from the same problem but for different reasons. A free iPad doesn’t help the prizewinner connect with your company, and a free marketing packet isn’t appealing in the least. The problem is that neither of these gifts adds value to the overall experience the lucky winners have with your brand. A giveaway must not only be valuable on its own, but it must also provide the recipient with an exciting way to engage with your brand.

Stop Being a Chatty Cathy

DANGER! Noise hazard

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/srboisvert/149876856/

When folks come visit you at your booth do you talk their ears off? Do you start ranting about your company and all the great services you offer? It’s easy to fall into the trap of talking too much and overselling the attendees who stop by your booth. Unfortunately, this approach never results in forming strong connections with the potential prospects at the business conference. And without those strong connections you can kiss your chances of finding new customers goodbye.

Here are some reasons to avoid the canned elevator speech you’re using on every visitor:

1. It’s Discourteous

It may seem counterintuitive, but attendees don’t stop by your booth to hear you talk about you and your company. They visit so you can help them understand what all of them are wondering but none will say: WIFFM (What’s In It For Me?). People don’t want you to talk at them; they want you to ask about and listen to them. As you show interest in prospects and spend time with them, they will realize that your service is customer-centered and not self-centered.

2. It’s Boring

People at business conferences want to be impressed by exhibitors and their booths, but the sad truth is that this rarely happens. Why? Because exhibitors are simply using content from their other marketing channels and applying them at conferences. “But the content we use is really good!” That may be true, but different channels warrant different messages. The quickest way to a boring booth is saying and offering visitors information straight from your e-newsletter, direct mail campaign, and website. They might as well be a thousand miles away reading your e-mail, opening your letter, and browsing your site.

Instead create a new way to present your information that capitalizes on the single biggest benefit of having a booth at a business conference: face-to-face communication. Make your booth exciting by giving attendees something they can taste, touch, smell, see, hear, and take home that they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.

3. It’s Indifferent

When visitors hear you give the same sales spiel to every person who walks by your booth your statements feel a lot less caring and a lot more indifferent. It’s the difference between getting a personalized letter and a stock letter with your name inserted at the top.

Rather than jumping right into your pitch, start with genuine questions to understand your audience and what they care about. Armed with this information you can now tailor your message specifically to each prospect’s particular needs and circumstances. Your conversations will be much longer, and you will be developing much stronger relationships that have the potential to blossom into new clients.

Final Words

As an exhibitor at a business conference you have a unique opportunity to interact with your target audience in a much more intimate setting than you would have in any other marketing channel. This is your chance to provide a new and memorable way for prospects to experience your brand – don’t waste it!

But just avoiding certain approaches won’t be enough to convert prospects to customers. So be sure to read the second article of this two-part series for a look into business conference booth best practices. These combined will serve as the one-two punch needed to win over your visitors. Click here to learn how to turn your trade show booth into a customer conversion machine.

Know of some tradeshow booth practices that need to be nixed? Let us know! Do you have firsthand experience of an exhibitor’s (or your own!) approach that didn’t work out quite as planned? Save us all the same heartache and share. Or perhaps you disagree with the points I’ve made above. If so, we’d love to hear your take on the matter below in the comments section!

Comments

  1. Jonathan Krodel says

    Looking forward to the next article covering best practices. I know the feeling of coming up with a bunch of names at a tabling event, only to never hear from them again. It can be disheartening and is most likely a problem with pitching to the wrong audience. Or it could be too much selling and not enough questions! Can’t wait to read your solutions.

    • says

      Thanks for your input, Jonathan! You bring up a good point about pitching to the wrong audience; it’s important to consider whether or not your target market attends these trade show events.

      If the conference is already allowing attendees to enroll, then ask for a registration list to see if the people you are trying to reach will be there. Unfortunately, many events require a minimum number of exhibitors to sign up to help pay for the event through their sponsorship fees, and only when the event meets its booth numbers will it open advertising to the public for attendee registration.

      The problem with this second scenario is that you’re expected to pay for your booth spot before you have the opportunity to see the audience list. If this applies to a trade show you are considering participating in, be sure to discuss the marketing strategy the event host will implement and who the host is planning to attract before signing on the dotted line. This can help you ensure that your target market will be in attendance and your booth will be a worthwhile investment.

    • says

      That’s a good observation, Rob. You are right; the “GoDaddy Girls” definitely brought huge amounts of traffic and generated a lot of buzz (primarily among the male species, I’m sure!). GoDaddy’s television commercials have always tried to create enough curiosity (read: sex appeal) to lead viewers to visit its website and learn (read: watch) more. The first commercial GoDaddy ever ran was during the 2005 Super Bowl with 86 million in viewership (viewer discretion advised, haha!): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jwRxyEEUwk. Shortly after, GoDaddy became the largest ICANN-accredited registrar on the Internet; the gimmick worked!

      What’s interesting now is seeing GoDaddy try to shy away from its former polarizing marketing tactics in an effort to appeal to a broader audience (read: women). GoDaddy is trying to recreate its image and undo the alienation they’d done so successfully with its racy commercials. It seems that the very thing that brought popularity is now coming back to haunt GoDaddy. In fact, the New York Times wrote a great article recently that covers GoDaddy’s attempt at this drastic change. Its definitely a worthwhile read: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/05/business/media/godaddy-steps-away-from-the-jiggle.html?_r=1&.

      Thanks for sharing that thought, Rob!

  2. says

    Hi Jason:

    Interesting views. Agree with some.

    A give away targeted to a particular need of a prospective customer will draw in targeted pre-qualified leads vs giving away an Ipad or non-targeted items or service.

    Agree, a clean presentation with nice booth space presence does stand out. First hand produced a reverse lit fabric display for a travel show and their booth space was glowing on the floor. Professional, clean, appealing and fun.

    Still hard to grasp why some still chose vinyl backdrops and banners? but that’s another article all together.

    Also, personally speaking, believe it boils down to the type of conference, event or show? After all there are spare no expense displays being designed and produced for major exhibit events like CES in Vegas vs watch your budget gigs at smaller industry events.

    As for booth babes? Believe there is that line in the sand. Personally find success when utilizing professional talent to greet, host, seat and or hand out literature based upon event demographics. Question is how far does one go? Well dressed professionals are a plus.

    Other then that. Enjoyed the article.

    Thank you Jason;

    • says

      Hey Mark!

      Thanks for your insights; I really appreciate hearing from readers, especially those who have firsthand experience in trade shows and booth design, like you.

      You are dead on that all giveaways aren’t created equal. Exhibitors who can offer a giveaway that showcases the value of their services AND addresses visitors’ needs have created a winning combination. Throw in an interactive, memorable booth (like some of the examples in the second article of this series: http://www.usimprints.com/blog/convert-customers-trade-show-booth/) and you’ll be wildly successful at conferences!

      I agree with you that a booth’s design changes based on the type of conference and the allotted budget. But I will also say that if the setting of the event doesn’t attract your target market or if the budget is too small to create a booth that will really WOW, then exhibiting at a trade show won’t be a good investment. It’s all or nothing. Either you capture the audience’s attention and start new relationships with potential customers OR passersby walk past your booth and never remember you. You might as well be flushing that money down a toilet (or wiring it to my bank account)!

      Lastly, I’m going to have to disagree with you on the Booth Babe topic, Mark. Even if the tactic does help draw a crowd, I can’t see how the temporary uptick in foot traffic is worth the negative side effects, such as damaging one’s PR. However, as far as booth assistants and greeters are concerned, I completely understand how they can help improve a visitor’s experience and demonstrate a company’s commitment to excellent customer service. “How far does one go?” you ask? When the focus begins to shift away from the concierge experience and moves towards the enchanting experience, you’ve gone too far. It’s true that it’s a fine line, but there is definitely a line!

      By the way, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the second article; perhaps you can share some of your industry wisdom with our readers? :-)

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