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5 Reasons Your Tradeshow Booth Isn’t Winning New Customers

5 Reasons Your Tradeshow Booth Isn’t Winning New Customers

Posted by Jason Biddle on Sep 3rd 2013

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


Indifference, Ease, Boredom

Viewpoint #2

A Chance to Stick Out


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.

[notification class=”alert-warning” close=”false”]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. And if you’re still not convinced then you just have a bad attitude and there’s nothing else I can do about that [/notification]

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.

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.

“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.

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.

1. 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!

2. 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

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. Your booth should speak for itself. Salespeople can get tied up with other buyers at a busy trade show and the information your booth supplies should be sufficient to answer all the central questions a browser may have.

Video and photo imagery can speak volumes to your prospects even when you’re not able to. Test thoroughly to make sure any and all display electronics are working properly ahead of time.

If a buyer can’t tell what your name is and what you sell in one glance, you’re in trouble.

Simply showing up simply doesn’t cut it. Here’s why:

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.

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.

3. 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? First of all 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?

Secondly, 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.

It’s also a distraction from your business. 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.

Lastly, 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.

4. Don’t Make it a Crap Shoot

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.

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?” 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.

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.

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.

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.”

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).

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.

5. Cut the Chit-Chat

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.

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.

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.

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.

[notification type=”alert-warning” close=”false”]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![/notification]