Cue the dueling banjos and the rest of the “Deliverance” clichés. You have a problem that is inherent in the trade show industry. Your trade show marketing sucks! You’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars for your booth, the booth space, and the airfare for your people, drayage, and hotels. The list goes on and on. There you sit as attendees and potential clients walk right past your booth without even glancing your way. It’s like you’re invisible—and you are. Take a good look around. How similar is your booth compared to your neighbors’? Could you change the signage and the color of your shirt and be interchangeable?

If you had the courage and honesty to answer that with a yes, then you are on the road to improvement. You are now aware of the marketing incest that is prevalent in the trade show industry: everyone copies one another and chases the latest trends until everybody is an inbred clone of everybody else.

I remember being at a show where three of the exhibitors had the same giveaway, but in three different colors. It was the same giveaway my client gave out the year before. It’s difficult for a company to differentiate itself when you aren’t different at all.

I see this all the time at trade shows: companies that expect significant results by doing the exact same thing as every other booth. It’s almost like they are trying to live up to an expectation of what an exhibitor is, and they want to fit in. They stand there with their polo shirts and giveaway pens and candies in the hopes of attracting throngs of crowds to their little stand. Sure, these companies have their branded business cards, their brochures, their giveaways, and their booth, but they failed to realize one mission critical fact.

“The more you are alike, the quicker you are forgotten.”

It’s true. Nobody remembers average. Next time you are planning a show, think about what everybody else is doing, and then do the opposite. My mentor once consulted with a company that did away with their booth completely. They just had big wooden shipping crates with straw in the boxes and on the floor. All the staff wore khaki shirts and shorts and looked as if they were zoo keepers. Their theme was based on “wild savings.” Their products were contained in these crates and were treated like they were wild animals. The intrigue factor was off the charts. Not only did this look like no other booth in the show, but people wanted to know what was in those containers. How can you pique your prospects’ curiosity? How can you change things up at your next show? Sometimes it’s not about going high-tech, but going no-tech.

If you don’t differentiate from your competition—not only in benefits and features, but how you portray your company—then all your hard work and your company’s investment is wasted. Just showing up is not going to cut it. You must be proactive in getting noticed in order to create a consistent rate of return on your trade show investment.

Having similar exhibit DNA may make you at home at the show, but those similarities and common features are what make you invisible to your potential clients. Make a concerted effort to be change things up, to stand out. It takes courage to be different and to go against the grain; but the rewards can be huge.