I know that stealing is wrong and unethical. What I'm about to suggest isn't exactly outright theft. In fact, for all intents and purposes, let's just call it repurposing. Even Picasso has been rumored to have said, "Bad artists copy. Good artists steal." But first, let me ask you a question.
Do you keep your junk mail? By definition, your trash is your junk mail. But top direct response marketers, like Dan Kennedy don't throw it away. They keep it, especially if it's a piece of junk mail that has turned up time and time again. They know that if a piece of direct mail has been used and reused, then it must be generating a significant return. And if that piece of mail is getting a response, then there are elements such as headlines, fonts, calls to actions, and offers that are creating that response. All that repetitive junk mail is then saved in what they call a swipe file, so that those "stolen" ideas can be repurposed at a later date.
So what does this have to do with trade shows? Well, let's steal this idea of keeping a swipe file, and instead of saving direct mail, we'll save great trade show marketing ideas and tactics. I understand that you can't physically file a trade show booth in your swipe file, but you can create a digital swipe file.
Here's what you do. First, get familiar with the app and service Evernote. Evernote allows you to create notebooks and notes digitally, which are then stored in the cloud. This allows you to make a quick note or store a picture from the web or from your phone. The best part is that all of your notes are completely searchable and accessible wherever you are.
Then, the next time you are at a trade show and you see something that gets results—whether you are witnessing a compelling trade show entertainer or observing an interesting booth design or you see a cool giveaway that would work well for your company—you can make a note of it or take a picture and file it away.
In the future, when you have some budget to spend (wishful thinking), and you want to make an investment in your trade show marketing that will make a real difference, you can go into your swipe file notebook in Evernote and repurpose one of the tactics that you documented.
Try this out and let me know how it goes. I'd be very interested to see what kinds of booth elements and attractions you file away. By implementing these tried and tested tactics, you'll be able to steal the show!