English version of an article that was printed in the  “Made in China” magazine

Your trade show marketing sucks! You’ve spent thousands of dollars for show registration, 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. Now you know how it feels to be picked last in gym class. It’s like your 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. It takes courage to be different, to go against the grain; but the rewards can be huge.

Sometimes it’s not about going high-tech, but going no-tech.

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?

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 is for naught. Just showing up in most cases is not going to cut it. Sure you might get lucky and land a big contract, but you must be proactive in getting noticed in order to create a consistent rate of return on your trade show investment.

I’m a big sports fan. I like some sports more than they like me. Golf is one of those sports. I enjoy playing, but it doesn’t always work out so well for me. If I’m careful and I take a nice, easy swing, I can make good contact. But the problem is that the ball doesn’t fly very far. This leaves a lot of distance left to the flag pole. Other times I try hitting the ball harder to create more impact, but it goes straight into the trees. This strategy gets me no closer to my goal. It’s only with a combination of good contact and impact does the ball go where I want it to.

At a trade show good contact and impact are also just as important. The first point of contact must be a point of impact, or it’s the point where you are forgotten. I want you to think about that statement. Read it again out loud because what it says is very true. Without something to differentiate you from other booths, you are just another tree in the forest. When a potential client first comes in contact with your company, it’s imperative that you make them notice you.

I see this all the time at trade shows: companies that expect significant results by doing the exact same thing as every other booth. More specifically, they are being passive and playing it safe. They stand there with their polo shirts and give away 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” – Joel Bauer

Quick. Try and remember the most boring trade show booth you’ve seen in the last year. Now think of the most interesting and exciting booth you have seen in the last year. How did you do? The more interesting booths stand out in your mind. The booths that are high in outstanding –ness are always easier to remember.

Trade shows offer a significant opportunity. They allow you to be face to face and belly to belly with a large number of prospective customers. To be in front of that number of prospects would cost a company many multiples of the attendance costs. You owe it to your company, to the investment you’ve made, and to your potential clients to do your best in getting noticed and standing out.

Tips for making an impact:

Can you literally demonstrate your product or service? Can you make it interactive?

Not all companies are lucky enough to have a product that can be easily demonstrated. If you do, you’ve got it made. Demonstrations rank the highest in memorability when it comes to trade show booth activities. Nothing is more persuasive and engaging in a trade show as seeing a product in action. It conveys what the product does and allows the user to see how easy and effective your product is. What makes your product even more unforgettable is when the attendees are able to try it themselves. It’s one thing if they see someone trained to do it, and a whole other thing if they can do it themselves.

Most people in the world have a kinesthetic step in their buying strategy: touching or feeling the product at some point of the purchase. I always think of that every time I watch my wife shop. To consider buying something, she must pick it up and hold it. No exceptions. Most people are like this. Let people fulfill that part of their buying ritual and let them experience what you sell firsthand.

Can you figuratively demonstrate your product or service? Can you construct a model? What can you do to symbolize the same net result?

If you sell a service or product that cannot be demonstrated, don’t fret. There is still something you can do. Perhaps you can create a model that showcases your product on a manageable scale. This still allows your booth visitors to see, feel and hear what you do.

Sometimes having something that is allegorical to what you do can work. As a trade show infotainer I create custom presentations that communicate the core benefits of the company’s offering through entertaining yet informative demonstrations of mentalism, mathematics, and magic. Each “effect” acts as a visual metaphor so the crowd can learn more about the company’s mission critical messaging. The advantages to this approach are that it’s fun and it really draws a crowd. At the same time attendees learn what the company does, and they develop a deeper understanding of the core benefits.

What kind of original experience can you create for your booth visitors? How is this a departure from the rest of their day?

I have seen all kinds of interesting ideas and themes played out in a booth. Having a celebrity appear for autographs and pictures is always popular with attendees. A few years back, Fusion I-O had a bicycle-powered Ferris Wheel in their booth. You could get strapped in and pedal your way upside down and back again.

There are all sorts of interesting things that can be done, but if you don’t have a purpose behind it, your idea can look cheap, shallow, and cheesy. For whatever type of draw you decide to use, be sure to tie it in with your booth theme or your company’s value proposition. For example, let’s say your booth has a real live race car on display where people can look under the hood and have their picture taken beside it. If your company is in the automotive industry or if your product or service increases the speed of your client’s widgets, then it’s a good fit. If you can’t tie it to what you do, then it will stick out like a sore thumb and you won’t be remembered for the right reasons or probably not at all.

Some of you may think that trade shows are a necessary evil and a waste of time and money. This attitude may come from poor past experiences, from your peers, or from your upper management. Be aware of this “mindset” and know that with a few slight changes, your results can dramatically improve. Track your success, realizing what gets measured gets improved. Before long you may find trade shows to be an effective lead generation activity that allows you to create and nurture relationships for future sales.

So if you take anything away from this article, it’s that nobody remembers boring. Strive to be different and make an impact at your first contact.