Competitive Trade Show Research In A Hurry

In the past, we’ve suggested going to a trade show outside your own industry to gather ideas that can recharge your own creativity. I wanted to follow up on that with some ideas on how to make the most of your time while you’re engaged in a little competitive trade show research.

As an exhibitor, you know that working a show is an uphill slog. But it’s tough for attendees as well. And now that you’ll be posing as an attendee (for espionage purposes), you’ll find out just how challenging it can be.

doing trade show research? Check out who is manning the booth of this 10x20 Custom MultiQuad Display

10×20 Custom MultiQuad Display

The truth is, it can be overwhelming if you don’t take a few minutes to plan ahead. That way, you can make the most of the time you have on the show floor. It’s the only way you’ll be able to see everything you want to see.

Here are a few tips on how to maximize your productivity when you’re doing trade show research.

1) Make appointments

If you want to learn more about a specific company’s exhibiting techniques, schedule an appointment with a representative in advance of the show. If you make it clear that you’re not a competitor, you may find that some companies are willing to share all sorts of information.

I’ve got three ideas to help make the most of making appointments.

First, ask for the first or last appointment of the day. That way, you can schedule the rest of your day more efficiently.

Second, if you’re scheduling multiple meetings, leave some time in between. This gives you some “wiggle room” in case a representative is running late. It also helps if a meeting goes over time. And if it takes you a while to get from one end of the show floor to the other for your next appointment, a little extra time can be a blessing.

My third idea is to always leave a fair amount of time open to walk the show floor. Don’t schedule so many appointments that you don’t leave yourself time to find the newest or neatest thing at the show. It’s always a pleasant surprise to happen upon something interesting or exciting while you’re just browsing.

2) Use a map

These days, old-fashioned paper maps have given way to apps and maps on your mobile device. But they still serve the same purpose. When you’re looking at a plan view of the show floor, you can design a route from one meeting to the next, to make the most efficient use of your time.

Here’s an added benefit to using a map, especially useful when doing trade show research. If you should happen upon something that looks interesting, but you’re pressed for time to get to another appointment, make a note on the map to stop by that booth during the time you’ve set aside for walking the show floor. That way, you don’t have to worry about missing something that may be important or useful.

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Backlit Next Displays, set up in minutes, lifetime warranty

3) Set a schedule

Let’s face it. Scoping out a trade show can be a challenging task. If you write up a schedule, you’ll have a list of all your appointments, aisle by aisle. Keep track of time by referring to your schedule throughout the day.

Leave some room in your schedule for those “happy accidents” that happen at shows. You run into someone you know. You see an exhibitor using an interesting technique, and he or she is willing to share information or sources. You’re introduced to a representative from a company that markets a product that meets your needs.

In all these trade show research situations, it’s helpful to have time to schedule anything from a sidebar conversation to a discussion over dinner or drinks. Knowing what your time commitments are, and when you have free time, helps you make the most of these occurrences.

And remember, the work doesn’t stop when the show closes each night. You’ll also need to schedule some time for homework after each day at the show.

You’ll probably want to make notes about meetings you had. You may want to read over some product literature. And you’ll want to make detailed notes, along with pictures or videos, of things you saw that piqued your creativity. Note who the exhibitor was, what they did that was interesting, and how the attendees reacted to it.

4) Learn about their Products and Company

Unless they know you, you’re safe to be asking the same questions a potential customer might – and those answers can tell you a lot about them. Trade show research includes information about product features and specifications, but also lead times, service centers in your area, pricing and discount strategies, etc. Just learning who they think the industry leaders are can tell you a lot about their positioning and strategies.

5) Watch for Products (and Missing Products)

Keep an eye out for whether your competitors are displaying all of their top products. If they’re left some home, maybe they’re discontinued? or being updated in some important way? Go ask about that favorite widget and find out.

6) Look for Crowds (and Empty Booths)

Keep an eye out for trade show booths that are under siege, with the crowd splashing over into adjacent booths. If you see one of these, and they’re a competitor, you better figure out what is going on! Whether they’re promoting a new product, or they just did some great pre-show marketing, you need to learn more – so go do some sleuthing.


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Watch for the opposite too – if one of your competitors looks lonely and bored, that’s worth noting too – especially if they’re been promoting a new product that might be fizzling.

7) Watch Who is Manning the Booths

Does your competition use primarily marketing people or engineers at their booth – and is it working or not? Again, check out their crowd, and look at which type of staffer they’re using. This is the easy side of trade show research; these days, all you need to do is take a look at their name badge, and then check them out on Linkedin with your cell phone. This will give you a better idea of their goals for the show, and the crowd or lack thereof will tell you if it is working.

You will also be able to find out if the staffers are real staff, or hired guns – if you’re wanting to talk to a senior engineer or marketing person, you’ll know to ask when they will be attending.

8) Look for differences

As you visit your competitors, look for differences between them. Does one emphasize a product or feature or strategy that another avoids? (If one competitor is bragging about how easy a product is to use, and the other avoids talking about training time, it might identify a weakness worth targeting.)

9) Monitor Social Media at the Show

Whether you like it or not, social media is here to stay. Twitter, Facebook, instagram, etc., are tools that can be effective in building your brand’s name – and if you monitor what the competition is saying on them, these are also excellent places for trade show research. Listen in and pay attention to what everyone at the show is talking about, and then go check out that activity in their booth.

10) Check your checklist

Create a checklist of all the exhibitors you want to visit, and all the events at the show you want to attend. This assures you won’t miss anything that could be really important to getting the most out of the show.

Besides exhibitors and events, what else should be on your checklist?

You’ll want to include any keynotes, seminars or discussions that you feel will be informative or helpful. You may also list things like these on your checklist:

• Pack your most comfortable shoes. You’ll never walk more than when you’re attending a trade show, so this is one time when it’s OK to sacrifice style for comfort. I’m not suggesting you wear your bunny slippers. I’m just saying that you may want to skip your tallest pair of high heels, since you’ll be on your feet from sun-up to sundown.

• Pack a spare change of clothes. You’ve got too much to do to worry about doing laundry in your hotel room. And Murphy’s Law means you’ll spill something on your favorite outfit at the worst possible moment. Having an extra set of clothes will give you some added peace of mind.

• Bring another bag. I don’t know about you, but at every trade show I attend, I come home with product catalogs, price sheets and promotional items I find difficult to squeeze into my suitcase. And that doesn’t even include the presents for the kids or the special gift for your significant other. If you pack an empty bag in your suitcase, you’ll have a place for all these things on the way home.

• Bring extra business cards. I’m shocked how many times I’ve heard someone at a show say, “I’ve run out of cards.” This is no time to do that, so pack more than you think you’ll need, and give them out to everyone you speak with.

Doing trade show research this way is a great tool for collecting creative ideas that can supercharge your own exhibiting efforts. And when you’ve gathered a few great ideas, talk to American Image Displays. We’ve been helping exhibitors create imaginative booths for years. Whether you need a tabletop, pop-up, portable or modular exhibit, we’re your one-stop shop. To learn more, call (800) 676-3976 or email [email protected].