How To Ethically Steal Great Trade Show Marketing Ideas

What we’re suggesting below is an ethical way of coming up with great trade show marketing ideas. Allow me to add a disclaimer: I’m not suggesting you rip off your competitors’ ideas! 

Instead, here are a few ways to research information that will propel your trade show program forward, getting you:

crowded trade show booth - this is the goal of your trade show marketing ideas!

(Image from, Used with permission.)

– more attention on the show floor,

more prospects in your booth, and even

– more potential for industry press coverage.

And it’s all above board, so you don’t have to lose a moment’s sleep over it.


Step #1: Get Out Of Dodge

The first thing you need to do is get away from the places where you usually exhibit. Why? Because the only ideas you ever see there are those of your competitors. If you invest the time to attend shows outside your own industry, you’ll probably find that exhibitors at those shows doing things much differently than you may be accustomed to. Your exhibit company should be able to help you gain access to these other shows, since they typically have clients in many different industries. (If you’d like another reference, check out the “Find Trade Shows” search list on our resource page.)

Look at the efforts of these other exhibitors with a critical eye:

  • How are they promoting themselves outside their exhibit?
  • What’s the major draw they’re using to entice people into their booth?
  • What do their graphics communicate, and how is that different from what you’re used to doing?
  • How are their booth staffers dressed?
  • What kind of premiums are they offering?
  • Is there an overall “big idea” some exhibitor’s using that’s generating major buzz?


Step #2: One Is Stealing, Three Is Research

Maybe you remember this admonition from back in school when you were writing papers for classes. I remember it well because a high school history instructor warned my classmates and me: “Taking from one source is plagiarism. Taking from three or more sources is research.”

Again, I’m not suggesting that you “lift” what someone else has done lock, stock and barrel. I’m trying to make the case that how exhibitors outside your industry attempt to do the same things you need to do (attract attendees, tell your story, close a sale or generate a lead) can inspire you to do them differently from how you’ve always done things in the past, giving you some trade show marketing ideas to test out in your next show.

So use what other exhibitors are doing as thought-starters, not step-by-step plans for how you’ll do things at your next show.


Step #3: Stir Thoroughly And Allow To Rise

Take in all the ways exhibitors at shows outside your own industry do things, then sleep on them (or brainstorm with colleagues) so those ideas have a chance to mix well. Eventually, a new and workable concept will come to the surface and you’ll be able to build on that.

All creative people are inspired by the work of other creative types. It’s the nature of creativity itself. There aren’t any completely original ideas left out there. In fact, Mark Twain once said:

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations.”


Step #4: There’s Nothing New Under The Sun

Gravitee VK-1337c Trade Show Booth - an example of a great trade show marketing idea!

Gravitee VK-1337c Trade Show Booth

The advent of new technologies hasn’t really changed anything. We’re still adapting each other’s work and ideas to fit our own brand or identity. We can learn from both the successes and failures of those who have gone before us, or who work in different arenas.

The best we can do is to build on specific proven elements and discover a novel and interesting idea. But I’d venture to say that it would rarely—if ever—result in something completely new.

To the uninitiated, this process might look like stealing. To those in the know, it’s simply being inspired, like generations of writers, designers and artists before you.


Step #5: Work With What You’ve Got

The only difference between you and an artist is training and, to a lesser degree, raw talent. I stress the training aspect because artists are trained to look at things differently. When they look at other works of art, they mentally turn them upside down, see them as negatives of a positive image, or scramble the elements in the artwork to see if something unique comes to mind.

This may be a skill you don’t currently possess. But like any skill, it simply takes time and effort to grow into it. Your ability to see something novel inside another creative expression will increase over time. But for now, you’ve got to work with what you’ve got.

Here’s where other people can help. Perhaps you should try visiting trade shows outside your own field with a colleague. It’s almost a given that the two of you will look at things differently. When you compare notes, you might find that the results of your combined thinking may be greater than the sum of its parts.


Step #6: Apply What You’ve Learned

Now’s the time to take all the mental work you’ve done and apply it to your exhibiting efforts. In short, it’s where the things you’ve “stolen” transform into your own ideas.

It could be something as simple as the design of a kiosk or the unique shape of the hanging signs, to the overall theme of your exhibit. Even the way another exhibitor did something that failed, in your mind, can spark an idea of how to do it better. These ideas you’ve appropriated from other industries can now be expressed through your own creative filters to support telling your trade show exhibit’s story.

Once you and your colleague(s) have gone through all your notes from the show, it’s time to sit down with your exhibit designer and talk about what you’re planning. Then apply what you’ve learned to all the other areas of your trade show plans: the design of a lead card, the look of the booth staff’s clothing, the graphics that communicated something in a unique way. All these things can be inspired by what you’ve seen outside your own industry, to help you create the best trade show displays possible.

So that’s how you can “steal” from other sources without fear of being called a thief. I encourage you to get out of the rut of constantly rehashing the same old trade show marketing ideas you see in your own industry, and reach out for some new creative juices. I’m certain you’ll be pleased with the results.

Another element you’ll notice when you visit shows outside your industry is how different their exhibits may look. But whatever you’re looking for, here at American Image Displays, we’ve got what you need. Representing virtually every portable and custom exhibit supplier worldwide, we can help you create any look you have in mind.

And don’t forget, we also have a comprehensive array of exhibiting accessories, from literature racks to lighting, table covers to banner stands. We’re your one-stop shop for anything you need to make your next exhibit a standout. Call us at (888) 977-8076 or email [email protected].

Need of a little inspiration for a new exhibit? See these trade show display ideas to get your creative juices flowing!