Long Term Planning to Leverage Your Trade Show Display ROI!

Today, let’s go beyond planning individual trade shows displays and look at the Big Picture instead. A trade show display strategy that only looks backward at the last show is one which will fall into the old trap of the military, always preparing to fight the previous war. When you’re trying to develop business strategies that last over many months, or even years, it’s important to be sure your individual expo appearances contribute to larger plans!

VK-5107 SEGUE Island Exhibit with Silicone Edge Graphics, Closet Storage, Large Monitor Workstation, and Custom Counters

VK-5107 SEGUE Island Exhibit with Silicone Edge Graphics, Closet Storage, Large Monitor Workstation, and Custom Counters

Devising marketing strategies and plans is, by its nature, a circular process. Individual trade show booths must be planned based in part on past performance and visitor interactions, but they should also fit into broader strategies. In other words, you have to be looking both forwards andbackwards.

By looking to the future and seeing how your exposition plans can pay off over the course of several trade shows, you can create forward-focused trade show plans that keep your outreach ahead of the curve.

Four Ways Trade Shows Can Influence -And Be Influenced By- Your Larger Strategies

I. Coordinated Launch Buildups

Do you have a product on the horizon, 6-12 months in the future, and you want to start drawing attention to it? A slow trickle of information, over the course of a few trade shows, can create a stable and long-term “narrative” that can boost your product release.

For example, at Show 1, you just have some sketches and maybe a rendered demo. Over the course of the next few months, perhaps you add a banner stand or two at your regional shows, featuring small glimpses or teasers for that upcoming release.

Six months later, you’ve added an interactive digital media presentation with footage of an actual product in action, or perhaps a “beta” development version for people to play with and give you feedback. Six months after that, it’s the big debut at Show 3, and you’ve updated graphics or added display components to highlight the new product.

The critical factor here is that this could ALL be planned out in advance, and, whenever possible, should be. This allows you to develop broader messaging and positioning elements which work across time to enhance your brand image. Elements like the logo, motto, color scheme, and other coordinated details will be more effective if there’s a long-term plan behind them.

Then your product build and release takes on a serialized element, with new chapters in its story coming out every few months. The more cohesive everything is, and the more “pre-plotted,” the more likely buyers and journalists will keep following the story.

II. Re-Branding And Other Major Message Shifts

That same principle can be applied to your entire company as well, if needed.

There’s plenty of virtue in a “surprise reveal” of a new look or corporate direction, but the shock-and-awe routine doesn’t always work. If you feel the need to roll out a major message change more gradually, your trade show displays are a great tool for this.

At the most basic level, you could just explain the situation to interested visitors when they come by your trade show booth. Or, add teaser-like “Whats NEXT for Acme?” sorts of promotions, aimed at getting the idea across that a change is coming, but not just yet.

Or, be even more subtle and make the changes “subliminally.” Want to change your corporate colors from Green+Blue to Blue+Red? Go to a couple trade shows while using Green, Blue, AND Red in your dominant color scheme. Then, when you go to just Blue+Red, it doesn’t seem surprising.

Panoramic Silicone Edge Graphic Display System

Panoramic Silicone Edge Graphic Display System

The same basic principle could be applied to nearly any visual makeover, if you do it in stages via your personal appearances rather than in one big re-branding.

III. Detailed Visitor Statistics

The amount of data you can now gather on visitors to your trade show displays has become absolutely staggering, especially if you make good use of technology within the booth.

In terms of gathering data, you could:

  • Use electronic surveys in the booth as the “entry fee” for freebies.
  • Have a staffer quietly recording demographics of visitors on a tablet, or details a computer can’t recognize easily, such as clothing brands.
  • Track interactions with your digital media displays.
  • Deploy cameras or utilize WiFi access points to physically track movement around your booth. Many don’t know this, but modern WiFi routers can even tell you from which direction any connected user approached, as well as very close approximations of their movements.
  • Encourage social media connections, which bring a new world of data.
  • Find a way to recruit visitors into wearing RFID wristbands or such, to track their movements around the show. Think scavenger hunts and\or prizes.

Over the long term, the data you gather through these methods can allow you to put together incredibly precise overviews and insights into the motivations of your customers. And if you feel uncomfortable dealing with all this data (some do), just remember that it’s about helping find the products that your customers want.

For direct customer / client access, you just can’t do better than at a trade show. Everything from their taste in clothing to their favorite hobbies can be used to find new and more-appealing approaches. Physical tracking helps you optimize your booth and its layout.

As one example: If you use the same space at the same show year after year, and your router tells you 75% of visitors always approach from the north, you’d want to have the front of your booth pointing that direction if possible.

Perhaps it’d even be worth moving to a north-facing endcap spot, if you can figure out why so many of your visitors are southbound.

IV. Staff Reuse

Also, work personnel into your long-term planning. While we tend to recommend having a core “team” of folks who work the majority of your trade show displays, this isn’t always practical for a number of reasons.

None the less, it’s going to be advantageous to send the same people to the same cities, because they’re going to be seeing a lot of the same faces. Say what you will about the cost benefits of hiring local trade show talent, but few things could POSSIBLY seal a new deal more quickly than, “Hey Bob, I remember you from last year’s show! Didn’t you have a new baby on the way?”

Continuity in your local representatives creates a sense of stability and friendliness among the local buyers. It’s so easy for businesses to seem “faceless,” especially when you interact with one of those companies and realize you’re never working with the same person twice. It may be worth planning employees’ other work activities around trade shows, specifically to leverage this humanizing effect.

If you’re feeling sneaky, use the staffer taking notes on his tablet to compile “cheat sheets” on visitors who show up repeatedly, so your reps have talking points. It’s pretty much what political staffers do to help their boss through meet-and-greets, and it works just as well in sales situations.

(Just be discrete.)

Keep Thinking Bigger

When it comes to forming strategy in today’s business environment, there’s rarely such a thing as thinking too big. Forming plans for your trade shows that last months or years into the future may seem daunting, but the successful companies are thinking and working on THAT scale.

Don’t simply use your exposition appearances as one-and-done advertising gimmicks. They can be an integral part of your customer research, outreach, and overall messaging strategies.

One way to score a home run with this sort of long term strategy is to pick and design your next trade show displays so that the larger display stands break down into usable smaller components. That way, your sales and marketing team can use the banner stands and table top displays at small meetings, add part of the back wall or a display case for your regional shows, and then the entire custom trade show exhibit gets used in your annual 20×20 island booth. In the long term, you save money on being able to use the same trade show display multiple times, and earn more money from clients that are receiving a consistent branding message from the coordinated graphics, colors, and styling.

Need more advice? American Image Displays has a vast selection of trade show equipment, and an equally-vast storehouse of knowledge. Contact us today ([email protected]) for a free consultation on effective long-term trade show planning!

Want to share these ideas?

For more, check out trade show booth planning or our article on whether or not you should use rental services.

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