Trade Show Marketing In The “Age Of Me”: Internet Savvy Consumers

Have you started seriously thinking in terms of your audience?

In recent years, a change has begun in marketing that’s likely only going to keep growing. Because the Internet has created so many new ways for buyers to inform themselves while conversing with others, and because the mobile explosion has taken that buyer-friendly Internet everywhere, it’s radically changing consumer culture.

12 x 8 Double Sided Backlit Tower with SEG Fabric Graphics

12 x 8 Double Sided Backlit Tower with SEG Fabric Graphics


The Internet-Empowered Consumer, as they’re sometimes called, truly take the warning of “caveat emptor” seriously. They’re willing to do research even on the most mundane of items, search review sites, contribute their own reviews, and generally act as a tiny market force in action.

Moreover, they are aware of their power. Some may be more openly cognizant than others, but few Internet-connected buyers fail to recognize that they have a lot more ways to interact with and learn about companies these days.

Plus, on top of all that, there’s a parallel trend in personalization that’s creating consumers who are coming to simply expect experiences catered to them as much as possible. They eagerly embrace virtually any technology or software that helps them see/find/hear what they want, and nothing else.

This is, as one can imagine, causing quite a lot of consternation among marketers, especially those still accustomed to 80s-style top-down mass messaging. The idea of buyers who do not simply accept marketing messages has thrown many for a loop.

At the moment, trade shows are often lagging behind in the sort of experiences buyers these days are looking for, and this represents a great opportunity for companies exhibiting in trade show booths to find new ways of focusing on their audience.

Trade Show Marketing In The Age Of Me

The first and most important thing to remember about marketing in 2014 and beyond is that you cannot be all things to all people. There are few, if any, true one-size-fits-all solutions to any given problem. Buyers at all levels recognize this, and are increasingly leery of anyone who claims to be “for” everyone.

Companies that try to present themselves as such are likely to find themselves appealing to no one at all, instead.

So, step one in an audience-focused approach is simply “Find an audience.”

Broadly speaking, the best audience is the one where both your company and its products are a good fit for their lives. This goes beyond simple product offerings, to encompass areas such as your corporate goals, political leanings, philanthropic ventures, or even what books your CEO likes.

One only has to look at the ups and downs of Chik-Fil-A over the last few years to see just how much impact the “personality” of a company has on its target audience. In terms of loyalty, those who agree with Chik-Fil-A’s stances are the sort of staunch defenders few companies ever see.

Now, Chik-Fil-A is possibly a poor example from a marketing standpoint because, in defining their company’s character, they ended up becoming openly against other market segments. It’s not necessary to alienate people; just have your focus set on one group and let other companies serve other groups.

Marketing for Me-focused people means less talk about why someone else wouldn’t use your brand, and more about why someone like the visitor would use it.

Basically, create materials for your target audience, and just don’t bring up anyone else.

Taking An Audience Focus To A Trade Show

This all points towards a larger issue: Trade shows are, by their nature, rather prepackaged experiences. How does one integrate personalized approaches into an effort that (at the high end) costs millions and is seen by millions?

A few thoughts on the matter…

1 – Consider smaller shows.

There is certainly “cachet” or prestige in being associated with a major trade show, and if you’ve got a spot lined up at CES or Fashion Week, we’re not saying to give it up.

However, it would be worth running the numbers on whether you’d get more returns from doing two or three smaller shows, whose audience is a close match to your own, rather than investing it all in a single large show for exposure… especially when you can reuse the same expo display equipment for them all.

At smaller shows, you also get more personal contact and one-on-one time with visitors. When you’re looking to truly build connections between your company and your buyers, that sort of face-time is invaluable.

2 – Offer personalized take-home goodies.

Yes, look to personalize your swag. If it’s got their name, picture, or voice attached to it, they’re a lot more likely to hang onto it. As a few ideas:

• Use a chroma-key screen to create digital versions of venerable “stick your head through the cutout” scenes, which can instantly go on social media.
• Have thumbdrives or disc burners on hand to make copies of any activities someone might be involved in. Have live demos? Film it so they can amuse people on YouTube.
• Implement technology (or old-fashioned interviews) to produce at least semi-customized estimates / demos / mockups of your product for people. If you’re feeling ambitious, consider what a 3D printer might do for your swag. On-site custom prototyping isn’t an absurd proposition today.
• Browsable catalogs on tablet stands where they can send themselves information on as many or few products as they like.
• Any sort of artistic / creative “make it yourself!” activity you can think of, digital or physical. People want to be hands-on and involved.

3 – Honesty In Your Outreach

This is another one that worries a lot of old-school marketers: In virtually all cases, someone can fact-check any substantial claim you make within seconds, usually with a single Google search.

This doesn’t mean you have to dispense with all hyperbole whatsoever, but there needs to be a relatively clear line drawn between subjective claims (“It’s the best soap EVER!”) and objective claims with actual facts and numbers attached. Companies that are openly deceptive in their marketing today are playing with fire, and get burned with regularity.

VK-1017 10x10 Hybrid Trade Show Exhibit

VK-1017 10×10 Hybrid Trade Show Exhibit


Going back to the above points on having a definite “personality” for your company, this means you gotta walk the walk if you talk the talk. Buyers are highly cynical, for example, about claims of being a “green” company unless that company can produce actual pro-environmental activities they’re engaged in.

You Can’t Ignore The Audience At Trade Shows Anymore

This all adds up to why it’s so important to focus your messaging on the audience that will truly be a good fit for your business: You are going to be judged on your actions, and concealing behavior is very difficult. It is truly easiest to “be yourself” and look to attract like-minded people.

Remember, there are hundreds of millions of buyers in the US alone, and between 2-3 billion consumers online. There are truly enough consumers to go around, so you save yourself a lot of PR headaches by simply focusing your trade show displays on those who will be predisposed to like you.

Even competitive fishermen don’t just toss out the biggest net possible and call it a day – instead, they carefully evaluate their target catch, study where they like to hang out, what time of day they are looking for food, what kinds of lures or bait they like, create a plan and then carefully put that plan into action. And then evaluate the plan after the day of fishing to see what they can improve the next time.

Surely your trade show marketing efforts deserve that same level of attention?!

Hopefully this article helps you switch from shotgun selling to a more target approach; we truly believe that is what is needed in this new internet era to succeed. If there is anything we can do to help ensure that your trade show booth design supports all of your requirements, please let us know. When it comes to trade show booths, we can offer you almost every manufacturer’s products. This wide variety of available trade show display designs will help you create an exhibit that attracts notice and communicates your brand and focus in an effective way. For more information, call us at (425) 556-9511 or email [email protected]