Could Old School Exhibitors Damage Your Expo Brand?

2014.01.16_GORE-TEX® products ispo tradeshow booth 2010

I just Googled “Trade Show Sales Tips” and retrieved 2+ million results.

No big surprise, as hardly a week goes by without spotting articles like these. Unfortunately, the people who need to read these articles never do.

Does Acceptance Of All Exhibitors Come At A Cost?

Some expo floors are run like well-oiled machines, where every element is inspected and perfected to ensure high satisfaction for both attendees and exhibitors.

Others copy last year’s playbook, rinse and repeat. Often they look like flea markets where the same vendors show up and run the same tired plays.

Let’s face it – booth sales generate revenues. For some shows, expo revenues subsidize attendee registration fees. In today’s economy, turning down exhibitors sounds crazy, but does our grand scale acceptance of all exhibitors come at a cost?

Too Many Old School Exhibitors Spoils the Attendee Experience

First impressions are lasting and sometimes they’re very difficult to erase.

Have you taken a good hard look at your expo floor through the attendee’s lens? Too many product pitches and attendees feel like they have a target on their backs. Too many same-old, same-old tactics and they’ll wonder why they’re there.

Now, imagine if exhibitors had to vie for an opportunity to participate in your expo. Imagine if your expo was truly a think tank where learning discussions and breakthrough ideas flourished. Imagine if you only accepted exhibitors who…

  • Have something new to introduce?
  • A breakthrough idea, concept or solution?
  • Agree to help (teach) more, sell (pitch products) less

Tough Questions To Consider

You probably have a Call for Presentations to evaluate speakers and session submissions.

  • What if you re-purposed that same model to vet exhibitors?
  • What if you had a Call for Exhibitors, where you identified topics and categories of greatest interest to your audience?
  • What if you raised the ante (booth fee), but you limited the number of exhibitors for each category?
  • What if you asked exhibitors to hold back on the product collateral (people can get this stuff easily on their website) and instead, asked each one to contribute at least one thought leadership piece? These could be case studies, whitepapers, infographics, audio/video interviews, etc.
    • What if you highlighted these thought leadership pieces on slides as people entered session rooms?
    • What if you archived these on your mobile app for fast retrieval?
    • What if you dripped these valuable nuggets out again in the days and weeks following your conference?

Our audiences deserve (and are demanding) a richer expo experience. Accomplishing this kind of transformation in a single cycle will be difficult, but how about raising the exhibit quality bar just a little bit higher each time? Maybe a good starting point might be a special best-in-class exhibitor pavilion?

What steps are you taking to transform and enhance the expo experience? Do you see long-term benefits in getting more choosy about the exhibitors you accept?

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  1. Traci Browne says:

    Good ideas to knock around and I absolutely agree that expos could be greatly improved with some of these changes. However, expo floors are still a place where visitors come to find products and services. Only allowing exhibitors who have something new gets tricky. How do you define new? Let’s look at the new Beats by Dre headphones. Are they knew because they come in a wide assortment of colors now? I think their customers and potential customers would say yes.

    What about some of your big anchor exhibitors who may not have anything “new” but still provide solutions that expo visitors are looking for? These solutions are certainly new to those who find themselves suddenly in a position where they need them. If I’m in the market for an accounting system I want to see everything that is available. Not just the new offerings from companies that may or may not be around in a year or two but the tried and true solutions of industry veterans.

    I do believe incorporating education into your exhibit marketing program can be a fit for some exhibitors. But if I attend an expo because I’m looking for a drainage solution for my new green roof, I don’t necessarily have time or the desire to sit in exhibit booths being educated on best practices for building green roofs. I just want to see all the drainage options available to me in one place.

    Now those vendors could do a much better job in their approach to my visit. Instead of pitching their products, sit down with me and take the time to find out what I’m really trying to accomplish. Then pitch your solutions. The education can come in when during that conversation you discover I’m moving down a path that you know happens to violate my states laws about repurposing runoff water.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, sometimes people do want to be sold something and one of those times is when we’re at a trade show. A consultative approach is the best approach but that’s something a show organizer cannot regulate.

  2. ‘@Traci

    Thanks for your comments. I can always count on you to vet out new ideas. That said, there are a few things I’d like to counter:

    * “Sometimes people do want to be sold something…” I disagree. Most people prefer to buy than be sold to. Unfortunately, many exhibitors don’t recognize the difference. We (expo organizers) need to help them.

    * Everyone walking an expo floor has problems. It’s a much smaller subset that are in active buying mode. That’s why Helping vs Selling makes so much sense. Help them get smarter about their problems, about ramifications of NOT solving these problems and more will advance to buying mode. That’s a MUCH more fruitful conversation for exhibitors to have.

    * New? Today’s most successful expos are filled with exhibitors who are continuously reinventing and it’s not limited to new products. Exhibitors might have new stories, new techniques, etc. We (conference organizers) need to help them explore how to put their best NEW foot forward.

    Bottom Line: If attendees aren’t happy, nothing else matters. If attendees get something valuable, everybody wins.

  3. Traci Browne says:

    Well played Donna! Yes, my bad. You are absolutely correct…people prefer to buy something not be sold something. Unless you’re DSW…then by all means…stop by my house with a suitcase full of shoes and sell sell sell 😉

  4. Traci – you’re on my short list of people who need to scrutinize and fine-tune new ideas. PS: if you get DSW to stop by with that suitcase full of shoes, hope you send ’em my way!

  5. Trace Cohen says:

    I totally agree that some shows haven’t changed in years and get a feeling of being “stale.” Maybe vetting exhibitors for quality would help, but potentially hurt your bottom line. Maybe requiring a certain booth design/look should be required – or the show can find a new “decorating” company to spice it up.

    From a digital stand point, maybe they can get a new app, publish more digital content or as you mentioned contribute thought leadership instead of giving out collateral. I have found though that most companies don’t have that info on their site sadly…

    I have found there are two main reason why people come to shows, to find out what’s new and learn something new. If you can help them accomplish both those, then you should be ok.

  6. Donna Kastner says:

    Thanks for stopping by to comment, Trace.

    I agree – vetting exhibitors could hurt bottom line, but for some shows, short-term dip would deliver stronger long-term revenues. Ultimately, it’s about mattering. If exhibitors don’t matter to attendees, nobody wins. Unfortunately, attendees figure out that mattering deal years before some exhibitors do.

  7. Lori Woehrle says:

    I’m tired of exhibitors who act like they are fishing. Putting a line out and hoping to grab a sale that happens to swim by. It’s a passive old-school approach to exhibiting, especially when the products and services offered are high-end technology or consulting plays.

    A better approach are exhibitors who create a game-plan before they arrive. They offer something new (might be a thought-leadership piece)and invite their best customers and prospects to come by. They use social media to drum up traffic and buzz before the show starts. They use their booth space as a meeting space, not a fishing perch.

    Thanks for the excellent ideas.

  8. Donna Kastner says:

    Thanks for sharing your insight, Lori.

    Great observation that too many exhibitors are engaged in “fishing” expeditions. Those who fail to prepare in advance will struggle, especially in today’s more dynamic (& discriminating) expo environment.

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