Q: A Supplier Asks: Looking ahead to the upcoming trade show season, I want our company to have a more targeted approach to trade shows as an important piece of our overall marketing plan. What have other suppliers done to increase their visibility, engagement and measurable outcomes from trade shows? Are there strategies that can be borrowed from outside the industry? What pitfalls should be avoided to maximize our investment?

A: When I counsel a supplier on a trade show strategy, I first start with, “A trade show is called a show for a reason. You are on stage, hoping to ‘info-tain’ the audience.” Just like a Broadway director begins with a good script for all the players, you need to have a plan and a strategy. Sure, you can just pack up your product, flip up your booth and hope the show producers get you more bodies than last year. But that won’t get you more ROI.

When I begin a plan, I usually start by asking, “What is the main message you want to convey? Not five messages, or three or two. Just one. Show attendees have hundreds of booths they are passing. They are busy. Focus them.”

Then do something dramatic and interactive that drives that message home. Introducing a new product they’ve never seen before? How will you promote it pre-show and build the hoopla? Then, when you get there, how will you spotlight it? Demo it. Enlarge it. Have them try it on. Try it out. Are you debuting a new lightning-fast service? Wear stopwatches and running suits. Show a giant cheetah in your booth they can take selfies with. Whatever it is … exploit it in every way possible. You have three seconds for someone to decide whether they will come step inside your booth or not. Captivate them.

The more interaction, the better. And keep on promoting during the show and after, using social media to follow up on leads. Yes, it’s a lot of work. But it can lead to a lot of new business if done right.

You want measurable ROI? Prepare in advance. Call or write key prospects to invite them to your booth and make appointments when possible. Just make sure you’re staffed to meet with people when they show up. Yes, this really works the majority of the time. Confirm appointments and send Outlook meeting times. Prepare discussions before you go. Have a folder for each VIP. Review their sales. Set up specific discussion points. Track responses. Then follow up promptly on your meetings—those who showed and those who didn’t. Watch what it does to your sales when you follow up. And make sure you and every member of your sales team enter copious notes from show conversations in your CRM system so you have a baseline for follow-up.

Owner, The Scarlet Marketeer
PPAI 175744


A: Think about what sets your supplier business apart from others. What is the main message you want your distributors to know about your company? What are the demographics of the distributors you hope to do business with, and how can you help them utilize your firm’s products? Mail distributors who meet your criteria invitations to your booth. Is it expensive? Sure. But, if directed to an officer of the company, it will reach its goal and cannot be ignored. Plus, if the invitation is clever, it will be shared with others in the office, pinned to the break room bulletin board or mentioned in the company newsletter. For example, I remember a series of pre-show pieces showing up in our mail from Souvenir Pen and Pencil. The series featured the introduction of a new marking pen that was called “Mark-it.” The company wanted to prove it would write on anything. The first piece delivered a small pane of glass with “Mark-it” written on it. This was followed by an athletic sock. The third piece was an actual coconut. Written across that shaggy surface was the word “Mark-it” and the tag said, “See, we told you it could write on anything!” MARGARET

Founder, MARCO Ideas Unlimited, Inc.
PPAI 106680


A: From this distributor’s perspective, here’s one pitfall to avoid: talking or texting on your phone. Put your phone away. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked by a booth at a show where the person staffing the booth is on their phone. If you’re bored, do something with your products that invites people into your booth. If you need to place a call or send a text, then take a break. Don’t spend all that money and time on a booth and then shoot yourself in the foot by not being present.

President, DKG Promotions
PPAI 191413


A: Trade show marketing is about having a strategy from end to end. It is about understanding what your objectives are three months before the show and the first 30 days afterwards. It is about having a clear and concise goal as to why you are at that show and what you are trying to achieve.

Everyone in the company, from the secretary to the CEO, needs to be on board with why they are going to the show and what the objectives are. Email signatures should be changed to communicate to everyone outside the company when the show is, where it is and in what booth you will be. If you can post a link to a video that promotes your participation in the show, even better.

You need to make sure that the booth—and those who will be in it—are prepared for that particular show, including clothing that speaks to the theme, concise graphics with a singular and specific call to action, and a giveaway that speaks to your objective that also has a specific call to action.

When designing booth graphics, the three-second rule needs to be in effect: It takes three seconds to walk from one side of a 10-foot booth to the other. If you have not captured the attention of the passersby in that amount of time, they will move on.

Invitations need to be sent to key clients and meetings established in advance to make sure that the right people come to your booth. A direct mail campaign that brings people to your booth for a specific purpose can also be developed.

There must be people inside the booth whose sole job it is to capture information and make sure the data is ready to be turned into a direct marketing piece as soon as the show is over. Sales people need to book two to three days off after the show to go through notes, business cards and scanned information to make sure that follow-up is relevant and immediate.

Cell phones need to be turned off and put away while on the show floor. Engagement with the present audience is your only focus. Get off the floor if you need to take a call, but better yet, have people back in the office handle things for you when you are not available.

In short, no one wins the trade show game by accident. It is a planning process that takes time and effort, and detailed execution is the difference between achieving specific goals and wasting money.

President, Your Brand Marketing
PPAI 384130


A: I always appreciate when suppliers with whom we do a lot of business are prepared to discuss our account. I’ve done a fair number of deals that have increased our yearly spend on the Expo floor. I only see many of the vendors in person two or three times a year, so it’s a plus when we can discuss the account and new ideas for the upcoming year. Even better are the ones that shoot me an email and suggest we find a few minutes to talk.

Owner, Skypunch Creative
PPAI 485676


A: Around five years ago, we started implementing themes for our trade shows. We pick one theme to carry out throughout the whole year, making it easy for distributors to recognize us at shows no matter the time of year. Our themes always consist of three key elements: they are bright and fun, easy to understand, and centered around one of our new products. We also incorporate a giveaway at the shows, which usually requires the distributor to post or comment on our Facebook page. This helps to increase our social media engagement not only during show time, but throughout the year. Requiring action on our social media channels also gives us an easy way to measure the outcomes of our giveaway and whether or not it was successful.

As far as pitfalls to avoid, make sure that whatever activity you have in your booth is simple, quick and easy to understand. Activities that take too much time can create a bottleneck effect in your booth, potentially causing distributors to become impatient and move on. There are hundreds of booths at a show, so keeping things exciting but short and sweet is key, otherwise you risk missing out on important conversations and interactions with distributors.

Marketing Team Lead, Raining Rose, Inc.
PPAI 232508


A: I’m a proponent of self promotion through direct mail. Using a clever, useful or unusual item from your line, package the pieces with an appropriate message encouraging distributors to visit your booth to see what else may be of interest to them and their customers.

You can also send a link to a video invitation, product rollout or message. This is a chance to demonstrate that yours is a creative company, which means you’ll bring thoughtful and appropriate suggestions and recommendations when working with salespeople who need ideas for their clients.

While most such pieces are sent to the company owner, the message may or may not be delivered to the appropriate salespeople. Do your due diligence and include performers who have used your line or attended your reps’ meetings.

The biggest waste of money is a faulty (direct or email) mailing list. Know who you want to reach, be clear—and brief—and consider the communication method that will deliver the best results for your budget. Equally essential: don’t forget the follow-up and follow-through.

Chief Executive Officer, Tango Partners
PPAI 353210


Do You Have An Answer?

A Distributor Asks:
The latest California Proposition 65 requirements that went into effect at the end of August mean distributors now share the burden of compliance with suppliers. In addition to changes in label wording and specifics, consumers must now be aware of a product’s risk prior to purchase, not just prior to exposure. How are fellow distributors managing these new requirements?

What’s Your Answer?
Email answers along with your name, title and company name by October 31 to Question@ppai.org for possible inclusion in an upcoming issue of PPB magazine.

Terry Ramsay is associate editor of PPB.