5 Ways to Make a BIG IMPACT at Your Next Trade Show

Rob Quincy
Rob Quincy
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A couple of us from Ridge Marketing had the pleasure of attending ISC West, the International Security Conference & Exposition, in Las Vegas this spring to support our new client – industry leader Hanwha Vision. With over 600 exhibitors (up from 500 in 2022) and more than 20,000 attendees, one thing was clear… trade shows are back, and their importance doesn’t appear to be diminishing anytime soon.

Featuring robotic dogs, drones, interactive scale models and Hanwha’s groundbreaking SolidEDGE surveillance cameras and AI analytics, the show was a spectacle worthy of its host city.

Everything that happens in Vegas doesn’t need to stay in Vegas, after all. With that in mind, here are our key takeaways from this event, so you can get the most out of your next trade show event.

1. Trade Shows Are Back… Are You?

But why go to all of the trouble and expense to attend a trade show thousands of miles from home? Because nothing can replace the opportunity to speak in person with customers, prospects, partners and the press, and to be able to experience new technologies and solutions firsthand.

After two years of virtual trade shows, or complete cancellations, most events had made a return to their physical form by 2022. It’s been a welcome revival for many industries.

Perhaps the pandemic layoff made people realize how much they’ve missed these events, because it was obvious that attendees and exhibitors were excited to be at ISC West 2023.

We’re a digital-first agency, so we understand the thinking that physical trade shows may be a thing of the past, but your absence could be sending the wrong message. If you’ve been shy about returning to a trade show to promote your products and services, it’s time to get back in the game.

2. Promote Your Presence

Once you’ve decided to exhibit at a show, it’s important to take the time to make your presence known – whether you have a 10×10’ table top in the back corner or a 2,500 square foot behemoth front and center.

Ahead of the show, use email marketing, social media and even texting apps like SimpleTexting to tell your prospects that you’ll be there with lots to offer. Take advantage of opportunities to give public presentations or speak on panels, sponsor or host happy hours and consider holding raffles for popular giveaways to bring people to your booth. Each of these activities presents an opportunity to connect with your customers and prospects.

If budget allows, you can increase your visibility at the show by booking ads or advertorials in show common areas, on interactive kiosks or in the daily recap publications.

3. Keep the Message Simple

We’ve all heard it before… “We paid a lot for that space, fill it up with content!” Don’t make this mistake. On a crowded show floor, most attendees will not burn the mental calories required to stop and read nuanced and detailed copy. (In fact, they may speed by without making eye contact.)

The booths that stand out are the ones that are well lit, colorful and feature a short value-prop headline accompanied by a handful of supporting benefits at most. Eye-popping videos allow you to tell more of a story and get people to lean in, but be sure to include text supers or closed captioning because your audio will likely get lost in the din of the crowd.

Draw them in with simple messaging and let your sales team do what they do best… engage prospects and fill them in on the details.

Ridge Marketing helped Amphenol make a big impact at its 2023 trade shows with these lifestyle graphics.

4. Make It Interactive

The standout booths at ISC West, and really at any show I’ve attended, were the ones that let attendees in on the action. Hanwha had several stations where users could navigate through video management system software, view surveillance footage and see how to access AI analytics. Visitors could also experience what it was like to magnetically snap new cameras into mounted bases for easy upgrades.

Another company had built a 15×15’ raised physical model of parts of New York City, complete with highrise buildings, trains, cars, jets and ships. When you tapped a segment on a touchscreen, a spotlight shined on part of the city and elements in the model moved to support content on the tablet.

And, of course, the “drone dog” from Boston Dynamics was a huge hit. Its “master” used a remote control to make it walk up to visitors, move up and down stairs and give it a canine’s personality.

Don’t have a budget for robot dogs or interactive dioramas? Any simple interactive experience on a touch screen can be a crowd-pleaser, from product demos to quizzes.

5. Collect Those Contacts (and Follow Up)

Now that you’ve invested the time and money to attend the event and draw people in, make sure your team is equipped to collect as many contacts as possible.

Fewer people are carrying traditional business cards today and printed cards often end up in the trash. A safer bet is to scan the QR code that’s commonly printed on visitors’ badges with a phone to collect contact information. At most shows, every card scanned gets added to your company’s show database for access later.

Traditional business cards with QR codes that prospects can scan with their phones are also useful. To be ahead of the curve, get NFC business cards that allow the cardholder to tap a phone and automatically transfer contact information, schedules or signup forms.

After the show, be sure to follow up with one or more well-designed emails to the entire attendee list from a platform like MailChimp, Hubspot or Constant Contact. Recap videos, event photos, session recordings and key takeaways are all good post-show content to share.

In addition to official company emails, it’s important that your sales team make personal calls or send emails directly to the folks they spoke to at the show to keep the ball rolling.

Now, Take Your (Trade) Show on the Road!

In today’s increasingly remote work environment, I for one really appreciate the opportunity to speak with people face-to-face and experience their products and solutions firsthand. You just don’t make the same connection over a video conference.

If you’re ready to get back in the trade show game and want to use clever messaging, design and technology to make the most impact possible, please reach out to us.