We are approaching another New Year, which means one thing to you.  A brand new year of trade shows!  What are we doing to prepare?  Avoiding these common planning mistakes is a good start.

1. Not knowing your exhibit’s purpose

An exhibitor once told me a story about how much money he spent bringing all of his machines to the IMTS Show in Chicago.  He filled his thousands of square feet with working machines that whirred and whizzed for all that passed by.  It cost an incredible amount of time and money to load and unload the several tons of equipment onto trucks and into the show hall.  They did it this way because that’s what they always did.

A client told him one day while waiting for a conference room that he’s never really paid any attention to the machines.  Here he was waiting for an exhibit feature they didn’t have room for because of space equipment was taking up; equipment that only served the purpose of proving legitimacy.  For their next show, they decided to bring only the featured new machine and provide adequate meeting space.  Money saved was used to add hospitality amenities for all of those meeting with them.

2. Not knowing why you are going.

This seems like a silly one, but it’s extremely common.  Taking a “build it and they will come” approach to trade shows without knowing what you’re specifically there to do is rolling the dice on a pretty large expenditure.

Some companies exhibit solely to conduct meetings.  Some use it as a chance to unveil brand new products.  And some use it as a chance to write orders right on the show floor.  Many use their trade show to do all of these things.  But knowing the primary exhibiting purpose focuses your marketing efforts and makes exhibit design and layout easier to plan.

3. Choosing to Blend In 

So now you know why you are going and what the exhibit is supposed to do.  How are you supposed get some attention on a crowded trade show floor?

Contrary to common assumptions, you don’t have to break the bank to make an impact.  A simple twist on use of color or lighting can make the difference between exhibit design that looks like all of your neighbors and design that makes people stop and take notice.  You have only a few days where everyone in your industry is in the same room.  And only a few seconds to make an impression once they are there.  Don’t waste it!

4. Waiting until the last minute

Many look at the big trade show as something that happens within the days between its opening and close.  In this scenario, the show is seen as the BEGINNING of a marketing campaign—the interactions and captured leads get processed, and hopefully converted post-show.  Unfortunately, this linear approach has a beginning and an end.

Successful exhibitors see their shows a something in the MIDDLE of a process, bringing a more cyclical result to their programs.  Awareness  and trust can be built leading up to an event with pre-show initiatives and conversations, then carried through at the event itself, making post-show conversions easier.  The conversation can then be continued throughout the year and into the next show.

Where do I begin?

Reach out and discuss this stuff with your exhibit partner. (Or better yet, with myself!)  Create a two-way conversation with people that manage trade show programs on a daily basis.  Ask what other successful exhibitors did.


by Jonathan Branca

Jonathan Branca is the Director of Client Development at EDE Corporation, a Chicago-based company that specializes in the design, fabrication, and management of museum and trade show exhibits, as well as architectural installations.  Feel free to start a conversation with Jonathan on TwitterLinkedIn, or in the comments below.

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