March 2015
Getting the Most Out of Tradeshows

Jeffrey Spear - President, Studio Spear

Jeff Spear

I make a habit of attending as many trade shows as I can, each and every year. These are the places where I find the most up-to-date information on industry trends, see live demonstrations, observe competitive posturing and make new contacts.


I’m also there on behalf of my clients, all of whom demand the highest possible return on their marketing dollar, including the trade shows in which they participate. I pay extremely close attention to how these events operate, how people react, what sorts of presentations work best and what works least.

The one thing that I find truly amazing is how so many exhibitors seem happy to let business walk right by. It’s always been my role to help my clients get attention, attract opportunity and build a strong following. Yet, with thousands upon thousands of dollars invested in infrastructure, staff and consumables, I see a staggering number of companies (not my clients!) let it all go to waste. Here are a few common occurrences:

Hide and Seek    Trade show organizers make a tremendous effort to provide floor plans and numbered aisles so that attendees can find exhibitors. The key is the number, or "address," that is attached to each space. Most exhibitors are not prepared to display this number and choose not to make it part of their exhibit. That’s okay when the name of the company is clearly displayed. But in some cases, brands are highlighted over company name. Or the name in which the company has registered is not the same as the trading name used on the display. And sometimes, the presentation of an exhibit is simply a poor design and fails to provide clear identification of who the exhibitor is. This can be very confusing, especially for first time visitors who have no idea what to expect. It’s not supposed to be a game of "hide and seek."

Me Too    These events attract lots of exhibitors, many of whom are direct competitors offering similar products and services. So why is it that so many companies rely on displays that look just like the next? I realize that "modular" space mandates a certain amount of "sameness" from the start. In my book, however, standing out in the crowd and having an unmistakable, branded presence is essential. A few, very simple, ways to attract attention can be achieved through extremes in color, architectural detail and scale. Keep in mind that getting noticed is just the first step. Once you have grabbed attention, it’s essential that you deliver compelling sales messages, establish credibility and compel further inquiry.

Nap Time/Chat Time    I know that the physical effort required to meet, greet, and perhaps feed an endless stream of visitors is exhausting. It’s important to remember that each and every visitor to your booth could be your next biggest customer. I often find, especially when things are a bit slow, that employees will huddle together and chat. That’s great if there are no visitors in the booth. The problem is that, when visitors are looking for information, and everyone is busy talking amongst themselves, there is nobody available to assist. The result is that prospects end up leaving empty handed. Can you guess who will be more than happy to help these ignored visitors? That’s right, the competitor just down the aisle.

Make sure your staff is prepared to "survive" the ordeal. It may be appropriate to rotate staff or work on "shifts" so that no one person gets too tired. It may also be quite valuable for your staff to have time to wander the show. There’s no end to the information you can acquire about competitors and the industry as a whole at these events. If you don’t have the budget for additional staff, make sure you dress for the long haul and have lots of food and drinks on hand (I find a stash of aspirin helps to offset sore feet and fatigue). And while there may be lots of exciting things to do at the end of the day, decide which will be more productive, a good nights sleep or a night on the town.

Guess What We Do    While you can rely on a physical display of your products, this may not be enough to demonstrate the essential qualities of your enterprise. Keep in mind that trade shows are opportunities to "show and tell." While you can show color, shape and size, it may be more important for your audience to experience intangibles such as flavor, aroma, texture, weight and/or ease of operation. And they’ll have lots of questions. Make yourself approachable and be hospitable. I like the notion of house guests. If you treat each and every visitor as a welcome guest to your home, you can’t lose. As the saying goes, first impressions last a very long time.

The next time you participate in a trade show, and if you want to realize the highest possible return on investment, follow these simple guidelines:

  • Clearly identify who you are - make it easy to find your booth
  • Stand out from the crowd - the last thing you want is to be mistaken for a competitor
  • Stay sharp - your next visitor could become your best customer
  • Get to the point - tell ‘em what makes your product/service superior

That’ll do it!


If the time has come to overhaul, update and re-invigorate your brand image, or you'd like to change up your marketing program, please call 904 685 2135 - ask for Jeff Spear. You can also contact Jeff via email:

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