Stand and deliver: Tips for exhibiting

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Exhibitions are a great way for businesses to showcase their products and get up close and personal with potential clients. But in order to make the experience successful, and ultimately profitable, firms need to think about the message they are trying to convey.

The cost of exhibiting can be a considerable sum for small businesses, so you want to make the most out of your investment. It's not always a case of the bigger the better – and that goes for the size of your stand as well as where you decide to exhibit.

Before you've even chosen which event you want to exhibit at, however, there is homework to be done to define the consumer demographic you want to target and what exactly you want to get out of the experience. For example, are you launching a new product? Do you want to generate a minimum number of sales leads? Are you looking to raise your profile nationally or internationally? Are you looking for lower exhibition costs? Is your business primarily B2B or B2C? You also need a way to measure the success of your goals.

The final showcase

Exhibiting: Dos and Don'ts

  • Define message and audience
  • Look at regional and national events
  • Choose the right type of show
  • Optimize stand space
  • Use eye-catching graphics, lighting
  • Have the right staff
  • Follow-up leads after event
  • Stick up a display without doing homework
  • Blow budget on stand space
  • Choose size over quality
  • Dismiss international events
  • Just concentrate on sales leads
  • Follow-up visitors with generic mails
  • Forget to evaluate your original objectives

Next, you need to consider whether you want to go for a consumer or trade event, as each attracts a very different audience. This will obviously depend on your products and services but as a general rule, if you fall mainly into the retail category and want to generate sales among the general public, consumer shows are for you. If, on the other hand, you're looking to draw in specific business people, it is better to concentrate on trade events.

"Don't be fooled into thinking that just because, generally, a consumer event attracts a larger audience that it is what's best for your business," cautions Stuart Gibson, spokesperson for UK-based Melville Exhibition and Event Services. "Visitor quality is key."

For businesses without masses of cash in the pot to splash out on bigger venues, Gibson also recommends scoping out regional events at smaller venues as exhibitions costs are generally lower.

Hilary Lawson, a director of the UK-based Association of Event Organisers, says it is also worth noting that many consumer events host a trade day to provide an opportunity to target consumers directly, as well as trade contacts. "If you produce consumer products but sell them mainly through re-sellers or agents, a trade show aimed at re-sellers would be most appropriate," she adds.

"If you want to trial a new consumer product before launching it fully to market, even if you sell through agents, then a public show could be the ideal way for you to test consumer response."

And don't necessarily rule out international trade fairs. Both Gibson and Lawson agree they can be good launch pads to rapidly emerging markets such as India, China, and the Middle East. Many international trade shows offer a U.S. pavilion, which are another, more cost-effective way for smaller businesses to get international exposure.

First impressions count...

When it comes to choosing what to include in your display and how you can make it more effective, you need to opt for a design, location, and activities that reflect your initial key objectives. For example, Gibson suggests that if you want to network, the stand should be open and inviting. Conversely, if you want to close sales you might want to have a slightly more intimate area for privacy.

From an aesthetic point of view, you need to include graphics that have an immediate impact and effective lighting. "If you blow your entire budget on the stand space and then just stick up a few posters on the walls of the stand, is that really going to create the impact your product or service deserves?" Lawson asks.

"The exhibition itself provides the space, the environment, and visitors that suit your objectives, but you need to consider how to use that space in the most effective way. The great advantage of exhibitions is that they appeal to all the senses; you can see, hear, feel, taste the product. You can look your customers in the eye and shake their hands – make the most of this direct form of marketing."

Pay and display: pros of using a specialist

  • One stop shop service
  • Less headache handling suppliers
  • Provide health & safety assessments
  • Provide floor plan approval
  • Liaise with venues
  • Tailor service to your marketing
  • Different cost options
  • Less paperwork
  • More time for prep

For those on a budget, portable, pop-up or modular options can be just as effective as big displays, as well as being reusable. The most important thing is to ensure you have the right number of staff available with the necessary skills to interact with the audience. For instance, does the presentation require an authoritative executive presence to meet and greet, or do you need to have technical staff on hand to explain products in more detail? Do you need a separate, more extroverted team to collect data or hand out samples?

...and so do the lasting ones

Once the exhibition is over, it doesn't stop there. Lawson says too many exhibitors fall at the final hurdle by sticking information on leads in a drawer and then wondering why the show didn't go well. "This is a cardinal sin," Gibson agrees.

All visitors to the stand should be followed-up straight after the show, not only to demonstrate how important you consider them to be but also to get in before your rivals. And don't just opt for the blanket e-mail. During the event, you need to capture details such as name, company, products they showed an interest in, when they might look to purchase them, extra material such as brochures they might like and how they would prefer to be contacted, so further interaction has a more personal touch.

To really evaluate how successful the exhibition has been, Lawson recommends tracking leads for up to nine months after the event, all the way through to the bottom line, to see if all your original objectives and goals have been met.

Sales leads are all very well and good, but it is the value of the information you garner that can build new customer relationships, strengthen existing ones and prepare you for your next foray into the exhibition arena.

Exhibition considerations for businesses on a small budget

  • How much space do you really need? Do you actually need all that lighting?
  • Do you need a lot of storage space for literature etc., or are you just going to be making a visual display of graphics? If you need to bring lots of equipment then you'll benefit from added room.
  • How much cash can you realistically spend on the project? Besides the obvious payments for the space and stand itself, you also need to consider other running costs such as transport, literature, staffing, insurance, food etc.
  • Set up and take down. Ensure you take a trolley (or equivalent) with you as you could be some distance between your transportation and your stand, and be prepared for lots of busy people rushing around you trying to get everything done in a limited timescale.
  • Some trade show organisers allow exhibitors to send out direct mailshot or email mailshots to the show's attendee mailing list – this is definitely worth doing and it's a good idea to find out for each show whether you will have this opportunity.
  • It is worthwhile browsing through the list of exhibitors and trying to identify which ones have potential for striking up any sort of joint venture with your business.
  • For your first trade show stand display, consider renting the smallest possible stand. That way you'll be learning a lot about what you do and don't want to do in future shows, so it's usually best to keep your expenses lower while you learn by trial and error.
  • Invite your personal contacts to your show – especially current and old clients/customers.
  • Think about adding a signature to your emails. This could then promote the fact you will be exhibiting.. "See us on stand XX at the XX Exhibition X at X."
  • Think about adding a banner on your website with a hyperlink through to the exhibition or trade show you are exhibiting at.
  • Investigate all trade show expenses and set a realistic budget for your travel, stand and promotional material. Include expenses of advertising, transporting your trade show equipment, stand design, stand setup and take down, and entertaining clients.

Source: Sharon Walsh, managing director, SW1 Projects Ltd.

Reprinted from our sister site, BusinessZone

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