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Reaching Buyers at the Trade Show

By Alyson Hendrickson Wentz, CAS

Attendees walking onto a trade show floor are greeted with a multitude of sights and sounds. Banners, posters, video screens, music, sound effects, product demonstrations, models, magicians, clowns, mimes, robots and many other marketing ploys vie for their attention. It's no wonder that the average show attendee goes into sensory overload after only a few hours on the floor. As a trade show exhibitor, your mission is to develop a promotion that will attract qualified buyers to your booth before they become overwhelmed by the promotional strategies of your competitors.

The most effective way to cut through the clutter of competing trade show promotions is to market to prospective buyers before they get to the show. Ideas for successful pre-show promotions are outlined in the article, Pre-Trade Show Marketing: Get Them Before They Get There. But, if you choose not to run a pre-show promotion, there are still many effective at-show marketing strategies that you can use.

At the show you can still target buyers before they reach the show floor. Find out where your prospects will be staying during the show, and then send targeted flyers or imprinted products to their hotel rooms. At a Comdex show in Las Vegas, Microsoft arranged for a silk-screened pillowcase to be put on the pillows in every hotel room in the city. When show attendees (and other visitors) pulled back their bed covers at night they saw the Microsoft logo and booth number imprinted on their pillows.

Another at-show promotion that utilized hotel rooms as the point of delivery was a campaign by IntelliData (Springfield, VA) at the Retail Delivery trade show. The company had one-page floor plans of the show delivered to its prospects' rooms. Prospects who brought the floor plan to IntelliData's booth at the show received a complimentary pair of boxer shorts as a gift.

"Any advertising specialty item should reflect the quality of your product and the good reputation of your firm," says Jay Conrad Levinson in Guerilla Trade Show Selling. "There is a subconscious discounting of who you are when a prospect has to throw away something you've given them." Therefore, it is ineffective, and a waste of money, to purchase thousands of cheap promotional items to be handed out indiscriminately, or to be left out on a table for attendees to scoop into their bags by the handful.

"If you decide to use premiums, select something meaningful and useful to your customer or prospect, and then use it as a parting gift," Levinson says. "Insist on making your giveaway work hard to get you sales." Some examples of hard-working premiums are those that are presented after the prospect has completed a survey/questionnaire, sat through a presentation or set up a sales appointment.

To thank computer programmers for completing a demonstration of a new product at a computer trade show, Integrated Chipware (Reston, VA) presented them with an imprinted juggling set. The programmers were first invited to the booth through the distribution of invitation buttons imprinted with the message "I've Seen the Future in Real Time." Those who visited the booth and completed the demonstration received the juggling sets. The juggling sets were chosen as the appropriate gifts because stress- and boredom-relieving
toys are favorites of computer programmers. To further reinforce the promotion, booth staffers wore custom-imprinted shirts, ties and earrings that echoed the shapes and colors of the juggling set.

According to Guerilla Trade Show Selling, the best premiums/promotional help your prospects/clients get their job done faster. "Information premiums have the highest perceived value and the lowest relative reproduction costs," Levinson says. Examples of information premiums are reprints of articles, special reports, audio and videotapes, computer software and books related to your field. "Such premiums self-select your prime prospects, because they are of little use to the general public," he adds.

If you choose to use an "information premium" as your trade-show gift, add further value to it by including an appropriate promotional product. Clip together articles or reports with a giant imprinted paper clip. Present a book with an engraved metal or embossed leather bookmark inside, or include an imprinted highlighter that the recipient can use to mark important passages. Audio and videotapes can be placed inside an imprinted tote bag or portfolio. Computer discs can be given out in imprinted CD cases. Whatever product you choose, it's important that it complement the "information premium."

The next best premium, according to Levinson, is a specialized tool that would appeal to a specific group of recipients. For example, a fertilizer company might want to give out an imprinted plastic slide rule to landscapers who need to calculate application rates for fertilizer. Another example is a hotel or restaurant exhibitor giving out imprinted wine selection books to meeting planners

When choosing an appropriate trade show premium, the exhibitor also wants to consider his objectives at the show. Some companies use incentives only if they have a new product release or a new product application to promote, and then the incentive is closely tied to the product. Other companies might use premium gifts to tie in with particular benefits or features of their products or services that they want to sell. A heating and air conditioning company in North Carolina wanted to impress on trade show attendees the savings they would recognize by buying the company's products. Booth staff at the show distributed imprinted money clips to reinforce the savings connection.

Along with giving out an appropriate promotional item, trade show exhibitors need to make the most of other opportunities to reach show attendees. One such opportunity is the design of your booth and the copy and graphics that are displayed on and in it. "Your graphics must show what you do," Levinson says. "They must be clear and compelling. They must be colorful and attractive, and they must sell." Read the article Branding Your Trade Show Booth for more ideas on effective booth promotion.

Your booth staffers can also serve as promotional vehicles for your company. Dress them in golf shirts, denim shirts or oxford shirts embroidered with your corporate logo. The shirts will present a professional and unified image of your company to show-goers, while also simplifying your employees' show wardrobes. Attendees will appreciate being able to separate booth staff from the crowd when they need to ask a question, or place an order. The logoed shirts will also serve to promote your company when booth staffers are outside of the booth -- on a lunch break, etc. Have some extra shirts on hand, so that you can present them as gifts to customers who might ask for one. You can also build in a follow-up opportunity by promising the client you'll send them a shirt after the show.

Another item to keep on hand is a high-quality pen. Levinson suggests keeping a supply of high-end pens in your exhibit to present to clients when they need to complete an order. "When they offer it back to you, respond with, 'I believe that's yours.' They'll say, 'No, you just gave it to me.' And you'll respond, 'Yes. That's right.' They will put it in their pocket with a smile and remember you every time they use it," Levinson says. Don't pass up the chance to have a subtle logo imprinted on the pen, or perhaps simply your company's web address engraved on the pen cap.

Remember to ask the recipient how they're enjoying the pen or whatever show gift your gave them when you follow up with them after the show. If they mention any problem that they're having - the pen stopped writing, the imprint wore off the juggling set, etc. - apologize and promise to send them a new gift. Then send it out right away with a note thanking them again for stopping by your booth. Other ideas for effective follow-up promotions are discussed in Post-Trade Show Follow Up - Turning Leads Into Sales.

Alyson Hendrickson Wentz (, independent promotional consultant with Geiger, and freelance writer/editor. Location -Hatfield, PA, USA