Last time we talked, we looked at the importance and relevancy of trade shows, and how they are an important part of your marketing assortment. So now you’re a believer, you’re ready to tackle that expo floor, and you’ve signed up to exhibit at the next prime opportunity. But…how are you going to compete with the other hundreds or even thousands of companies exhibiting at the same show? The Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco can have upwards of 1,400 exhibitors and 80,000 new food and beverage samples. Their east coast event in the summer has even more—with 2,600 exhibitors and 200,000 food and beverage samples waiting to be tried. And that’s just at one CPG show.

Before you panic, don’t worry, we’ve got you. Read on to find out three key steps that will help you stand out at a trade show.

1. Do your research

You’re probably tired of hearing us say this for, oh, just about every aspect of your business, from researching trends in your category to researching other offerings similar to yours to researching price or packaging optimization….we could go on and on. Trade shows are yet another area where if you’re going to participate, you’d do well to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible.

Once you’ve signed up to exhibit, start your research at the basic level, and find out the specs of your booth. How big will it be? How close will you be to other exhibitors? What, if any, are the parameters around what you can and cannot display? And then there is reaching out to conference attendees before the conference to find out what they want from you at the show. Your pre-show audience can be one of your best resources for making sure you have a stellar show.

And even once the show starts, and your booth is (hopefully) jammed with attendees clamoring for your product, the research continues. In fact, it might be some of the most important research you do: Who are the other exhibitors? And how are they exhibiting?

“Check out the ‘big dogs’ and learn from what they’re bringing to the trade show—not just staff-wise, but visually,” says Jayna Cooke of EVENTup in a recent Inc article. “Do they have a collection box to gain customers? Contests? Candy? These are some of the things you can look at so you can make sure you’re prepared.”

2. Engage with attendees

You could stand behind your booth for 10 hours and wave hello at attendees and hope they’ll stop to inquire about your products, or you could actively engage them with the products in your exhibit booth. Which do you think will be more memorable?

How you set up your booth, and what you include that will draw in visitors is critical to standing out at a tradeshow.

“Trade show attendees want an interactive experience with your brand, not a standing sales pitch,” writes Danny Wong for Entrepreneur. “So, when people approach your booth, be ready to offer them an activity, whether it be a game or a product demo they can play with. Just make sure the activity is aligned with your brand.” Interaction could take on any number of forms, from a game show-like contest to videos about the brand to just about anything that would get attendees to stop, look, and listen, and simultaneously let them see how the brand fits into their life.

3. Get out of the booth

Yes, you put a lot of blood, sweat, and money into the design of your booth, making sure every detail was perfect. But just because you have a booth doesn’t mean you’re required to stay in it every minute of the show.

“In most cases, a booth is used as a crutch,” writes John Ruhlin for Entrepreneur. “You sit there waiting for your dream clients to walk by and hopefully stop and talk. However, staying in “hope mode” is neither a strong recipe for success nor a strategy.”  While Ruhlin goes on to suggest companies forgo the booth for a tricked-out suite at a trade show, that may not be in your budget. And that’s okay—Ruhlin’s advice to get out of the booth stands on its own. There’s a lot to discover when walking a show floor, and it gives you a chance to play the role of an attendee rather than an exhibitor. You can see what is working—and what is missing the mark—from other exhibitors. It also gives you the opportunity to network and make personal, face-to-face connections, one of the invaluable assets of exhibiting at a tradeshow.

Exhibiting at a tradeshow can be intimidating, but doing your research, engaging attendees, and stepping out of your comfort zone (ie, your booth) will help you not only have a successful show, but also help you stand out in a sea of products, promotions, and people.  

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